Who We Are When No One's Watching

Three weeks ago we released our conversation with Esther Emery and, as we said in the episode, both Leslie and I loved her book, What Falls From the Sky, as well. It's been months since we actually recorded the interview and yet the memory of our conversation keeps popping up at the most inopportune times for me. 

Almost three years ago we moved from both of our families and friends in Iowa to relocate to Michigan. I would say the first year I relied pretty heavily on my phone for all the things. Most of those were healthy—keeping in touch with good friends, receiving updates on my nieces and nephews, keeping track of clients to make sure they were staying on their health journey, etc. But some of it was exactly what Esther talked about with us—I simply didn't know who I was without constant reinforcement from my online community. While in Iowa I had friends and family for that reinforcement, so rarely would we go a day without seeing someone who could remind me of my worth. But once we moved I found myself relying more on the strangers behind their phones and computers to give me those reinforcements. A 'like' on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter, a comment on Instagram, they were all a poor replacement for Leslie's hug or lunch with my friends, but it was enough to bridge the emotional gap for me. 

The truth is I think most of us trying to live in this online culture struggle from time to time to find that balance. Much of my work requires me to be online—I need to keep up on trends in social media and find it's the best way I can relay the messages of the companies and organizations I do marketing for...including this podcast! My current reality just isn't conducive to a year without the internet. (Nor is my inability to find any location without the help of Waze, if I'm being honest.)

But since talking with Esther I have become really aware of my time spent online. I will admit that I used to not even blink twice about thumbing through Twitter while my kids were telling me a story. Not anymore. If I'm doing something with work I'll ask them to hold the story for a second while I finish and then put the phone down or push away from the computer. I am not 100% at this, and my kids are so very good at reminding me of that, but I'm considerably better. And as I get older I know to shoot for better and not perfect. 

I also allow myself a little reflection before posting and mindlessly thumbing through posts. Before I post, I ask myself the "why?" Am I wanting to share to give hope? A bit of understanding? Just for fun? Or am I posting this because I'm feeling a little less than? These are hard questions to ask myself and even harder still to get the real answer to. It's embarrassing to admit how often I look for external validation in the online world but I have a feeling I'm not alone.

Maybe you're like me and you struggle with this. I hope that you realize that you are worthy regardless of how big or small your social media platform is. I hope you realize that whether you get 3 likes or 65,000, it doesn't actually change your value in the slightest. This feels counter-intuitive to us already, doesn't it? Even to those of us who can remember a time not so long ago that we didn't even own cell phones. But our culture changes and shifts at such a rapid pace that already it feels like who we are online is who we are. Period. That our number of followers and friends is the number one indicator as to how much value we have as a human. 

When the reality, as you know, is actually not in the followers but in the ones who would actually follow you in person. Those people who jump at the chance to help you when you need it or like you even when you're being positively unlikable. They are the ones who have seen you unfiltered, unedited, unwashed and still you take their breath away with your brains, your strength, your kindness and your beauty. These are the ones who more often reflect our worth back to us in real, tangible, sustainable ways because we know when they say they love us they love ALL of us. Not just the Facetuned (thank you sweet baby Jesus for that app), Nashville-filtered variety. Our tribe reminds us of our worth because we see theirs in the most mundane ways as well, and thank goodness for that. 

Esther found her worth sitting in the quiet on the couch, looking out her window watching the seasons change as her babes toddled close by. I often find mine during my morning meditation. The house is quiet, the screens are off and there is not a single person out there who knows what I am thinking, feeling, or looking like. I've rarely brushed my teeth, I typically have acne cream on from the night before and yet in those quiet moments first thing in the morning I'm often overcome by the realization that I am worth every single good and beautiful thing that comes to me each day...not because I've earned what's good and beautiful by being clever, hardworking or wise but because I'm me. 

I hope if you haven't that you listen back to Esther's podcast or at the very least that you are able to embrace that quite clarity that comes from moments reaching internally rather than externally. You are infinitely loved, y'all. Put down the phone, close your eyes, and bask in it. 

