Self-Care Series: On Taking Time Unplugged by Madeleine Riley

Thank you to JORD Watches for including me in the campaign and for gifting me this watch in exchange for my participation. Readers of TST can enter to win a $100 gift card to JORD; the giveaway concludes on April 15, after which one winner will receive a $100 gift card and all entrants will receive a 10% discount code!

As mentioned in my post about my bedtime routine, I'm continuing my self-care series today with some thoughts about taking time unplugged. Since selecting nourish as my word for 2018, I've been taking steps to create more margin in my daily life.

While social media can certainly be a positive force in our lives, it can also be utterly exhausting. I love the TST community, and all of the other bookish communities that I belong to on Instagram and Goodreads. I also adore the friends that I've made online and love that many of those connections have turned into real-life (outside the confines of bookish talk) friendships.

What I don't love is being tied to my phone -- or any device for that matter -- and I would hate for my phone to do anything but enhance my experience with technology. For the past few months, I've taken Sundays as my day unplugged. I've received a lot of questions about this ritual, so I thought I'd share the details here. I think it's probably more fair to call it a social media free day; I'm trying to move in the direction of removing all technology, but as you'll read below, I'm not yet in the practice of being 100% removed.

Like any new habit, it was really difficult to keep myself from automatically opening up Instagram for the first few weeks that I took time unplugged. I started to reflect on why that is, and in my personal experience, I think it's because a). I didn't want to miss out on anything and b). it's a way to fill white space in my day. But the purpose of taking time unplugged is to create and revel in that white space. As I continued to keep my Sundays tech-free, I found myself feeling more and more appreciative of that time.

A few weeks ago I went offline for a whole three days. It was wonderful. I found myself with so much more time to do extra tasks (for fun, not just my chores) and I found myself better able to focus on the present moment.

A few things I enjoy doing on days unplugged:

Picking out fresh flowers for the apartment.

Going for walks outside (or heading to the gym for a run).

Browsing a bookstore or the local library.


Catching up with friends over coffee.

Cooking or baking with my boyfriend.

Spending the whole day at the beach.

Doing a hands-on craft (I recently had a great time creating a spring wreath for our front door!)

A Few Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you keep yourself from picking up your phone?

The answer here is that I do sometimes use my phone still for things other than social media. But when it's in my hand, I'm using it for a specific purpose (like to access my grocery list), and when that purpose is served, I put it back in it's designated "unplugged" spot (on top of a cabinet in our dining room). Putting your phone out of reach is my number one tip for implementing time unplugged. 

When it comes to keeping off social media, I hide my social media app folder in its own screen on my phone (isolated from all other apps) and if I find myself scrolling over to it, I'll immediately lock the phone and put it down. I think opening social media apps is a muscle memory action for most of us. I've become more conscious of that even on days when I'm not unplugged -- I'll catch myself opening it automatically and ask myself what the purpose of that action is. Most of the time, it's just out of habit, which helps me to put it away. I've heard from others who practice social media free weekends that logging out of (or even deleting the apps) works too.

Does this bother others when you're unreachable?

Friends, family members, and colleagues are all very understanding of my boundaries around screen time on Sundays and in the evenings -- they'll send me texts or leave voicemails knowing that they won't necessarily be answered until the next morning. So far, it hasn't been a problem. (But I'll also say here: people won't respect boundaries unless you set them. Our loved ones aren't mind readers!)

Often, I'll put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode (which only allows for calls from "favorite" contacts to ring) in case of an emergency. (Because I am a worrier by nature.)

Don't you wear an Apple Watch? How does that factor into days unplugged?

I've recently traded my Apple Watch (which I think is a daily blessing for teachers and love to use for exercise tracking) for an analog watch on days unplugged, so that I can feel totally disconnected. When I recently joined the spring campaign for Jord Watches, I requested that my watch be engraved with a snippet of my favorite quote from Anne of Green Gables, whose idyllic lifestyle is a dream that I would love to one day emulate.

