Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Monday list...wait....a Wednesday list

1. I thought I'd give everyone a laugh and leave the mistake in my title. Doing my part to be transparent and make you all feel better about not being perfect. Just keeping it real.

2. The kiddos did remarkably well during the weekend of non-stop travel/driving/shuffling/big family gatherings. May have a couple of little travelers on my hands, which would be the best. But, traveling can be weary for the best of us (and M isn't the best sleeper at home so...he's not any better in unfamiliar places), so now we're camped out at Oma and Papa's house in Missouri until after Christmas, and it's nice to have a little consistency again.

3. I've almost got my Christmas shopping done. I feel like I'm forgetting something.

4. I need to run. It's been a week now. But between rain at home and  travel and cold, I'm cutting myself a little slack. Thankfully, my Dad has a treadmill (because, did I mention it's cold up here in the Midwest, y'all?)

5. Reading...I've got The Runaway King on my Kindle. I'm not moving through it very fast at the moment, but I'm also trying to finish up a Christmas stocking so I've been working on that in my down time.

Grab a blanket, hot beverage, and stay warm! (unless you're in the South, in which case....well, stay warm or cool or whatever the comfortable temperature is!)

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. 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. 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!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Reading...The Way of All Fish and Fangirl

The Way of All Fish I am a big Martha Grimes fan, mostly her Richard Jury detective series. She has a few other non-jury books and series, but the only one I had read until The Way of All Fish was it's companion Foul Matter. Both books are a kind of dark comedy set in the publishing world. There's plotting and back stabbing and hit men and neurotic or not-so-neurotic authors. Ruthlessness and a bit of hijinks. I thoroughly enjoyed Foul Matter when I read it many years ago, but I have to say I only moderately enjoyed The Way of All Fish. On the positive side: Grimes' spot-on descriptions and elegant writing, well-drawn characters, good dialog, and an interesting plot. On the negative side: I feel like the book spent a lot of time on the set up. Like, 2/3 of the book easy, maybe even 3/4 of the book felt like a set up for the last third or fourth. There was a relatively large cast of characters, and I kept getting mixed up and bogged down. I enjoy a good slow paced book, but this book felt like it was slow paced when it should have been fast-paced. So it wasn't bad, per se, it just didn't hit the sweet spot for me.  
Bottom line: if you're a fan of slow-paced con stories, you might enjoy this, but it's not my favorite Grimes story.

Fangirl Fangirl is the story of Cath, a girl who'd rather be writing Simon Snow fanfiction than just about anything else. Cath and her identical twin Wren are off to their freshman year of college. Wren can't wait to get out and experience life, but Cath would rather stay home and keep an eye on their dad -- a loving single father who struggles with bipolar disorder. Cath would rather spend her days in the fantasy world of Simon Snow than just about anything else. But Cath moves into her dorm room and begins a year that will surprise her. A year of learning to make friends, branch out, and let go (just a little). She discovers a lot about writing and how collaborating can be fun and fulfilling, and how sometimes writing something one hundred percent of your own making is scary and hard. 
Fangirl has a lot of stuff going on: family drama, mental illness, romance, and your basic college stuff -- roommates and professors and classmates and ethics. I know some readers thought the book would have been better had there been maybe one less "issue", but I thought Rowell did a great job of keeping everything realistic. Seeing Cath's journey during her first year away from home was delightful, and yes, at times sad and somewhat painful. But that's life, right? Funny and heartwarming and sad and painful all at the same time. 
Rowell also really did a great job with the relationship dynamics in this book. Cath and her sister Wren, Cath and her Dad, Cath and Wren and their mom, Cath and her roomate and classmate and friend and love interest. All of it really felt true and genuine. And I like that there wasn't just one relationship focus. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention one of the most fun things about the book, and that's the shout out to "fandom" -- the ins and outs of being a super fan, connecting to other fans, writing or reading fan fiction. Anyone who's ever loved a book or tv show or movie or artist in a somewhat all-consuming way will appreciate that aspect of Cath's life and the way Rowell wrote it.
Bottom line: pick this book up if you are in the mood for something sweet, poignmant, and a little bit funny.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Wednesday List

1. Wednesday podcasts day! My two favorite podcasts -- Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey and Marriage is Funny both post new episodes on Wednesdays. The real challenge is picking which one to listen to first!

2. Speaking of podcasts, there were two episodes of Happy Hour that really encouraged me this past week. The first, was last week's guest Jana Magruder . She and Jamie were talking about age and how they were really enjoying this middle season of life (late 30s, 40s). They talked about the confidence that comes at that age that can't always manufacture when you're young, and how it really feels like there's so much life left to life. And Jana mentioned Julia Child -- an icon, a successful woman by anyone's standards -- who had never even been to France until she was 37. What a good reminder that in our youth-obsessed society, there are so many good seasons in life, and you can invent or reinvent, discover new passions or refine long-held passions at any time. I turned 37 this week, so it seemed even more timely.  I also listened to a back episode this week with the author Sally Lloyd-Jones.  I LOVED listening to this guest. She was so gentle and funny and wise and interesting. She talked at one point about approaching life trying to be excellent in everything you do. She applied it specifically to artists of all kinds, but really to anyone in whatever you're doing. You can't be perfect, and shouldn't try to be because you never will measure up to that. But you can bring excellence and strive for excellence.

3. I finished The Way of All Fish finally, and will post my thoughts on it soon. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, so it's nice to have started something new and something that I think will be a little quicker of a read (Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. I'm late to the party on this one, but I've given up on being in the first wave of readers for most things)

4. A short-long list (is that a thing? Well, it is now). Happy hump day!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Reading...The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (The League of Princes, #1) Welcome to the land of Fairy Tales. Where the Princes Charming have actual names, the Princesses don't need saving, the biggest villain in all the kingdoms is a 10 year old sociopath, and the Bards take plenty of poetic license when retelling a story.

The Hero's Guide is a delightful middle grade (3-6 grade) book that turns some of the classic fairy tales on their head. We may know the "official" version of how Prince Charming (Frederick) freed Cinderella from her wicked stepmother, but what do we REALLY know about Prince Frederick, or Princess Ella, Rapunzel and Prince Gustav, Snow White and Prince Duncan, Briar Rose and Prince Liam?