Tesi Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and blogs on her own website www.tesiklipsch.com. She lives in Michigan with her husband and 5 children, ages 14, 13, 12, 10 and 10. 

 

Mama Bear Self Care: Tea Time, Me Time

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We’ve seen the mugs, t-shirts, and tote bags bearing phrases like “I run on coffee and chaos”, “but first, coffee”, and my personal favorite, “first I drink the coffee, then I do the things”. (Confession: I am drinking a cup of coffee as I write this blog post…)

As Mama Bears, many of us wake long before our spouses, our children, and the sun, not necessarily because we love early mornings but because we know the day ahead requires us to be prepared. We stumble to the kitchen, turn on the coffeemaker, and wait for that liquid gold to fill both our literal and our figurative cups. Soon we feel ready to conquer the day; from drop-offs and pick-ups to practices and lessons to homework and dinner, we know we can accomplish it all when buoyed by coffee.

Coffee has become our not-so-secret weapon in the battle for ultimate productivity, and while there is a time and a place for coffee-fueled busy, there is also a time and place to slow down.

Allow me to introduce you to the new drink in town: tea.

“If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”

Consider William Gladstone’s words as you picture yourself drinking a cup of tea. You look relaxed, don’t you? Perhaps you’re sitting on your back porch on a sunny morning, feeling a light breeze on your face and listening to the birds chirp. Maybe you’re curled up in a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace, reading a deliciously good book. When coffee encourages us to get moving, tea encourages us to slow down. Where coffee reminds us to tackle that lengthy to-do list, tea reminds us that less is more. Tea is not just a beverage, but a ticket to living a more balanced, peaceful life.

Unbeknownst to many, after water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world: an astounding 3 billion cups are savored daily. And when you consider the long list of health and wellness benefits associated with tea – and that it can be enjoyed hot or cold in any season – it’s no wonder tea has gained such a massive following.

At the very least, tea offers a flavorful way to stay hydrated. Tea is simple and inexpensive to brew at home, and the options are almost endless. Some prefer orthodox tea – from luscious greens to robust blacks and the full-bodied oolongs in between – while others fancy herbal teas made by infusing herbs, spices, and other plant components in hot water. Whatever the case, almost everyone can find a cup of tea to please the taste buds.

More importantly, tea is high in antioxidants, has no calories, increases metabolism, improves skin, soothes the digestive system, calms the nervous system, and boosts the immune system. Some studies have even found a connection between drinking tea and a lower occurrence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Though used medicinally elsewhere in the world for thousands of years, the health benefits of tea are only recently making headlines in the United States.

As Mama Bears, we need to care for ourselves in order to care for our families. So the next time you feel stressed, overwhelmed, tired, grumpy, or even just uninspired, brew yourself a cup of the finest solution to life’s challenges. Both your mental and physical health will thank you for the treat.

Source #1 | Source #2


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Seven Ways White Moms Can Fight Racism and Spread Love

I am going to be honest: My prejudice runs wide and deep. As a solidly middle-class, educated, cisgender white woman living in the Midwest who consumes media and actively participates in modern-day America, I’ve got a lifetime of bias and racism to contend with. I’m raising my children in a predominantly white world within a country facing systematic racism in our criminal justice system, our system of public education, and at large in our society. But here’s the thing: I want to do better.

I’d like to believe that all of us want better. And I’d like to think that as moms we yield a special power to not only improve ourselves as individuals, but to shape an entire generation into a people who are kinder and more fervent in their demand for equality and justice. Though I’m quick to remind myself that eliminating my own bias and racism will take a lifetime of intention and work and that much of the ugliness within is a symptom of the culture that all of us share, I know I am capable of great change and great compassion. But first, I have to do the uncomfortable work to learn and know better...all so that I can do better. I commit to starting here:

1. I will acknowledge my privilege. Sometimes when we hear the words “white privilege,” we hear the words “you’re white and you’re racist.” Let’s be clear: that is not the definition of white privilege. White privilege tends to be unintentional and uncomfortable to recognize, so it’s easy to take for granted. However, without acknowledging that it exists and without confronting it, the playing field in America will never be even. The first step as a white mom is to recognize my own plentiful privilege and the ways in which my children benefit from this privilege. I understand that though I am smart and hard-working, I still have white privilege. This feels uncomfortable, but naming it and owning it is the first step.

