Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

To DoLast week, I focused on timing and work space. If you missed that post, you can find it here. So once you’ve figured out your personal rhythm and ideal work environment, you’re ready to dive in, right?

Well, not quite. Research has shown that every minute we spend planing can save us up to ten minutes while we’re working. That really adds up! So let’s talk about what to do with your to do list.

Step one is making the list, but don’t go right from the list to the work-there’s another step you should take, and that’s evaluating the items on the list and using that evaluation to really organize your time. I recommend considering four things:

1. Importance

PlanningBe aware of the things that have to be accomplished in a certain time frame, and what could wait if you start to run out of time, energy, or focus. Having clear priorities in mind is the best way to start being productive. Some people swear by a “most important things first” model, but I don’t think that works for everyone. Obviously, if you’re down to the wire on something it needs to go to the top of the list, but as long as you don’t forget about the top priorities, I think it’s perfectly fine to do something else first, if other factors make that a good strategy for you. I mentioned last week that I think best first thing in the morning, so I often move something that’s high in importance to first thing tomorrow, instead of last thing today.

2. Time required

hourglassEstimating how long each task will take will help organize your entire day (or however long you’re devoting to this work session). If it’s 8:30 and you have a meeting at 9, it might not be the best time to start on something that you think is going to take two hours. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the length of the list, doing a series of short tasks first will help you cross items off and start replacing stress with satisfaction. If you have a relatively large block of available time, pencil in a complicated item.

I always try to be cognizant of what I call “five minute tasks”. I have a lot of five minute gaps in my work day, usually when I’m waiting for something (the start of a meeting, a response to an email, my turn at the microwave, etc.), and a lot of things I can do in those five minutes (proofread a short report, check or enter data, respond to a query from a colleague, make notes for a training outline…). I always have one of those five minute items right at my fingertips, so I can get something out of the way during those short opportunities.

3. Energy Required

thinkingI can’t possibly emphasize this one enough. Your brain can’t run on full throttle indefinitely. Take a few minutes to really think about, well, how much you’re going to have to think, and be ready to mentally downshift so you can recharge after a brain busting task. For example, at work I spend a lot of mental energy planning content for presentations, but once the content is set, it’s easy to create my slideshows and handouts, so that part of the process is my mental cool down. When I work at home, a chunk of heavy thinking is usually followed by a household task, like doing the dishes.

4. Acceptable Outcome

Raise your hand if you tend to be a perfectionist.

Me Me Me

Now raise your hand if you have a tendency to get frustrated and quit.

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Either way, you need to think about what success on a task is going to look like.  Determine the minimum acceptable level before you even think about getting started. If you’re an overachiever, this will help you hold on to perspective later on. Otherwise, you risk going down the rabbit hole and spending four hours trying to perfect something that you could finish in two. Of course, if you budgeted two hours but hit the minimum in an hour and a half, then you have the option of spending that extra thirty minutes taking it to the next level. On the other hand, if you find that staying motivated is a struggle, you have a concrete goal in mind: I can quit when it looks like this. When you have the finish line in sight, it will be a lot easier to keep moving forward.

The time to decide what’s “good enough” is before you startIt’s a lot easier to finish and then enhance than it is to get halfway through an overly ambitious plan and then try to change direction midstream. Trust me, I speak from a great deal of experience on this one.

I'm on it

How do you organize your day? What works for you? What challenges are you facing? Let’s talk!

 

To Do

So I’ve been working this weekend. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable, and sometimes (like now) it’s absolutely critical. By the end of the day on Friday, I had a pretty decent sized list of things I need to have accomplished by Monday morning, which means putting in some extra time. Additionally, I wanted to do all the things I normally do on a weekend, including dishes, laundry, writing my blog post, various other projects…you know the drill. I’ve been working my way through the list at a pretty good clip, and as I stopped to ponder what to post about this week (since I didn’t have time to go to a movie and therefore couldn’t do my planned movie review), I started thinking about my work habits.