‘Dear Old World,’ she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.’
— Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This quote encourages me to really appreciate life outside of my devices. I write it into my planner every week, and having it on my new watch is just another reminder to think like Anne Shirley. 

Does being unplugged mean you don't watch TV either? Or use your computer?

I use Saturdays to get my blog, DBC, and teaching things together so that I don't have to open my computer at all on Sundays. I think it's too easy to get distracted and end up working when my computer is open. I'm pretty strict about no computers for myself.

I don't watch much television in general, because my day-to-day is pretty packed. (On weekdays, we've taken to watching one episode of a show together before I head off for my nighttime routine). I'd rather spend that time outside on a walk or reading, but sometimes winter weather calls for lots of indoor time. I do think too that television can sometimes serve as a form of quality time, but I'm careful to keep it from becoming the only quality time we spend together. I'm not against a Sunday afternoon movie on a rainy day, but I try to choose other activities for us first. (We actually recently watched Thor Ragnarok together and we haven't stopped talking about it since. Highly recommended!)

I still wouldn't place myself outside the realm of modern-day screen addiction, but I do feel like I have a fair amount of self-control when it comes to technology now. Between my Sundays unplugged and my 7pm deadline for putting away my phone on weeknights, I'm better able to separate myself from the online world. I've even scheduled myself one totally unplugged weekend per month, and after hearing some good reviews, I'm picking up The Tech-Wise Family to explore this topic a little more.

I'd love to hear about your relationship with technology. Do you have personal guidelines for screen time in your home?

Celebrating Children's Lit: 4 Picture Books I'm Loving This Month by Madeleine Riley

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One of my goals for Top Shelf Text in 2018 is to expand my children's literature content. When I first started blogging four years ago, my blog content was pretty fairly split between adult and children's literature. In the past couple years, I've leaned more towards adult literature, but kid lit still has my heart. 

When I do read children's literature, I mostly enjoy middle grade novels. These are books that are written for 8-12 year olds, and some of my favorites are just as entertaining and enthralling as adult fiction novels! (I'll share some of those in another post.)

Despite my love for all things middle grade, one thing that teachers stress in the upper elementary grades is the need for both middle grade and picture books in the classroom. Picture books aren't just for little kids, and much of the time, they can be better appreciated by older readers. 

I've pulled four picture books that I've been loving this month to share with you all. Whether you're a teacher, parent, homeschooling parent, or just love children's lit, I hope you enjoy these picks!


Julia, Child written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Interest level: Grades 1-4

I picked this book up at a local indie bookstore after the cover illustration caught my eye. I love the simple, gorgeous illustrations within and the message inside. I'd love to see this in the hands of little girls, as a reminder that food and friendship are a source of joy.

Synopsis: Julia and Simca are two young friends who agree that you can never use too much butter -- and that it is best to be a child forever. Sharing a love of cooking and having no wish to turn into big, busy people who worry too much and dawdle too little, they decide to create a feast for growing and staying young. A playful, scrumptious celebration of the joy of eating, the importance of never completely growing up, and mastering the art of having a good time, "Julia, Child" is a fictional tale loosely inspired by the life and spirit of the very real Julia Child - a story that should be taken with a grain of salt and a generous pat of butter.


I Am Famous written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Interest level: Grades PreK - 1

NOTE: I received this title c/o Blue Slip Media.

I was instantly charmed by the character of Kiely, who reminds me so much of one particularly sassy and charming little in my own life. If you have a dramatic little who dreams of being a star, this is such a fun story to share.

Synopsis: Kiely knows she is famous! The paparazzi (her parents) follow her every move, documenting with cameras. It’s exhausting being famous, but someone has to do it! She even gets to perform a big song at her grandfather’s birthday. When she messes it up, she’s worried she’s lost her audience forever, but it turns out that no one is as loyal as her fans who love her.


The Boo-Boos that Changed the World written by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Chris Hsu

Interest level: Grades 2 - 5

NOTE: I received this title c/o Blue Slip Media.