2. I will try to understand and examine my implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” It has been widely studied and the research is conclusive: We all have implicit bias...men, women, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, young, old, and, yes, even well-intentioned white moms. Know this: Implicit racial bias is not the same thing as conscious racism. People who harbor implicit biases (remember, that’s all of us!) may not think of themselves as prejudiced; in fact, they likely consider prejudice abhorrent and may not understand they have these biases. The trick is to learn about what these look like for you as an individual. What triggers my bias? Where did it come from? How can I retrain my thoughts and the ways in which I experience and interpret the world? Again, to move toward true equality, it’s up to each of us to do the the hard, internal work of uncovering our own bias and how it impacts our response to the world.

3. I will listen and learn. I’ve said it to my sons and daughter a thousand times: Learning is hard. When facing something difficult, something new, or something that might make us think deeply or work hard, our instincts are often to deflect, ignore, or refuse to try. But life will be better when we are open to learning about the world around us. How best to learn about the experiences of others? Listening to the people who own the experience. I can read articles and consume news written by people of color. I can listen to black podcasts. I can read books written by immigrants and devour articles written by women of color. This isn’t drudgery; this is an opportunity to consume amazing new material and insight.

4. I will advocate for diversity in my life. For many of us, our cities and neighborhoods are segregated to the point that you actually have to advocate for diversity in your life. You and I can do this by making it a priority to interact with people of other races, religions, and backgrounds. How? Frequent public places—municipal swimming pools, neighborhood parks, and public schools. When you place value on social diversity, you’ll look for neighborhoods and schools that reflect your priorities and you’ll take your whole life there.

5. I will teach my kids that skin color matters. We are a beautiful and diverse people and we are not blind to color. As a white mom, I will teach my kids that skin color matters—to the point of acknowledging a certain group’s history. Ultimately, through lessons of past and present, my responsibility is to teach my children that skin color should not determine life or death.

6.  I will pronounce my kids’ friends' names correctly. Thankfully, there are kids in my life that I have had to ask specifically for the pronunciation of their name. I will do this every time. By constantly mispronouncing a name or by nicknaming a child something more familiar to my tongue, I’m communicating that their identity should conform to the world I know rather than being responsive to them as a person.

7. I will amplify the voices of black and brown people. Here’s a script I will do my best to adopt: Are you in the position to put a minority or person of color in power? Do it. Read an important article written by or about a person of color? Share it. See art that you love that depicts people of color? Absorb it, hang it up in your home, and celebrate it. Notice a magazine that regularly puts people of color on their cover? Subscribe. I will also remind my white mom friends that we are powerful. Once we acknowledge that in our social circles we have a voice that other white moms will listen to, progress occurs. It’s not ideal, but as a group we have the opportunity to use our voices in order for other people to listen to voices of color. For instance, if your brown sister is speaking out and your peers don’t seem to hear her, it may be up to you to amplify her voice and her message by interpreting it for others. Unfortunately, sometimes the message of the oppressed isn’t heard until someone from the culture of power becomes a mouthpiece.

There is no doubt that prejudice impulses will take a lifetime to untangle and that the list here just scratches the surface of the journey towards becoming a woke white mom, but something that is true right now is that my capacity to love in infinite. Regardless of the complexity and nuance of being a white woman in America, I believe we all have enough compassion to share with those who struggle, those who look different, and those who come from a world that we fail to understand. In doing so, we’ll plant a seed of understanding and of solidarity. Such wisdom and guidance doesn’t just benefit people of color, it benefits all of us.

*A version of this article was published on the Quad Cities Moms' Blog. Much of this post was based on Episode 73 of the Mama Bear Dares podcast and stemmed from the conversation and research of co-hosts Leslie and Tesi.