Upon reflection, I realized that compared to about five years ago, I’m getting more done, feeling less stressed, and actually have more free time…even though my personal and professional workloads have both increased. So I asked myself two questions: “How am I doing that?” and “Could the answer to the first question possibly be useful to someone else?”

And thus was a blog post born. There are all kinds of things we want/need to accomplish, ranging from professional responsibilities to blogging to personal projects, and most of us are familiar with wondering “How can I get all of this done?” or “How can I work faster and have more free time?” or “How can I possibly fit something else in?”

If you’re looking to be more productive, here’s the best advice I have. This post focuses on two “big picture” things you can do to set yourself up for success, and in part two I’ll suggest some day-to-day techniques.

1. Discover/use your natural rhythm.

For a long time, I woke up each morning just in time to get ready for work and get to my desk punctually. I would frequently work late, and then when I got home I would try to deal with whatever else I needed to do (like cleaning and whatnot), then usually spend an hour or so before bed staring at the TV feeling like my brain had turned to mush. On the weekends, I would get up and spend several hours doing nothing, then try to get myself in gear and do something productive. Usually, anything I attempted to do took a lot more time than I thought it should, and I was often cranky. Some things I just never got around to (which is why, for example, I gave up on writing for many years).

Morning Noon Evening

What I know now (and wish I’d known then) is that I’m a morning person. My brain starts firing on all cylinders almost as soon as I get up, and starts a sharp decline sometime in the late afternoon. It took an interesting experience with jet lag to discover how much more I can accomplish if I take advantage of the early hours. I’m way better at 4 am than I ever am at 4 pm. Now, I get up two hours earlier than I used to. Sometimes I spend an hour at home taking care of personal stuff, while other times I deal with emails or a work-related task that I didn’t have the mental energy to face at the end of the previous day. I go to work early instead of staying late. On the weekends, I clean, write, run errands, etc. first thing. I can get almost twice as much done in a morning hour than an evening hour, and that leaves my evenings free to decompress (and go to bed early).

You might be thinking, “Please tell me you aren’t suggesting that everyone should get up at 4 am.” Of course not! That’s my best schedule, but that definitely won’t work for everyone. One of my colleagues is the exact opposite; he saves his low-intensity work for the mornings, because he hits his stride after lunch, and that’s when he’s in the best mental place to tackle the hard stuff. A friend of mine takes a three hour nap every evening, then gets up and works on her dissertation until midnight. What we have in common is that we’ve figured out what works best for us, and we’re capitalizing on it.

My point is that you should really think about your most productive times (and maybe even experiment a little to discover them) and try to take full advantage of those hours.

2. Discover/create your best environment.

Here’s another area that starts with reflection. Where am I most productive? How much stimulation do I need? How much distraction can I tolerate? What keeps me grounded?

Again, this is going to vary hugely from person to person. When I decided that I wanted to start writing again, a lot of people told me to write in coffee shops. They swore by it, so that’s what I tried to do. When my first try was spectacularly unproductive, I tried another coffee shop. Then another. After my fourth try, I realized that I am not a coffee shop writer. It’s important to figure out where you can accomplish the most, so that when you have an option, you know what to choose.

home-office.jpegI work at home a fair amount, and I tried following the predominant advice on the subject. I have a home office. It’s very professional. It’s exactly the type of environment that most experts suggest. I actually chose furniture and layout based on extensive research…

…and I do all of my work sitting on the couch in my living room. That’s what works for me, so that’s what I do. And when I figured out that the living room was my best space, I invested in it the way I had invested in my office. I bought a great couch, and a couple of folding tables that are easy to set up and take down. I can switch the room from “hanging out” to “business” and back in a matter of minutes. In fact, I’m so productive in the living room that I often choose to take some work home rather than stay at work a little longer.

