Monday, December 29, 2014

Reading, listening, knitting, writing, and sorting the randomness in my head

I took a little writing break last week. We decided last minute to spend the whole week of Christmas (rather than the long weekend) at Nana and Grandpapa's house, and while I probably could have fit in some writing while Nana played with the munchkin, I also wanted to attack my current knitting project and read the first Veronica Mars mystery novel. (Very enjoyable read, although not one to dive into before watching the television show and movie). But, if you can't take a little break over the holidays, when can you? And I'm feeling a bit of pressure on this knitting project. I told a friend I could knit his fiance a Harry Potter house scarf, and the pattern I liked best (which looked the most authentic to me) has a LOT of stitches and I'm not a fast knitter.'s taking a while. Every time I sit down I think I should be knitting. (maybe I should learn to knit and walk, but it'd still be a challenge with a baby around). Fortunately, we have a good number of books in our Audible account, and I'm currently listening to a Harry Dresden mystery by Jim Butcher (great books for listening too. James Marsters -- a.k.a. Spike -- makes these books come to life better than just reading them I think) and making my way through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

When I do pry myself away from knitting, I'm reading the Fairwil ARC. Remember the Wilfair series that I told you about? Are you reading it yet?

And on a random ranty note...sometimes, I am blown away by the things people think it's okay to say to other people. Several days ago, a friend of mine related a story about some very rude things a woman (complete stranger) said to her about her children -- while her children were there. She has a large family, and that's what this woman was commenting on ("I feel so sorry for you" "I could never have that many kids" etc.) Thing is, that woman is completely entitled to that opinion. Children are not for everyone, and lots of children are not for everyone. But how is it any of that woman's business that my friend chooses to have a large family? She and her husband support themselves, so there's zero reason to make rude comments, especially in front of the children (they are elementary school aged -- perfectly able to hear and understand when someone essentially says: you are a terrible thing). I know a lot of people with more than two kids who get these kinds of comments from people, and I will say it again, loud and clear:

Not. Your. Business.

Unless this large family is DIRECTLY affecting your life: not your business. Harp on it in the privacy of your own home if you must, but still. As my friend so eloquently put it, when did babies become tumors?

Okay, rant over.

Enjoy the post-Christmas/pre-New Year's shopping/leftover-eating/de-stressing/new-toy-playing-with week!

Friday, December 19, 2014

More Christmastime

I should start off by saying that I love Christmas movies. I think, if possible, I could spend the entirety of December watching a different Christmas movie every day. And I know so many Christmas movies are cheesy, but somehow I can tolerate more cheese in movies than books, and then my tolerance is even greater when there's red and green and tinsel and caroling involved. 

(That's not to say I love EVERY Christmas movie. I do have my limits.)

So, in the spirit of the season and its endless lists, here's another! Five of my go-to, watch-them-every-year Christmas movies: 

If I was forced to pick just one Christmas movie, it would be this one. Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Vera-Ellen. Two big-shot entertainers end up in Vermont with two beautiful and talented nightclub performers at a ski lodge with no snow. Bob wants to help out an old army buddy, and Phil wants to play matchmaker. And in the meantime, there's tons of great music, dancing, humor, romance, and a touch of 1950s glamour.

This movie brings to mind Christmases in the Ozarks, visiting my grandparents, aunts, and cousins. Every Christmas at Granny and Grandpas we'd watch a few movies, but ALWAYS some version of A Christmas Carol and ALWAYS with a debate on which version is the best. George C. Scott...Alistair Sim...Patrick Stewart...the musical...the Muppets...Mickey...and the Bill Murray version Scrooged if you're my husband. Really, there are so many to choose from, and a flavor for everyone (except Jim Carrey. I refuse to acknowledge it exists). It's a classic story for a reason.

Who doesn't smile at Ralphie's extremely active imagination, or cheer when he cracks under the pressure of the school bully. I can quote almost this whole movie, and don't mind doing it. It's fun and nostalgic.

Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas, and serves as the voice of everyone who's a little burnt out at Christmas. 

One of my favorite romantic comedies, this movie set at Christmas and New Year is about love and family. It's the movie that made me fall in love with Chicago, and it's just good stuff. 

Obviously, there are so many great Christmas movies not on this list. It was really hard to narrow it down to even five! What's your favorite Christmas movie?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


I posted several weeks ago a few fall-ish books, so right now it seems fitting to post some books that suit my mood during the Christmas season. I'm still in a cozy mood -- so I'm in the mood for stories that make me want to curl up with a blanket and hot drink. But if fall was all about atmospheric moodiness, Christmas this year is about feel-good stories. I'm craving romantic comedies, well-loved classics, and non-dark fantasy. So here are four books that suit my mood for this Christmas:

1. Fairwil
Happy and sad days are here! The ARCs are out for Alysia Gray Painter's final installment of the super fantastic and wonderful books set at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in sunny Los Angeles. This is feel-good fiction at it's best, y'all. Funny, sweet, sassy, whimsical, heartwarming, heartsqueezing, romantic, friendly....just fantastic. Buy the first three ebooks and gobble them up. They're only $1.99! The perfect stocking stuffer! Or post-shopping reward.

2. Something by Jane Austen
I'd probably reach for one of my favorites: Emma or Persuasion, but pick your own favorite and curl up in front of the Christmas tree with some tea and scones.

3. Shadow Scale 
This is the second book in the Seraphina series by Rachel Hartman (and doesn't actually come out until March 2015. Small details!). Think Renaissance, but with dragons. I haven't read Shadow Scale yet, but Seraphina is so, so good. If you love fantasy fiction, music, and good stories, you have to read Seraphina. Even though the book isn't Christmasy, non-dark fantasy always suits my mood for cold-weather reading, and Christmas is so much about music for me, that the huge role of music in these books also makes it the perfect read for this time of year.

4. Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
These Russian-inspired fantasy books definitely put me in the cold-weather mood. Especially living someplace where we're as likely (or maybe even more likely) to wear flip-flops as we are boots on Christmas, it's nice to have a story that gives me some cold-by-proxy. This trilogy breaks from my mini-mold here because it's serious and tense, but it's just the right amount of suspense with a dash of romance. It's spiced wine and spiked cider rather than hot chocolate, but still a great winter read.

