War Stories

The first time I saw daddy cry was five months before he died. At the time, I didn’t know what was ahead of us, but looking back, I wonder if he did. It was December, right after Christmas. I didn’t admit it to myself (or him) that for a while I had suspected something was wrong.

The year before, he had quit drinking after spending a night in jail for his second DUI within two months.  When I picked him up the following morning, I talked to him in a way that I never had before. We always had superficial conversations; we talked about television, current events, daily routines, the weather, or we even sometimes just watched t.v. in silence. We never talked about our feelings, our struggles, our dreams.

We never confronted one another. That day, however, I looked him in the eye when I dropped him off, and I told him, “I won’t do this again. Next time, you can stay there.”

I went on, “Something has to change, or you will end up dead.”

img_0072I knew what it took for him to call me that morning. He was a proud man. And that day, he was ashamed. I also knew what it meant that he called me. I was all he had.

For an entire year, daddy was sober. He attended classes in order to earn back his driver’s license. He stayed out of the bar. But, more than that, he attended AA meetings every day at noon. Then, a year later (almost to the day), I found him drunk.

In the beginning, I blamed the changes I saw in him to his falling off the wagon. But, if I’m honest with myself, I knew something was wrong long before. I just didn’t know how to confront or talk to this stranger who I loved so completely. It started with small things. He rarely left the house anymore. It wasn’t uncommon for daddy–who spent most of his life on an off-shore oil rig–to spend his time at home when he was on leave. At home or at the bar. He was nothing if not a creature of habit. I told myself that now that he had stopped drinking, he was perhaps depressed. Most of his “friends” were people he met at the bar he frequented. His     sister was in a nursing home, and he really had no other family besides me and my sister who lived in Phoenix. To help, I made sure to visit him several times a week, calling him on the days I couldn’t. I encouraged him to get out of the house, to do the things he loved doing. And I continued to deny that there was a problem. How do I talk to him about something so personal?

Then, he stopped taking care of himself and his house. My father was a fastidious man. He was a marine. His hair was always closely-shorn, his face clean-shaven, and his clothes neatly pressed. He even had all of his jeans dry-cleaned and professionally starched. Likewise, his house was clean and organized. I always found him in a good mood on the days he spent vacuuming, dusting, laundering.

Now, his clothes were wrinkled, and he sometimes smelled. He had a week’s worth of stubble on his face, and his hair hung in his eyes. The garbage was piled in the corner of the kitchen, and the refrigerator only contained a few expired items. The toilet was filled with urine and feces, and there was a suspicious stain on the carpet. After seeing it for a few days in a row, I asked what it was.

He replied, “It’s crap. I didn’t make it to the bathroom.”

This was not my daddy, a proud man, a military man, a clean man. I still blamed it on the drinking.

I decided I needed to take action. I had to do something. One crisp December day after work I called him. He didn’t answer, so I knew he must be at the bar, which gave me at least a few hours. I drove to WalMart, looking for his truck in the parking lot of his favorite bar as I drove by (something I always did and still catch myself doing to this day, despite the fact that the bar closed a couple of years ago). His truck was parked where it always was. I don’t know what he would have done if he ever found someone in his spot. At Walmart, I loaded my cart with cleaning supplies, stain remover, disinfectants, and a few grocery items: milk, bread, canned soup, and some fresh fruit. Then, I headed to his house.

I spent the next few hours taking bags of rotten garbage out, attacking the spot of “crap” with everything in my arsenal. I emptied a pan of unbaked, moldy cinnamon rolls I found in the oven. I don’t know how long they had been there.

Daddy staggered in as I was vacuuming. He begged me to stop cleaning the stain on the floor. And I yelled at him as I continued (I never got that spot out). He sat on the couch and pleaded with me to talk to him, to sit down, to stop. Then, he began to cry. I had never seen him cry before. He hugged me tighter than he ever had and asked me, “How did you get to be such a good young’un?” “You’re so good.” I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel proud. I knew something was really wrong, something more than drink. I knew he had suffered from high blood pressure for years, and he never sought medical attention or took his medications regularly.