The Hero's Guide picks up after the "Happily Ever After," where life isn't happening exactly how you might expect for the Princes and Princesses. The witch from Rapunzel begins plotting an evil scheme, and Princess Ella sets off to figure out what happened to her kingdom's Bard and find some adventure in the process. Prince Gustav sets off to prove himself to his 16 older brothers, Snow White tells Prince Duncan to go take a walk, Prince Liam discovers his own kingdom loves gold more than they love him, against his better judgement (and the advice of his father) Prince Frederick sets off to find Ella. Before long, the Princes have banded together to save the day, but things don't exactly go according to plan.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is fun and funny, and doesn't take itself too seriously. If you know a big kid (or are ocassionally a big kid yourself) who likes fairy tales, pick this book up. It's the first in a series, so the fun doesn't have to stop!

The Friend

I've always wanted to be the hero. Doesn't everyone feel that way at some point? We all want to be the one who saves the day, the one who can do it all.

But some of the most-loved stories aren't just about the hero or heroine. Where would Frodo be without Sam. Harry without Ron and Hermione (and Luna and Neville...). Sherlock without Watson. Rand without Mat and Perrin. Rory without Lane. Lorelai without Sookie. Buffy without Willow and Xander? (we know that at any rate: self-destructing in a major way). And Star Wars isn't just about Luke or Darth Vader.

Sometimes, we're the one carrying the ring. Going through the fire that nearly destroys us. Sometimes we're the one with the power, responsibility, and the burden that comes with it. Sometimes we're the one that life knocks down a few times. But sometimes, we're the person standing right there making sure that our friend comes through the fire. Picking them up when they can't go on. Reminding them that despite everyone and everything that seemingly has it in for them, they are loved. Providing magical backup, an extra gun hand, a getaway ship, a silent hug and listening ear, or a loving kick in the pants. (and sometimes even a well-timed moment of comic relief). The friend fills in the gaps, because even heroes can't do it all alone.

I've had conversations with teenagers when they begin to realize that a lot of their friends or peers experience some pretty awful stuff. People whose lives are not marked by trauma can start to feel guilty. But I remind them that someone has to stand along side those who are hurting and broken. Someone has to be the friend. It may not be glamorous, but it's so necessary.

Sometimes, we're the protagonist. Sometimes, we're the friend. And it all makes a good story.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Monday List

1. So far, season six of Star Trek: Voyager is the best one, despite the fact that Janeway has a few moments where I really want to punch her in the face. Overall, I'm digging it.

2. Current library book: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Middle grade (i.e. roughly 3-6 grade) fairy tale that is already funny and fun.

3. Girl's weekend coming up! It'll be nice to relax and refresh and have some fun with friends.

4. Sandra McCracken has a new album out. God's Highway.  She's one of my favorite artists, one of the few that fit every mood. Melancholy, happy, relaxed, tense...if I can't figure out what to listen to, she's a sure bet.

5. New picture book author discovery: Jez Alborough. Hug is a favorite around our house, and I found another at the library: Tall. Hang out in the jungle with Bobo the baby monkey and some of his buddies. Very few words (one each, in fact) but  wonderful stories.

Happy Monday, y'all!

Friday, September 16, 2016


You might think by that title I'm going to say something about the changing of summer into fall. Well...not really. Partially because in South Texas it's still basically summer until well after September 22. And partially because of a really great podcast I listened to recently.

I've mentioned before that I'm basically addicted to The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. This podcast is just like sitting down with a friend as she talks with someone who is doing really interesting things and listening to their story. It's inspiring and entertaining, and I love it. A lot of Jamie Ivey's guests -- and Jamie herself -- talk about walking through different seasons of life. It's not a new concept, but it's good to remind myself of. It's so easy to compare ourselves to others, but how freeing to remember that my season at the moment is different from yours. Of course, if I can stop comparing myself to someone else's life, I often get caught in the trap of comparing myself to myself. "Now" self versus "five years ago" self versus "vision" self. But five years ago was a completely different season of life. And the brilliant thing is...seasons change (unless you live in least, they just change a little differently). So maybe you love the season you're in right now -- embrace it! love it! savor it! Because it will change. Maybe there are things you don't love about the season you're in right now. Take comfort knowing that in time, it will change.

One of the Happy Hour guests in an older episode I recently listened to made a comment about seasons of life that really stuck with me. She was talking about becoming a new mom, and Jamie was asking her what encouragement she could give to new moms who felt like they were struggling to figure out what that meant in regard to their sense of self and identity. The guest, Jo Saxton, said that after she had her two girls, her best way of making the transition into that new stage of life was to make a very specific delineation. She said that she "set her stones in the sand" like the Israelites, building memorials to remember what God had done. She acknowledged very specifically that she was entering a new season, but she set her memorial to be grateful for the season she had been in. For everything she'd done and experienced there. And for her, this conscious movement and remembrance and gratitude gave her more freedom to look forward and embrace a new stage of life.

I recently finished reading the Old Testament books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and have begun reading the Psalms, and I think that's why Jo Saxton's comment really resonated with me. Time and time again, you see the Israelites remembering, memorializing, and being very deliberate about acknowledging what God has done and what he will do. It's not a looking backwards in regret for things you didn't do or opportunities you didn't take (if only I knew then what I know now! blah, blah), and it's not looking backwards in longing and dissatisfaction. It's looking back so we can learn, grow, and better look ahead. Looking back at good times that give us confidence in our present or our future. It's looking back at bad times that give us hope that dark seasons do come to an end.

Make no mistake: these are things I struggle with pretty regularly. I get caught up in my own head a lot, and my head could sometimes use a little touch of Vulcan logic (why yes, I AM binge watching Star Trek on Netflix). So learning to keep my perspective in all seasons and being grateful in the process is just that: a process, a goal. And it's a good time to remind myself that even in Houston, fall comes eventually.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Wednesday list

I know, I know...two Wednesdays in a row. Don't get used to it. Nothing consistent going on around here. 

