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Blank Slates

This morning, I found myself with an unexpected Sunday home alone. No kids, no adults, no meetings, no travel. My day was a blank slate, a gift of time.

As I looked into the opportunity of the day, I found myself consciously resisting the urge to fill the space, in spite of litanies of work and domestic duties and even reaching out to others that I could have done.

It has been restorative, and it also has me considering all of the blank slates in our lives. We have the ability to realize these canvases for rest, reflection, and creation. But we have become conditioned to fill each gap, to turn to our phone screens in moments of silence, to start the next thing.

It has taken a lot of self-work to get to this place, where I can make a conscious choice to hit the pause button when I see it. That said, I am also using part of today’s canvas to create.

Humans are creators by our very nature. Our need to express ourselves, to explore ideas, to find ways to unite and understand and listen and learn: these need tending. They need a canvas.

However, blank canvases can also be overwhelming. (This overwhelm is often part of why art directors supply storyboards to artists, along with a means to jumpstart a conversation around finding a shared vision.) Facing a silent moment, a blank page, an empty score, an unscheduled day: these all have the power to help us turn inward.

If you aren’t in a place of comfort or familiarity with that source—your inner self—then a blank slate can be unnerving. But it can also be the perfect and same space to start to know yourself a little better. And that is an excellent creative space to explore.

Whatever your means of expression and rest look like, and wherever you are along your journey of personal evolution, I encourage you to seek out these moments. We don’t need entire days as a canvas—but we do need to start breaking the habit of reflexively filling free moments with things that aren’t our true mediums. It’s in those moments that we can reconnect with our own humanity. And in doing that, we can better connect with others.

P.S. I would love to know: Are you actively resisting the urge to escape into distraction rather than reflection or creation? Where are you finding or protecting moments that feed your creativity? Do you recognize blank slates?

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Making Magic

Reading with a child is a gesture of love. It is a tangible gift of time, our most precious resource. Reading can stop the noise and fury of everything else that surrounds us in that moment. It creates a space for questions and conversations, observations and laughter, a means to model gestures of kindness and creation and exploration and how to get through hard stuff.

We love picture books for so many reasons, but their ability to make us laugh, to help us cry, and ultimately to allow us see each other and ourselves a bit more clearly are my favorites.

It is critical to our collective survival to protect the creative space of picture books and children’s literature, to protect the magic of what happens when we read with children and when we help them start the journey of literacy. Perhaps that sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you it is not.   

Picture books, children’s books, are vehicles for a multitude of life skills. Of course, this includes literacy and critical thinking. But alongside that, the experience of being read to taps into social and emotional learning cues that children will carry throughout their lives. And what stories are available to read, to hear, to hold need to include everyone’s story, not just those that reflect our own.

Today is National Children’s Picture Book Day, part of the larger IBBY-sponsored International Children’s Book Day. I hope you can take a few moments this weekend to read to a child in your life or to yourself if you have a chance to revisit a favorite book (or find a new favorite). It is also a great reminder to support your local libraries. Shop independent bookstores. Champion teachers who are working to broaden classroom collections for readers.

Read together. Make magic.

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Finding Your Person

Maddie and Mabel book cover standing up in front of Maddie and Mabel illustration of them standing.

Growing up we lived in a town that came alive during the summertime but was sleepy in the
winter. There were very few people who lived in our neighborhood year round. It was just us. We
spent so much time together, the two of us and our imaginations. That was all we needed.

We could spend hours under a blanket fort or setting up shop beneath a chair to be car
mechanics. The couch became an airport counter in an instant, the stairs, the perfect stage to
perform our shows. We were each other’s built-in play date. Each other’s built-in best friend.

As sisters, we are a constant. No one quite understands us like we do. We know each other’s
stories. We know the what, the who and most importantly, the why. The inside and the out.

It doesn’t matter if we talk five times a day or don’t talk for five days. What matters is that we can
reach out whenever for whatever we need. We are each others’ touchstones. We hope that
everyone can find that someone in their lives, sibling or otherwise. Their Maddie or their Mabel,
whomever that may be.