And I didn’t know what to say to him, didn’t know how to talk to him about it. So, I said the first thing that came into my mind, “Are you sick? Have you had a stroke?” We were both stunned into silence for a few moments.

He shook his head, “No. I’m fine. Just stop cleaning. Sit down.”

I was too shaken by daddy’s tears, my tears, and simply by my own helplessness and anger to do anything but leave. I told myself that he would be fine. It was just the alcohol. I knew we were both lying that day.

My parents divorced when I was only three-years-old, so I don’t have memories of them together. There were no family Christmases. Daddy was never at my birthday parties or school events. I didn’t run home to tell him about my day or to ask his advice. For that, I had mama. But, my memories of daddy, those that are untarnished, are very much influenced by my mother. It is because of her that I loved him so completely in spite of (and because of) his flaws, his brokenness. In fact, most of what I know about him, his family, his life, I learned from her, and these fragments may not all be fact. See, my daddy was a liar. I learned to understand that when he said, “I’ll pick you up and let you stay with me next weekend,” it really meant there was little chance of me seeing him that weekend (or for the next month). He even lied about small things, like those fishing tales where the fish gets larger with every telling. And according to mama, he often tried to drag her into his tall tales, asking her to lie with him, to make his lies true.

When I was a child and even after I was grown and married, his lies hurt. But, oh how I loved him. I can’t explain it, and it certainly would have been easier sometimes if I didn’t. When I looked at him, I saw myself. I grew up in a family where almost everyone was taller than I am. They didn’t look like me, really. So much so that it was easy for my sister to convince me that I was adopted. Until I looked at daddy. Then, I knew that couldn’t be true. More than that, I inherited things besides my eyes, hair, and short stature. I inherited his love of music, decorating, and crafting. He taught me to crochet. I didn’t see him often, but when I was with him for the weekend, we had a routine. We made the rounds to the music store, the bookstore, and the video store. I was beyond excited when he let me rent 11 movies at once and that he didn’t mind watching Alice in Wonderland for the hundredth time. We liked the same kind of television shows, movies, and he was the one who bought me my first collection of fairy tales.

He wasn’t perfect. He was absent more often than not, and for years I struggled with both my anger at him and my love for him. I was angry at his distance and tired of his lies, but I eventually learned that not all of his lies were untrue. When I was an undergraduate in college, I took an American literature course. One of the books we had to read was The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, the fictional study of military men and their stories of Vietnam. I grew up knowing that daddy was a marine in the Vietnam war. I had heard stories of the times he was wounded and of his purple heart (I learned only after he died that he received at least two Purple Heart medals). As an adult, he told me a few stories. They may or may not be true. About the first time he was shot. He was supposedly stranded on a hill and waited twelve hours for his platoon to find him. When he opened the first aid kit, all he found in there was some gauze and two joints, which he smoked while he waited. About the time he and his platoon decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve by blowing up ammunition. I wasn’t allowed to talk about Vietnam as a child, or as an adult for that matter.

I quickly learned that talking about Vietnam led to daddy shutting himself in his music

Daddy, Vietnam

room with a bottle of whiskey and albums that brought to life memories that he had tried his entire life to suppress. Nothing good came from that music or from that room. When I was growing up, Mama told me that the things he did and saw were traumatic. They were, at least in part, the reason he was so distant, so scared, so alone, such a liar. But, I was always curious, and I eagerly began reading The Things They Carried. I knew it was fictional, but I hoped to gain some insight into a war that teachers really didn’t discuss much when I was in high school. I hoped to gain some insight about my father and the man that Vietnam and the U.S. Marines had made. Because I was a reader, I naturally sought out stories–in this case, war stories–for the answers. I was rewarded for my efforts in a surprising way.

In war “there is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old blends into chaos, love into hate, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery. The vapors suck you in. You can’t tell where you are, or why you’re there, and the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity. In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore, it’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true.”