1. I hope the merchandisers at Target are getting compensated very well, because they certainly do their job well. I haven't been to Target it a while, and I forgot how much willpower it takes to walk through that store and not buy ALL THE THINGS. Seriously, the home organization department alone (freshly stocked I'm sure for back to college/school/fall) was calling my name. I just kept inner-chanting: almost debt-free, almost debt-free.

2. I need some more coffee. 

3. I'm reading Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling). It's the third in the Cormoran Strike detective series. If you're a fan of detective novels, I'm a fan of these. They can be a little grim and gritty -- not graphic, necessarily, but this third one is a touch gruesome. I may have to quit reading it right before bed. But Rowling is so talented. I heard through a friend of mine that they're making a BBC series out of them, and I'm pretty excited.

4. I know better than to long for cooler weather in Houston in September, but I'd settle for anything below 85 at this point -- temperature or humidity. I think we might get a brief reprieve at the end of next week. Please, God.

5. The down side to doing any kind of clothes shopping with kids is that I hate dragging them into the dressing room (especially if they're in a cart, like at Target). So inevitably, I guess on my size, guess wrong, and end up having to go back to the store to return or exchange it. Which is also super annoying! Today, it was a running tank top. Ugh. When will I learn. It's one reason I've started taking the advice of a blogger I follow: find a couple of web sites with free returns. Buy two sizes, then return the one that doesn't fit! Or, I'm addicted to ThredUp (online consignment store. Hello! Saving money, saving the environment, and cute clothes!). Free returns if you apply it to store credit. Like in-person consignment stores it sometimes takes a tad longer to find what you want, but I can search while in my jammies watching Netflix. 

6. I went to Half Price Books the other day to shop for baby gifts. Of course I walked out with two books for myself! Looking forward to some paper and ink once I'm done with my library ebook. A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty and Fan Girl, by Rainbow Rowell. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Wednesday list

1. Monday, I went for a run and I didn't want to die from the heat and humidity. Don't get me wrong, it was still tropical-level humid, but the breeze was actually cool and it was slightly cloudy, and just felt better than a run has in a long time. Yay!

2. Speaking of running, I need to find a 5k. Again. I signed up for one in the spring, but the spring floods postponed it and poor communication resulted in my missing the reschedule. So, it's back to the drawing board, and time to find a good fall 5k.

3. There are brownies in my house. But I'm quite confident they won't be here for long. Especially since there is also good coffee in my house (always, duh) of the hot and iced variety. Everything a girl could want.

4. As a coffee and (hot) tea drinker, I've noticed lately that some foods (sweets) put me in the mood for an accompanying cup of coffee, but others really call out for a cup of tea. Chocolate = coffee. Shortbread or any non-chocolate cookie = tea. Sweet bread like banana bread, pumpkin bread, or scones = tea. Pie = coffee. This is not a unique food revelation or anything, just that I've noticed the natural pairings more lately.

5. Reading. I've been revisiting an old friend the past couple of weeks: Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich's long running mystery series that started out a long time ago with One for the Money. I have...mixed feelings about Stephanie Plum these days, but it's been a few years since I picked up the series, and I was in the mood for light and fluffy, and these books are nothing if not fluffy. Although, the mysteries themselves are often surprisingly solid and not all that fluffy. The fluff comes from the backdrop and the characters. And while I enjoy that kind of book fairly regularly, I have to say my biggest beef with this series is that somewhere in the middle, the characters stopped changing or growing or showing any depth beyond there characterization. There are maybe two or three real characters in the books -- the rest are cardboard cutouts. And I say that with affection! I probably notice more because I like these cardboard cutouts...I just wish Evanovich had either worked to put more life into the characters, or quite the series several books ago. It's a shame because the series starts out so fun and interesting and sassy, but becomes really stuck in a rut. At least so far! I'm reading book 19 right now, and she's currently on 22 or 23, I think. I'd like to hope that somewhere in the next two books they find some life but....I'm not holding my breath.

6. I'm kind of feeling like I should pay homage to this back to school season with some YA fiction. Guess a search and visit to the library beyond the storytime room are in order!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reading...Party Girl

Party Girl (The Girls, #1)Party Girl, by Rachel Hollis is such a fun read. Landon Brinkley -- a sweet and friendly Texas girl whose favorite color is glitter -- dreams of being a big-time event planner. When she lands an internship at THE Hollywood event company, she takes off for LA with three months of living expenses, a truck full of optimism, a heart full of ambition, and a lot of determination. Of course, because this is chick lit at its best, things don't go quite as she anticipated. Selah Smith, the founder of SSE Events is the epitome of chic and cool and everything LA. She's also ruthless, and the environment at SSE is sink or swim. But Landon makes friends and allies, and finds some potential romance. She keeps her head down and works hard and keeps her goal in mind...and tries not to lose herself along the way. 
Party Girl is my favorite kind of chick lit -- funny, smart, and with heart. Landon is the kind of protagonist you root for, she's sunny and optimistic, but with hidden depths and more grit, smarts, and determination than people give her credit for. Her friends are the kind of friends you want to have, and the romance has just the right amount of "will-they-won't-they" and plenty of swoon. It was fun to get an inside look at the Hollywood event planning scene (which is based on the author's own experiences). There are shades of The Devil Wears Prada, as far as Selah Smith is a boss along the lines of Miranda Priestly and Landon starts out a bit naive and hopeful. But for their similarities, Party Girl stands completely on its own. This is the first of a series, and I'm looking forward to reading more about Landon and her friends.
Bottom line: if you're looking for some quality chick lit or a peek into Hollywood/LA life, check it out! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I really enjoy cooking (and cooking shows...and cookbooks...). To be fair, I particularly enjoy cooking when I'm not racing a clock, or have hungry kiddos begging for food, or know that someone else will clean up after me. But situational exceptions aside, I just like it a lot. I was thinking the other day about those people who have contributed to my love of cooking and/or the way I cook. We all have inspirations, and I've been blessed to have a few great ones.

Like many others, my first experiences with food and cooking were at home. My mom will tell you she never really liked cooking all that much, but what I remember is that she did (and does) a great job with simple, nourishing meals. From my perspective, she was also good at taking whatever we had on hand and putting it together into something yummy. She was the queen of delicious reinvented leftovers.