—by Kari Allen and Kelsey McGloin

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Anticipation

A bare tree reaching into a bright blue early-spring sky

Did you know that the word anticipation shares Latin roots with the word heave? I had been curious about its etymology as I considered how much of our human nature evolves around what we wait for, what we expect, what we are excited about, what we fear, what we wonder.

Our lives are filled with all sorts of anticipation.

I am steeped in it currently. Kind World Publishing is on the eve of its first season release—just one week from today. I am worried, excited, nervous, grateful. I anticipate wonderful things, both for our authors and illustrators as well as for our fledgling company and our family. I also anticipate more unknowns, things we will have to navigate and figure out and flex toward.

We cannot anticipate everything, although we are hardwired to do so as part of our survival mechanisms. Evolution has led us to stay alert, to wonder, to look ahead.

It is that anticipation reflex that has also added to the challenges of the past few years (and months, and days). How do we draft plans when so much keeps happening that catches us unaware? As the world churns with chaos, we brace ourselves for the unknown, possibly anticipating the worst.

Heave means “to lift or haul (a heavy thing) with great effort.” At first, I was confused and surprised by the root word that anticipate and heave share. But anticipation is, in its own way, a constant effort on our parts—one that can feel tremendously heavy at times.

We all carry so much; I am mindful that my anticipation is mixed with contrary feelings. I am worried for humanity; I am hopeful for our company; I am curious about the collective future.

I am lifting all of these thoughts, every day, with a considerable effort to remember that I cannot control the outcomes of each of these things. Especially at these times when we might anticipate the worst, I look to what we are doing with Kind World Publishing: to put a bit more good out into the universe, to use stories to create connections, to help tip the scales toward our better selves—to celebrate the best of us.

If you find your way to our books, I hope—I anticipate—you will find something that helps you do that as well.

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We Are All Struggling

Bottom view of winter snowy trees in the blue sky. Frosty branches with hoarfrost twigs in a sunny day.

At least, that is what Twitter tells me. Instagram tells me that we are in this together and with enough inspirational quotes, we’ll get by. And Pinterest offers a multitude of ways in which to craft, project, pinboard, or otherwise organize our way through these times. (I don’t know what Facebook would tell me to do, as I avoid it like the… oh.)

Social media is a dangerous place to get a sense of the collective conscious. Of course, this has always been true, even before mass messages were sent through satellite connections.

But. People are struggling. It is winter in half the world, after all. And it is January everywhere, which comes with expectations to do better. On top of a medical pandemic, we are also awash in a pandemic of attempted authoritarianism driven by greed and fear. Societies are divided. People have died, have become disabled, have lost loved ones, or have lost touch with each other. Many feel as if they have lost touch with themselves. And kids sense and see all of this.

I haven’t written much about our collective struggle; it has been covered ad nauseum. I have not found much useful solace among the shrill pieces of complaint or reflection or advice or finger pointing. The cynicism becomes tiring. The advice feels hollow.

Increasingly, as I seek ways to motivate our family through a space that has seemingly lost all points of reference, I find myself turning to things untouched by our self-inflicted state of messy human existence. Yesterday morning, the nearly full moon was still up and brilliantly shining across a subzero walk. The moon carries on.

On Monday, a Cooper’s hawk silently watched us as we cross-country skied our way around the small lakes.

Last week, I spied a red fox slipping cautiously and gracefully through the woods behind our home. Nature carries on.

The days are slowly getting brighter again.

It is nearly February.

Time carries on. Even when we feel we’ve lost touch with it.

I do not have advice for you, reader. Only empathy and patience, and the sharing of what I’m doing right now. I ask myself on the long days: Have you hugged the kids? Are you hungry? Tired? Cold? What is one small thing you can do right now that brings a sense of comfort or accomplishment or rest?

I am so grateful to be doing this work, to be publishing books like The Struggle Bus (a timely read for us all), and simply to be here. Every day, I remind myself: this is enough.

