2018 Recap: Top Books

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You can’t go wrong with any book in this photo.

One of my goals for 2018 was to read one fiction and one non-fiction book each month. I set this goal because I love to read, but 2017 found me watching a lot more Netflix instead of picking up a book. So my list of books to read kept getting longer while I got more bored with mindless TV. The books I counted toward this project were new to me – I didn’t count books I had read before.

Thanks to Goodreads, I have an easily accessible list of everything I read this year, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites… and maybe not-so-favorites.

Fiction

  • A Man Called Ove: I struggle to find fiction that I love, so this was an amazing early read for the year and set the bar high. The story revolves around a man who has given up on life, but a cat and some really annoying neighbors start to engage him back in the real world. It’s an absolute masterpiece in story telling with a perfect backstory reveal and great balance of funny and serious.
  • The Night Circus: How had I not read this book before? An amazing fantasy, you can see everything that happens in the book as you read.
  • No-No Boy: Set after the conclusion of World War II, this book follows a young Japanese-American man who refused to fight for the United States in the war. Not light, but an important book about identity in America. As relevant today as it was then.
  • Artemis: From the author of The Martian, Artemis is a must read! I read the whole thing in a weekend, and I loved the characters, most of which live on the moon, and the realistic feeling of logistics throughout the book. This is not Harry Potter and the Moon Adventure. No magic, just a lot of science.
  • Learning to Fall: For my horse friends, this one needs to be on your list. I struggle so much with equestrian-related fiction, but this one captured me and kept me for the whole book, wasn’t too corny, and had some actual twists and turns that were pleasantly unexpected.

Non-Fiction

  • A Stranger in the Woods: A journalist tells the story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years. Even in the winter. It is fascinating, and the perfect read if you’ve ever thought about giving freedom to your introvert soul and running away to the wilderness. Fascinating, well told, heartbreaking, funny… all the elements.
  • At Home in the World: Memoir of a woman who traveled the world with her family, including two small children for about a year. Really well told, lots of travel envy, and a great audio book listen.
  • How to Be Here: This was one of the first books I read in 2018, and, frankly, I need to read it again! My take away: read it. Then read it again.
  • Worth It: Money is not scary. How the stories we tell ourselves about money, especially as women, stop us from flourishing financially and how to take steps in the right direction.
  • High Performance Habits: If I have to recommend you read one and only one book from this list, this might be it. This book sat on my shelf for months after I bought, I think because I intuitively knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and also change my life, and I was afraid of being told some hard truths. Yes, yes, and yes. However, if you need a kick in the butt to level up your life, this book will tell you exactly how to do it. The author is honest that these changes are not easy, but there were so many moments through the whole book that had me staring wide-eyed at the page wondering if he had been spying on my brain while I sleep. If you want a taste of Brendon Burchard, I also recommend his podcast, The Brendon Show, which includes the book in audio format for season 4. However… buy the book so you can take notes in it! Trust me, it’s one you’ll want to refer back to.
  • Off Balance: Worthy of this list. I listened to this book on audio, and I’m interested in reading it again as a hard copy to maybe make notes as I read. Summary: work-life balance is a lie; aim for work-life satisfaction.

Skip ‘Em

I’m really happy to say that there weren’t too many books that I genuinely disliked. I’m not referencing the “it was fine” books I read because so much comes down to preference, style, and just what you’re in the mood for on that day. But there were two books I read that I genuinely would not recommend to anyone. #sorrynotsorry

  • Eligible: Maybe if you’re a die hard Jane Austen fan, you’ll enjoy this retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I found it very long and tedious. The person who gave it to me is no longer allowed to give me books that she was “just okay” with.
  • The Girl on the Train: I know, blasphemy! There were aspects to this book I really enjoyed, but there wasn’t a single character I actually liked. They were all kinda shitty in their own ways.

As always, the opinions shared here are mine. Take them or leave them.

What’s on your reading list for 2019? Are there any books you’ve read recently that you just couldn’t put down? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, or find me on Instagram @meganunedited

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A Sharing of Sorrows and Joys

IMG_4592Last Friday, I dropped off a little 20-pound dog named Radley at a friend’s house. I snuggled him close while he shivered in the cold, gave him lots of kisses, then put him in a small crate in the back of a van and said goodbye.

Undoubtedly, I’ll never see him again in person.

As I drove away, I thought about the last six weeks I’ve had with that little mutt, a dog that came off the streets of my town covered in ticks. From a scared little puppy who didn’t know anything about belonging to a human, he blossomed into a precocious little scoundrel who loves to tussle with Flynn, my setter mix, adored his one camping and hiking adventure, and would have liked nothing better than 24-hour-per-day snuggles.

I’m so sad to see him go; my grief is sitting heavy in my heart as I write this. He really was part of my little family since the beginning of October. Flynn and I adopted him as our own. Anything we did, he did. When I took a weekend trip, Flynn and Radley both stayed with a friend. When we went to the dog park, Radley joined. When I spent an evening with a friend and her family (human and furry), he was game. When it was time to go outside, “Everybody sit,” prompted both dog butts to hit the floor.