My Grandma Rush loved to cook. And more than that, she loved to feed people. Big family dinners were a joy. I can also remember a few single men from church would stop by for dinner from time to time, and I don't know who had more fun -- the person getting treated to excellent home cooking, or my Grandma watching them enjoy it. I remember cookies, pies, sun tea on the porch, homemade meatballs, the best potato soup, and melt-in-your-mouth brisket.  Being from Kansas City, Missouri, people often ask me about my favorite barbecue place. To this day, I have to stop myself from saying "my Grandma's house."

From my mom and my grandma, I learned about simple, good food. About the power and joy of sharing a meal with others. Pull up a chair and make yourself at home.

My family started homeschooling when I was in 8th grade, and at some point my brother and I took a cooking class from my mom's best friend Carol. Carol was an amazing cook. Her husband used to say that he didn't really enjoy going out to eat at restaurants because he could eat better at home. I remember thinking it was funny that Carol subscribed to a couple of magazines (probably Better Homes and Gardens, and maybe another one or two) just for the recipes...of course, joke's on me, because I have totally done that. I don't remember a lot of details from that cooking class, aside from making homemade bread for the first time, and learning to read and follow recipes. But what I do remember, is learning the fun to be had in trying new things and branching out. Reading magazines just to discover new recipes. And that you can basically cook anything if you have a good recipe.

My culinary nostalgia would not be complete without also mentioning my good friends Nicole and Jeanette. We shared a house with Jeanette for... a few years (I'm having trouble remembering how many), and Jeanette was always game to try out whatever new recipe I felt like cooking. I also think I can credit Jeanette for my intense love of cooking competition shows. We shared a house with Nicole and Ryan for about six (or more? again, can't remember) years. In Nicole, I had a partner in crime. Someone who loved to cook as much as I did, but who had her own unique go-to recipes and style of cooking. Cooking with Nicole encouraged me to explore, to eat more baked goods (well, to bake more...but then someone has to eat it), and to never underestimate the power of having someone to clean up with afterward.

So there you have it: from taco night, improvised spaghetti sauce and barbecue to stuffed cherry tomatoes, pierogies, risotto, and Marlboro Man sandwiches. And because I have to tie everything in to books...

One of my current go-to cookbooks:
 Not only are the recipes fast and yummy, but they do a lot of explaining, so it's like a mini cooking class.

Cupcakes, friendship, (high school) romance:

Caterers, family, life:

Scarlet Feather

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Monday list

1. I've basically discovered that anything with salted caramel and chocolate is going to be kryptonite. So I've decided that resistance is futile. If it's in the house I'm just going to enjoy it. Once it's gone, it's gone and maybe I'll remember not to buy it in the future (except for special occasions...because you've got to allow for those).

2. I'd like to remind everyone that despite the overabundance of media time devoted to the Presidential election -- which is important to be sure -- there are a lot of other elections taking place. If nothing else, pay attention to who is running for Congress and the Senate in your area. State and federal. Governors, mayors, county commissioners, city council. All of these elected offices have a big impact on our day to day lives. Don't get distracted by the circus.

3. And speaking of politics...can we all just agree right now to stop name calling? To stop being arrogant and condescending or arrogant and bullying toward people who disagree with us? Please, and thanks.

4. Olympics! A nice break from the circus.

5. So, I'm in the middle of watching Star Trek Voyager on Netflix. I'd say it's a rewatch except I never actually watched Voyager when it was on. I hear that it's not as well-loved as other Star Treks, but so far I'm digging it. It's slowing down my reading at the moment, but it's giving me my story fix. 

6. Speaking of books, I've bought three in the past week. Two non-fiction! Crazy. It's all the recommendations I'm getting from The Happy Hour podcast. (which you all need to go listen to, especially if your name is Nancy, Erin, or Tess).

Off to laundry! (and one more Skinny Cow Salted Caramel Pretzel ice cream bar. No judging)

Monday, August 1, 2016


Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters I did a mid-week check of my 2016 goals today.

Hahahahaha!'s a good thing the year isn't over yet. But one thing I HAVE done is completed my goal of reading two non-fiction books this year. Score! I may even read another!

The latest book I read was Start, by Jon Acuff. Start is a motivational book that encourages readers to dream big, and to believe that pursuing and reaching those dreams can be a reality. Start is a nice mix of  idealistic and practical. Acuff gives readers a challenge: to identify their "awesome," that thing that makes you excited, that you'd love to be excellent at and that you'd be happy to do every single day. He talks about the journey of "awesome" in a realistic way -- it's not a predictable, linear journey, and one that you have to keep working at all the time. He gives advice for identifying and addressing those fears and doubts that keep us from pursuing our dreams. He talks about pitfalls along the journey such as getting caught up in success, getting complacent, There's a lot of good action steps, starting with finding 30 minutes a day to start working on your awesome, and figuring out how you work best and finding a way to apply that to your awesome (for example: do you work best alone? in groups? with a partner? a little bit at a time? on a deadline? no deadline?).

I'm not great at summarizing books like this, and there was a lot to process. But overall, it's a solid, motivating, practical book written in Acuff's signature funny and witty style. It's got substance without being heavy. A recommended read for anyone who needs a little motivation to get started -- or re-started -- pursuing your dreams.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reading...If Only You Knew