I began to understand that daddy’s lies often contained truth. I realized that when he said I could spend the weekend with him, he wasn’t lying. He believed it. I learned that those words really held a grain of truth and actually meant, “I want you to come next weekend, but I’m horrible at maintaining relationships, even with my own daughters. And I really won’t pick you up or see you until you miss me so much that you cry about it, and your mama calls me to threaten, beg, cajole, whatever it takes to get me there. Instead, I will be too filled with regret and fear to fulfill my promise. But, I will mean it. I want to be there.” Sure, at times I felt as if I justified his actions and tried to make sense of things so they wouldn’t hurt so much. I even hated him sometimes, for his weakness. I hated that I had to call him. I had to make the relationship work. That I had to force him to see me. I was the child. He was the adult. When I was a teenager, I stopped trying, and for at least three years, I didn’t see him. I didn’t talk to him, but even then, my life was defined by him. By his absence and by his silence.

So, I did what I always do. I wrote, and I read. And I looked for more stories, this time from mama. She was married to him. Surely, she had to know the answers to my questions. She had some, but even she didn’t know if they were true.

Daddy, first grade 

What I do know is that Daddy’s childhood was hard. I never met either of my grandparents who died long before I was born, but I didn’t need to meet them to know the influence they had on my father’s life and, therefore, on mine. I’ve heard that his mother committed suicide, and that while their mother died, my aunt kept my dad hidden in a closet. This may or may not be true. But, it doesn’t matter because for daddy and his sister, it was real. The trauma of her death, however it occurred, scarred them both, and it wasn’t a story they shared with others. Instead, the story was theirs alone, one of the many ropes that bound them together always, even when they hated one another, and kept the rest of the world at arm’s length–including me.

Daddy and his sister went to live with their grandparents. While both talked openly and lovingly about Big Mama, it was clear that their home situation even then wasn’t great. Their grandparents were poor. I mean, dirt-floor, out-house kind of poor, and from what I heard (or rather didn’t hear–they didn’t talk about him much) I don’t think their grandfather was a nice man. Much of his life, daddy fought against that life, earning money and spending it on whatever struck his fancy.

His father was an alcoholic and often absent (familiar, much?), and daddy inherited his love of drink. In fact, at the end of daddy’s life, he couldn’t remember his mother’s name, his own birthday, and he couldn’t work simple appliances around the house. But, when the doctors asked him his drink of choice, he responded, “Bourbon,” with no hesitation.

His drinking was one of the few things I knew and understood about daddy. I sometimes didn’t know where he lived as I was growing up. I never knew what he thought about or what his life was really like. So, it makes sense that when he became sick, his drinking was the only thing I had to give to the doctors who pummeled me with questions. They asked his birthday. I didn’t know the answer. They asked if he was allergic to anything. I didn’t know. They asked when the symptoms started, and I began to cry. What came out of me was a jumble of words and excuses that the doctors didn’t want and didn’t need: “I’ve only been in contact with him again for a few years. He’s an alcoholic, and I didn’t see him. Something is wrong. I think he had a stroke. I know he said he retired, but I think he had a stroke on the oil-rig. He told me that they had to medevac him to a hospital, and he couldn’t feel his leg. I ignored it. I told him to make a follow-up appointment, but he didn’t. I don’t know.”

It had taken all of my strength to get to the hospital. I had forced him months before to schedule an appointment with the VA clinic. The waiting list for an appointment was two months out, and I knew we couldn’t wait. But, I also didn’t know how to take care of him or what to do. We didn’t have that kind of relationship, and I was paralyzed. Finally, my husband and I drove him to the VA hospital ER two-hours away. That day, daddy was wearing two shirts, buttoned to one another. He smelled, and I knew the doctors would see me as a neglectful and horrible daughter who should have intervened long before. When they removed the boots he always wore, his socks didn’t match and were covered in feces. I was ashamed. Not of him. But, of me. And the questions the doctors threw at me were nothing compared to questions I asked of myself.

Why didn’t I notice? Why can’t I talk to him? What am I supposed to do? We don’t really know each other. How is he going to handle me taking his keys? How am I going to take his keys? What if I had brought him earlier? What are we going to do? I came undone.

Over the next few months, I became his caregiver, and I got to know daddy like I never knew him before. It was stressful, emotional, exhausting. And I wasn’t the best at it. I still regret that I left him alone at night and that I didn’t finish watching Overboard with him one day when he asked. I cooked for him, fed him, regulated his medicine. I washed his hair, and because neither of us was comfortable with me bathing him, I ran his bath and sat outside the bathroom door explaining to him what to do. During that time, I had some of the sweetest, most honest moments I’ve ever had with him. I also had some of the most devastating ones.

