Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What's Right in Front of Me - Alexandra Kuykendall

In a world of comparison and discontent, it can feel impossible to be happy with life as we know it. Other people seem to have it all together, to be finding success, to be having more fun. But we weren't meant for a life characterized by dissatisfaction. In this entertaining and relatable book, Alexandra Kuykendall chronicles her nine-month experiment to rekindle her love of her ordinary "actual" life. After wiping her calendar as clean as a mother of four can, Kuykendall focuses on one aspect of her life each month, searching for ways to more fully enjoy her current season. By intentionally adding one thing each month that will make her jump for joy, she provides a practical challenge women can easily replicate. With humor, poignancy, and plenty of personal stories, Kuykendall weaves together spiritual themes and practical application into a holy self-awareness, showing women how a few small changes in their routines can improve their enjoyment of this crazy-busy life.






Author Alexandra Kuykendall is a writer who has also spent nearly a decade working for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International. In her newest book, a memoir of sorts, she relates the things she learned about her family and herself while carrying out a life experiment in which she spent 9 months making more of an effort to love the life she has rather than the pie-in-the-sky ideal she thought she wanted and was missing out on. As a mother of four -- the youngest 3 years old, the oldest entering middle grade -- with an insane daily schedule, she realized she was burning through her days on exhausted autopilot, or as she says, "I was operating on perma-exhaustion."


We are facing days of incredible speed and desiring something different because this pace just doesn't feel right. We know with certainty that we must be made for more than merely tolerating our circumstances; we want to know how to thrive within them. Especially if we don't have a lot of opportunity to change the major things. We want to love this life today.


Kuykendall began to notice that her children seemed to be growing up at a crazy fast rate and she felt like she was missing so much because she was so focused just on making the daily scheduling work. She also realized that her relationships with her husband and close friends and family were showing signs of neglect. Not wanting to look back on these years with regret, she decided to implement a plan. For the next 9 months, she would bring back the joy into her life that she thought she had lost, each month focusing on one specific area that needed attention: focusing on good health & sleep, finding dedicated "me time", decluttering her mind and posessions, reigniting the marital spark, etc. {Kuykendall says she chose a 9 month time frame because that seems like a natural block of time when you're a mom -- time it takes to grow a baby, length of a school year}.



Kuykendall then dedicates herself to connecting with people more personally, calling or visiting in person rather than falling back on quick but more impersonal text or email. She forces herself to back away from what she calls "virtual noise", basically all social media. She cuts back on television, Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, even Youtube; her reasoning being that today's culture is too easily tempted into distraction and procrastination because of media addiction, being so focused on trying to make every moment Insta-worthy that we miss out on the actual moment. She admits that where she used to be annoyed by all the constant noise in her house, she had to retrain herself to actually cherish the noise because you cherish those who are making the noise, and there will likely come a day when those loved ones won't be so easily accessible. 



Alexandra, in her experimentation, makes a point during these 9 months to try her darnedest to start each day in an intentionally peaceful way, waking before the rest of the house does, taking in the silence and using it to guide her morning meditations. She learns to meal prep the night before to cut that stress from the next day. She switches out deep house cleans for an easier tidy-as-you-go-throughout-the-day method as well as diving into purging of extraneous material possessions which in turn helps clear her mind of emotional clutter & stress.



On the personal health front, she pushes herself to make doctor's appointments that she would normally find reasons to put off, in part spurred by the loss of more than one friend to fatal illnesses. At first, the mom guilt kicks in -- that "how dare I worry about me when my kid needs ___" -- but then it dawns on her that in a way, she's actually doing her kids a favor. Not only is she making sure she's healthy, ensuring she'll be there for them for a long time to come, but her actions also subtlety teach them the importance of showing care & respect for their own bodies. She also embraces the practice of making an effort wardrobe-wise even on casual days. Even if it's just a stay at home kind of day, she makes herself choose a cute shirt or put on light makeup and a few jewelry pieces because she realizes it does boost her overall self-esteem and mood for the rest of the day. 


During other months, she learns to not focus on the drudgery of housework and instead think of chores as more of a fun event (ie. take dinner outside one night, make it al fresco! Just because!) -- find little ways to make games out of it or reward yourself. Missing the adventure side of her once globetrotter self, she also tries to make the most of staycations, trying new-to-her cuisine, visiting tourist attractions she would normally scoff at, doing things that make her face certain fears of hers. I liked how throughout this entire book, Kuykendall was always honest about how successful each stage of the experiment turned out to be. She doesn't shy away from admitting when old habits would start to creep back in despite her best intentions. Rather than give up, she writes of what she's learning from the experience in that moment. She encourages readers wanting to try this sort of thing to basically expect the unexpected. That no matter how bad you try to keep it out, life will throw wrenches into your best-laid plans, so your best bet is to strive for just more peace, rather than perfection.


In the final month chapter of the book, Kuykendall mentions interviewing author Shauna Niequist. Niequist talks of how people get so caught up in what their entire life purpose might be, but she prefers to focus on what she's called to do for the current year instead. She also points out that if readers feel a year is still too overwhelming a time frame, they can narrow it down to focus on just a month to month time frame. I really liked this idea! Because it can get disheartening sometimes when you get locked into that "what am I even doing with my life?!" line of thinking.... but if you open it up to just a month or year at a time, it does seem less scary and more open to attainable possibilities. 



The overall layout of this book has a journal-memoir feel to it, but Kuykendall also has it set up to where it can double as a kind of devotional for readers, what with the "Questions For Reflection" at the end of each chapter as well as bible passages she found relevant to how she was feeling during particular points in the project. She also offers bulletpoints of what she tried at the start of each month and what she feels she can continue to incorporate into her life at the each month's end. This gives a helpful guideline for any readers wanting to try a similar experiment in their own households. 


I really enjoyed the candor and humor within Kuykendall's writing. I cracked up whenever she described a moment of doing some sort of preplanning, organizing or meal prep the night before but then forgetting that it was done the next day, then coming home to find a chore done and feeling as if magical stress-reliving fairies came in and blessed her day... til she remembered, "oh wait, that was me, I did that!" As far as the topic, I feel this book with best resonate with busy mothers, but even as someone who runs a childless home, I still found ideas that I can incorporate into my lifestyle as well.


I was hoping for more stories of her trying things out of her comfort zone though. It did feel like much of what she writes here mostly focuses around learning how to better carry out meal prep, "me time", dedicated family time... more organizational type ideas rather than adventurous experiences. Then again, when I thought about it, the book IS called Loving MY Actual Life, so she did stick to that idea, I guess. She wrote about what made HER actual day to day life more fulfilling. 


And if you're wondering about the choice of cover art on this book, a quote from the closing chapter may help explain it:


More and more I'm recognizing life to be a series of small decisions that push in a certain direction. One small decision after another. Like a string of lights, one small light at a time makes an impact. 



FTC Disclaimer: Baker Publishing kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.