I've got a similar movie/television post percolating in my brain, but in the meantime, what books or movies or television shows are your flavor this Holiday/winter season?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Watching...Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars (2004) PosterI've mentioned before how I like good storytelling in multiple forms, not just books. So movies, television shows, and live performances all have a place at the table. The past month or two, I started watching Veronica Mars. (Finally! Sometimes I feel like the last person in the world to have watched it). In brief: loved it. Hubby even loved it too! And here are five reasons why:
1. Veronica. Sassy, smart, a little neurotic, and a lot single-minded. Loyal to her friends, hell to her enemies. Kristen Bell nails it.
2. Veronica and Keith. The closeness of this father-daughter relationship reminds me in some ways of the Lorelai/Rory dynamic. It was a little more parent-sibling than the best friend dynamic of the Gilmores, but the closesness is there. You could tell that for each of them, the relationship with each other was the most important relationship in their lives.
3. Cast of supporting characters -- good guys and bad guys. I hate to even call them supporting characters, because without Wallace, Mac, Duncan, Logan, Piz, Leo, Weevil, Sheriff Lamb, and even Vinnie, the show would fallen flat.
4. Good mysteries. So, some of the mysteries are definitely a bit more dramatic than the average person's everyday life (murder, etc.) and necessary for a good, dramatic story, but I also appreciated  the more typical teenage detective stories: missing dogs, bullying, vandalism, rapists. It's the kind of stuff you expect a high schooler/college student and her peers to deal with.
5. More than one note.  Veronica Mars is certainly a drama, but it didn't settle for being a straight-forward, serious procedural detective show. It is also hilarious, creepy, heartwarming, and sad. Kinda like life.
Bonus love: not only is there three seasons (cancelled before its time! Curse you CW)  and a crowd-funded movie, but there's also a novel and another in publication! It's on my nightstand,

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nap time

Sometimes, it just works out perfectly:

A long morning nap for the munchkin + yoga + a shower + a good cup of coffee + a few more more words (sentences even!) added to the work-in-progress.

I'm trying (some days more successfully than others) to learn how to fit in bits of writing here and there around naps and bottles and playing and making sure the house doesn't implode. And it works. But mornings like this are so decadent. Like a mini vacation for my week. An unexpected downhill after an uphill climb and a burst of momentum for the next hill up ahead.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday -- in my life, it's always been a time to treasure community -- whether that be friends, family, new acquaintances, or a mixture of all of the above. For quite a few years, we spent Thanksgiving away from immediate family, but were always priveleged to break bread with friends old and new. Through the years, Thanksgiving activities have included playing games, busting out the Christmas movies, football, and lots of good food. This year in particular, Thanksgiving resonates with me because I've been reminded in recent weeks the importance of living a life of gratitude. Trying to be constantly aware of what I have to be thankful for, in a humble, pay-it-forward kind of way.

This year, I'm excited to spend Thanksgiving with some family in Missouri, but I think I'll always kind of miss our Wilmington Thanksgivings. Come one, come all -- from 5 to 18, it doesn't matter how many, it's always a fun time. And at the Mattox house, we always write what we're thankful for to pin to the cork board. In that spirit, here's a list of five things I'm especially thankful for:

1. Jeremy and Christina. Motherhood is a wild ride! When people ask, I say it's the hardest and best thing I've done to date, and I'm sure that will only get more true. And I'm so, so thankful to be on this adventure with Jeremy. He's the best person to have an adventure with.

2. Technology. Phone calls, texts, emails, Skype, even Facebook help me stay in touch with friends across the country, and have even helped me make friends with people I'd never have met otherwise.

3. Our neighborhood. I'm grateful to live in a neighborhood that is nice to get out and walk in. Trees, sidewalks, and a playground only 15 minutes away. We have really nice neighbors on either side of us, and it's just great to be in a place that feels homey.

4. WOW Bible study. Spring Creek Church of Christ (where we attend) has a fall and spring women's Bible study (Women Opening the Word), and I attended my first series this fall. What a blessing! Cassandra Martin is a gifted teacher, and the study based on I Thessalonians 5:16-18 really spoke to me in this season of my life (Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you). Not only that, it was nice being able to have a little grown-up time each week (thank you Amanda Wilkins for being the WOW babysitter!)

5. The little things. Earlier this year there was a little Facebook challenge going around: list something you're thankful for for 5 days, and challenge three people to do the same each day (a warm up to thankful Novemeber maybe?). One thing I loved seeing was all the "little" things people were thankful for: coffee (ummm...yeah), music, nail polish, books. It's fun to step back sometimes and recognize that some seemingly small thing can bring so much enjoyment to my day, or even just this moment. Baby giggles, fresh baked bread, a walk around the block, a beautiful sunset, a fun t.v. show, quiet time, friend time, a game of cards, a phone conversation, or even a box of tissues (which I am so thankful for today. First cold of the season, anyone? Thank you for sharing Christina).

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reading...Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)

It's no secret that I'm a big Maggie Stiefvater fan, and I am really digging her latest series The Raven Cycle. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in this planned quartet and as always leaves me pacing my house longing for the next book. Y'all. These book are so good. Magic, friendship, Welsh mythology, good guys, bad guys, and very gray guys (Literally. The Gray Man is the epitome of morally ambiguous character.). When I first discovered Stiefvater's books, I told a friend that her writing feels like a painting in words, and that is still true in this book.

So. The plot moves forward, and our band of four guys and a girl stir up some serious magic. Individually, the teenagers seek out those universally teenage things: figuring out who they are, where they fit in to the world, and what really matters to them. Collectively, they have weathered some storms and come out closer and more appreciative of each other. The plot begins to draw in, and you can see storm clouds on the horizon.

I'm not saying much concrete about the book on purpose, because this is definitely the kind of story to start at the beginning. And if you haven't yet, pick up The Raven Boys and settle in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A little creative writing

I have philosophy that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't: the more I put my writing out there, the more it encourages me to keep at it. So in that spirit, the following is a chapter from a novel I'm working on. It's still in rough draft form, but here you go...

Rosalee double checked the cart of books that put in order, then glanced at the clock. Thirty minutes until closing, just enough time to get these books shelved. She wheeled the black metal cart from behind the desk and headed to the chapter book section of the children’s room at the library. Things were pretty quiet this evening – Mondays often were. Rosalee loved this little library. There were two public libraries in town now, but this was her favorite. It had originally been just a converted old farmhouse. Eventually, the town had added on a nice, modern building, but had left the farmhouse. First floor was now a coffee shop, and the second floor housed offices and administrative staff. Sometimes Rosalee would come to work early and treat herself to a pastry and cup of coffee at the coffee shop. Jessica had even worked there for a while in high school.