For those months, we fought death together and created war stories that I will always cherish and that still break my heart a little. One day, I was trying to find him something to watch on t.v. while I made dinner. He was mad because NCISwasn’t on. He had always loved the show, but when he became sick, his love for it turned into obsession. Maybe it was comforting or familiar. I don’t know, but we watched it over and over and over. I tried to explain that it would be on in an hour and put it on another crime show. Criminal Minds or something. Same genre. I looked over at one point and noticed that he was wiping away tears. He hadn’t cried since that day in December, even through all of the tests, diagnoses, and misdiagnoses.

I rushed over, “What’s wrong, daddy?”

He simply pointed to the screen. Exasperated, I sighed. Was he seriously crying about NCIS?

“Do you want me to turn it in to something else?” He shook his head. And pointed again at the screen. Then, I noticed the story playing out on t.v. A war veteran who has returned from war a broken man has alienated everyone in his life. His wife has taken their daughter and left. And now, something had happened to the little girl. The man on the screen cried about all of his regrets, about not being there for his little girl, about how much he loved her. My daddy sat on the couch and cried openly. He took my hand, nodded his head, and pointed at the screen again. It was the first and only time that he had acknowledged his feelings, his regret, his brokenness. Daddy told me every time he saw me that he loved me. But, that day, I felt it in my bones.

The last week of his life, daddy spent it in the ICU. He was sedated, and, scared, I waited. I sat in the waiting room to visit him for ten minutes every three hours, only leaving at night to sleep. Many of my colleagues and friends didn’t understand why I didn’t leave, why I didn’t rest. There was no way to make them understand that he had alienated everyone in his life, but me. There was no one else to visit him, to make sure that he was taken care of. During those long, isolating days, I read to him and sang to him and turned the t.v. to NCIS every day at 6:00. I also replayed what few memories I had with him over and over again.

I felt cheated. I didn’t have enough. The one I always came back to was my earliest memory of daddy. I don’t know how old I was. Maybe four or five. As Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” played on the stereo, I stood on daddy’s feet, and we danced. While sitting in that waiting room,

I realized that all of the stories I had sought for so long about daddy– about the war, about his parents, about his life–they weren’t the ones that would tell me who my daddy was or how he felt about me. Daddy always told me that music is honest when the rest of the world isn’t. I should have listened and understood. I could always tell what daddy was feeling by the music he played. I came to realize that our dance to “Stand By Me” was what daddy longed for his entire life. His mother had left him. His father had left him. His wife. His daughters. Though he knew he was to blame for the last two, I suspect now that he felt he was somehow to blame for his parents, too. He never felt good enough. He believed that everyone would leave him.

daddyWhen I was a little girl, my biggest fear was that daddy would die and that I wouldn’t know about it. It seems like a bizarre thing for a child to think about and to fear, but I did. He always felt so far away, and I was afraid that my whole world would change without me knowing it. Who would call me? Would anyone? It was usually around the time that I would begin expressing my fear that mama would track him down and do whatever she did to talk to me or to come see me. And for a couple of months my fear would subside. I didn’t know then that I needn’t have worried. The day my daddy died, I was holding his hand, and he was looking at me when he took his last breath. And I played our song:

When the night has come

And the land is dark

And the moon is the only light we’ll see

No, I won’t be afraid

Oh, I won’t be afraid

Just as long as you stand,

stand by me

So darling, darling

Stand by me, oh stand by me

Oh stand, stand by me

Stand by me

If the sky that we look upon

Should tumble and fall

Or the mountain should

crumble to the sea

I won’t cry, I won’t cry

No, I won’t shed a tear

Just as long as you stand,

stand by me

All daddy wanted in life was for someone to stand by him. And all I wanted was to know him. At the end of his life, I knew my daddy as much as anyone ever did. I know he loved me. I know I loved him, too. And, God, I hope he knew it. Either way, together, for the last six months of his life, he and I wrote war stories that only I am left to tell. These stories are not perfect. Some of them are hard and ugly. But they are all mine and as honest as stories ever can be.

