Girl, Wash Your Face (and Other Good Advice)

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A mix of motivational, honest, and funny, Girl, Wash Your Face exposes some of the lies we believe about ourselves.

Author Rachel Hollis debunks lies like “I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon” (Chapter 13) and “I am Defined by My Weight” (Chapter 17), spending time discussing everything from pregnancy to becoming a career woman. Her goal is that in exposing these lies, we can recognize a deeper truth: That we are responsible for who we become and how happy we are.

One of the biggest draws of this book is the openness Hollis uses when she discusses topics, even ones that are considered taboo (like Chapter 7: I’m Bad at Sex). In a marketplace that tends to avoid the nitty-gritty details of what many women believe to be major issues in their lives, Hollis doesn’t shy away from these conversations.

For example, in Chapter Five: Loving Him is Enough For Me, she is real about what makes a relationship work (communication, respect and most importantly, self-respect) and what anxieties women go through in life.

I also loved reading her stories related to stress during Chapter Three on the lie, “I’m Not Good Enough”. Hollis explains that at nineteen she got Bell’s Palsy and half of her face became paralyzed. This happened again during a vacation to Paris, during which she posed next to the Eiffel tower, eye patch and all (since her eye couldn’t close by itself). These severe physical symptoms came on as a reaction to the stress she put herself under trying to prove her worth to herself.

In a culture of “hard work now = success later” and the mentality that you must be doing something to be accepted, I could definitely relate to what Hollis was talking about. She explains that,

“Learning to rest is an ongoing process. Like any other lifelong behavior, I constantly fight the desire to slip back into the role I’ve played for so long… I learned that I am a recovering workaholic, but through this process, I also learned that I am a child of God—and that trumps everything else.” (30)

Truly learning to find that balance of work and rest takes some commitment. It’s not about spending time doing nothing (although that can be important too), it’s about finding those soul refreshing actions that rejuvenate you for the next challenge.

I also loved how Hollis walks through life with you by opening up her life to you. She shares some of her toughest moments and biggest challenges in this book, including her five-year-long journey towards adoption. Her stories are so impactful because they are lessons learned the hard way, and battles won only after a long fight towards victory.

After having several heart-breaking moments with her foster care experience, Hollis and her husband, Dave, turned to independent adoption and began the waiting process all over again. Hollis shares,

“During those months we waited, I walked in faith. My steps weren’t bold or filled with the bravado I’d had at the beginning of the journey nearly five years before. My faith walk became cautious and unsure. I blindly stumbled my way down a path I could not see. I chose to move forward because, while I knew I would find pain, I also knew I would draw strength. I could look at the six months prior or five years in total and choose to be angry. Or I could look at the whole long journey and recognize all that we’d been given.” (173)

Though the path may be difficult, Hollis encourages women to walk in faith and to take those steps to meet their own goals. We are the only ones who have the power to truly change our own lives. Not our moms. Not our best friends. Just us.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a motivating and honest book about the realities (and the lies) we face on a daily basis. I hope you read it and feel your own power to conquer your fear, win your battles, and meet your goals. I know I did.

“Rise up from where you’ve been, scrub away the tears and the pain of yesterday, and start again… Girl, wash your face!” (213)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Bird

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Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen is a contemporary young adult novel exploring how we become broken and how we can piece ourselves back together again.

Wren is a troubled fourteen-year-old who ends up at a wilderness survival camp in the Utah desert as her last chance to turn her life around. She’s gotten a little lost and found herself involved in drugs, underage drinking and distanced herself from her family.

Part of Wren’s story involves her turbulent relationship with her family. She has an older sister, Anabella, who is “perfect” in the ways Wren is not: looks, grades, and friends. When the family moves, she abandons her sister for a quickly made friend group and won’t even talk to her sister at school. Wren is forced to find her own way, one that leads her to a disastrous friendship with a girl named Meadow.

Van Draanen uses Wren’s brokenness and her broken relationships to expose what it means to become truly vulnerable and honest with yourself. Wren must stop running in denial and face her mistakes with an inner strength of character that frees her from her past.