Carolyn, the full-time children’s librarian, was laying out material in corner, prepping for Tuesday’s regular story-time. That corner of the room was slightly sunken, with three steps leading down to a good-sized wedge-shaped area with a rocking chair at the point. A pile of pillows sat along one wall. Sometimes the kids pulled them out for story-time, and sometimes they’d just pull them out and read for a while when nothing else was going on. A low table lined the other wall, where Carolyn or one of the other librarians would set up crafts. Some front facing book shelves were built into both walls, providing a place to display books relating to that week’s story-time theme, or just books the librarians wanted to display and highlight.

Stephanie, one of the other part-time staff, was at the desk in the opposite corner doing some work on the computer. Rosalee was about half-way through shelving her cart when Stephanie looked up from her work and called out.

“Rosalee” she said. “Carolyn and I and a few of the reference staff are headed to Brick Oven tonight. It’s Beth’s birthday. Would you like to join us?”

Rosalee turned toward her. “Well…” she said, her first instinct to politely declinje, although she wasn’t sure why.

“I know it’s last minute,” she said, waving her hand. “Beth wasn’t sure her sitter could stay late, so we didn’t have final plans until this afternoon. If you can’t, I understand.”
“Actaully,” Rosalee said, “that sounds great. I’d love to.” After all, she thought to herself. What plans do you have. None, that’s what. And weren’t you just thinking the other day that you had become a hermit?

She finished shelving her cart of books while the other two began getting everything in order for closing. Twenty minutes later, Rosalee was climbing in her car to calls of “see you there!” and pulling out onto the relatively quiet street. She smiled to herself, looking forward to a nice dinner with her coworkers. She made a quick stop on the way at a dollar store, grabbing a cute birthday card and gift bag. At the restaurant she took a moment in her car sign the card and put the bag of coffee she’d purchased that day into the gift bag. It’d been an impulse buy – she’d had a thought of giving it to Celia Blair. But she could always buy another bag; she knew Beth liked coffee as well – she always had a mug in her hand – so it worked out nicely.

Rosalee was the last to walk in, but the other ladies were still taking off sweaters and jackets. They’d snagged a table against the wall, much preferable in Rosalee’s opinion to sitting in the middle of the room. She set her purse down in an empty chair, then dropped her small bag in front of Beth’s place. “Happy Birthday!” she said, leaning in for a quick hug.

“Oh, thank you!” Beth said, returning the hug. “Rosalee, how sweet. You didn’t have to get me anything. This is all so last minute and casual.”

Rosalee waved away Beth’s protests. “It’s not much,” she said, smiling. “But I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head: ‘Rosalee, never go to a party empty-handed.’”

Beth laughed. “My mom says the same thing.”

Rosalee moved back down the table a few chairs to her own spot and, after a quick check to make sure the hardwood floors weren’t too grimy, slid her purse under her chair. There were six ladies of varying ages around the table. Alysia, head of information services, Donna from technical services, Beth, Stephanie, Caroline and Rosalee. Rosalee was pretty sure Donna and Caroline were around her own age, Beth and Stephanie in their mid-to early 40s, and Alysia somewhere between 25 and 35. Rosalee was terrible with ages. She only guessed Beth and Stephanie’s because she knew how old their kids were. Either way, it was a comfortable group. Everyone except Rosalee had been working at the Woodson Public Library for at least 10 years. Rosalee had only been at the library for a couple of years, but the staff had been more than welcoming. This was the first time she’d ever accepted any offer for out-of-work socializing though, and she found herself to be a little bit nervous. But, as she’d been realizing more and more lately, it’d been a long time since she’d done any kind of non-family related socializing. Which, since she genuinely enjoyed the company of her co-workers, was one reason she’d said yes to the invitation.

Rosalee gave herself a little mental pep talk and picked up her menu, glancing around the restaurant as she did. She’d never been to Brick Oven before, although she heard various members of her family talk about it all the time. The d├ęcor reminded her a bit of a pub – lots of dark wood, warm light and high-backed booths. Since the restaurant had the benefit of being a stand-alone building, there were a lot of windows. Rosalee could imagine how bright and cheery it looked in the daytime, but with no less warmth. There was a long bar at one end of the building, and behind the bar you could catch a glimpse of the big wood-burning pizza ovens.

She glanced down at her menu, then turned to Caroline, who was sitting beside her.

“Have you been here before?” she asked. “What’s good?”

“Oh, we come all the time,” she said. “My favorite is the carmelized onion, pear and gornonzola; my husband’s favorite is the barbecue chicken; and my daughter usually sticks with the margarita.”

“Hmm,” Rosalee mused. “Those all sound delicious.”

“You can’t really go wrong with anything,” Stephanie chimed in from across the table. “It’s all pretty outstanding.”

Their server arrived a moment later and took drink orders. Rosalee heard Beth ask who was driving her home because she was definitely planning on some birthday drinks. Rosalee laughed along with the rest and joined in the general conversation about wine and beer preferences and which pizza they were all going to order. She and Caroline ended up deciding to split a pizza, and before too long their waiter had slipped off to place orders and conversation turned to other topics.

“So, Rosalee have you always lived in Mapleview?” Caroline asked, taking a sip of her red wine.

“No, my husband and I moved here not too long after we got married. I grew up in Carrolton,” Rosalee answered.

“No way!” Stephanie exclaimed. “My grandmother’s from Carrolton. I didn’t think anyone else even knew where it was.”

Rosalee cocked her head slightly. “Who’s your grandmother?” she asked. “I’m sure I know her.”

“Betty Mason.”

“Mrs. Mason, of course!” Rosalee said, smiling. “She lived two blocks from the pharmacy and always had the most beautiful flowers in her front yard.”

“Sounds like Gramma,” Stephanie said. “We used to go visit every summer and every Thanksgiving. What a small world!”

“What about you ladies,” Rosalee said. “Who’s from around here?” All but Donna admitted they’d grown up in Missouri, if not in Mapleview. Donna had moved to Mapleview with her husband’s job. They’d both grown up in California.

Rosalee raised her eyebrows. “That must have been quite a culture shock,” she said. She looked at Caroline with new eyes noting the sleek and expertly colored hair, easy but flawless makeup, and casual but stylish clothing. She could see it clearly – Donna may not have lived in California for 15 years, but she exuded West Coast.

Donna laughed, her brown eyes warm. “In some ways, yes,” she said. “I’ll admit I miss being equidistance from the mountains and the beach. And I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to Midwestern weather. But Mapleview is a great home. I felt welcome the moment we rolled into town, and that’s never changed.”

Rosalee felt proud of her home state.