So my advice is to figure out what your best space is, and then make it better. If you have a work space at your job, give it the same kind of consideration. I’m a “no plants but lots of pictures” person. I prefer to have things I need in plain view, so I have more shelves than filing cabinets. I have my own coffee maker because I’ve learned that a trip to the coffee room usually takes me fifteen or twenty minutes (for some people, a fifteen minute coffee break is a necessary chance to recharge, but for me, it’s a loss of focus that takes me far too long to recover from).

These two things have made a huge difference in my productivity, and in my next post I’ll tell you more!

Good at Stuff & Things

Have you found your best rhythm? Optimized your work space? Or maybe you’re thinking of trying something new? Let’s talk!

I think I’ve mentioned that I sometimes (often) imagine my life as some sort of cosmic sitcom. I’ve sort of been in the mindset for the last couple of posts, so when I sat down to write about March, I thought it would be fun to imagine what this month’s “episodes” would contain. So thanks for tuning in!

Cue my theme music (“The Best Day of My Life”-more on that, and a few other cool songs, in this post).

Episode One: Sleep is for the Weak

Can't SleepThis episode would kick off with one of those insomnia montages. You know what I’m talking about: tossing and turning, the clock showing midnight, then one am, then two am, etc. For the first few days of the week, I couldn’t fall asleep, and then couldn’t stay asleep. I think I was getting about four or five hours a night in two or three chunks. The first day wasn’t so bad. I fueled up on coffee and stayed busy, and pretty much managed to shove the fatigue into a corner. On day two, I was a little ragged, and a few coworkers commented that I was getting a little wild eyed. By the end of the day, I was running slightly manic, with powerful sleepiness lurking below the surface. I went to bed super early that night, sure that I was going to sleep ten or twelve hours.

Coffee CrazyNot so much. The morning of day three, I drank WAY too much coffee, and started to feel like my body was vibrating. In the morning, I got obsessed with solving a word puzzle (something my brain was definitely not functioning well enough to handle), mentally (and occasionally audibly) chanted “I can do it, I can do anything” at least once an hour, and treated a colleague to a very long monologue on why I think Orange Vanilla Coke is a truly bad idea. (Cue the laugh track.)

After the commercial break, fade in on me asleep at my desk next to a half-eaten salad. Follow that with me jerking awake and looking at the clock in panic. Then it’s off to a meeting, with lots of shots of me looking blearily confused, and saying a couple of really, really stupid things.

I called in sick the next day.

Rounding out the week, another day I spent twenty minutes lost in a parking garage (I wasn’t sleep-deprived at that point; getting lost is something I do all the time). I also, despite swearing I would never, ever try Orange Vanilla Coke, I tried it the first chance I got. In the moment, I just couldn’t resist (verdict: it isn’t terrible, but I’m definitely not a fan).

Finish the episode on a high note as I geek out over Captain Marvel. (If you missed my review, you can find it right here.) Roll credits.

Episode Two: Math, Math, and More Math

mathI don’t like math. I generally don’t mind basic calculation, although it isn’t my favorite, but Geometry always gave me a headache, Algebra is truly incomprehensible, and I have a theory that Trigonometry is only understandable to wizards. (If that’s the case, I am willing to give up on my dream of someday discovering that I’m a wizard.)

There is some math involved at my job, but it’s mostly basic math, and a lot of it has to do with figuring out spreadsheet formulas, none of which strains my skills too much (although I’m pretty sure that some of the spreadsheets I make use more formula steps than are strictly necessary, because I don’t know the right way to combine them).

I won’t bore you with the details, but this week I was presented with a task that strained my limited math skills to the breaking point. A few scenes from this episode:

  • Flashback to my three trips through College Algebra. Me with my hand in the air and a distressed expression on my face, saying “I don’t get it.” Repeat at least six times, with different clothes, classrooms, and hairstyles to show the passage of time.
  • Back to the present: me at my desk, muttering numbers and invective in equal measure, then a heavy sigh and “I don’t get it”. Repeat at least three times.
  • Me throwing a pen across the room. (I’m not proud of that moment, but it happened.)
  • A coworker finishing what is clearly a long and patient explanation of what I need to do. Me responding with “I don’t get it”. Repeat twice.
  • More numbers and invective.
  • Me staring fixedly at my computer and typing very slowly, biting my lip in furious concentration. Then I stop. My eyes widen, and I whisper, “Holy crap, I’m finished.”
  • Cue “We are the Champions” as I jump up and raise both fists into the air, then break into a happy dance.