If You Only Knew Kristan Higgins is one of my only go-to adult romance authors these days. Her books are funny, sweet, and a little sassy -- all of which I've mentioned before. Her last few books have been part of her Blue Heron series, set in a small town in Western New York's wine country. This book is different in a couple of ways: one, it's the start of a new location series, and two, it's told from the perspective of two sisters, their lives and stories separate but intertwined. I enjoyed this slight change of format from Higgins' usual m.o. This book was also a bit different in that the romances themselves weren't entirely straightforward. Jenny Tate, a wedding dress designer, moves back to her hometown to open her own shop. She's looking forward to the opportunity, but also looking forward to putting some distance between her ex-husband and his perfect family -- who are oddly her best friends, and Jenny's probably the only one who doesn't think that's a little odd (and unhealthy). Fortunately, a friendship-turned-maybe-something-more with her enigmatic neighbor Leo might just giver her a change of perspective. Her sister Rachel has a seemingly perfect suburban family life....except it's not. When she discovers her husband is having an affair, her whole life turns upside down. She questions her marriage, her choices, and herself. Rachel's story is less of a] romance than it is a story about her relationships with friends, family, and even herself. I do love that the duel-narrative gives Higgins the opportunity to tell more than just a boy-meets-girl romance (although obviously I love a boy-meets-girl romance). My only complaint with this book is that I kind of wish there was a little more of each sister's story, the downside to having to heroines. But since I'm pretty sure this is the start of another series, maybe the next book will give a peak at what's been going on with Jenny and Rachel. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Tuesday list

1. Instagram. You can all stop using it now, because I'm clearly so late to the party that it's gotta be last call. Kidding. Sort of. I did sign up for Instagram last week, and I may be a little enamored.

2. Popcorn. I think it's my friend Tess who doesn't like popcorn? Sad. I've got a big bowl sitting on my desk right now and it's delightful. The downside to having kiddos who often eat really early is that I'm hungry again before bed. The upside to having kiddos who often eat really early is the legitimate excuse for a snack. I love snacks.

3. Camp was fantastic! I had two cabins of hilarious, sweet, sincere, delightful young ladies. New friends, old friends, and I actually got to sleep through the night for a whole week! (sadly, my in-laws did not. Thanks for watching our kiddos Nana and Grandpapa!)

4. The new Needtobreathe album came out (HARDLOVE) and it just gets better every time I listen to it.

5. Anyone else out there ever noticed that there are runners, and there are people who run. And there's a difference. And it has nothing to do with how far or how fast you run.

6. I've picked up a new book -- an actual hardback book, that I got for Christmas -- The Way of All Fish, by Martha Grimes. I'm having trouble getting momentum, mostly because I've only been able to read it in five minute increments. I can tell I'll like it (Martha Grimes, after all), but with her books I tend to need a good hour of solid reading to start off.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Monday list - Happy Fourth of July!

1. I was griping about neighborhood firecrackers yesterday -- and I stand by my irritation at inconsiderate neighbors -- but I do enjoy Independence Day. A good, old fashioned, summer-time, celebration holiday. We're not really doing much since Jeremy's working today, but I'm listening to the Hamilton soundtrack to feel appropriately festive. And we ate hot dogs for lunch. What's more Fourth of July than that?

2. Less than a week until Sooner Youth Camp! Can't wait. I'm feeling a little bit like I should be packing already, but there's only so much I can do ahead of time. I've got my lists made at least.

3. I'm in a blog rut. When I was working as a librarian, I had a pretty extensive list of book and library related blogs that I read regularly. But I'm not reading at a quick pace at the moment, plus I'm not needing to perform readers' advisory (i.e., stay current on what's out there book-wise), and I'm not actively developing professionally, which just means that a lot of those blogs became more of a chore than enjoyable. I still enjoy their content, I just can't keep up and don't feel like I'm really retaining the information in a way that will be meaningful to me later. But I enjoy reading good blogs. It's like reading a magazine to me. I have a few that I read regularly still, but I feel a little bit like I need something fresh, something that feels more relevant to my life now. (not necessarily mommy-blogs, though. Just different book blogs, or writing blogs, or Jesus blogs, or cooking blogs...I don't even really know what I'm looking for).

4. I need a 5k to sign up for. I signed up for one in May, but it got rained out and rescheduled, and due to some poor communication on the part of the race organizers, I missed the new date. So...I need something to help keep me motivated during the long, hot, humid summer. Besides chocolate.

5. I'm working my way through a non-fiction book right now (Start, by Jon Acuff) and a quick romance (If You Only Knew, by Kristan Higgins).

Stay cool out there!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Character development

The best characters in stories are the ones who grow and develop throughout the story. The characters who are a little different at the end of the story than they were when we first met them. 

Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndham-Price, Anne Shirley, Kvothe, Harry Potter and crew, Emma Wodehouse (and by extension, Cher Horowitz), Egwene Al'vere, Matrim Cauthon. I'm sure you have your favorites to add to this list. 

I've been thinking lately about things I wish I could tell my junior high/early high school self. To be more comfortable in my own skin. To appreciate my true friends more, and to not spend so much time trying to catch the attention of "popular" kids. To be kinder to boys when things got weird, and to not put up with the mean girl behavior of one so-called best friend. 

But hopefully, I look a little different these days than that pretty typical adolescent girl. I'm working on a nice character arc, and hopefully it makes me a more interesting person. And instead of bemoaning things I can't change, I can share what I've learned. I can put my arm around the 8th grade girl struggling with a friendship that is diverging and say -- "you know what. It's okay. Be kind, be yourself, and be open to new friendships. It's okay to be a little weird, because there's someone else as weird as you who needs buddy too." 

So maybe I was a Gretchen with my own Regina George (who wasn't anywhere near that level, but that's another story). I can say with confidence that phase is long gone. And the journey isn't over. And I figure as long as my character keeps growing, it'll be a pretty interesting story. I'll be in good company at any rate.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Monday list

1. Thursday night I was having trouble falling to sleep, and my mind starts writing this really great blog post. Of course, I don't get up and write anything down or just write up the post because I'm trying to be responsible and sleep before those munchkins wake up at 0-dark-thirty. Of course, that means the next day the idea is just kind of eluding me and any similar idea just sounds flat. Lesson learned. Who needs sleep, anyway?

2. Sometimes I feel guilty about my dependence on modern conveniences. My car, indoor plumbing/showers whenever I want them, disposable diapers (to be fair, I do part time cloth diaper. So I tell myself that I'm not completely dependent), air conditioning. This last one is really a source of more angst that it should be. I mean, we live in Houston for goodness' sake. South. Swamp. Subtropical climate. And I know people live (and lived for a good long while) in the South without AC, but usually it's important to have a house built for that (ours, is not). Anyway...I like feeling comfortable, so AC it is. But sometimes I just feel bad about that.