Reading to Write

I remember the day I began to understand what a thesis statement was, not with a vague understanding that it tells the reader what my essay is about, but a more specific understanding of its form and function. It was my senior year of college, and, ironically, I was taking a course that would teach me how to teach students to write.  Continue reading

Review: A Million Junes

“Two families.

Two Ghosts–one warm and sad, one cold and hungry.

Two tears in our world–one at an impossible tree and one in a starlit pool.

One curse, tying the puzzle together, and infinite memories holding the answer to what created the hungry darkness, the brutal cycle that will eventually swallow Saul or me.”

I love Book of the Month Club. I have been a member for over a year now, and though I have received some duds, I have also discovered surprising treasures that I may have never tried otherwise. A Million Junes by Emily Henry is one of those.

junesAs I was choosing my June BOTM pick, I saw several that I had heard quite a bit about, and I was interested in them.  Then, I saw the cover for A Million Junes, a novel that I had not heard of before. I promise I don’t always judge books by their covers, but this cover is stunning (seriously, that cover).  When I read the description, I thought it would be a lighthearted, fun, fantastical read perfect for summer. I wasn’t wrong. But, this book was so much more than I expected. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction. I never wanted A Million Junes to end. Continue reading

Review: Ramona Blue

I read Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy a few weeks ago when it was released, and though I  planned to write a review immediately,  I had to take some time to process my feelings on this one. The controversy surrounding the novel was drowning out my initial reaction upon finishing it. Now that I have had time to distance myself from the novel and the buzz of the book world, I feel I can write an objective review.  My initial reaction was positive. I loved the story, the characters, and setting, and I thought the depiction of poverty, families, and responsibilities was accurate.

ramona blueThe story is set post-Katrina in Eulogy, Mississippi, a small Gulf Coast community devastated after the storm over ten years ago. In this conservative, southern town, Ramona Blue stands out. Standing at 6 foot and 3 inches tall with bright blue hair, Ramona is a seventeen year old girl and one of two lesbians in her small town. After Hurricane Katrina, Ramona’s family lost their family home and moved into a small trailer, where they live for the next decade. Ramona struggles with her responsibilities to her family, working two jobs to help ends meet for her father and pregnant sister, all while attending school. In an ever shrinking town, and even smaller home, Ramona faces up to what her future holds. Or rather, what doesn’t seem possible.  The one thing Ramona knows is who she is. She is a hard worker, a good friend, a beloved sister, and a responsible person. And, she knows she likes girls. Then, her childhood friend, Freddie, returns to Eulogy. At first, Ramona finds comfort in her renewed friendship with Freddie and her rediscovery of her love for swimming. But, her feelings for Freddie challenge everything Ramona knows about herself and her place in the world.

Though the novel felt overly long at times, Ramona and her friends are endearing characters, and Julie Murphy doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. The novel explores issues of identity, sexuality, teenage pregnancy, class, poverty, and race. What could  easily have become a checklist of hot button issues used to sell books felt authentic as I read. Ramona’s first-person narration allows the reader to see the world through her eyes, and because we see Ramona make sense of her experiences, they feel more genuine. For instance, when Ramona and her friends decide to take a swim in someone’s pool and are caught, most of them think it’s funny. Just teenage hijinks. But, Ramona discovers that for Freddie, it isn’t as simple as that. We see Ramona come to realize the ways in which Freddie’s black body is policed and how such “hijinks” could have very different consequences for a person of color.

The book, despite its diversity, has received a number of 1-star ratings on Goodreads, and many of them for the blurb on the jacket cover alone. And since the novel’s release, many have taken to blogs and magazines to debate whether the novel is lesbophobic or not. The problem many people have with Ramona Blue is that it seems to be yet another story about a lesbian who goes straight once she meets the right guy. We’ve all seen those movies and read those books. And there are too many of them using this trope. However, I honestly don’t believe Ramona Blue is one of them.

First, Ramona struggles with her feelings for Freddie, and she feels guilty, ashamed, and confused. Throughout the novel, Ramona has confidence in who she is and how she identifies herself, but when Freddie comes along, she doesn’t know how to make sense of feelings or her identity anymore.