Leslie Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and author of Mama Bear's Manifesto: A Moms' Group Guide to Changing the World. She lives with her husband and three children, ages 12, 10, and 7, in the Midwest.

Mama Bear Moment: Watching them Fail to Let them Live

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It was late July and the summer days were numbered when we decided to venture out and try a new swimming pool. The neighborhood moms and I packed our swim bags, grabbed our towels, and sun-screened all the people for an adventure. This new pool had a high dive, which is rare anymore as it falls straight into the “too-dangerous-for-kids-these-days” category.

To participate in the high-dive fun, it was mandatory to pass a swim test.  My oldest daughter is an anxious perfectionist (her apple falls very near her mama’s tree) who rarely tastes defeat. For this reason, practicing failure was an ever present “to do” for her dad and me, but we found contriving situations for kids to fail is easier said than done. 

I knew the moment she asked if she could take the test that my answer would be an enthusiastic YES.  She is a capable swimmer, so I wasn’t throwing her to the deep end sharks, but this test exceeded her capabilities. She would get to experience that bitter mix of disappointment that comes so infrequently to kids these days. I gathered round the side of the pool with the other onlookers, a knowing smile on my face because this moment had failure written all over it.

Some might say the sense of elation I got when given the opportunity to watch my daughter fail was inappropriate. Yet, I had been diligently looking for a moment to practice failing and, when one fell in my lap, I breathed a sigh of relief. What better way to practice vulnerability? And tenacity? And resolve that failure isn’t the end, but only a step along the way.

In an era of participation trophies and everybody gets a turn fair play, our kids often miss out on experiencing failure. And we all fail at some point or another … I find myself failing nearly daily some weeks! Without failure, there would be no great successes. After all, life is about how you handle Plan B (or C or D.) It can be hard to find opportunities to practice failing, but it’s a skill that should be tried on for size in childhood. Adulthood is a series of small (and large) failures that lead to great victories and, without practice, failure can be wholly overwhelming.

She didn’t pass the swim test that sunny July day. She cried hot tears down her chlorine-soaked cheeks and we got to have a thoughtful talk about how failure felt, and, more importantly, how she would try again another time. We got to talk about what she could do differently and how, despite being upset, she really was okay. Even better than okay—she was prepared with the tools to succeed the next time around.

My Mama Bear sunned herself on the warm pavement around the pool that day. While it’s never fun to watch your child crumble in the agony of defeat, it’s a great feeling to know they are fine-tuning a life skill that will take them (slightly more) comfortably into adulthood. Mama Bears fail and rise again…frequently…and it’s a gift to be able to pass this down to our cubbies.

What might happen if we dare to fail boldly, comfortably, and completely out loud? What if we let our children fail and then showed up to be there to help them rise again. That's my dare for you: Don't let the shackles of failure weigh you down. Instead, know that each failure teaches you exactly what you needed to learn.


Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.

Books for February

Hi, Readers!

I’m so happy to be back on the Mama Bear Blog, this time with book suggestions centering on race, race relations, and race in America. February is Black History Month, so we thought it would be appropriate to share with you some of the books I have recently read surrounding the topic. The current political climate and the Black Lives Matter movement have opened my eyes to issues of race in a way they they hadn’t been previously. Why? Because they didn’t have to be, thanks to my white privilege and the fact that I live in a mostly white town. However, I don’t want to be willfully ignorant to the issue any more.

Last year, I made a conscious effort to read both fiction and nonfiction focused on race. This post include a list and short description of some of my favorite. By no means is this a comprehensive list and in no way do I want to paint myself as an expert. I am just a white lady trying to get woke and this is where I’ve started. If you’re in the same situation, maybe one of these books will spark your interest and lead you to an understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement or what people mean when they talk about white privilege.

Happy reading!

NONFICTION

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Phoebe Robinson: Funny and insightful, full of pop culture references, also a strong feminist viewpoint.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah: About his upbringing in South Africa and fully relevant to our current political situation.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson: An absolute must read about our justice system. I said MUST read.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates: If you’re ready to get a hard lesson in what it’s like to be black in America, read this.