Cut to Saturday, with me and a group of friends waiting to start an escape room (one of my favorite activities). I’m really excited, because my sister Amy is joining us for the first time. Also, after a week of torture by numbers, I definitely need some fun, and a different kind of mental stimulation. While we wait, I tell the tale of the math project (much to everyone’s amusement, because they like poking fun at me almost as much as I like poking fun at myself). Then we’re called back to start the room.

Our gamemaster gives us a brief overview of the scenario, and finishes by saying, “This one has a lot of math”.

Close up on my panic-stricken face. Roll credits.

Episode Three: Cakeslide

This episode would completely focus on my participation in The Great Bloggers’ Bakeoff.

Baking Challenge 2

If you missed the post with the whole story (which might be my favorite post so far), you can find it here.

Finish the episode with my excitement over receiving a “Thumbs Up Award” from Jeanne. (Not to be confused, ever, with actually placing in the contest, because come on…look at that thing. Lol.)

Roll credits.

Episode Four: Donut or DoNOT?

We kick this one off with a seemingly innocent question from a neighbor. “Hey, Amanda, did you hear that Old Town Donuts is on Uber Eats now?”

As far as I’m concerned, Old Town Donuts not only has the best donuts in the greater St. Louis area (an opinion shared by the St. Louis Post), but the best donuts I have ever had. It’s also a family owned business where everyone is super nice. I love Old Town Donuts.

However, I don’t go there nearly as often as I used to, because I have absolutely zero willpower and inevitably eat way more donuts than I should. I have a donut craving at least once a week, but rarely give in because I’m able to convince myself that I can’t spare the time to satisfy it. Now, apparently, I can get them delivered.

My response to my neighbor: “That’s the most wonderful and terrifying thing I’ve heard in a while.”

Montage: Me, looking into the camera, as the wardrobe and background changes to indicate that this is ongoing over several days:

  • “They’re open 24 hours, but Uber Eats isn’t 24 hours, is it? I mean, I’m sure no one’s delivering donuts at three am.”
  • “No, I’m not going to order any…I just think it’s interesting.”
  • “I love the caramel long john, but I draw the line at the caramel bacon. Usually.”
  • “With the delivery fee and the surcharge for orders under $10, it’s actually more cost-effective to get a full dozen…I just think that’s interesting.”
  • Close up of my computer screen showing the donut delivery menu. Camera angle changes to my finger hovering over the mouse. Go to commercial.

After commercial, we’re at midweek, and so far I’ve stayed strong. This is when we introduce the B plot, with another seemingly innocuous question, this time asked by my hairstylist while I’m getting a trim.

Sarah: Hey, how do you eat your bagels?

Me: I don’t eat bagels. I eat donuts. Sometimes. I usually don’t eat donuts. Hardly ever.

Sarah: What do you think of “Bagelgate”?

Me: Huh?

“Bagelgate”, it turned out, was a Twitter tempest in a teapot about the fact that some people here in the gateway city get their bagels bread sliced. My friend Alex wrote a really funny post about this, which you should totally check out. I’m pretty new to the whole social media scene, so I was fairly amused by the way people wigged out about something so insignificant. For a few days, it almost managed to take my mind off of donuts. Almost.

Cut to Saturday, when I’m running errands all over the place. Heading to my final stop, the universe gives me a sign. This sign:

Screenshot 2019-03-31 at 3.00.02 AM

There it was, on my right, on the most direct route from one destination to the next. Obviously, the universe was trying to tell me something, and you can’t ignore the universe. Cue “It’s a Wonderful World” as I carry my prize into the house.