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Irony and Rest

A couple weeks ago, I started writing a post themed “do less, encourage rest,” in the spirit of our collectively self-inflicted holiday chaos.

Ironically, I was writing the post on a Monday evening, laptop perched literally on my lap, in the lobby of my children’s piano lesson academy, while also answering the endless question “what will we have for dinner after this?” and thinking over a seemingly infinite litany of errands and work.

The hypocrisy was not lost on me. I stopped writing, closed the laptop, and paused. In such a state, who am I to tell others to slow down?

A number of influencers today (including Glennon Doyle) noted we’re addicted to Productivity: we feel uncomfortable when we stop moving. Busyness is a means to distract ourselves. But from what? The answer varies by person, but it’s worth reflection. What are you afraid to sit with if you slow down enough to face it?

In late November I promised my kids that I would close Kind World Publishing’s shop during their winter break. It seemed such a lovely idea—until said break arrived. I struggled for nearly a week to allow myself to do nothing, to sleep in, to unplug. (I worried about what wasn’t getting done; am I enough if I’m not working?)

My original notion was to shorten my to-do list. But in recent days, I’ve realized what I really needed was (temporarily) to ditch the to-do list altogether. I needed to be fully present.

When I discussed this post with Reese, she (wisely, always so wisely) pointed out that by not doing everything else the past week, I was doing the most important thing—spending time with her and Axel. And when that “to do” is done, it still should be done over and over again. Love doesn’t belong on a list. The most important things are ubiquitous.

I have a parade of hopes and goals for the new year, both personally and professionally. Some will be on my fresh to-do list; others will be bigger than that. The privilege of having time to reflect means I also have the responsibility to use these insights to the best of my abilities. For me, this means staying aware of our critical human need to pause and reconnect—with ourselves and with each other. To actively resist being active every moment of our life. To create and protect space for all of the thoughts and feelings and fears and dreams.

Humans—all humans—deserve the right to rest without guilt or worry, and to create without pressure to produce.

I hope your 2022 is healthy. I hope you find an important nontangible you are seeking. I wish us all peace and rest and wellness and space. I wish you a to-do list worth doing, and a life worthy of pause that exceeds a list. Happy (almost) 2022 to you and yours.

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A Small Business

Today I approved final files to go on press for our very first book. Then, I sat here alone in my home office, and I let the tears come.

Tears of joy, relief, pride, nerves, gratitude, all of it. Because, as a small business owner, I feel all of it.

It’s fitting that our first book is The Struggle Bus, as we have taken a few rides on it through this process. But, as Julie Koon wrote in that lovely text: “Faster now, the way is clear. You can do it, persevere!”

Launching a publishing company has long been a dream. I still can’t believe it’s becoming a reality. Bootstrapping my way through this effort, in the midst of a pandemic, among the bluster and blur of parenting small children, has been a lot. There are days where it’s been hard and scary and lonely.

And yet. I have never been alone. Instead, I have been reminded over and over again how many wonderful people we have in our lives, people who have cheered on this effort, who have picked me up and dusted me off, who’ve sent me flowers and notes and warm cookies and support beyond what I could have even imagined.

I don’t always feel like I deserve the kindness that’s shown to me. But I do always, always feel overwhelmed by the gratitude I have for everyone who has been in my corner.

My family and I have so many people to thank for helping Kind World Publishing reach this milestone. And we have so many wonderful milestones ahead. For today, I want to pause to both “feel these feelings for a bit,” and to express sincere thanks: to each of you who have read this blog, rallied for our business, and championed our work, I am so excited—and grateful—to have each of you along for this ride.

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Toxic Positivity

The sign you see here hangs in our entryway. It serves as a reminder for me, a marginally recovering perfectionist, to lighten up about life. We’re about a lot of things here at Kind World Publishing, including, of course, kindness. But one thing I’m keenly aware of and actively attempting to avoid along with perfectionism is toxic positivity.