But now he’s on his way to find a family who will love him forever. He’s heading to a rescue that I know will find him a great fit, a person who will appreciate his energy and indulge his snuggles.

When I started fostering dogs, I knew it was a way to give back and help more animals than I could by just adopting my next dog from the shelter. I took a two year hiatus from fostering due to my living situation, and Radley was my first back in the game. I also had him longer than I’ve had any others, so it hurts more to see him leave.

There are burdens we are meant to bear. Each of us has callings in our lives. Some people might also call these blessings or gifts. But those gifts and talents have a dark side that come with the joy and happiness.

I’m meant to bear the happiness and joy of giving these dogs a soft landing spot while they wait for the next stop on their journey. But that also means that the grief of them leaving is mine to process each time. I can’t have the joy and fulfillment without the sorrow and pain.

So now, as I wash Radley’s crate blankets, tuck my extra leash in the closet and bring out the deliciously soft (and therefore destructible) toys Flynn loves so much, I’m allowed to be sad. I’m allowed to grieve. But I’m also allowed to be so excited for Radley’s next adventure in this wide world.

Just Start

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Change your mind as many times as there are ripples in the sand. But just start.

Wherever you are, just start.

I beg of you, start.

Don’t force it to be perfect or good or done, just start. It’s okay. Take a deep breath, and do that very first thing to move you in the direction you want to go. Just start.

Don’t wait for the right moment or the time or the money or the support system. Once you start, some of that will appear. Other parts you’ll have to work toward diligently and passionately and aggressively. Or just calmly and methodically.

But just start.

What’s that thing you wanted to do? Eat healthy? Lose weight? Pick up a new hobby? Deepen or change your current hobby? Connect with a stranger? Connect with your own family and current friends? Disconnect from Facebook or Instagram or poisonous relationships?

What’s that thing nagging at you right now? Wouldn’t that be fun? Wouldn’t that be… authentic? Do something, do anything, and just start.

It’s okay.

What I’ve come to realize, but I’m still working on, is that the world needs more people to live their true lives. It does no good to just live, to simply move the pieces of paper from one side of our desks to the other. We must attempt to thrive as often and as deeply as possible.

What are you waiting for? No, really, what are you waiting for? Is it ever going to be easier? If it really is, what are you doing now to move toward a space in which you can explore this thing you’re thinking about? Or maybe easier isn’t the answer. What about, just, different?

Pick something, anything. Start in the middle or the end or, if you’re feeling extra saucy, the beginning.

Just start.

Weekends

A few years ago, I got in the habit of planning my weekends the same way I planned workouts and meals. Near the beginning of the week, I would find something fun to do the next weekend – maybe a new thrift shop to explore, a historic site to tour or a trail to hike. Even if it was only an activity to occupy a couple hours on Saturday afternoon, I found I loved having something to look forward to.

When I fall out of the habit, the weekend slips by, and I start the next workweek feeling restless and moody – I didn’t take advantage of the time! I didn’t actually do anything!

Now that I’m single again, I’m finding that planning to be so much more important than it was when I was in a relationship. I can easily waste away a whole day with Netflix and laundry, just to find the next day a frantic rush to clean the apartment, ride the horse, get to the gym, buy groceries and not do anything out of the normal routine.

I’m sick of watching my weekends slip away unnoticed. I’m tired of feeling like I’m just treading water, not actually moving toward the goals I say I want to accomplish.

Better is not the aim right now; better is arbitrary and kind of pisses me off these days. Authentic is what I’m going for.

By my count, there are 11 more weekends of 2016. That’s 11 opportunities to explore something local, try something new, work toward something you’ve been saying you’re going to make time for.

What are you waiting for?

Finding My Voice Back

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Photo thanks to the talented Rachel Florman

I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t written much over the past year or more. Not just on the blog, but also in normal life.

Since I was probably 7 years old and still learning what made a sentence, writing has been part of my daily life and part of my identity. I wanted to write novels more than anything, and I spent a great many hours writing fiction stories, usually about horses, but sometimes about princesses or adventure or boys or all of the above.

I chose journalism in college mostly on a whim, and my writing became more structured. I learned about deadlines, AP style and how to write a functional news article. During and after college, internships helped me hone my skills, but it wasn’t until my first full-time job out of college that the volume of writing I did – including honest and in depth feedback from fantastic editors – started me down the path of a story teller.

Many articles were still a struggle, but in the fast-paced environment of a weekly news magazine, there was no room for angsty pondering. Get it done. Make it good. Polish, primp, publish.

But life as an equine journalist is not for me, as I learned over the course of three years in the industry. I love horses, but working in the industry all day left me disinterested in pursuing it as a hobby. Within months of leaving the industry, I was back in the saddle, hungry for each ride and enjoying every moment at the barn.