“So what have you all been reading lately?” Stephanie asked, shifting gears.

Caroline’s eyes lit up, “I just finished the best book! I’ve been in a reading slump for weeks, so I took a chance on a recommendation from Kelly and it was perfect! I’d never have picked up this book on my own. I don’t usually read romance novels, but Kelly assured me that I would enjoy this one and I absolutely did.”

“I love a good romance novel,” Donna said from across the table. “Who was the author?”

Caroline mentioned an author Rosalee had never heard of – not too surprising since she tended to stick to mysteries and historical fiction – but she made a mental note to branch out.

“What did you like about the book?” she asked.

Caroline rested her chin in her hand and thought for a minute. “It was smart,” she said. “Smart and funny, but not silly. And the characters seemed very real. I tend to like character-driven fiction, and this story was as much about the characters as people as it was about their love story.”

Rosalee nodded in understanding. “I try to find those authors when it comes to mysteries too,” she said. “I love a good mystery, but there needs to be as much character development as there is plot development. Fortunately, a lot of my favorite authors write series, so I can usually find something I like.”

Donna asked her if she’d read a certain author and the women around the table kept up an animated discussion about books and authors until the pizza arrived. Rosalee breathed deeply, enjoying the variety of scents coming from the table. Garlic and tomatoes and savory meat. She smelled the tang of barbecue sauce from the barbecue chicken pizza that Donna had ordered, a smell that Rosalee would have expected to seem out of place. It all smelled delicious, though, savory and rich. Her stomach growled and she and Caroline laughed.

“I didn’t realize I was so hungry,” Rosalee said.

The women continued to chat as they pulled slices of hot pizza from the oversized plates in front of them. The waitress refilled drinks and took orders for new ones. Rosalee took a bite of pizza – the crust was thin and crispy, with an almost grilled flavor that she assumed came from the wood-burning oven it had cooked in. She and Caroline had picked simple toppings –tomatoes, proscuto, spinach and fresh mozzarella. It was amazing.

“I think I’ve been ruined forever,” she said after swallowing. “This is amazing!”

Donna smiled at her from across the table. “I felt the same way after my first taste of wood-fired pizza. They’ve been popular in California for a while. That may have been the hardest part about moving to Missouri!”

They all laughed and Rosalee lifted her piece for another bite. She glanced around the table as she chewed, a slight smile on her face. She was so glad that she’d accepted the invitation. Clearly her homebody ways were starting to lose their appeal because she was having a lot of fun, more fun that usually had on a Monday night. She was turning her attention to a funny story Beth was telling when she felt someone walk behind her chair and pause.

“Rosalee?” a deep voice asked. “Rosalee Barnes.”

Rosalee froze, her hand halfway to her face, her mouth hanging open. No one had called her Rosalee Barnes in a long time. And she hadn’t heard that voice in a very, very long time.

Rosalee set her half-eaten slice of pizza on her plate with a trembling hand, and wiped her fingers on the napkin in her lap. She placed the napkin on the table, and slid her chair back. She could see the other ladies glancing behind and above her head then back at her, and she could see them wondering why she still hadn’t responded, why she was taking so long to say anything.

Her knees joined her trembling hands as she stood up, then turned around. She willed her body to start cooperating, and cleared her throat before smiling.

“George Bowen you sure do know how to surprise a person.”

The eyes that smiled back at her were exactly the same midnight blue as they’d been in 1964. The smile lines that crinkled in the corners were deeper and more numerous, but Rosalee noted the same straight nose and strong chin, the same confident grin and lopsided dimple, and the thick blonde hair that had turned a beautiful silver. George was dressed casually in dark jeans, brown leather loafers, and a white button-up shirt with a navy pin stripe and the sleeves rolled up. As she reached out to meet George’s outstretched hand with her own, Rosalee also noted that he had clearly been taking care of himself as he was as trim and fit as he’d been 50 years ago. Men, Rosalee thought, instinctively sucking in her 62-year-old-post-child-bearing belly. The bastards.

“I can’t believe it’s actually you,” he said, his hand lingering in hers, his whole face lit up with a smile. “I heard your voice and it was like a ghost from the past.”

“Ghost…yes, that sounds about right,” she kept a smile on her own face, but inwardly cringed at her response. Her brain felt like that time she and Betty’d gotten her daddy’s car stuck in the mud down by the creek. They’d spent 20 minutes spinning those tires.

“So, how long have you lived here in Mapleview?” George was asking.

“Over 30 years now,” she replied. “How long have you been here?”

The question sounded wrong, and slightly accusatory to her ears, but if George thought so he didn’t let on. He just kept on smiling.

“Three days. My daughter moved here a few years ago. I’ve been coming out to visit now and then, but a few months ago I took early retirement so I decided to move closer to her and the grandkids.”

“Early retirement. Wow, that sounds nice.” Brilliant Rosalee, she thought to herself. He’s going to think you’re getting dementia.

“Well, I’m still doing contract work for the same company,” he said with shrug, “but being an independent contractor is a lot more flexible.”

“Mmm…,” she said, nodding. Rosalee’s sluggish brain was suddenly aware that she was standing in a crowded restaurant, having an unsettling and highly personal experience. People were weaving around them, and although she could hear that the ladies behind her had continued their conversation, it seemed muted. Like they were talking to give her privacy, but kind of wished they were listening in. She didn’t blame them…she’d be curious too.
“I was going to call you next week,” George said.

Rosalee raised an eyebrow, “Really,” she said.

Finally, George looked less than one hundred percent at ease.

“No really,” he said. “I called my cousin before I left Chicago. He still lives in Carrolton, so he was able to get your number for me from Betty.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “See,” he held it out.

Written in slanting print was her name and number.

“Well,” she said, “isn’t it a small world.”

“So…can I call you?” he asked. “I’d love to catch up and it looks like neither of us are free at the moment.” He nodded at the table behind her.

Rosalee hesitated. Why shouldn’t he call her? Her too-slow brain fired off a million reasons starting with “he’s a lying liar.” But somehow, with the words “I don’t think so” poised on her tongue, another part of her realized that particular wound wasn’t…so much of a wound anymore. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t tender. It was more of a scar really. So the question really was…why not? It’d been a long time since she’d thought about George Bowen, and she found that her overwhelming thought was simply curiosity.

Okay, and maybe, perhaps a slight flush of warmth because good grief, that man was still too good looking for his own good.

“Sure,” she replied with a hesitant smile. “Anytime.”

