Monday, December 5, 2016

Jeanette Blair

In my first memories of my aunt Jeanette, she was one of the coolest people I knew. Feisty, independent, and always ready with cool stories of college and Italy and family history. When my brother and I would go stay with her and my grandparents in Southern Missouri, she (and my grandparents) would take us on trips the the swimming hole, or into town for ice cream, or for visits with various extended family members. I also vividly remember spending hours telling Jeanette stories. Stories I'd read, stories I made up, or stories about things I read that I thought should have gone differently. She always listened and commented like it was the most interesting thing she'd ever heard, and was one of several people who made me believe I could be a writer and storyteller.

God and faith were number one in Jeanette's life, but family came in at a close second. Jeanette knew all the stories and was an expert on the family tree. She loved visiting and listening and talking with aunts and uncles and cousins -- no matter how distant the connection. Her roots are sunk deep in the rocky soil of the Ozarks, and the place where she grew up was part of her soul.

Jeanette was the best letter writer. She always sent cards for birthdays, Christmas, and anniversaries, and they were covered with great conversation. If I wrote a letter, she'd write back. In another era, I am confident Jeanette would have been known as a person of letters. She loved watching the news and news shows, always arguing with the presenters and newscasters. In fact, she was never shy about stating her opinions about anything. This may or may not have lead to her fair share of lively "discussions".  She loved country music, reading, and singing -- she had a beautiful alto -- and crocheting. Jeanette was a caretaker. Whether it be of her nieces and nephews, her parents, or her grand-nieces and nephews, she spent her life caring for, loving on, and watching out for others.

This week, my Aunt Jeanette went home to be with Jesus. I find comfort knowing she singing old hymns, listening to stories, meeting relatives who went long before, and worshiping at the feet of Jesus. I find comfort knowing her illness was not long and painful. But still our hearts are sad and she will be very, very missed.




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Matthew Quick, Jojo Moyes, and Melina Marchetta have in common

I just finished reading The Good Luck of Right Now by Mathew Quick, and have to say first off that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I think Matthew Quick is best known for The Silver Linings Playbook, which I absolutely adored, and which was made into a really good film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (not as good as the book, of course, but as far as adaptations go, it was solid). He's written several other books, although I've only read one other so far (Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock). When I finished The Good Luck of Right Now last night, I started thinking about some of the things I like so much about Matthew Quick's stories, and it didn't take long to draw a connection between Quick and a couple of other authors whose work I love: Jojo Moyes and Melina Marchetta.

On the surface, these authors' books have little in common aside from the fact that they are mostly contemporary fiction (Marchetta also wrote a phenomenal fantasy trilogy). Quick has written for both adult and young adult audiences. Marchetta writes young adult fiction, and Jojo Moyes writes adult fiction. Moyes is British, Marchetta is Australian, and Quick is American. Moyes books are love stories. Marchetta and Quick have some romantic elements, but that's never the center of the story.

But if you dive a little deeper, there are a couple of things about these authors' work that really resonates with me, and ties them together (if I were writing this for library use, I'd call them readalikes). First, all three have a way of setting the stage that puts you right in the middle of the story. The place of the book is as much a character as the people living there. It's little details, and a way of writing that is vivid without too much unnecessary exposition or flat, two dimensional description. Second, the characters -- both the main characters and secondary characters -- are alive. They feel like people you might meet in real life, or maybe like someone you already know. Finally, all three of these authors are masters at punching you in the gut in the best way possible. By that I mean that their stories are not all sunshine and rainbows. The characters often deal with some pretty intense, sad, hurtful, broken stuff. Life isn't always great or enjoyable, people have baggage, and things don't always go your way. BUT....in the end, there is hope. People survive, and thrive, and build relationships that are good and supportive. People hope for a better future or a better right now, and they see light at the end of the darkest tunnels (Me Before You is a slight exception to this rule, but not entirely).