But with my departure from journalism came a separation from the writing. A few freelance articles came and went, and life continued. Between the full-time job, the relationship, the other goals and interests, the writing faded to the background. The words weren’t as comfortable pouring out of my fingers. Journaling because an infrequent, at best, coping mechanism for dark days.

Worst was the loss of the fiction. For more than 15 years, my daily life involved characters and plots floating around my head like a delightful background conversation. But they faded over time, until they finally just weren’t there any more. None of them were there, not even old favorites I’d conversed with on and off for years.

I’m not crazy. Read Big Magic, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I think the ideas, the projects, simply began to recognize that I would not help them be created. They saw that I was not willing to engage.

But then, the funniest thing happened. The other day, I was going about my life, and I was hit with a sledgehammer of a character. And holy crapola did that character jump off my fingers and onto a page faster than I could have imagined. And then came another character, and another. They were all intertwined, and I forced myself to not worry about details like names or descriptions. I just wrote what happened one day when they all started interacting and sparks f;ew and people yelled and laughed and were delightful fictional characters, the type with whom I’d never actually want to be friends because they’re a little over the top and a little out of my league, but they are mine because they came to me demanding to be created, at least a little tiny bit, and I obliged.

So where am I going with this?

All this rambling has a point, but also no point at all. The point is that I’m still finding my voice back. After such a long time I started to not even notice it was missing, and now I’m working on putting figurative pen to figurative paper and see what comes out of my fingertips.

Sometimes, this blog might be about travel. Sometimes, it might be about writing. Sometime, I might even tell you what made me lose my voice, but only if I figure that out first.

Follow along if you like – maybe someday soon I’ll be able to start sharing the other projects I’m working on. Maybe I’ll start showing you the photos I’ve been taking or the maps I’ve been pondering.

But for today, just please believe that I’m trying really, really hard to find my voice back. It’s not perfect – it never was – but it’s also very scratchy after not being used for so long. It’s uncertain and faltering, but it’s my voice, damn it. And I don’t want to lose it again.

Approaching The Finish Line

tangledThere’s a scene in Tangled with Rapunzel and Flynn on the boat, waiting for the lanterns to get released that I’ve been playing over in my head. Rapunzel’s feeling a little down, and she says, “I’ve been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?”

Flynn assures her, “It will be,” but then she says, “And what if it is? What do I do then?”

Of course, Flynn knows just what to say: “Well, that’s the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.”

As the weeks dwindle and I get closer and closer to paying off my loans (six more weeks!), I realize how much I’ve been absorbed by this goal. Many decisions in my life that might seem unrelated have been impacted by my deep desire to pay off my loans, and the past year has been riddled with “if only I were debt free” moments, days and weeks.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve already crossed the finish line. For the past year, I’ve focused so much it’s hurt. And now that I’m so close to being done, I wonder what’s next.

Some things, I already have planned: ride more horses; build an emergency fund; save for a new car.

But then I stop and think about some of the little things: Will I keep my second job? If I do, will I be able to cut back on hours without letting my ambition and impatience get in the way? If I don’t, what will I do with (compared to now) so much free time? How will my mindset change once I’m actually out of debt? Will I be more generous? Will it live up to my expectations of freedom? Will I see my career in a different light?

What happens when the biggest, most ambitious goal I’ve ever had is actually accomplished?

Finding Fearless

 At the beginning of 2015, just like I have for the past couple years, I chose a Word for the year. I put a lot of thought into it, and I settled on Centered. It was supposed to be a way to calm life down a little bit after so much running around for the past few years, and especially after the intensity of the end of 2014. Between finding a new job, traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then moving, I was exhausted.

But over the past three months, I haven’t really internalized Centered the way I internalized Embrace and Connect. It hasn’t changed my life perspective, and I’ve made no different decisions than if my word for the year was It or The.

Yesterday, I was contemplating a few things, journaling about some inner turmoil (the usual Tuesday drivel), and I started to realize that by trying to stay Centered, I’m also living a very conservative life. I’m holding back in ways I don’t appreciate.

I find myself feeling jealous of people who seem to live a carefree, throw-caution-to-the-wind life. And I know I’ll never be that way–I like plans and step-by-step processes. However, when I get too caught up in my plans, I start to act from a place of fear. What if it doesn’t work? What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if things change too much? What if they never change?

But what if I wasn’t afraid?

A million things came to mind, all of them well within my reach. I’m still exploring this idea, figuring out what it means in a daily life kind of way. (I don’t really want to jump out of an airplane anytime soon.) And although being Centered is important, I need to practice being Fearless right now–Fearless in my relationships, in my work, in my writing and photography, in my goals and dreams. There’s no holding back.

I’ve got this one life. That’s it. There’s no second chance, no do-over if I mess it up.

So let’s do this. Let’s be fearless and brave and unashamed of any of it. What’s the worst that can happen?