He started to reach out as thought to touch her hand or shoulder, but she took a very tiny step back. She may not have been hurt anymore, but she hadn’t seen George in decades. She wasn’t ready for that easy familiarity. He must of read her signals because he quickly dropped his hand and settled for another heart-stopping smile.

“Great,” he said. “I’m glad. I’ll call you sometime next week.”

He seemed sincere, Rosalee thought as she watched him walk toward his table, but then again, he always had. She turned away from the crowded restaurant and back to her table, where the ladies were doing their best not to act like anything interesting had just happened. Rosalee sat down, placed her napkin in her lap, and took a bite of her pizza. She chewed, swallowed, and took pity on her friends.

“Go ahead,” she said with a smile. “Ask away.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reading...Bridge to Haven

Bridge to Haven

It's been a while since I've picked up a Christian fiction book, mostly because -- as happens with any genre -- my favorite authors haven't been writing much, and I haven't had much luck with most of the authors I've picked up. Plus, as I've mentioned before, my reading tastes have developed to a place where I value story before message and Christian fiction is a genre in which not every author writes that way (which is not bad! just not usually my particular cup of tea these days).

Anyway, I was at the library and came across Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers on the new book shelf. It's been a while since I've read anything by Francine Rivers, and while I do remember that her books are very much about the message, I also remember really enjoying them. So I picked it up.

Bridge to Haven is a story about self-worth, and the lengths at which people often go to find it. It's about love, family, and forgiveness. Abra is abandoned under a bridge on the  day she's born, and taken in by the family of a local pastor. Pastor Zeke's wife Marianne dies while Abra is still very young, and Zeke decides to let another family adopt Abra because he doesn't think he and his 12 year old son Joshua can take care of her well enough by themselves. Of course, 5 year old Abra doesn't understand, and spends many years felling abandoned, second-best, and blaming herself for Mama Marianne's death. She builds walls between herself and her new family, only allowing herself to open up with her piano teacher Mitzi and with Joshua. When a smooth-talking, handsome, and glamorous young man comes into town, 16-year old Abra runs off with him. She quickly realizes that what he's offering isn't exactly everything she imagined, but her pride and self-doubt keep her from returning home. Several years later, Abra -- now known as Lena Scott -- is a rising movie star, and hates every second of it. Joshua is a Korean War veteran building homes in Haven, and one of the many people who pray every day for some word from Abra, some sign that she's okay or better yet, coming home. Despite hitting dead end, after dead end in a search for Abra, a series of seemingly random circumstances finally bring Joshua and Abra together again.

I didn't love Bridge to Haven, but I did enjoy it. Rivers writes very compelling characters, and I kept reading to find out what happened to them. My primary complaint is that I think Rivers' somewhat heavy-handed message kept her from exploring more with the side characters. Joshua was the most fleshed out secondary character, and I think his role in the story kept him a little too perfect and a little too one note. We did get to read some about his experiences in war and his difficulty adjusting back home, but just a touch more of that would have made Joshua a richer character and a little less "too perfect."

Bottom line: if you're in the mood for well-written Christian fiction with a strong message, an interesting story, and compelling characters, you can't go wrong here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


It's frustrating how difficult it is to get into a habit, but how easy it is to get out of it. One little change in routine or schedule and there you go: derailed. For me, this is particularly true of things I do that don't affect anyone else. Writing, exercising, studying. Now that I'm not playing music for church anymore, I find myself going...way to long between sessions at the piano, then I find myself thinking "something is missing", and I eventually sit down and even just playing a few songs feeds that particular music-shaped place in my soul. But when no one is watching or waiting or counting on me to write a chapter of my novel, or put running shoes to pavement, or play a song or three, it's easy to just do something sporadically that I'd ideally like to do much more regularly.

Maybe that's why I'm rambling about it here. Getting the thought out of my head. Telling myself in a more concrete way to spend less time mindlessly clicking links to articles people post on Facebook*, and just a few minutes a day writing or playing. Just a few minutes. Which some days turns into more, and some days is about all I can handle.

*Don't get me wrong, sometimes I read really cool stuff that other people link to, but man, can that a black hole.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Four books for fall

I, like so many people, love fall. Maybe because I have a fall birthday, maybe because I grew up in the Midwest (where fall is lovely and perfect). Regardless, it's probably my favorite time of year, and I love many things about it: the weather, the smell in the air, the color of the leaves (when I'm able to see them), pumpkins, apples, cinnamon, spice, back-to-school, football, fires, boots and scarves and sweaters (not so much in South Texas, of course, but I've been known to rock boots, short sleeves, a skirt and a scarf when I can. It's all about adapting fall traditions).

Fall is the beginning of the "cozy" seasons: the days are shorter, the air cooler, and it's perfect for curling up with stories. Here are some good stories for fall:

1. Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars, by L.M. Montgomery
Basically, I think the Anne of Green Gables books are perfect for any time of year, but these two books in the series are especially well-suited to fall, because they both have a school setting. Anne of the Island being Anne's college years, and Windy Poplars telling the story of her years teaching at a private girls' school while Gilbert finishes medical school.

2. Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Two things make this a perfect fall book in my mind: the Midwest and football. Dairy Queen is the first of a fantastic trilogy about D.J. Schwenk, the daughter of a dairy farmer, the sister of two all-star football players, and a darn good athlete on her own. It's part coming of age story, part romance, part sports story, and 100 percent fantastic.

3. Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater
This is the first book in Stiefvater's Mercy Falls trilogy (well, kind of a quartet now). It's set in the Midwest, and cold weather is practically a character. It's a supernatural teenage romance, which isnj't for everyone, but Stiefvater is a fantastic, lyrical writer. A secondary fall recommendation would be The Scorpio Races, with its haunting tone and vaguely British Isles setting.

4. Chime, by Franny Billingsley
This surreal book has witches, magic, sisters, family, romance, and a moody atmosphere that is also perfect for reading by firelight (or just turn the lights down low if you're climate is too hot for a fire 364 days out of the year). You can check out my expanded thoughts here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reading...A Northern Light

A Northern LightA Northern Light is the story of a girl who lives in rural New York during the turn of the 20th century, a girl who dreams of leaving her small community to study, write, and explore the world outside of the woods. But Mattie's mother is dead, her older brother left home, and her responsibilities to the rest of her family seem like a life sentence. Mattie is ready to make the best of it -- to give up her dreams in favor of marrying the handsome Royal Loomis and making a life as a farmer's wife. It many would be a good life...but not the life she had planned. Royal doesn't understand that part of Mattie that reads anything she can get her hands on, that writes any chance she gets, that plays vocabulary games and loves learning. 
As Mattie wrestles with the conflict between her dreams, the realities of poor, rural life, and societal expectations, she takes a summer job at a swanky hotel up on the lake to earn money for her family and in expectation of marrying Royal. But during the murder of a young girl shakes up everyone at the hotel, perhaps Mattie most of all. 
I've read one other book by Jennifer Donnelly (Revolution) and I absolutely love how grounded her books are in their time period. Donnelly manages to paint a very rich picture of whatever place and period her characters are in, from the dirty and messy realities of life to the poignancy and beauty found in every day. Her characters are layered and very real. Their hopes and dreams are timeless, but the limitations they face put the story firmly in its unique time period -- from Mattie's best friend Weaver's struggles as a young black man in 1907 to the amount of effort it takes for a poor white woman to dream bigger than her back yard.