How to Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston: He uses a humorous voice to describe what it’s like to always be the “representative of blackness.”

FICTION

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett: The secret that all the characters in this book revolve around is an abortion, so it may not be for everyone, but I was mesmerized by this book.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Mesmerizing observations on race in America from the viewpoint of non-American Blacks.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead: This book takes a good, hard look at our history as it re-imagines the underground railroad as an actual railroad.

All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: Not perfect, but a great place for white tweens to start thinking about the subject matter.


Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

What Happened to Wednesday?!?

Did you guys catch our announcement on the podcast yesterday? For those from our newsletter fam—this is old news, right? On Episode 97, we announce that we are dropping our Wednesday "Mama Bear Mini" episode for the time being. I know, we have heard from a few of you who are disappointed and we get it. Let me explain:

Honestly, we have recorded so many extraordinary interviews (enough to actually fill our podcast schedule through April!), but every week at our Monday meetings, Leslie and I do a bit of scrambling to come up with ideas for our minis. We are incredibly grateful to those of you who have given us ideas, but often we would grasp at straws trying to follow the smallest idea and create an entire episode. As an example, we really want to do an episode tackling the "Side Hustle." We know this phenomenon, right? We want to explore why it's such a thing right now and how we can take on a side hustle and not lose friends and family in the process. We have been trying to force that episode to take shape for weeks but have found that it's going to take some time and we were feeling pressured to just make it work. (Related: if you have a way to make it work, go ahead and shoot us an email and write the show. kthanksbye!) 

We finally sat down and admitted that we never wanted to just try to "pull off" a show. We recommitted to the idea that we want this podcast to be something we can both be really proud of...each episode...no matter what. We want to be able to stand behind any of the episodes so that when you continue to tell your friends and family about our little community over here you can just tell them to start listening and not feel like you have to say, "Pick any of them but that Side Hustle one, they were clearly phoning it in." 

That's the main reason we are going back to just one episode a week. Add to that Leslie's health scare during which she realized she had to cut back on a few things to preserve her sanity and her iron levels, as well as the reality that we believe this podcast and its community is at its best when BOTH Leslie and Tesi are involved, it was an easy decision to make. 

How's it going to work?

This Monday (February 6) we will have our normal interview episode. Monday happens to be with Kate Segal, a woman who spent six years in the Michigan state legislature and has some really fascinating insight into politics. It's another can't miss episode. The next Monday (February 13) will be a Mama Bear Major (working title) that Leslie and I are cooking up. This will be an episode that would've normally premiered on a Wednesday, but we are making it bigger and *hopefully* better for its prime Monday debut. The Monday after that will be an interview and so on and so forth. All the things you've come to love and rely on from us will still be happening, just with a different day of debut. 

Fears. We got 'em:

Of course we're a little afraid this decision will annoy enough of you to stop listening. Or to only listen to every other Monday or what have you. But we know that those of you who continue to tune in despite our relative newness to this medium are in it for the long haul and we could not appreciate you more. 

Hopes. We have those, too!

We hope that you can recognize a difference in the material that we post every time. We hope you notice how much more effort we're able to pour into each episode since we're not having to split time and energy between two per week. We hope that you forgive us when we fall short of that and celebrate our minor victories with the same gusto. 

Above all, we hope you join us in the journey and continue to invite other Mama Bears to the table. 

Thank you all, as always, for being a part of this community. We hope we do right by you in all of our decisions and if we don't, we hope you dare to tell us and hold us to the high standard in which we hold ourselves. 

Much love to you today and this weekend. Take your meds, call your friend, order the Epsom salts (using our Amazon banner ad, s'il vous plait!), invite friends over. Take care of yourselves.

See you back here on Monday! 

XOXO, Tesi

So, how are you feeling?