I think this mix of good and bad, sad and happy, life sucks and people are jerks but sometimes it doesn't and sometimes they aren't kind of storytelling feels so genuine and authentic because it most mimics real life (at least, my view of real life). Combine this aesthetic with exceptional writing, and you can understand why these three authors have become some of my go-tos.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Home and community

This past weekend we visited family in Austin for Thanksgiving. It was a great weekend -- lots of family time, football watching, book reading, outside playing, a really great run, and some Christmas thrown in (we'll be spending Christmas with a different side of the family, so we did double duty this weekend). As a bonus, we got to go to church on Sunday where we used to attend during our brief time in Austin, and we got to worship with and have lunch with a few of our dear friends that we made.

It got me to thinking about community, and about how we built such a solid little community in a city in which we lived only a year, something I'll always be grateful for. I think God new we needed these people in our life, even in a way that turned out differently than it started out (which could be and possibly one day will be a whole other blog post). It got me thinking about community, and some of the things that it takes to build the kind of community God set up for us to have. The every day, walking along side each other, in the trenches, doing life together kind of community. I think there are a lot of components to building that kind of community. Shared faith, commitment, desire. And the factor that was really on my mind this weekend was that of sharing our homes.

In some ways it's a small thing, and in others it's huge. Inviting people into your home requires a lot of vulnerability, but because of that it breaks down relationship barriers quickly. And I'm not talking about clean-for-days-and-pull-out-the-fancy-decorations. I'm talking about the I made a big pot of chili come over and share it, or come play games after dinner and don't mind the pile of laundry on the couch, or bring your kids over to play and by the way I haven't vacuumed in a week. Being real and open with people in your personal space builds trust, helps us relax with each other, and just really opens the door to doing real life together.

It's not something I always remember to do, because there have been times in my life that that kind of openness and home-sharing has just come naturally, and without thought. But sometimes you have to be deliberate. Ask, try, and make space for other people in your home. Because it's worth it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Monday list

1. I'm actually a one book behind on writing book reviews (although, can we really call my random thoughts on what I'm reading "reviews." no, we can not). We can thank my inability to go to bed at a responsible time for that one. (i.e., too much late-night reading) Anyway, I recently finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, and it was so, so good. Heartwrenching at times, but with a happy ending.

2. Today is a rare day: both kids down for a nap at exactly the same time. There's usually some overlap, but lately the littlest one is slowly transitioning to one nap a day, which means MORE overlap. I'm hoping this is a trend. Of course, with a slew of travel time and holiday season festivities approaching...we'll see how long the trend continues. To be honest, I'm grateful for any kind of napping, and anything else is just a bonus.

3. The first of the new Gilmore Girls mini series goes up on Netflix this weekend! I am super excited about this. Maybe a little too excited. Good job Gilmore Girls marketing and promotions team for encouraging me to anticipate this premier at a fangirl level!

4. Every year one of my favorite authors does a huge (seriously huge) fund raiser for Heifer International. He calls it Worldbuilders, and it's a pretty cool deal for fans of fantasy and science fiction. Basically, Patrick Rothfuss (and his Worldbuilders team) contact authors and agents and game makers and artists, and collect collectibles, books, games, art, favors, and all kinds of cool stuff to auction off. You can bid on having an agent or author read and critique your book. You can bid on having your name used as a character in a book. You can bid on unique items or signed books. And for every $10 donated you get an entry into a lottery for some amazing stuff. There are stretch goals and matching funds, and it's all really cool.

5. It's Thanksgiving week! I love Thanksgiving (as I documented last year). I like the reminder to be grateful. I like the emphasis on spending quality time with family and friends. I like Turkey Trots and hiking in the woods and crunching through all the leaves that have fallen off the trees. I like celebration food, football on t.v., and football played in the back yard. I like how opportunities to serve others are front and center, something I hope to remember all year round (because there are always needs, and always ways to help other people).


Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reading...The False Prince


The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1) I've had The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen on my to-read list for about forever. I'd read a lot of good reviews when it first came out, and it sounded like my kind of book, but somehow, when it came time to pick up a new read I always forgot about it. Fortunately, a friend told me she'd started reading it right as I was in the need for something to read, and I borrowed it from the library that day (thank you Overdrive and ebook lending!).