Close up on a bread sliced donut, because nobody gets to say my city is “cancelled”. St. Louis pride!

Bagel Sliced Donut

Roll credits.

donut 2

So how did March treat you?

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In my very first blog post, I mentioned that I used to be a pretty negative person. Unsurprisingly, I was also a fairly unhappy person. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve probably figured out that Amanda 2.0 is very, very different. One of the ways I stay positive these days is with what I call my “Happy Mix”: a playlist full of songs that never fail to lift my spirits.

I listen to it every single morning, without fail, and it always sets the right tone for the day. I also put it on when I catch myself feeling cranky, stressed, or depressed. Nothing turns my mood around faster.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Change Your Mind by Sister Hazel

This song became a personal anthem about ten years ago. It was a definite low point in my life. My fiance and I called off our wedding (the right decision, but it hurt more than I can begin to describe), I was unhappy with my job, I wasn’t in good physical shape, and I was generally feeling miserable the vast majority of the time. Finally, I realized I needed to do some serious soul searching, and came to the decision that some things had to change, and that only I could change them. Some were tangible changes (graduate school, gym membership, getting serious about saving for a house), and the others, the most important, were changes in my attitude. This song really sums up a lot of the ideas I embraced so I could become the person I wanted to be.

Favorite lines: “Did you ever think there might be another way to just feel better, just feel better about today?”

No Such Thing as a Broken Heart by Old Dominion

Speaking of the person I want to be, the first time I heard this song something in me started screaming “Exactly!” It’s such a great reminder about the importance of taking chances and giving life your all. I love the message here, and the gloriously upbeat melody usually has me bopping around my kitchen (or at my desk, or in the car…).

Favorite lines: “Cry when it hurts, laugh when it’s funny, chase after the dream, don’t chase after the money”.

St. Elmo’s Fire by John Parr

This song is most often associated with the film of the same name, but it was inspired by a true story, not a fictional one. From 1985 to 1987, Canadian athlete Rick Hansen completed the “Man in Motion World Tour”, circling the globe in his wheelchair to raise money and awareness for individual with disabilities. His amazing journey raised $26 million, caught the attention of the entire world, and is the basis for one of my very favorite songs.

Favorite lines: “I can climb the highest mountain, cross the widest sea, I can feel St. Elmo’s fire burning in me”.

Best Day of My Life by American Authors

If my life was a sitcom, this would totally be the theme song. It’s another song that’s so much fun to listen to that I can’t possibly stay still, and reminds me that every day can be the best day…it’s all up to me.

Favorite lines: “But all the possibilities, no limits, just epiphanies”.

Music

What are your favorite feel good songs?

Screenshot 2019-03-23 at 7.52.24 PM

When I heard about the Great Bloggers’ Bake-Off (read all about it here) I knew I had to participate. I love baking, and I had a birthday party this weekend, so the timing was perfect. I’ve been hooked on cooking competition shows for a long time, and I sometimes imagine myself as a contestant, especially when I’m trying a new recipe. I could picture it all in my head…

Meet the Contestants

ingredientHost: Amanda, what are you going to make for this challenge?

Me: I’m making a chocolate mousse cake.

Host: Have you ever made this before?

Me: Not exactly, but I’ve made cake, and I’ve made mousse, and I’ve made frosting, so I think I can pull this off.

Host: And who is your partner in this challenge?

Me: A great cook, awesome teammate, and all-around wonderful person…MOM!

Host: Hi, Amanda’s mom! Are you excited about this challenge?

Mom: Absolutely! This is going to be a lot of fun.

Host: And are you bringing some baking expertise to the team?

Mom: Actually, Amanda has a lot more baking experience than I do, so she’s taking the lead, but I know my way around the kitchen.

Me: She’s being modest. Mom almost never fails.

Mom: That’s partly because I don’t do a lot of complicated recipes. That’s more your department.