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My mom is smart and sensible when it comes to health and nutrition. She and my step-dad have been lecturing me for years on the ways that the carbohydrates found in processed foods like Ritz crackers quickly turn to sugar and have been eating real food long before Whole 30. They believe in grass-fed beef, real butter, and a shot of Aloe Vera juice every morning and are in the kind of excellent health that turn observers into believers. For years, they’ve been wary of my dalliances with vegetarianism and veganism, but have respected my dietary choices, noting that I seem vibrant enough. However, whenever I fall ill with a cough, a sniffle, or an infection, my mom can’t help herself. Her advice is the same each and every time: Eat a hamburger.

This is my mom’s Mama Bear peeking out. I may be in my late thirties and my mother in her sixties, but she still grits her teeth when I call her crying with news such as the fact that my iron levels are extremely low and my doctor has uttered the words “colon cancer” as a possible cause.

That’s just the news I received last week. I’ve since had two other doctors and a physician’s assistant (how lucky I am to have such access!) look at my blood work. These are the labs results that, as I explain in Episode 91 of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast, were ordered over two years ago and have been stuffed deep in my purse ever since. I head to a specialist today* and am currently vacillating between shame in the fact that I have so egregiously neglected my own health while pouring all of my energy into the things that thrive around me (my kids, my husband, my work) and anxiety that this refusal to care for myself at a basic level might have developed into something potentially serious.

Over the last week, I’ve heard from two other friends—both moms with small children—who have told me that they, too, have noticed some abnormalities but have not taken a step toward a physician or a lab. I heard from another friend that she’s been applying figurative Band-Aids to a problem that she senses has deep origin. Have you been paying attention? Have you been keeping up with routine exams? Our health is serious business and we are the ones who must advocate for our body, paying attention to what it needs to be the strong vessel that carries all of that love and compassion through the day. You’re a Mama Bear and that means there’s gonna be some wear and tear!

So, let's speak frankly: How are you feeling? What do you need to ensure your optimal physical health? A physical? A serious observance of a nagging pain? A hamburger? Maybe. A solid step toward ensuring your health and wellness? For sure.

Leslie Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and author of Mama Bear's Manifesto: A Moms' Group Guide to Changing the World. She lives with her husband and three children, ages 12, 10, and 7, in the Midwest.

*Editor's Note: Leslie has since undergone a colonosopy and endoscopy. Cancer, ulcers, and internal stomach bleeding have been ruled out. The gastrologist is currently testing for Celiac's Disease and is running a few more tests before giving her a clean bill of health. She thanks you for all the thoughts and prayers during this "weird and scary" time.

What to Read in 2017

Hello, Mama Bears!

My name is Lindsey Sinnwell and you don’t know me, but Tesi does. We went to high school together and I would describe us as friendly, but not friends back then. I don’t think we thought we had much in common. But now, through one of the best aspects of Facebook, we’ve discovered we have more in common than we imagined. One of the things we’ve bonded over is books. (Also, having lots of kids, Harry Potter, movies, politics and podcasts!)

I am an avid reader and I am overjoyed when I find other readers in life. I have been writing a small, mostly unread blog since 2009 chronicling every book I’ve read. The reviews are nothing spectacular, mostly just my gut reactions to the books. (I liked it. I didn’t like it. This was good. It was missing this for me.) I keep the blog mostly for myself, so when Tesi and Leslie asked me to write a book recommendation post for the Mama Bear blog, I thought, “I don’t know if I can do that.” But, then I thought about all the dares I have listened to throughout the year on Mama Bear Dares and I told myself, “Do it!” It scares me, but here I am doing it.

I read 135 books in 2016—some old, some new. (I did say avid when I described myself as a reader. Should I have maybe used the word obsessive?) I have more free time than the average Mama Bear and I can ignore a sink full of dishes and a pile of laundry for a good book any day!

I am headed back to school this month and I am already mourning the reading time I will be giving up. But, you know what? It’s all in the name of turning my reading passion into a professional passion! Over the next several months, I will be recommending books to Mama Bear readers by category. My first recommendations will be based on my 2016 reading alone, but future months may include recommendations from my 2017 reading as well. I hope you find my recommendations helpful. Let’s ease into 2017 with some general fiction, juvenile fiction, and young adult fiction. Next month, we’ll tackle recommendations for books about race.