The False Prince tells the story of Sage: a resourceful orphan and pickpocket who gets purchased by a wealthy nobleman with plans to save the country from war, both without and within. Sage and three other orphan boys are taken to the the nobleman's home and told that they will spend the next few weeks learning all they can about the country, about the royal family, about being a nobleman, and at the end, one of them will travel to the castle and claim the throne as the nation's lost prince, believed dead for the past several years.

There's intrigue, misdirection, and adventure. Nielsen's characters develop gradually over the course of the book, and it really feels like you get to know them by the end. There are relationships  and alliances that develop and are broken, and a truly fist-pumping ending. I'm so glad this is the first in a series, and I'm even more glad that I waited to read it since I don't have to wait for the author to keep writing the next book! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reading...A Corner of White


 A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, #1) A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty starts out feeling slightly like a fairy tale. We meet Madeleine, a girl who has gone from living an extraordinary, luxurious, sparkling life to a very ordinary life in a one room flat in Cambridge with her mom. Her two friends with whom she homeschools aren't sure what to believe of the things she says, and Madeleine never seems to act like her life in Cambridge is permanent. One day, she comes across a note stuck in a parking meter and begins a correspondance with someone who she believes is spinning a fantasy tale about parallel worlds and magic. 
But...it turns out that Elliot ISN'T just some lonely kid playing make believe. He's a teenage boy living in the kingdom of Cello -- a place that's a bit different from "The World." Elliot is a golden boy in his town of Bonfire, and he's consumed with finding his missing father. 
A Corner of White is a story about reality: about two teenagers realizing that maybe what they thought was true isn't, and what they thought was fantasy is really quite true. And amidst the very personal journeys of Madeleine and Elliot, there's a larger mystery slowly reveals itself. 


I found this book pretty delightful. The intertwining stories aren't complex, but the characters, and relationships are layered. Moriarty adds little details that make such a big difference: the fact that Madeleine's mom spends all her time studying for a quiz show but she gets all the answers wrong. The way Madeleine and her friends, when given an assignment to study certain Cambridge graduates, immerse themselves in their three alumni: Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, and Ada Lovelace. The way Elliot is thoughtful, helpful, well-loved by his community, and a "good kid," but also kind of a self-centered jerk.

Bottom line: just a really nice read, a good mix of fantasy and reality. I'm really looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Tuesday list

1. I love pumpkin baked goods -- pie, cake, muffins. So, I found a recipe for coconut flour muffins and decided to try making them with pumpkin. Yummy! I'm a little obsessed. I'm also going to try making some pumpkin cake-mix muffins that my friend AJ made. A box of yellow cake mix and a can of pumpkin. Boom. Done. Going to try it with gluten free cake mix and see how it goes (the littlest little is allergic to wheat, thus the gluten free baking experiments).

2. I do not, however, love pumpkin spiced coffee drinks. BUT...I tried this pumpkin spice coffee from Sprouts and it's just the right amount of flavor, so I'm enjoying it. I'll be okay when the bag is empty, but it's a nice treat for a little while.

3. We're taking family pictures this weekend. I wanted to get a haircut before the photo shoot (I got a hair cut a few weeks ago, but I'm not loving it), but because I need to find a new hair stylist (it's time to spend a few more dollars and go with a recommendation rather than the lottery) I couldn't get an appointment this week. I'd like to think that I can work some magic with my curling iron, but considering I haven't really used a curling iron regularly since high school...we may be going with everyday ponytail hair. There are worse things, I know.

4. I pulled up my sample ballot yesterday and did some research so I can go vote this week (early voting is the best, am I right?). So ready for this election to be over. Not that the drama will end, but maybe we'll get a break at least. I've never been so excited for Elf on the Shelf season on Facebook...and I really don't like Elf on the Shelf.

5. I'm reading A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty at the moment and finding it to be delightful and fun so far. And, I'm super excited that The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen became available at the library. I've been meaning to read it for ages, and just keep forgetting.

Happy Tuesday!