I'm not going to lie, there is a lot of sadness and hardship in A Northern Light. But there is also a thread of hope that runs through the story, mirroring the sadness and joy of real life.

Bottom line: if you like grounded, realistic historical fiction you can't go wrong here. And if you're typically not a historical fiction fan, but like books with rich characters, and a story of struggle and hope, give it a try.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reading...The Way of Shadows

The Way of Shadows (Night Angel, #1) 
The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks starts out as a simple story: a boy works to survive life on the streets of Cenaria, part of a system of street "guilds"...organized gangs of otherwise homeless children that serve as training grounds for the city's organized criminal element. Azoth and his two friends try to lay low, pay their guild dues, and avoid the attention of Rat -- their guild's truly sadistic and sociopathic leader enforcer. But you can figure out how the story goes...eventually, the three are unable to fly under the radar, and Azoth wants desperately to have the courage and skills to defend himself and his friends, he wants to  be like the legendary assassin Durzo Blint. After both of his friends are brutalized by Rat, Azoth begs Blint to take him on as an apprentice, and eventually Blint reluctantly agrees. 
And here's where the story widens slightly: Azoth enters the world of the nobles, taken in by a minor noble family at Blint's request to learn how to blend in to the world beyond the streets. Azoth dies...and Kylar is born. 
And here's where the story widens a little bit more: assassinations, betrayal, political maneuverings, magic, and a search for a powerful magical device. By the time the story ends, what started out as a simple story of an assassin's apprentice has become a full-scale story of love, betrayal, and magic. 
Weeks doesn't shy away from brutality in this story -- Azoth/Kylar's Cenaria has a lot of darkness and death, and while there are glimmers of light -- people in search of redemption, people looking to make their world better -- I spent most of the book wishing everyone in it could just catch a break (or that certain people would just DIE ALREADY).
The Way of Shadows doesn't rank with my favorites, but it's a solid epic fantasy, with plenty of action, a deceptively intricate plot, and some really great WHOA! moments in the end. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reading... book blogs

The last book I finished was Vertigo 42, by Martha Grimes. Since I recently talked about why I love Martha Grimes and her Richard Jury series, I won't say much except that it was another great Jury mystery. Instead, I'm taking a look at my feed reader to share a handful of my favorite book-related blogs (excluding author blogs...because there are a lot of those!):

Book Riot is great because there is something for everyone. There's a whole staff of contributors that write for this site, so you get a lot of points of view. There are people who like to read big classics, non-fiction, genre fiction of all kinds, and everything in between. And rather than just review lots of books, they mostly have features -- articles about books and reading and the reading life. It's fun, funny, and often thought-provoking. Also, a time-suck, but in the best way possible.

RA for All was one of my go-to readers' advisory sites when I worked as a full-time librarian. Not only does Becky write great reviews and themed book posts -- so it's a great resource for anyone looking for a good book to read -- but she also teaches you how to be a better readers' advisor.

Blogging for a Good Book is the blog of the Williamsburg Public Library, and it's all reviews, all the time. What's great about this blog, is that you get so many different types of reviews since it's the whole library staff that contributes. Plus, it's not all reviews of bestsellers or new books. There's plenty of older, backlist titles featured.

Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and Books I Done Read are two favorites mostly because of their voice. The authors have such a unique (and in Books I Done Read's case -- stinking hilarious) way of sharing their thoughts on books, and I enjoy reading them even if I don't think I'll go pick up the book they're talking about. Plus, Sarah, Laura, and Sandra over at Clear Eyes are big Friday Night Lights fans so...kindred spirits, basically.

A Work in Progress and Shelf Love are also two favorites because of their voice, but these are the blogs I go to when I want to read about authors I've probably not heard of, literary fiction, historical fiction, and interesting non-fiction. These blogs are thoughtful and somewhat quiet, but I sometimes find a recommendation that I'd never have found somewhere else.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A short story

I recently wrote a short story in response to a call for submissions for an anthology of fairy tale retellings. It wasn't chosen, but it felt good to finish something. Everything is a work in progress these days. And because I like this finished little story, I decided to share it.

Under the Olive Tree
She comes to me in my dreams. A sweetly smiling girl, like anyone from the farming community of my childhood. A sexy and sophisticated woman from the city I ran to. A man with a friendly smile. Young, old, ageless. She comes in forms of beings I’ve never seen –inhuman and breathtakingly beautiful. She comes as a warm dessert wind, on the scent of salt water and kabobs on a grill, on the crackle of lightning from a spring storm, on the taste of fresh bread, sweet dates, and toasted sesame. She comes with smiles and flattery.

Love me.

She whispers it into my ear. With a wink and a grin, with a hand lightly resting on my chest, with a friendly hug, or a shy smile. With a laugh as she runs away, gesturing for me to follow.

Love me.

She comes as a lover, or friend, or family. Her request is specific, but she doesn’t care what form it takes.

Love me.

Her visits are like the Sea. At first glance, beautiful and peaceful, full of people in sail boats and kayaks, just enjoying the sun and water and sky. But storm clouds roll in quickly, their darkness accompanied by gusts and wind. At first, I am calm, happy. But her mistake is in her desperation. Her velvety hand becomes an iron claw, her friendly hug a drowning embrace.

Love me.

So I spend as little time in my dreams as possible. I roam my prison, never seeing my captor yet always aware of her presence. I tend the garden, I read, I write, I eat, and I walk a dirt ring inside the high stone wall. I sleep only when necessary. When I’m awake, I can pretend I’m free. I can pretend that this is my home, my garden, my wall. I can pretend that the food that appears on the patio table each day is prepared by my cook. But when I climb most nights to the top of the stone wall to watch the sun sink below the horizon, I take a deep breath of the desert air and I know that none of it is mine. That I am captive.