3. Camping. I'd really like to go camping this fall (summer camping is for the beach or a climate where it cools down at night. Sorry, but I need to be able to build a fire). But we'll see if it's in the cards. Not sure why it's on my mind now since summer's just begun, but there you have it.

4. It's amazing how quickly you forget how curious and grabby crawlers are,

5. I've realized that now that I have at least one or two nights a week where I could sit and knit/watch TV, that I'm at a loss for inspiration. I have people I would like to make things for, but nothing I'm excited about making.

6. I'm in the middle of reading Winter, by Marissa Meyer, and have a couple of audiobooks downloaded and waiting to go (fantasy, I'm pretty sure. I don't remember exactly). I'm not reading audiobooks at the speed I was at one point because I'm on a podcast kick. Namely: Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (an old favorite) and Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. Happy Hour is a new find, and I'm digging it.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Reading....The Raven King

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4) The Raven King is the fourth and final book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle. Beginning with Raven Boys and on through The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Steifvater tells us a story about magic, quests, friendship, family, destiny, love, sacrifice, and time. It's a wonderful story, and more than any of her books that I've read, it's clear that this story is the one Maggie's held in her mind and heart and soul for a long time (I think she said she started writing this story maybe 20 years ago?). It's written in Maggie's characteristically artistic style, simultaneously dreamlike and vivid and concrete. The story is layered -- there's a bit of epic quality to it, as one might expect when one of the main characters is on a lifelong quest to find a dead king along a magical superhighway. When one of the characters is fated to kill her true love with a kiss, and another is fated to die within a year. Yet, the story also zooms in close. It's about friends and family and small moments. About thinking you know something, and having your whole outlook on life turned on its head. The characters come to life, and you have to include Virginia as one of the characters. The mountains and forests and roads are a living, breathing part of the story. 
So. The Raven King. It was a satisfying ending, in the bittersweet way that the best series end. Meaning, you're left feeling like loose ends are fairly well tied, and yet there is life being lived beyond the final page. It's not a "and they all lived happily ever after" ending. Because there's clearly some ever after happening after this one story finished. But I love feeling like my friends are continuing on. 
My only real "complaint" about the final book is that I wanted more. More Gansey, more Blue, more Maura. But if that's the worst thing about it, then I can't complain.

Bottom line, I love this series. And you'll mostly get fangirl-style gushing from me. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Parenting and Friday Night Lights

I just finished a rewatch of the show Friday Night Lights. I really love that show. Inspired by the book of the same title, on the surface it's a show about Texas high school football. But it's really about relationships, family, friendship, love, growing up, dreaming, striving. It's about the complicated relationship we often have with the place we're from. It's about Texas. And yes, it's about football.  Is it perfect? Of course not (see: Season 2). But is it good storytelling? Yes, one thousand times.

One of the many things I love about the show is the presence of some really great adults (some not-so-great too). Adults who are good parents to their own kids, and good adults-friends-mentors to other kids in their life as well. So, fresh off a tearful goodbye to my friends in Dillon, here are some parenting tips from Friday Night Lights:

1. Set clear expectations and have high standards

Image result for friday night light gifs

2. But extend grace when necessary

Related image

3. It's all about the conversation. Keep the lines of communication open and be willing to listen.

friday night lights connie britton tami taylor julie taylor

4. When you're proud...say it, show it.

5. Boundaries are a good thing

Image result for friday night light gifs I'm proud of you

6. You have to put in the work from the very beginning. Because then you can remind them to "be the person I raised you to be."

(insert gif of Smash's Mama saying that to Smash...because I couldn't find one and my eyes are crossing. I heart Mama Smash)

7. Be there. All the time. Let them go when it's time, but always be there when they need you.

8. And if you're parenting with a each other.

Image result for friday night lights gifs coach and tami

And remember...because it's good advice for football and it's good advice for life: clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

Monday, May 30, 2016

One day reading

These days since it takes me so long to make my way through a book, I forget what I want to read next. I also have a to-read list that's been languishing on Goodreads for quite some time. I used to add books to it regularly. I'd read a review of a book that looked good and add it to the list. Of course, often something else would come along, or a favorite author would release a new book, and the "this looks interesting" book never actually made it into my hand. And I haven't added anything for a while, but I think it's time to start utilizing that list a bit more again once I finish my current read. Here are the top five books on my Goodreads to-read list: 

1. Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo 
          A new book (series?) set in the Russian-inspired fantasy world of Bardugo's Shadow and Bone.           I know nothing about this book except the author, and that's enough for me. I also have a vague           memory of seeing it compared to Ocean's 11? 

2.  The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow 
           Again, can't remember much of why I added this, but I have read a book by this author before,            and really enjoyed it, and I do remember seeing rave reviews.

3.  A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper
           Historical fiction that has actually made it onto my Kindle. I'm always in the market for good              historical fiction.

4. The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen
            I think I once read this book compared to The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, and I                   could seriously write paragraphs about how much I love that series.

5. The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes
             Not sure of the plot of this book, but I am a huge Jojo Moyes fangirl.

Honorable (non-fiction) mention: Start, by Jon Acuff 
             Several friends and the hubby have recommended this book to me. Time to get it on the                        nightstand.

Well, we'll see how well I stick to this, or what shiny book bumps one of these down a notch. At least I have a plan for the "what to read next" dilemma. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Monday list

1. You may have noticed it's a Presidential election year. You know, if you have eyes or ears. I'd like to also remind everyone that in addition to educating yourself before voting -- not just buying all the sound bites -- remember that the President is not the only person we are electing. And, for those who have forgotten a lot of what we learned in civics/government/social studies, the executive branch is not the only branch of our government. We also need to pay attention to who we're electing to Congress and the Senate at both the state and local levels, to School Board, County Commissioner, Mayor, Governor, etc. There are a lot of elected officials that affect our lives in big ways, and I think if we really want change in our country and in our government we need to look at all levels, and all positions.

2. On a lighter note....hiding chocolate chip cookies in the freezer doesn't necessarily mean 'out of sight, out of mind.'