Happy Reading!

General Fiction

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: Friendship, faith struggles, and lots of political commentary. I had no idea how relevant Ronald Reagan’s presidency would feel today.

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan: A survivalist, her trans daughter and their new neighbor preparing for a coming ice age could be very dark, but was beautiful, heart-wrenching and funny with a healthy dose of swearing.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: A story of a new love at a point in life when both characters thought they were well past the possibility.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: The translation of a book called The History of Love brings three story lines together beautifully in the end.

Be Frank with Me by Julie Claiborne Johnson: Frank is a sweet and shining star in this book. He is clearly on the autism spectrum and this book definitely puts a happy face on the issue, which is probably a shortcoming, but I loved him so much that I couldn’t help but love this book anyway.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Old people finding love through a shared love of literature. Sign me up!

Young Adult

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: A beautiful story of a boy struggling with his mother’s illness and his pending grief.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: A sweet and innocent college romance for the inexperienced and scared in all of us.

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden: Written in 1982, but still relevant today for any teen struggling with their sexuality.

Juvenile Fiction

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: Set during WWII, a harmonica travels from a German boy to an orphan boy in Pennsylvania to a Mexican-American girl in California during the Japanese internment. Beautiful.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier: Sophie is living during a “war on culture” and she must rely on a cast of magical characters to rescue four books in order to save all the rest of the world’s stories. This is the second in a series, but can probably stand on it’s own and even better than the first book.


Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

Lessons Learned From My First Months As Podcast Host

I was doing a little editing on the podcast that we will drop on Monday and I just was kind of stopped in my tracks a little bit. Tabitha, our guest, is full of wisdom and kindness and fierceness. She shares these traits with our other guests. It occurred to me that though 2016 has been a really hard year in many different ways (or maybe just a hard few final months—it’s hard to gain the perspective when it still feels like we are in it) I have learned and grown because of this podcast and the women I’ve been blessed to spend time with every week.

We’ve said it before on the podcast but it’s true, our culture tries telling us that as women we are to be in a constant state of competition with one another. That there is some destination that only allows one woman to have it all, this woman will of course reach this destination with the best style and most flawless face, hair, and nails. What a total bill of goods we are sold. Though the last handful of years have been full of examples in my own personal life about the actual truth being that when we help another woman succeed we are in turn paving the way for our own success—this podcast has proved it to be true every Monday and every Wednesday.

Leslie and I hope that by giving our guests a bigger platform we can help them succeed, whether it’s by selling more books or by garnering more donations for their non profit or whatever their pursuit. We also hope we can just make them feel successful for an hour at the very least. That we can give them the little confidence boost that comes when someone says, “You are worthy of our time.” And in turn our guests help the podcast. They tell their friends and family that they’ve recently sat down with a few women—one of whom laughs maybe a little too hard and too often (that’s me) and the other who is the epitome of style, class, and perfect English (that’s Leslie). Women helping women helping women.

For a long time I pictured the glass ceiling shattering around one woman with her fist raised, bold enough to climb the ladder and just crazy enough to believe she was worthy of constant ascension. Now I know better. Now I know that wherever a glass ceiling is shattered there too are the hundreds of women who made the moment possible. The ones who silently did more work than her male counterparts just to look competent. The ones who boldly stood up for herself against sexism and misogyny. The ones who promoted other women to higher echelons within the company or who pushed the ideas of women to the front of the business model. The moms who raised these women to believe in themselves, to stand up for themselves,and to nurture their female friendships. This podcast is a microcosm of that truth—we get where we’re going because of the millions before us and the millions still to come.

Thank you so much for joining this tribe of glass shatterers in 2016. My resolution for 2017 is to continue to bring you the stories of women who are inspiring a tide of other women to live joyfully and with great compassion, knowing that behind every great woman is a hundred more encouraging her and holding her accountable to her very best self.

Happy New Year, friends.

-Tesi