“If I’m being honest with myself, there’s a small part of me that is sad every time I kiss Freddie, because I feel like little by little the person I thought I was is disappearing. Almost like I’ve lost what makes me special. “

Rather, I felt the novel examined the complexities of identity and sexuality in a way that I don’t see often enough.

Second, though Freddie and Ramona develop feelings for one another, the novel is not a romantic one. In other words, that is not the focus. Instead, the novel’s main storyline–as I see it–is one about a girl who feels confined by her town, her family, her circumstances, and even labels. It’s a novel about a girl coming to terms with feeling like she doesn’t fit and is bursting at the seams–figuratively and literally.

And this is where I think the novel is most successful. I identified strongly with Ramona Blue’s depiction of poverty, of the working class, and family. Ramona is a teenage girl, working two jobs and going to school, to help provide for her family. Though she dreams of getting out of her small town and going to college, she feels a responsibility to her father and her pregnant teen-aged sister, who is not ready to be a mother and has a dead-beat boyfriend.

When movies and books depict poverty, what they often miss is the way that poverty affects people’s familial relationships and sense of responsibilities. People don’t talk about the fact that people living in poverty will often feel that it is their responsibility to sacrifice their dreams and aspirations in order to take care of family or problems that really aren’t theirs to take care of. I don’t mean the way that we all feel a responsibility to care for our families. It is stronger than that. I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of my students.

With poverty also comes the responsibility of figuring things out and making things happen when there doesn’t seem a way. When you live in poverty, you develop an understanding that, sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Not in the way that it does for other people, at least. In one scene, Ramona is anxious about what the future holds, especially for her sister and the baby. As she tries to figure out how she can help without sacrificing everything she wants, she has a conversation with her father:

“It’ll work out,” he says. “Always does.”

He says that, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes you’ve gotta make it work out, and I think that’s what my dad never quite got. That’s why we are still living in the same deteriorating trailer that was only ever meant to be a temporary fix.

Anyone who knows me will tell you to never say, “It’ll work out,” to me. My response will be Ramona’s.

What I most appreciated about the novel is the end. Ramona realizes that she is not as confined as she thought, but she doesn’t magically win a scholarship to a big university or move to a large city. Rather, the ending is more realistic than that. Some things work out (because people make them work out) and others don’t.

So, is the novel without problems? No. But, I found it delightful and absolutely think its worth reading and talking about.

How Learning to Bail Changed My Reading Life

For many years, if I started a book, I finished it. No matter what. It just felt wrong to read a 100 pages only to set the book aside. I adhered to the belief that the only bad books were those that were unread. Even if I had to trudge through a book, taking weeks or months to finish, I wouldn’t read anything else until I had finished that book. I knew that if I picked up another book that grabbed my attention, I would never return to the one I set aside.

I know where this attitude originated for me. Growing up, I didn’t own many books and used the library a lot. But, when you don’t have much money and don’t have a great selection to choose from, you read what you can get your hands on. Also, in college, I had to read a number of books I didn’t enjoy, but in reading them, I learned interesting things about the world, about writing, about myself. I could appreciate the books, even if I never planned to read them again. Besides, I’m no quitter. I like to see things through.

DNFA couple of years, however, I reevaluated my reading habits. I wasn’t reading as much as I wanted, and I was trying to figure out the problem. I noticed that my reading numbers were much lower when I was reading a book I wasn’t enjoying. I made a decision that I would try setting aside books that weren’t keeping me engaged. I gave myself permission to bail and to move on. Continue reading

Thoughts on Bravery and YA Protagonists

Recently, I read two YA novels that I continue to think about and that I recommend to anyone who hasn’t read them yet. Good YA literature often tackles difficult subjects in thought-provoking and fresh ways. The Hate U Give and An Ember in the Ashes do just that. Though very different, these two novels surprisingly share common themes and one problematic issue that has stuck with me. Continue reading

Updates, Book Deals, and What I’m Reading Now

It’s officially summer break, and as always, I have big plans and goals. One of those goals is to maintain a more consistent writing schedule here on the blog and for another project I have started working on.