At 16, I went Tel Aviv, desperate for excitement and culture and a faster pace than life on the kibbutz. I found work with a cousin of my mother, helping him in his kabob stand near the beach and renting a small room from him and his wife. The arrangement worked for several years, until my aunt died and my uncle decided to move back to the kibbutz. He sold the kabob stand, and I crashed on a friend’s couch, and set out to look for work.

I don’t remember where I first heard the rumor. No one knew where they first heard it. A friend of a friend knew someone who’d heard of a great job for someone who was handy around a garden. I was the child of a kibbutz. I was born with dirt under my fingernails. “Good money.” “Kind of mysterious.” All you had to do, the rumor went, is drive out to this estate in the middle of nowhere. No need to contact anyone first, just show up. There must be some kind of interview, but no one was quite sure what.

“Maybe you just trim some trees,” my friend Isaac laughed.

“Bring a pot of herbs with you,” Sophie chimed in, “just in case.”

No one took it seriously, but it kept showing up in my life, in conversation. I’d overhear someone talk about it. Friend after friend mentioned it when I said I was looking for work. I dismissed it until my money started running out and my friends looked longingly at their couches. Until it seemed like a good idea to get out of the city for a while. Finally, I borrowed Sophie’s car and set out into the desert.

“Be back by nine,” she said as she handed over the keys. “I’m going out."

I followed the rumored directions, almost missing the road. Isaac’s uncle said the road was almost covered in overgrown grape vines and thorns, but that I might be able to see the ruins of a wrought iron gate. At that point in the conversation his wife had come into the room, mumbling in Yiddish before spitting in contempt. That is what I should have paid attention to.

I drove for a while, the landscape rocky and barren, but with patches of overgrown, scrubby plants. I could tell that during the Spring rains it must be almost lush. Before I was ready, I turned the corner and a large stone wall loomed in front of me. The wall was so high and wide it was all I could see. The road ended at a large wooden door. I sat in the car for a moment, thinking about how this was all a little weird. But I was curious, the adventure of it called to me. I stepped out of the car, leaving the keys in the inignition. I wonder sometimes if the car is still there or if someone found it and took off.

As I approached the door, I heard whispering.

“Hello?” I called. Nothing. The wind, perhaps?

I raised my hand to the door and it swung open.

Not wind. Definitely whispering.

I walked under the arched doorway, and the door swung shut behind me. In front of me was a large stone house that looked as though it was formed at the creation of the world, grown up out of the earth it sat on. While the house was dark and cold and mysterious, the stones and rock did not draw my attention. No, it was the earth. Dark, rich soil unlike anything you find around Tel Aviv. The kind of soil we only dreamed about on the kibbutz. Milk and honey kind of soil. And growing out of that soil…everything. Trees and bushes and grasses and flowers and vines. I began walking, identifying herbs and vegetables among the decorative foliage. It was overgrown chaos, as though a child had dumped every seed imaginable into one big bowl, scooped out a handful and flung it into the wind.
I wandered through the compound., through the house. It was desolate, yet there was a presence everywhere. I kept turning around behind me, and peeking around corners trying to catch a glimpse of someone, anyone. I walked through rooms full of simple wooden furniture, thick Persian rugs on the stone floors, but nothing to indicate someone lived there. The kitchen was equipped, but the pantry bare. The floor to ceiling bookshelves in the library were overflowing, but even there nothing personal took up the space.

After several hours, I gave up and returned to the gate. A part of me was not surprised to find it locked. It seems I had stumbled into my own personal fairy tale. It’s not as romantic as the books.

The dreams began after five days, and panic after seven. I spent a full 72 hours digging, clawing, screaming, beating myself up in an attempt to get out, then passed out, exhausted. I’m not sure how long I slept, but it was a dreamless sleep. When I woke, the first person I thought of was my mother. Growing up, it often seemed as though my mother spoke only in proverbs, which she doled out to me and my brothers and sisters like vitamins. As I lay on the couch where I’d collapsed, two of those sayings made their way from the storage area of my brain to its consciousness:
He that can't endure the bad, will not live to see the good.
Do not ask questions of fairy tales.

I determined two things:

I would look every day for a way out, a way home.

In the meantime, I would endure the best way I knew how.

I got up and walked toward the square of light coming from an outside door, opening it to the tangled mess that surrounded my prison. 

I tend the garden, I read, I write, I eat, and I walk a dirt ring inside the high stone wall. I sleep only when necessary.

The days pass in a disjointed rhythm, and I have given up keeping track of them. My hair grows shaggy and I have the beard of a rabbi. A razor appears in my bathroom, but in a fit of rage I hurl it against the wall with a scream.

“I. Don’t. Want. A. Damn. Razor!” I scream, punctuating each word with a stomp of one booted foot against the plastic and metal. “If you want to give me something, let me go!” My cries echo against the stone, but the only thing I hear is the sound of my ragged breathing.

At first, my gardening consisted of merely pulling weeds with my bare hands, then one day I discovered a small gardening shed 10 yards from the back patio. New tools and equipment appear periodically as I work my way around the compound. Now, I get creative, and order emerges from the chaos. I lay native stones into a path that winds its way through the vegetation. Through a grape arbor, orchards, an olive grove, vegetable patches, and clusters of herbs. Through beds of flowers, nearly every kind I’ve ever seen and many I haven’t. Time passes and I increasingly think of home – of the love my mother and my grandfather had for the earth, for coaxing life from the ground. And I begin to see the garden not just as something to do, but as a pleasure. In this stasis that feels like death, the garden is a connection to life. It’s a connection to the very essence of who I am, to my heritage and DNA. I even come to love the beauty of the garden’s chaos.

The green spring rains move into dry heat, and the landscape takes on the muted tones of summer. Even in this unbelievable garden – a word which feels increasingly inadequate – the plants know it’s summer in the desert. As I work, I begin to think I must be coming close to the beginning, completing the circle inside the wall. An ache builds in my chest at the thought. I know enough to know there will always be work to do, but there’s a permanence  to the thought of upkeep, rather than creation and discovery.

But I continue. I tend the garden, I read, I write, I eat, and I walk a dirt ring inside the high stone wall. I sleep only when necessary.