I was so fascinated by this story about the origin of the band-aid! As a teacher, I spend a good deal of time doling out band-aids post-recess, so I think this title will appeal to parents, teachers, and kids alike. When I was little, I had a book all about accidental inventions, and it was my favorite source for fun facts. This true story is told in a humorous way. Added bonus: the inventor came up with the idea because he had an accident prone wife. As a relatively clumsy human, I identified with that and found it to be very endearing.

Synopsis: Did you know Band-Aids were invented by accident?! And that they weren't mass-produced until the Boy Scouts gave their seal of approval? 1920s cotton buyer Earle Dickson worked for Johnson & Johnson and had a klutzy wife who often cut herself. The son of a doctor, Earle set out to create an easier way for her to bandage her injuries. Band-Aids were born, but Earle's bosses at the pharmaceutical giant weren't convinced, and it wasn't until the Boy Scouts of America tested Earle's prototype that this ubiquitous household staple was made available to the public. Soon Band-Aids were selling like hotcakes, and the rest is boo-boo history.


The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath written by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley

Interest level: K - 5

NOTE: I received this title c/o The Innovation Press

This is one of my favorite picture books so far this year. It's the second book in the Amazing Scientists Series and it comes from a publisher dedicated to diversity in children's literature. This biographical picture book focuses on Dr. Patricia Bath, an African American female scientist who made amazing strides in medicine and science during the era of Civil Rights. This is one book I'd put in the hands of all young readers, as proof that big dreams can be realized, even in the face of adversity.

Synopsis: As a girl coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement, Patricia Bath made it her mission to become a doctor. When obstacles like racism, poverty, and sexism threatened this goal, she persevered―brightening the world with a game-changing treatment for blindness! 
The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath is the second book in a brand new educational series about the inspirational lives of amazing scientists! In addition to the illustrated rhyming tale, you'll find a complete biography, fun facts, a colorful timeline of events, and even a note from Dr. Bath herself!

I'd love to hear about your experience reading children's lit! Are you a parent, teacher, or librarian? What level of kid lit do you most enjoy reading? What kinds of kid lit content would you like to see here on TST?

Let me know in the comments below!

50 Books By and About Women of Color by Madeleine Riley

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Happy International Women's Day!

One of my primary goals for reading growth in 2018 is to be more conscious of choosing books that celebrate diverse authors and experiences. I recently asked on Instagram for recommendations for great books by or about women of color. I wanted to compile a list to refer back to in the future when I'm in a bookstore or library and looking for a new read. I specifically asked for books by and about women because I'd like to keep my focus on the female experience -- and because I felt inspired by Rachel's year-long reading goal to read books not by white dudes. Some of the titles on this list don't belong in the own voices category (there's a few that aren't written by a woman of color) but all come highly recommended as stories that expand readers' understanding of WOC experiences across cultures and time periods.

I want to add a note here about feminism and the importance of intersectionality in promoting equal rights for women. Feminism means nothing if it is exclusive to one group of women. All women deserve equal respect, pay, status, and opportunity. All women matter. I've learned so much from other women in the #bookstagram world, and my understanding of intersectional feminism is largely thanks to those women who work to promote recognition and celebration of every woman. So once again I find myself feeling grateful for a community of readers who help me grow and become a better human.

All of the titles and authors listed below were recommended by TST readers. Many of the authors listed here have more than one title that were recommended, so if you've already read the specific title listed, you may want to check out other works by that same author! I hope you find this helpful in encouraging growth in your own reading life, and if you have recommendations to add to this list -- or a reading experience you'd like to share -- please feel free to leave a comment below!

Note: This post uses affiliate links.


Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Pearl That Broke It's Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Pachinko by Lee Min Jin

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Illende

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez

Sing, Uburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson

And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

All the Women in My Family Sing by Deborah Santana & various contributors

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

The Windfall by Diksha Basu

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

Hunger by Roxane Gay

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul