How to Combat Worry: A Journal

I am a worrier. I often remind my husband, when he tells me not to worry, that I come from a long line of worriers, as if this tradition of my mother and her mother always worrying validates my tendency to fret. As if my habit of jumping to the worst case scenario in my head is perfectly normal, acceptable behavior.
Well, it’s not.

The Problem

Here’s the problem with worrying: it doesn’t DO anything. Wait, that’s not true. It makes my stomach hurt and steals hours of sleep when I need them the most. It encourages me to snap but not to solve the problem I’m churning over. It also usually annoys the people I’m worried about. So a more accurate statement is:

Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything productive.

My husband, ever calm, ever rational, has told me this for years, and I’ve always gotten mad when he said it. But finally, after decades of entertaining this bad habit, I’m tired of suffering its consequences. I’m tired in general, and I don’t have the precious energy to waste on fretting.

I’m ready to confront my worrying.

First, I’m trying to find the root of the problem. I think it has something to do with my need for predictability and control. I have a spreadsheet for our sports schedule and a specific method for loading groceries onto the checkout belt (produce first, then cold stuff, followed by boxes and cans, then the items I don’t want crushed). Worrying is my futile attempt to control my world. Finally, at age 46, I’m understanding that I actually have very little control over the world, and if I accept that, I’ll be a happier gal.

Second, I’m going to break the habit with a few new tools.

The Solution

Lent has started, and each year during this season I practice three disciplines to bring me closer to God: prayer, fasting, and acts of service. I always fast from sweets and Coke during Lent to “detox” (don’t underestimate my addiction to Coke; this truly is a sacrifice for me.) This year I’m also fasting from worry, but I’m going to need a system to help me.

Robert Frost quote
The quote on the cover of my worry journal is apt, especially after reading Turtles All the Way Down.

I will create a “worry journal” in which I will write down the things that trouble me. I will find scripture or quotes to put next to my concerns, so that when my head starts to spin with worrisome thoughts, I will use the scripture/quotes as prayers and mantras to counteract the fretting.  I also hope the physical act of writing down my fears will contain them in the pages of my journal and keep them from creating havoc in my head.

Insight App
My library of meditations from the Insight app

To strengthen my ability to control my thoughts, I’ve started practicing meditation with the help of an app called Insight. (Thank you, daughter.) It has a timer as well as a library of guided meditations searchable by theme and length. My friend Sarah B. Rawz has great tips for meditation on her blog that I’m using too. I’ve only done this for a few days, and for ten minutes or less, but I’m hoping to make it a habit. A productive one to replace the pointless one.

I told my family about my plan, and my people are understandably dubious. My son asked if I would burn the journal at the end of Lent, but I think not. Sometimes, it’s instructive to look back on what you’ve worried about once you know how everything plays out. And, I think I’m going to need this worry journal for longer than six weeks. As my dear friend Kristen pointed out, “This is a tough year for worrying.” My oldest son will leave for college this fall. I’ll have one son starting high school and another starting middle school. My daughter will get her driver’s license this summer.

Lots of worry fodder there.  I’ll be ready to not worry.

Is worrying a problem for you? How do you handle it? Do you have any Lenten practices to share?

Thanks for stopping by!







What Does Omnibus Mean?

Every year, I get a new Mensa Page a Day Puzzle calendar.  My people like to contemplate the puzzles over breakfast.  I like the wordy ones; hubby and child number three like the math ones.  (Insert nerd emoji here.)  Last December, we saw the 2018 version at Barnes and Noble, but I made my puzzler people wait because, “It will go on sale after the New Year.”

Well, this January I discovered the problem with waiting for the 50% off sale.  Wait too long, and it’s out of stock.  Everywhere.

Sporkle trivia calendarSo my puzzler people had to endure boring January breakfasts without any math problems to stimulate their brains.  I finally broke down and bought a Sporkle trivia calendar as a substitute, and it’s fun, but not  the same.  Thankfully, the same time I got the Sporkle, I got Match Wits with Mensa, The Complete Puzzle Book.  It’s a two-inch thick volume with puzzles more like what we’re used to from the Page A Day Calendar.  The cover claims that it is “the Omnibus edition with over 800 puzzles and brainteasers” which prompted a brainteaser of its own.

“What is an omnibus?” child number four asked.

Good question, buddy.  Enter Merriam-Webster.

Mensa Quiz Book

omnibus \ ˈäm-ni-(ˌ)bəs \ from Latin omni, meaning all

  • noun:
    • a public vehicle used to carry a large number of passengers
    • a book carrying reprints of a number of works
  • adjective:
    • of, relating to many things at once
    • containing many items; an omnibus bill

Example:  Congress must hash out the details of the trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill by Friday.

Did you know what omnibus meant?  And where, if at all, do you turn for puzzles to stimulate your brain?

Don’t forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!

If you like learning new words, be sure to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for Wondrous Words Wednesday!.

Thanks for getting super nerdy with me today!







A Great Site for Book Series Lovers

Thankfully, my kids love to read.  However, it’s hard to stay on top of all the books they consume, especially my younger two boys, who love series of the action/adventure/ fantasy variety.  I can’t remember which books they’ve read and which books they need next from the library!

Luckily, when my friend Leslie and I were discussing the The Ranger’s Apprentice series, she pulled up an extremely helpful website, Book Series in Order.  The guy who runs the site, Graeme, has created an extensive data base of book series that includes everything from Rick Riordan to John Grisham.

You can search by character, and the site will pull up all the books with that character.  When necessary, the site lists the books in order of publication and also in chronological order, when the two differ.  The site offers summaries about characters or series to help you figure out if you’d like the books.

When you search by author, the site gives you interesting background information about the author as well as all the books written by that author, organized by series.  Some incredibly prolific authors, such as Brandon Sanderson and Rick Riordan, have over ten collections of books!  I can never keep all of Riordan’s series straight (is that book part of The Lightening Thief series or The Kane Chronicles?) – Books Series in Order is a huge help!

Book Series in Order

Here’s what comes up when you search “Rick Riordan”.Each book listed also has links to Amazon so that it’s easy to order the book in hardcover, paperback, or Kindle formats.

Graeme, who runs the site, offers some “Top Lists” to help you find books.  Some of his categories include:

  • Top ten books for kids aged 6-12
  • Top ten book to movie adaptations
  • Ten series to read after The Hunger Games

If you can’t find a series you’re interested in, you can submit a request to add that series to the data base.  You can also subscribe to a biweekly newsletter that offers 6-8 book recommendations per issue.

The only downside to the site is it’s filled with ads, which makes it a little clunky to navigate and slow to load.  It’s easy to accidentally click on an ad and get sent someplace you don’t want to go.  Be careful as you scroll!

Graeme, the site manager, uses a basic and somewhat choppy writing style.  He’s clearly not a fancy writer, but he doesn’t claim to be.  He loves books and reading, and his hard work is an asset to other book lovers, especially those who like series.

Have you ever used Book Series in Order?  Can you recommend any other similar sites that help readers keep track of series?

Thanks for reading!







What I Didn’t Like About Fates and Furies

Have you ever picked up a book that’s gotten critical acclaim and fabulous reviews from people online, but by the time you reached chapter three you thought, “I hate this story”? That’s what happened to me, and most of my book club, when we read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I’d seen so much raving about it in my writing circles, I recommended it for our reading list.

I ended up apologizing to my book club. Luckily they are a forgiving bunch.


Fates and Furies explores the two sides of marriage between Lotto, a charismatic, aspiring actor, and Mathilde, a quiet, beautiful girl with a mysterious past. From the outside, Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship appears passionate and happy, yet secrets lurk. Broken into two parts, Fates and Furies presents the marriage from the perspective of Lotto first (Fates) and then Mathilde (Furies).

What I liked

Fates and Furies has beautiful prose, layered and complicated, yet easy to read. Groff uses unique, poignant descriptions to capture emotions and truths in brief but powerful language. Some examples:

  • On grief: “She could feel the grief coming on fast, shaking the ground like a hurtling train, but she hadn’t been hit by it yet.” And later, “… they deposited her in the bed that still smelled like him. She put her face in the pillow. She lay. She could do nothing. Her whole body had turned inward. [She] had become a fist.”
  • On marriage: “They had been married for seventeen years; she lived in the deepest room in his heart.”

These descriptions felt real and true for me, and there are tons of them throughout the novel.  They kept me reading.

What I didn’t like

I need a character I can relate to or empathize with when I read a book. I couldn’t find one in Fates and Furies. Most of the characters are self-absorbed and conniving; many of them hide dark secrets. Only Lotto doesn’t try to manipulate the people around him, but that’s because he’s too obsessed with himself and his art to notice much else.

The characters do not have clear goals or objectives, and the story meanders, often jumping back and forth in time. It is a novel primarily concerned with character instead of plot, however, since I didn’t like the characters or see them change, this style didn’t work for me. I’ve seen Fates and Furies described as “Gone Girl with nicer people”. I disagree. Gone Girl is a thriller, with a plot driven, suspenseful story. The characters are just as manipulative and dysfunctional, but the plot kept me interested, at least until the ridiculously twisted ending.

Lotto, after failing as an actor, finds success writing plays. Groff includes snippets from his plays within the narrative. They add insight into Lotto’s mind and add depth to the themes and characters presented in the main story. They also provide allusions to Greek mythology. However, I didn’t enjoy reading them, and some of the book club girls skipped them all together.

There’s a lot of sex. I don’t mind love scenes, it is after all a story about marriage, and the love scenes in Fates and Furies aren’t graphic.  But they are plentiful, and often not loving.  Most of the characters use sex as a weapon of manipulation, as if sex can solve their problems. It doesn’t. In fact, it creates more.

The characters are haunted by mistakes from their past, even ones they made as children. In general, Lotto and Mathilde seem powerless to change themselves or to rise above their weaknesses. There is one small triumph near the end of “Furies”, but that seems inadequate compared to the darkness that precedes it.


I can only recommend Fates and Furies to writers looking for great examples of descriptive language. Or to anyone who would be attracted to a novel entitled Sex and Suicide, which was how one book clubber nick named this book.

If you’ve read Fates and Furies, what did you think? What’s another highly touted novel you’ve been disappointed in?

Happy reading!







What’s Good About a Small Town

Sometimes, like when I tell people that there aren’t any Advanced Placement classes in our county, or that the high school (built circa 1950) doesn’t have air conditioning or more than two outlets in a classroom, I wonder why on earth we live in this small town in southwest Virginia. I grew up in Fairfax County, a well funded school division outside of Washington, D.C. My high school had a separate arts building with multiple auditoriums, as well as air conditioning. My kids have had a much different educational experience than I have, and sometimes I lie awake at night, queasy with guilt.

But last week, in a chilly church parking lot, 35 people reminded me of what is good here.

Seventeen years ago, my husband and I, both products of suburbia and military families, moved to this town, population 9000, seeking a sense of community. We live nestled against the Appalachian Mountains, and the views are gorgeous. Unfortunately, the funding is scarce.

We have three grocery stores (two are Food Lions), four auto parts stores, and no decent shopping.  (The nearest mall is 45 miles away.) We have a movie theater, but it’s never crowded, and I’m afraid it will close someday, which would devastate my teens as it is one of the few sources of entertainment here.

The general mentality is conservative (Trump posters abound); the local accent is a drawl. Recently, our county Board of Supervisors decided to spend millions building an agricultural expo center in the hopes of drawing business to our economically depressed county. The same Board declined to spend millions on building new schools, even though a high quality school system would also attract business and new residents. For a mother of four children, this is frustrating.

But here’s the good part. Last Sunday, my son asked for volunteers from the community to help him with his science fair project. These people weren’t going to get anything for their time, just the appreciation of a kid collecting data on headlight glare. Over two chilly evenings, 35 people showed up in our church parking lot, including a woman who taught him in preschool and one who taught him in third grade. (”He’s gotten taller!” she said. 🙂 ) All of them expressed interest in my son and his project, and I’m wise enough to know this says as much about their character as it does about my son’s.