The spring semester was rough for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on the problem. I wasn’t teaching as many classes and wasn’t quite as busy as I was in the fall, but I dealt with a lot of anxiety that affected me physically. Hence, very little writing.

summer readingFor my first post of the summer, I had planned to write about two YA novels I read recently. I have lots of feelings and thoughts about them, but this week has been a little crazy. My husband and I have been trying to renovate our 1920s house for years, but haven’t made much progress because the most significant and costly problem was the foundation. But, this week, a foundation repair crew is working under the house, hopefully resolving the issues that have prevented us from moving forward. Having a crew at the house means that my house has become very loud, and my schedule is completely off. Every time I sit down to write, I get distracted and can’t concentrate. So, instead of beating myself up about not writing the post I intended to write (I promise I will soon), I decided to begin with some updates, some e-book deals that you can’t miss, and what I’m reading now.  Continue reading

New Year, New Reading Goals


Happy New Year, readers! I have a confession. I don’t do New Year resolutions. They never work for me. The problem is that I can resolve to do something all day long, but without a logical and practical plan, I’m adrift.

I’m a planner. Nothing brings me more relief and joy than to write down my daily agendas, goals, and plans in my bullet journal. I keep it with me always, and it keeps me sane (and those who have to deal with me everyday). Though I don’t do resolutions, I do have goals at the beginning of every year, and then I come up with a plan to meet those goals. Sometimes I’m successful. Sometimes I fail miserably. But, having a plan that I can revisit helps.

This year, I certainly have personal life goals (like do more yoga, create more work/life balance, make more time for writing what I want to write, and stressing less). While I’m still coming up with a plan for how to achieve those things( any secrets for the work/life balance and not stressing for this Type A perfectionist?) , I thought I would share some of my reading goals for 2017 and how I plan to accomplish them.  Continue reading

A Year End Review: Books

I will get caught up. I will get caught up. I will get caught up.

That has been my mantra this year. I never seemed to get caught up, however. In my last post (in October! gasp!), I mentioned some of the busyness and teaching difficulties I was dealing with. Just when things seemed to be settling down at the beginning of November, I was asked to take over an ENG 102 class when the instructor had to take a leave of absence. With only six weeks left, I had to teach a crash course in research writing to a group of tired and overwhelmed students. We all survived (and some really good things came out of the class), but my blogging, reading, and writing came to a halt. Now that I can breathe a little, I decided a good place to start back would be with a year end review of my favorite books this year.

Before I begin, I need to provide a few caveats.

  • I have a love/hate relationship with end-of-the-year lists. I love to read them, to see what books other readers enjoyed, to affirm my own loves of the year, and to add to my ever-growing TBR. But, I also hate when books are overlooked, and I find it so difficult to come up with a list.
  • I don’t read books that I don’t enjoy. If I don’t like it, I stop reading (there will be a post about this in 2017). The result is that my list of books at the end of the year is a list of books I loved–or at least liked–which makes narrowing the list really difficult.
  • I challenged myself this year to read more diversely. I wanted to expand the genres I read, the authors I read, the places, experiences,  and cultures represented in the books I read. In some areas, I succeeded. I read more creative nonfiction and debut novels (categories severely lacking in my previous reading lists). In others, I still need more work.
  • Although I still don’t feel like it’s enough, I read more this year than I have the last three years. I’ve enjoyed something about every book that I read. The books that follow, though, are ones that have stuck with me the most.

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The Long, Long Life of Trees: A Review

I’ve always had a thing for trees. I spent much of my childhood in the country, and many of my favorite memories involve the trees that watched as I grew. I climbed trees. I hid in natural forts made from closely-growing trees whose bowing canopy I imagined to be a cave designed just for me. I sat on a swing tied to a branch of a large pecan tree and spent hours reading or making up stories.

When I was a teenager, I took a trip to New Mexico with a group from my church. Others in the group were awed by the canyons, the desert, and the expansive sky. I enjoyed seeing these things, but I missed trees. As we drove back across the country and drew nearer to home, the number of trees lining the roads increased.  I squealed with delight to see the varying shades of green and brown, earthy colors that made me feel connected again to the world around me. Continue reading