3. Another hot and humid week ahead. I'm not ready for summer weather. Although I always love summer produce.

4. Speaking of produce...I've got some basil growing! Finally! Now I just need to get some rosemary going. I may jump start that with some seedlings.

5. Reading...The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm taking my time. Partly because I'm also in a Netflix mood these days and partly because I want to savor every moment. Savor writing that gives you lines like this:

"It had been a lot more straightforward when she'd just assumed that she could despise them all from the thin air of the moral high ground"

"She just wanted to be friends with Gansey forever, and maybe one day also have carnal knowledge of him."


Storm Clouds Rolling In (Bregdan Chronicles, #1)Saint AnythingLock and Key

 I've finally finished a few books in the last couple of weeks (just in time for the release of Raven King which I am simultaneously SO EXCITED to read and putting off because then the series will be over officially). 

I've mentioned it previously when I started it, but Storm Clouds Rolling In is the first in a Civil War fiction series. Overall I really enjoyed the book. You could tell that the author put a lot of time and care into researching, and that she was passionate about her subject. I did find the writing to be a tad overdone, and the romantic stories pretty cheesy. But, I'm interested to pick up another book or two in the series and see if the author's writing improves.

Whenever I'm in the mood for a quick read, sweet romance, complicated family relationships, friendships, and well-written characters I know I can't go wrong with a Sarah Dessen book. Saint Anything and Lock and Key did not disappoint.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

be different

It's a common complaint: the internet has given us the distance and opportunity to be hateful. We have forgotten how to have civilized conversation about sensitive and passion-provoking topics. Our culture is one of divisiveness and extremes. Us versus them. For us or against us. Tolerance has become synonymous with agreement. 

But a funny thing happened a few weeks ago. I read a Civil War novel (Storm Clouds Rolling In, by Ginny Dye) that reminded me very vividly that passionate division is nothing new. Disagreement turning to hatefulness is nothing new. Of course, throughout history, this often leads to more open conflict like civil wars, revolutionary wars.

So it's no surprise then, that when the Bible talks about what the Kingdom of God looks specifically addresses how we talk to each other, how we disagree with each other, and how we treat each other. If we call ourselves children of God, If we consider ourselves part of the Kingdom of God, then we are called to look different. To act different. To BE different than those who have not yet taken up residence in that Kingdom. And the funny thing is, if I'm full of the Spirit, living a Kingdom life...that's going to make God's Kingdom look like a pretty great place. Maybe it will make people want to find out how to live there too.

I will be the first to say that sometimes God does ask us to rise up, stand against evil, and seek justice particularly for those who are marginilized or can't easily help themselves (how many times does Jesus tell us to take care of widows and orphans? A lot. And that's just one example). I believe God calls us to speak truth and live rightly, and when the circumstances call for it (mostly when it comes to other God-followers), to gently and lovingly point someone who is sinning back to Jesus -- to come alongside them and walk with them back into reconciliation with God.

Much of what God calls us to do comes down to relationship. Relationship with him, relationship with others. Not everyone has a public forum, and not everyone needs one. If God gives you an opportunity to do good, fight for truth, make a difference in making our broken and hurting world a little better or a little more in line with what God wants -- take the opportunity! If it's on a large scale -- awesome! If it's on a small scale -- awesome! Sometimes it's taking the time to vote, or taking the time to say hello to your neighbor, or offering someone a cup of cold water or a smile.

Several Bible verses have really stood out to me lately and seem particularly applicable our cultural atmosphere of vitriol. I'll say it again: it's okay to share what you believe, and it's okay if that's different from what someone else believes, and it's even okay to be bold in the right context. What I want to think about these days though, is not always what I'm saying, but how I'm saying it. I want to ask myself if I'm listening, not just talking (it's called conversation). Am I praying for discernment that God will help me know when, what, and how to speak to others about tricky subjects.

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." - Galations 6:9-10

"Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. he will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him..." Psalm 37:1-7

"Before destruciton a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor" Proverbs 18:12 (pride goes before the fall)

"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge...death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who live it will eat its fruits." Proverbs 18:13, 15, 21

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to dirnk; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:18-21

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Wednesday list

1. Family visits! That's the theme of May (well, end of April and May). A visit from Oma and Papa from Missouri...a visit to the East Texas homestead...and an upcoming jaunt to see the Austin cousins. We all love it!

2. Iced coffee. 'Tis the season! (Hot) Nothing quite like some cold brew.

3. Yoga. Still running, of course, but I'm also really digging yoga at the moment. A friend recommended an instructor with some YouTube videos and they are perfect. A little variety and not too long. (Erin Motz, if you're interested)

4. Reading. Catching up on some Sarah Dessen (Lock and Key and Saint Anything), which is always fun. Great contemporary ya fiction. Listening to some Brandon Sanderson, and trying to find the perfect time to start Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater. It's the fourth and final book in her Raven cycle and I am so excited to read it and sad it's over. I got to go to a book signing last week (thanks Jeremy!) to buy the book and get it signed. Maggie is so funny. She tells a story like...well, a storyteller. It was fun.

5. Short list today...diapers wait for no one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Wednesday List

1. Kids are gross. There's just no getting around it. Pee, poop, snot, dirt. Everything in their mouths and then little sticky hands everywhere. It's a good thing they're so cute. Even when they sneeze in your face.

2. Texas Ruby Red grapefruit is so delicious. My grocery store had 15 lb. bags on sale last week for $5. $5!!! I couldn't pass it up, but that is a lot of grapefruit. If I can get motivated (see #2), I might try out a grapefruit pound cake recipe just for something different.

3. I signed up for a 5k a few weeks ago, and it's coming up on the 23rd. I'm excited! It's been a while since I've run a race. Not since moving to Texas, in fact, and I enjoy local 5ks a lot. This is a tad far from my house, but I couldn't find a more local one that fit my time table and schedule.

4. And speaking of running....I've almost reached a goal of mine that means I get to buy a couple of new running shirts. Yay running clothes!

5. And speaking of writing (wait...weren't we? Aren't we always), I've been putting it on my to-do list every day for the past few weeks and have managed it a couple of times (not counting a few of these blog posts...which I totally do, by the way). But I've got the seed of an idea for summer that might give me a little extra momentum. Too little to say out loud yet, but it's promising.