You might have heard the phrase toxic positivity recently, as we wade through the pandemic and the state of the world. Messages to “stay strong” and “do your best!” and “be grateful” and “you’ve got this!” are everywhere, and they can become exhausting (not to mention more extreme versions that can be used to gaslight or worse.)

Dictates and mandates to do and to be things are tough to receive. That is a truth, regardless of your age. None of us wants to be told what to do or to be, even if the intent in those directions is positive. And therein lies the rub.

When things are hard, difficult, extreme, exhausting, life-threatening, simply being told to pull ourselves up by the emotional bootstraps and just keep going does a disservice to acknowledging those painful realities. Before any of us can solve a problem, we first need to accept that a problem exists. And we need to sit with the problem, both in order to notice it and to then put it into perspective. After that, we might be able to better reach the “how” of solving it.

But if we continue to brush over those steps by cheerleading only positivity, that cheerleading becomes pretty hollow. Eventually, incessant positive messages make things worse because it sets an impossible bar of expectations for our emotions. For those who struggle with perfectionism, the expectations can be overwhelming. Hard stuff keeps piling up because it isn’t really addressed, and the space between “stay strong!” and daily realities keeps widening. How many times have you found yourself or the kids in your life on the precipice of falling through and feeling completely stuck?

Rather than telling each other how to feel and championing an impossible state of being, perhaps we should be creating space to listen to other people’s realities, and sit with our own. Rather than letting that urge to “solve it and sweep it” lead conversations, perhaps we should accept that acknowledging hard things has value unto itself.

Modeling this for the kids in our lives is critically important, to avoid setting them up for a sense of failure when they can’t make themselves feel “amazing” about something.

I am not suggesting that we stop championing each other, nor am I saying positive messages can’t be powerful. We can help avoid toxic positivity by remembering that the activities of listening and acknowledging can speak loudly too. They can say, “I see you.”

Part of reaching a positive state involves creating space to process everything that isn’t.

Post Script: If you’re looking for a broader read on this subject, Kate Bowler’s recent book No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) is worth your time. If you’d like a book that can help support kids with acknowledging obstacles, preorder The Struggle Bus by Julie Koon. We’re proud to be able to support work that addresses these topics in a practical, accessible way.

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Vanishing Time

As I reflect on what happens during transitions, and what the start of fall and school and life changes means to the relativity of time, September is the month that disappears.

I’ve written before about time. But one thing that’s always fascinated me is how quickly time goes the closer we get to the end of something: the end of a ballgame, the end of the year, the end of life. Vanishing time makes things exciting or exhausting, sad or hard. As humans, we often feel there is never enough time. The effect of its relativity can also make it more challenging to stay present in the moment as we think about everything that seemingly needs to be done.

Generally, children are immune to that feeling. Days are longer. Years are longer. Wild imaginations and active play create the beautiful magic of suspended time. Reality pauses while they are immersed in those states. Being present is an aspect of a growth mindset, which makes a lot of sense when you think about children and how much and how quickly they are learning and growing as they are fully absorbed in something.

As adults, we sometimes refer to capturing that feeling as “flow.” We aren’t watching the clock or dreading the clock. We become unaware of it altogether. Capturing flow doesn’t pause anything. That time still vanishes. But playing or daydreaming or diving into something we love to do is how we would hope to spend the time we have here.

As I look to October and the rest of the year, I’m reminding myself of this: my time is not guaranteed just because time exists on a calendar. If I want to suspend the moment, I need to be present in that moment.

As you possibly look for your own ways to slow down the time-space continuum, I hope this simple reminder helps. Being *here* rather than thinking about what needs to be done when you get to an unpromised *there* makes both moments (here and there) more fulfilling.

You cannot fill up a moment in which you’re not fully present.

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18 Months

Tomorrow marks 18 months since the last “normal” Friday. Since the last day I sent my kids to school and child care without a mask. Since I did a public speaking event in person.

Today, Axel got on the bus. He started Kindergarten. Reese, a newly minted second grader, was with him, both as shepherd and chaperone. They had masks. They had new backpacks. They were so excited.