Me: Which is why I frequently fail.

Host: Sounds like we’re in for an interesting evening. Let’s get started!

Phase One

First things first: we needed to get the cakes in the oven and the mousse base chilling in the fridge. We used a tried and true chocolate cake recipe, and it went off without a hitch.

batterinpans

For the mousse base, we beat four egg yolks, then combined them with cream and chocolate on the stove top. No problem.

 

The air was thick with the smell of victory. (Victory smells like chocolate.)

Interlude

cakes-cooling.jpgHost: So what’s the next step?

Me: The mousse has to stay in the fridge for about two hours, and the cakes need to cool completely.

Mom: So we’re going to do the first round of dishes and then make dinner.

Host: Are you feeling confident?

Me: So far.

Host: Do you think you have a shot at winning the challenge?

Me: Absolutely not.

Host: (Blinks in surprise) Amanda, you’re a very optimistic person. I’m surprised to hear that from you.

Me: Oh, I live in hope, but…you know how Tom on Top Chef always says “You eat with your eyes”?

Host: Yes.

Mom: Amanda isn’t great with presentation.

Me: Mom’s a lot better at it, so we might be able to pull it off, but usually my food comes out tasting good-

Mom: Tasting great.

Me: -but looking, well, somewhere between a little odd and “just close your eyes and pick up your fork”.

Host: So you’re hopeful, but realistic?

Me: Exactly.

Host: Well, I’m rooting for you. We’ll check in after a few hours.

Phase Two

To finish the mousse, we whipped up some heavy cream, and folded it into the chilled base. A quick taste test showed we had been successful, and we were ready to put the cake together. So far, we were killing this challenge.

mousse foldingmousse folding 2more mousse folding

We carefully cut each cake round to give us four layers (and for once I actually cut them evenly), and then stacked them with mousse filling. We finished by coating the outside with mousse.

cake-assembly.jpgcake-assembly-2.jpg

Then we ate everything left in the mousse bowl. (I am proud, not ashamed, to share that with you.)

We put the cake in the fridge to set, and made the frosting (milk, butter, cocoa power, and powdered sugar).

frosting-stove-top.jpgfrosting sugar

Interlude

Host: So it looks like things are going well?

Mom: You bet!

Host: What’s next?

Me: We have to let the frosting cool for a while, and then we pour it over the cake.

Host: Did you say “pour it over the cake”?

Mom: Yes. We have to wait until it’s…(checks the recipe) “at a consistency similar to a thick syrup”.

Me: So we pour it on and let it coat the cake, and then it’s going to harden into a kind of soft shell.

Host: Interesting. Is this a technique you’ve used before?

Me: No, but we read up on it, and watched a video, so I think it’ll be ok.

Host: Any plans for decorating?

Me: We have sprinkles. And these “Easy Writer Decorating Pens”.

Mom: Which we hope are actually easy.

Me: Yeah…you should do that part.

Mom: I was planning to.

Phase Three

I will always regret that neither of us was taking pictures at this point. What I really wish is that there was a video.

It went something like this:

“Ok, pour slowly”…”Let me get in there with the spatula”…”Oh, look, it’s coating the sides, just like in the video”…”Ok, let me turn the cake”…”I can’t see that side, is-“…”Wait, there’s something-“…”Is it melting? It didn’t melt the other side-“…”Maybe it’s too heavy-“…”Try to scoop it-“…”It’s an avalanche!”…”Cakeslide! Cakeslide!”…”What do we do?”…”AHHHHHH!!!!!’

cakeslide

giphy

Interlude

Host: Oh, no! And you were doing so well.

Mom: It’s still going to taste good.

Me: And “eating with your eyes” is just a metaphor.

Mom: It doesn’t even make sense.

Me: This cake has so much character.

Mom: Totally original.

Lots of giggles.

Host: Are you still planning to decorate?

Mom: (Still giggling) I don’t think we should even touch that cake again.