6. On my "nightstand": still reading (and enjoying) Storm Clouds Rolling In. I'd probably be finished by now, but got interrupted by some library holds coming in. Like Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen, which just became available. Forcing me to choose between finishing or starting something new. I'm also still listening to my Brandon Sanderson audio, but had a slight interruption because of phone issues. That, and I've been spending my dishwashing/cooking time watching Star Trek: Voyager. I never managed to watch this show as regularly as others, so I am really enjoying this rewatch. And I had forgotten what a great captain Janeway is. Love her.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Reading...After You

After You (Me Before You, #2) This is the third book by Jojo Moyes that I've read, and with each book I finish it and just want more, more, more. When I read One Plus One, I was seven month pregnant working at church camp, and during rest time I'd end up happily reading instead of napping. I'm averaging about 5-6 hours of sleep a night these days, but I absolutely gobbled up After You, and stayed up way too late too many nights because I just couldn't stop myself (and by way to late, I 11 p.m. Which is super late for me these days).

Anyway, After You is the sequel to the excellent Me Before You. After You picks up about a year after Me Before You ends, and we get to catch up with Lou, her family, and Will's parents. We see Lou stuck in a holding pattern. Her parents are navigating relationship changes, and her sister is trying hard to move ahead in life as a single mom. Will's mom is grieving quietly in a small village, and Will's father has married his pregnant mistress. Life tries to shake things up for Lou, first with a pretty serious accident, then with the appearance of Will's teenage daughter. A daughter Will never knew about, with a lot of anger, attitude, and something she's hiding. A girl who desperately wants to know the father she never had.

In my opinion one of Moyes' strengths is her characterization. For example, Lou's parents are brilliantly written -- small-town people of a certain generation. The generation of traditional gender roles and Sunday dinners. On the flip side, Will's daughter is such a realistic teenager. Oblivious, self-involved, oblivious, and occasionally in possession of maturity and astounding insight. You want to smack her and at the same time give her a big hug and protect her.

Like her other two books, After You is, at its core, about relationships and family. The family you choose and the family you don't. It's about grief, and change, and not being afraid, especially when you find those people who will have your back no matter what.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Reading...Iron Hearted Violet

Iron Hearted Violet Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill was an impulse read. I was at the library for toddler storytime, and it's gorgeous cover stood out on a display of middle grade fantasy. Middle grade fantasy can be a fun refreshing change from long and/or heavy adult fantasy, plus I'm on the lookout these days for good fantasy to recommend to my niece. I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed Iron Hearted Violet. Here's the Goodreads synopsis (which for once says pretty much exactly what I wanted to): 
Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being—called the Nybbas—imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true—not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas’s triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.
Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.
The book was just as charming as it sounds. The book is narrated by the castle storyteller, which gives it a nice intimate, yet detached point of view. It sounds like a fairy tale. There's clearly a message to the story -- a fantastic message, one of confidence, loyalty, truth, and forging your own path. But the message isn't heavy handed or obnoxious.

Bottom line, if you're looking for a classic-feeling fairy tale with a bit of a twist (or you know a kid who is), this is a solid choice.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Monday List

1. I've been almost sitting down to write blog posts for days now. I've even got a few thoughts that might end up as entire posts by themselves, but today is a list kind of day.

2. I had the best run today I've had in a really long time. Sixties, cloudy, slightly breezy but not overly windy, and I just felt in the groove. My pace was better than it's been since....well, since a while. Oh, and speaking of running, an old college roommate of mine just won the Little Rock Marathon! How cool is that? Way to go, Tia!

3. Right now I'm reading a bit of historical fiction -- Storm Clouds Rolling In, by Ginny Dye. I'm busy and distracted with a few projects right now, so I haven't gotten very far, but it was a gift from a trusted friend and fellow reader, so I"m looking forward to it. I'm also listening to Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson. Fun fantasy with a detective story kind of feel.

4. Speaking of Brandon Sanderson, we went to a book signing of his a couple of weeks ago. Matrim's first book sigining! (Christina's was Patrick Rothfuss...we're trying to raise the children right).

5. PSA: when the grocery store runs the fancy expensive yogurt on sale DO NOT BUY IT. Because then you will want to buy it all the time because it is delicious. Can you tell I'm currently obsessed with Noosa yoghurt? The only thing saving me is that my grocery store carries the plain and vanilla in the larger tubs, and it's currently stocked at my Costco at a significant discount over the grocery store. This stuff is delicious.

6. It's spring in Houston (the pine pollen is coating everything, so it's official). Aside from the disgusting yellow pollen coating everything which I'm basically trying to pretend doesn't exist, I do love Houston in the springtime. The air feels and smells fresh and green and slightly tropical. The longer days are great, the nights are cool, and as of right this moment the mosquitos aren't trying to eat my alive yet (it's raining the rest of the week so...we'll see about next week).

Friday, February 12, 2016

Reading...For the Love

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible StandardsMany moons ago,  friend introduced me to Jen Hatmaker's blog, and I came to adore her funny, witty, thoughtful, sarcastic, irreverent, Jesus-filled posts. I've been intending to pick up one of her books for a while now, but finally dove in with her latest: For the Love. For the Love is a book of essays, loosely related to the theme of grace. In my mind, it could easily be subtitled: "love Jesus, be good to others, be good to yourself." There are serious and insightful essays about subjects like love, friendship, living on mission, the Church, and parenthood. There are funny essays about fashion, friendship, family, and just random stuff. And it's all written in the tone of someone who feels like your smart best friend. Two of my favorite essays are  I bought this book, and I'm glad I did. I can see myself revisiting certain essays. A couple of my favorites are the one on turning 40 (and the confidence that comes with it that I'm striving for a few years early), and the one about setting good boundaries for yourself -- not trying to balance everything (which is impossible anyway), but being choosy about what you keep "on the beam" (as in balance beam).

I think I liked this book so much because aside from the fact that Jen's sense of humor hits my sweet spot, the book made me want to be a better person -- and more than that made me feel like I CAN be a better person. And really, what more could I want from a book?