“There’s a wisdom passed through the ages that says that if we walk far but are angry as we journey, we travel nowhere. If we hold grudges as we scale mountains, our view remains the same.” (237)

Wren’s journey into her very core takes readers into a soul parched for friendship and understanding. Over time she realizes that these needs won’t come from an angry, embittered heart but only one that has achieved an understanding of itself. Learning to know who she is, not just who she was, enables her to create a future for who she could be.

“And then, unexpectedly, tickling me from inside, I recognize a long-lost feeling. The one I looked for whenever I got stoned or drunk. The one I tried to corner by outsmarting Anabella, my parents, Meadow. The one that kept drifting past me, promising me I would find it right…over…there.

…In the desert, making food in the dirt, and somehow, against everything I’ve said and thought and expected, it’s found me?

I laugh out loud. It’s so ironic. But there it is. Happiness. Happiness from inside.

… I can do stuff. And knowing that — owning that– makes me feel… unstoppable. … This is who I want to be.” (272)

Part of the beauty of Wild Bird is the realistic and human way each character is written, exposing individual flaws and their attempts to improve and grow. By the end of the book, we recognize how much her family has begun to prioritize each other over the other things in their lives.

When seeing a handwritten letter from her mom, Wren understand just how much her family has begun to change too.

“…all the letters in between flow together, connecting letters into words, words into thoughts, thoughts into love. I can just feel it, coming off the page.

I don’t know why seeing a letter from my mom in her own handwriting means so much to me, but it does. …Maybe it’s because I feel like she touched the page, didn’t just press print. Maybe because it means she listened.” (304)

Finally, one of the most powerful quotes of the book happens just before Wren’s most vulnerable moment:

“Today I’ve been considering how life’s journey is not about the distance we move our feet, but how we are moved in our heart.” (237)

Wren has the courage to face her past and take that always uncertain step towards the future. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fantastic story of a girl getting a little lost in order to be truly found.

May we all be moved more in our hearts. May we all find our place to be wildly free.

 

 

Grace and Grief (Some Traveling Mercies for the Road Ahead)

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During the fall of this year, my family suffered one of its biggest tragedies: the death of my 20-year-old cousin after a sudden car accident. Sitting in the hospital room, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins we waited for news.

He was driving to work on a Friday in early November when he got into a head-on accident with another car. Both drivers were essentially dead on impact, but we wouldn’t find this out until Sunday after the results about his CAT scan came back. No brain activity.

Driving to the hospital with my sister, I spent the next 48 hours in a constant stream of prayers that sounded a little like this, “Please please please please let him be okay. Heal him, Lord. Please please please please. I’m so afraid.”

I felt like all the air had been pulled out of my lungs. The small hospital room felt so loud, and I was so angry. I wanted a hug, I wanted to cry into someone’s shoulder. But I also wanted to be alone where no one would look at me, touch me, or try to speak to me. I was hit with waves of low-level panic.

It didn’t feel real. I was convinced for several months that I would wake up and someone would tell me my cousin has just gotten home from an extended vacation, plane tickets and suitcase in hand.

 “I’m pretty sure it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

For the first time in my life, I was face to face with the monster called Grief. I won’t say I know what grief is like for everyone, but for me, it meant feeling like I was constantly dragging myself through life. I would show up and force a customer service smile until I was allowed to go home again. This stage also involved a constant feeling of tiredness that lasted for a few weeks. I slept all the time.

Then came the next stage. The sleepless stage. I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep and ended up getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I was losing weight and feeling sick nearly every day. How could I move towards ‘healing’ when I could barely survive a day of work?

“Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of the living spirit.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

I slowly, very slowly, came to see that just letting yourself exist in the present moment without forcing yourself to do or be or change the sadness and pain lets you accept, fully and with compassion, your hurt.

“…if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Life is not easier now. I still think that maybe if I travel far enough I might just bump into my cousin on his permanent vacation. But I have healed, physically and emotionally, to a point where I can feel happy and peaceful. Even if I don’t understand the why or how of grief, I do understand a little bit better just how God works in our most broken moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18, NIV

As I cried on my bedroom floor at four in the morning, Psalm 34:18 reassured me that God truly saw me and my family during our time of deepest need. Even if things didn’t work out the way we expected, He continually reminded me of His presence next to us in our darkest moments.