I round a curve in the wall, moving past the bed of Rose of Sharon, Mint, and Anise that I tended the day before. I glance at the bed, allowing a small smile to touch my lips at the thought of the many pots of Rose of Sharon on my mother’s small patio. As I turn my eyes back in front of me, I see a patch of ground with more pattern and thought than anything else I’ve seen in the garden. A low stone wall, barely knee high, surrounds a gnarled olive tree, its trunk so twisted and branches stretched so far that I know it must be hundreds of years old. In front of the tree sits something completely covered by vines, brambles that nearly fill the space within the wall.
I walk toward the brambles, pulling on my leather work gloves. As I near the wall, a cold wind gusts across the garden, ruffling my shaggy hair and rabbi’s beard. I pause inches from the stone circle, appraising the dense vines and thinking of the best way to remove them. I reach out my hand, grasping a bunch of vines that have crept over the wall, and gasp as a wave of emotion washes over me. I stagger backwards, collapsing on the dew-damp ground. My chest aches and tears flow from my eyes. Pain, sadness, confusion, anger. Fear. Loneliness. So much loneliness.
I sit and catch my breath, my mother’s words coming to mind again for the first time in….well, however long I’ve been here.

He that can't endure the bad, will not live to see the good.

Do not ask questions of fairy tales.

I stand, take a deep breath and approach the wall again. This time, I am ready for the assault. I pull out a large knife from the tool belt on my hips and step over the wall. Using my knife and my gloved hands I rip and cut and fling the vegetation behind me. Tears spring to my eyes, and I bring to mind an old song my mother used to sing to us, repeating it like a meditation, focusing my mind on something besides the sadness, while my hands and arms keep busy.
A beymele, a beymele
Hob ikh mir farzetst.
Gegrobn mit der lopete
Mit vase res banetst…
A little tree, a little tree,
I have planted.
I have dug with my spade,
And watered it….
I feel an urgency to reach the olive tree, to uncover the ground, to see the center of these brambles.

I stop, hand fisted around a cluster of vines and I think about a piece of the song repeating through my head:
…I’ll pick flowers
Under my little tree
I’ll lie down…

The urgency returns, and with it an epiphany, incredulousness, and many questions.
I could just clear a path straight to the tree, but something in me needs to see the circle entirely clear of the overgrowth. I don’t know how long I work, moving steadily around circle in a tightening spiral. My body is damp with exertion, my shirt clinging in patches to my back and chest. Finally, I am close enough I can touch the trunk of the olive tree. I rest my hand against it for a moment, then with a few swift slices and tugs, the last of the vines come free.

At my feet is a small marble statue. From above, it looks at first like a lump, a nothing. I crouch down next to it and can see that it’s actually a child. In remarkable detail, I see a girl curled on her side, knees drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around them. Her eyes are closed, and tears are frozen on her cheeks.

I pull off my gloves, set my knife into the dirt at the base of the tree and lay down in the grass next to the statue. I lay a hand gently on the girl’s hunched shoulder and close my eyes. I am asleep instantly.

In my dream – vision? – I open my eyes and am standing next to the olive tree. It is not alone in this dream, but the center of a grove. The tree is thinner, straighter, younger. In front of the tree stands a girl.

“My name is Joseph,” I say. “I’m…” happy? relieved? “So we finally meet.”

“I am Lina,” she says.

We stare at each other across the five feet that separate us.

“That’s it?” I ask. “’I am Lina?’ I think I’ve earned a little more than that.”

The girl closes her eyes. “I am not used to being so direct,” she says. Her voice is scratchy, even in the dream.  She opens her eyes and clasps her hands in front of her, looking me in the eye as she tells her story, her dark eyes unreadable.

“A long, long time ago, I was a terrible girl. My family is – was – very wealthy. I was an only child, and given anything I wanted. I was very spoiled, and very mean. A bully. There was a widow woman in our village, very old, and I used to mock her every time I saw her. I would say cruel things. She had a beautiful garden. I would run through it after a rain, crush the flowers, and help myself to the dates, lemons, and olives on her trees.” Lina breaks eye contact and lowered her head. Her face turns bright red. “I would even relieve myself sometimes in her garden.” Lina shuddered. “I was an animal, but she ignored me. Until one summer her granddaughter came to visit from another village. She was very pretty and very sweet. She had a little doll that she carried everywhere and I decided I wanted it. My father tried to buy it from her, but of course she would not part with it. It was her treasure. The day before she left, I stole the girl’s doll and smashed it with a rock. The old woman may have ignored the terrible way I treated her, but after I mistreated her granddaughter, her grandmother became so angry.” The girl shakes her head. “It was a righteous anger, full of every terrible thing I’d done to her. In her justification and love for her granddaughter she accessed ancient magic, and she used it to punish me.”

Lina spreads her arms wide, gesturing to the garden I have tended for so long. “This is my curse,” she says. “I became a part of her garden, trapped until my parents died, then trapped unless someone in this world loved me. Her curse allowed me no communication, except through dreams. But as you know,” her arms drop to her side and tears slide down her face, “those have been ineffective.”

“How many people have you brought here?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “I don’t remember. It’s been so long,” her last word ends on a single sob.

“I’m still a monster, keeping people captive. But once they are here, I don’t know how to let them leave,” she says, her eyes full of so much sorrow that I believe her. “They are trapped with me.”  She wipes her hands across her cheeks, rubbing away the tears. “You are the first to tend the garden,” she says. “I thought that might mean something, but maybe not. I certainly deserved this fate,” tears pool in her eyes again. “But I just want to be free. I would change things if I could.”

“Maybe you can have a second chance,” I say. “What happens if the curse is lifted?”

 “I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter, because it never will. You don’t love me, and I am tired of holding people captive, tired of trying so hard.” Her voice becomes a whisper. “I’m just really, really tired.”

I lift my head and looked around the garden. “It does mean something,” I say. “I love this garden,” I say. “I have hated being captive here, but I love this garden.” I reach out and place a hand on her shoulder. “If you had only asked instead of forcing me, I might have taken care of it anyway.”

“I’m still here, aren’t I?” she say.

“Maybe," I say, "all you need to do is let me go. Will you let me go?”

She hesitates, and her fear nearly knocks me down. It's the fear that has kept everyone who comes through the gates captive. 

“Of course,” she replies. “If you can.” Her despair and hopelessness bring tears to my own eyes.

“Well, come with me.”

Her eyes are surprised. “But this is the dream,” she says.

I reach out my hand to her and smile for the first time since I left Tel Aviv. “Let’s give it a try.”
She grasps my steady hand with her small shaky one. Together, we turn toward the gate. “Where will we go once we’re free,” she asks, trying to adopt my confidence.

I think of my grandfather, my mother, my sisters. I see this girl who desperately needs a family.