And here I am, with a full workday to myself, on what looks like a glimpse of the new normal, (although we all know it isn’t; none of us truly knows what that will look like).

I am all of the expected parental emotions: happy and sad and stunned once again at the blink of time that is parenting. I am worried about the regular school things (Will they make friends? Will they be a good friend? Will they like their teachers? Will their teachers like them? Will they learn what they need to learn?) And I’m worried about the now-regular pandemic things (Will they get sick? Will they lose their masks? Will they remember to wash their hands throughout the day? Will their teachers stay healthy?).

What has fully caught me off guard this morning, however, is the quietest of things: a simple bit of headspace.

For a few brief hours, however fraught, the day is suddenly mine. It has been 18 months since I even dared to consider such a thing.

The immediate reflex to fill this space with work and chores and social media and news distractions sits with me. It has become my autopilot. Yet, I see that for what it is: an easy means to escape all these other feelings and thoughts, things that very likely deserve some reflection of their own.

If you are currently set on survival autopilot, I wish you the space today to hit the pause button.

Yes, we all have so much to do. But there is also so much worth pausing for. And, at least for today, I am grateful to have liberty to choose the latter.

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The Transition Months

I don’t know how things are in your home, but we’ve gotten bumpy in recent days. And I have a theory on why. We just entered the Transition Months.

Yes, here in Minnesota, we have an entire month left of summer. Yes, the days are still long, the farmer’s market still bustles, the pools are still open. And yet.

We are also talking about school supplies. And who might the new teachers be? And will last year’s jackets still fit?

These short conversations have sent ripples into the ponds of imagination. Along with some excitement, I see nerves creeping in for both kids. Axel is starting Kindergarten, and that is a Really Big Change, for all of us. He is usually our peacekeeper, our jokester, our happy-go-lucky family member. But not of late.

We all sense summer winding down. We all know these changes are coming. August begs for closure and preparation for fall and school. But it also asks us to make the most of the remaining sunshine, of the opportunity to slow down just a bit longer. And September awaits, knowing so many new routines need to be created, new people need to be met, new fears need to be addressed.

It’s a lot. These are the transition months, not just of weather and time, but of our life rhythms and responsibilities, of rules and patterns and people.

A lot of unknowns float over all of us right now—enormous things beyond our control. None of that changes the cyclical truth that these months are always big months. Whether you have kids in your home or not, the social cycle shift of summer-to-fall impacts us collectively.

I am cutting myself and my family some extra slack this time around. Yes, things are bumpy. Yes, I think I know why. Sometimes, the most helpful thing we can do for ourselves is simply acknowledge that we’re in transition.

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Doing Hard Things

Today, I had to make a hard decision and follow through on it.

And it’s really hit home for me: living my best life doesn’t mean things are easy. It means that I can make decisions, even hard ones, stand behind them, and know that I’m trying to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s easy.

Sometimes we don’t know what we need to do until we’re fully in the moment. Having foresight on everything is impossible and would be utterly exhausting anyway. But, when that moment arrives (as they inevitably always do), having the ability to trust your gut, embrace the temporarily hard—but long-term best—thing to do, is a sign that you are, in fact, living your life. Not someone else’s. Not some false set of expectations or through other people’s opinions.

By and large, I don’t shelter my kids from these moments. I believe it’s important to model the decision-making process, to show them adults don’t always magically, instantly have the answer. And sometimes the answer is doing a hard thing. My hope is that by seeing me process and struggle with something, their own expectations will adjust accordingly. Perhaps they will give themselves some time and space (and a little slack) to figure out what to do in their own moments and to trust their gut, especially when it would be easier to default to the easy thing.

Glennon Doyle is right, in observing we can do hard things. Before that, though, we need to know it’s okay to do the hard thing—that we each have permission to live our own life and make those decisions in the first place. Living by other people’s expectations can make it easier to avoid the hard stuff. But after the hard stuff is often where life’s magic happens.

If you find yourself struggling with hard things, it might be worth considering: Have you given yourself permission to do them?