This event has taught me one thing more than any other: people are the most important thing in the entire universe. When the worst happens it’s going to be your closest family and friends sitting in that hospital room with you. Stay close to those who are important to you, and don’t ever let them forget how deeply they are loved.

 

“Easy” French Macarons, Or: Tips on Making Fancy Cookies from an Amateur

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Inspired by watching The Great British Bake Off on Netflix, I attempted to make my own French macarons at home. Using the help of this YouTube video by Entertaining with Beth and this recipe, I set out one Monday afternoon to make my own French macaron cookies.

My expectations were set extremely low, especially after watching some of the contestants’ macaron fails. I could envision Paul Hollywood’s disappointed headshake at my terrible macarons.

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After hearing many times (and being warned by Beth) that macarons are finicky, tricky, and otherwise very difficult to make, I fully imagined creating a ‘macaron’ that looked less like a macaron and more like a pastel-colored disaster.

My experience in making these cookies happened in three stages:

  1. The Eggs

To make a macaron your eggs have to be whipped into a meringue. To make a meringue the eggs must be at room temperature. So, I got my two eggs out of the refrigerator at about 11 and began making the meringue at 2:30.

Immediately, several things went wrong. I got egg yolk into the egg whites and tried (unsuccessfully) to scoop it out with a spoon. Second, I used a hand mixer on high to attempt to whip up the eggs. After standing there for about five minutes with absolutely nothing happening, I gave up. And found myself completely out of eggs, and certainly out of any that were ‘room temperature’.

After a quick trip to Dollar General, I tried for attempt number two. This time I made a few changes: I put the eggs in warm water for about 4-5 minutes (thanks, Beth!), I used a stand mixer, and I was very careful to not get any egg yolks into the whites.

Finally! A perfectly fluffy, pure white meringue! It tasted like a cloud of sugary, marshmallowy goodness.

  1. The Batter

Beth points out that the batter (“This is where it could all go wrong.”) is a key, critical step to making the perfect macaron. She recommends getting the batter to a “molten lava” consistency. Overmixing could lead to flat macarons, while under mixing could lead to cracks on the top of your macarons.

This step wasn’t actually too difficult except that I was left questioning the specifics of what a “molten lava” texture actually looks like. A better (more dessert specific) comparison might be the texture of whipped mousse: liquid enough to almost pour out of the bowl, but firm enough that it holds its shape.

I didn’t have a piping bag to pipe my macarons onto my parchment paper, but using a plastic bag with one corner cut off worked pretty well (it was probably just a little messier than a piping bag).

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Then after leaving them to sit out and form a skin on top for thirty minutes, I was ready to put them into the oven.

So far so good.

  1. The Filling

The recipe I followed for easy macarons called for just a vanilla cookie and a vanilla buttercream filling. These cookies tend to be very rich and extremely sweet so using a filing with a tart flavor helps to balance everything out.

So, at the last minute, I added some cherry concentrate to my buttercream for a cherry vanilla flavor to the cookies.

Here are the final results!

 

It actually worked as a macaron, which was more than I expected. I did end up with some lumps on top (due to a mistake in mixing?) and I’m sure this wouldn’t get me the Hollywood handshake. (Maybe next time, Paul!) But it was a pretty great first attempt!

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Here’s to crunchy-on-top, melt-in-your-mouth macarons and more baking adventures to come!

🙂 Sarah

 

 

 

 

My Starting Line

Lake Michigan and trees

Last May I graduated from college with a degree in literature and writing. Did I have a plan?

No.

Do I have a plan now?

Still no.

But I do have two things: an endless stack of books and the certainty that my tomorrow will be better than my today.

I’m starting this blog with the hope that it will help me grow my writing and force me to stay accountable and consistent. I plan to discuss books (of course), writing, and life as I move forward on my path.

Join me as I explore my home state, Michigan!