Me: (Still giggling) Heaven knows what we would do to it.

Host: What are you going to take to the birthday party tomorrow?

Me: This, of course!

Mom: It’s a masterpiece.

Me: Abstract art.

Host: Well…maybe you should sleep on it.

Phase Four

By Saturday morning, the cake was working towards total collapse. The layers were sliding, the patchy shell was cracking, and I began to seriously doubt the long term survival of my masterpiece.

Saturday 3Saturday 2saturday-1.jpg

Clearly, that meant it was time to decorate.

SprinklesWriting

PERFECT!!!

The Taste Test

Party Guest 1: What is that?

Me: It’s a cake.

Party Guest 2: Are you sure?

Party Guest 1: What did you do to it?

Me: That’s a long story.

(Five minutes later)

Guest of Honor: I love this cake. It looks awesome.

VICTORY!!!!!!

cake-interior.jpgAlso, when we cut it (on the more stable side) it didn’t look half bad. And everyone agreed that it tasted awesome.

Host: Are you ready to face the official judging?

Me: You bet. I’m already a winner.

Hip Hip Hooray

Screenshot 2019-03-17 at 10.51.05 AM

I recently reread Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, for the fourth or fifth time, and the other day I watched the movie for the second. It’s been on my mind this week, especially because of world events that have led me to reflect on the importance of kindness and tolerance. So this week, I wanted to talk about a book (and film) that masterfully examines these important qualities.

The Book

Wonder is one of those books that I find myself constantly recommending. If you’ve read it, you probably already know why. If you haven’t, you really, really should. A 2012 bestseller, the book was written at an appropriate level for young readers, but is a powerful and inspiring experience no matter how old you are. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the concept (from the Amazon product description):

Screenshot 2019-03-17 at 9.18.07 AM

Screenshot 2019-03-17 at 10.53.28 AM.pngWonder is an incredibly powerful story. Every character feels completely authentic, and the reader is completely drawn into the struggles, setbacks, and triumphs that Auggie, his family, and his friends experience. The rotating perspectives continuously add new layers to the story, and the book is far more sophisticated than your average elementary level book. That achievement is worth mentioning again, because it’s such a rare thing. My eight year old niece read, understood, and loved this book, and so did I, and my sister, and my mother.

In telling Auggie’s story, Palacio presents the best and worst in people, showing how both children and adults have the potential to be extraordinarily kind and casually (or spitefully) cruel. And she does it in a way that feels incredibly real. There’s no oversimplified “totally good or totally evil” motif here. The book acknowledges that you can love someone while still sometimes resenting the sacrifices you make for them. It recognizes that going against the crowd is hard, and that not everyone has the strength to do it all the time. It presents that painful truth that we struggle with how to react to someone who is different, and that sometimes those differences are frightening. And rather than chastising us for that truth, the book implies that it’s ok to feel that way, because the important part is how we respond to it.

Wonder is a powerful, thought-provoking book that resonates and stays with you long after you’ve finished it. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Movie

Screenshot 2019-03-17 at 10.55.44 AMI’m always nervous when a book is adapted to film. The vast majority of the time, I’m disappointed, and frequently I’m downright furious. Sometimes, though, the movie gets it right, capturing the essence of the book, adding new dimensions, and making intelligent choices regarding what elements will and won’t translate effectively.

Wonder is one of those movies. The essential plot and thematic elements are all present, and the things that were changed all make sense for the medium, never straying from the heart of the story. It is so clear that the screenplay was written with care, intelligence, and understanding.

The movie does what a movie should do: makes the characters even more real, adds new textures and detail to the story, and enhances the book’s already powerful impact. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are brilliant as Auggie’s parents, and Jacob Tremblay (one of the most talented young actors I’ve ever seen) gives a stunning performance as Auggie.

In either form, Wonder is something so, so worth experiencing (or experiencing again).

Oh Dear

Thoughts? Comments? What’s on your mind today?