We don’t have a Target or state of the art school buildings, but we do have something else: people matter here. I’ve seen many examples of this: when friends take care of my children during family emergencies, when people in the community clip and share photos of my kids from the local paper, when adults who aren’t related to my kids attend their sporting and academic events and send them notes of encouragement. Once, when my 15 year old daughter complained about how horrid our town is, I listed the names of 10 people outside of our family who care about her and pray for her.

I never had that in Fairfax County.

So, when the next wave of doubt hits, and it will, most likely at 3am, I will try to remember those 35 people who came out to help my kid. True, my children have experienced limited educational resources and a lack of progressive thinking, but because of that, they have learned to make due with what they have and to find ways to challenge themselves. I hope when they graduate and leave this place, they will thrive in academic environments with more opportunities. I also hope they will remember what they learned growing up in this small town: people matter.

All communities have their pros and cons. What are some of the pros and cons of where you live?

What Were the Top Ten Words of 2017

2017 was an interesting year characterized by an outspoken president, horrific weather events, and controversial protests. We shouldn’t be surprised that the top ten words from 2017 would also be interesting and controversial, including feminism, gaffe, and syzygy. (I actually know syzygy. Do you?)

Every year, names its top ten words of the year, based on how many times they were looked up. Here they are, all definitions from

Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes;  organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

I like to think of feminism as this: a world view that appreciates the complicated nature of human beings and does not use gender as a basis for behavioral expectations or intrinsic value. Like so many other concepts, it isn’t something that can be understood in simplistic, black and white terms. I can be a feminist and a stay at home mom at the same time. Even men can be feminists, which doesn’t mean they are into pink (although that’s okay); it means they believe in the respectful treatment of women.

In 2017, feminism was a top look up throughout the year, with spikes following the Women’s Marches of January 2017, the release of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, and the rise of the #MeToo movement. There has been so much coverage and controversy surrounding the word and its meaning that Merriam-Webster declared feminism its Word of the Year for 2017.


Complicit: helping to commit a crime

This word was used often during the year to describe various activities of the Trump administration.

Recuse: to disqualify oneself as judge in a particular case

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gained attention when he recused himself from the investigation of Hillary Clinton and of the possible collusion between Russia and the Trump administration.

Empathy: the ability to share another person’s feelings

This word often came up in criticism of Trump and the Republicans (are you seeing a trend here?). It is also an important value of the #MeToo campaign.

holding hands
Photo: Yoel Ben-Avraham via flickr CC-BY-ND

Dotard: a person in senile decay who demonstrates decreasing mental poise and alertness

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used this word to describe Donald Trump.

Syzygy: a nearly straight line configuration of three celestial bodies

This word was popular in August because of the solar eclipse. Cool Word Nerd Note: Syzygy was the name of my high school literary magazine. 🙂

Gyro: a gyroscope, gyrocompass, pronounced \ ˈjī-(ˌ)rō \;  a Greek sandwich made from lamb and beef, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce on pita bread, pronounced \ ˈyē-ˌrō , ˈzhir-ō \

Both words come from the Greek gyros meaning turn, and the spike in look ups happened after a Jimmy Fallon skit about the pronunciation of “gyro”.

Federalism: the distribution of power in an organization between the central authority and its constituent units; eg, the Federal government and the states

This word basically relates to states rights, and it got popular when Senator Lindsay Graham said of the Affordable Care Act that legislators must choose between socialism and federalism regarding health care.

Hurricane: a tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour or greater that occurs especially in the western Atlantic, that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes.

People were probably seeking for technical information while looking up “hurricane” in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria.

Gaffe: a noticeable mistake

There was a big gaffe during 2017 Academy Awards, when the Oscar for best picture was originally given to La La Land but Moonlight was the real winner.

Did you learn anything new?  What are your favorites from this list? 

I’m a big fan of feminism and empathy.  I hope we see more of those in 2018, and a lot less of words like complicit, dotard, and gaffe.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!