Peace Like a River

October 25, 2015 at 2:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

PeacelikeariverTitle: Peace Like a River

Author: Leif Enger

Genre: Fiction/ Literature

One of the few tragedies of working in a bookstore is seeing the popularity aftermath of a book.  When there are fifty copies of something for $1 we clerks get in the mindset (if we haven’t read the book yet) that the title was a fad.  Not just a fad, but it was clearly a book not worth keeping or re-reading.

Note to shoppers: just because a lot of people don’t keep their books and just because a book isn’t something people jump to re-read, does not mean it’s not worth reading in the first place.

For this very reason, it has taken me years to getting around to reading Peace Like a River.  Not just that, but I was tentative and checked the book out – I didn’t even purchase it!

Next time I see a beautiful hardback, I will.

Peace Like a River is all soul filled and gorgeous with running themes concerning miracles, family, God, and consequence.  It’s not what I would call a happy book, but it’s not a sad one either.  I think it is one of the few in this world written truthfully about human experience, religious families, and the nature of people who function within the knowledge of an ever present God.  People without the faith of Jeremiah Lands just don’t live lives like Jeremiah Lands.  Some might think that would be a blessing – to go through life without such scruples.  I mean, look where it got him. The fictional character finds himself in the precarious position of being a good and godly father to a fugitive, his other son – though revived from death at birth by a miracle – is a severe asthmatic.  His daughter is an insanely intelligent poet, but becomes a target in their war with existence.

How exhausting.

But Jeremiah Lands, even in pneumonia and illness, never seems exhausted.  The guy is a far cry from energetic, but he is steady.  He is solid.  He is the kind of father I think many hope for, despite his oldest son’s resistance to him.  That sort of resistance is natural, I think, when it comes to family and God. It happens.  And it happens very much just like that.  Davy is a good person with scruples of his own, he was raised right and chooses I think what many of us would choose in certain situations.  But the consequences of his choices make faith hard, and the lack of faith makes each choice harder than the next.

I needed this book this year.  And if you see a copy in a bookstore for a dollar, snatch it up quick.

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Seashells, Gator Bones, and an Interview

August 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Interview with Susan Adger

seashells and gator bones1. Seashells, Gator Bones, and the Church of Everlasting Liability. What a title! Can you tell us a bit about it?

Actually, my daughter Emily came up with the title, based on three of the stories in the book. Seashells are reminders of a girl’s first love, one of the characters makes jewelry out of gator bones, and the Church of Everlasting Liability is one of the town’s churches; the name came from the fact that the members are supposed to be “libel” for each other – to take care of each other – which means they have to know everybody’s else’s business.

2. What made you choose Florida as a setting?

My family has been in the Tampa Bay area for five generations, and the characters in the book are based on some of the old stories my Grandma Keathley used to tell us. When she was born in Mango, FL in 1891, the population swelled to thirty-eight people. Her mother was one of seven children, and her grandmother was one of eight, so there were plenty of crazy, I mean interesting, relatives out there to get ideas from. While everything in the book is fiction, my relatives will be able to tell you who some of the characters are based on.

3. Can you tell us a bit about your earlier work A Quiet Voice?

A Quiet VoiceThe book was inspired by a man named Eugene Hairston, who grew up in grinding poverty, then to keep himself out of trouble – he thought – he enlisted in the army and ended up fighting in Vietnam. When he reported the rampant discrimination on the base, his sergeant pushed him out of a helicopter into Viet Cong territory. He survived almost by accident, when some American soldiers on patrol happened by a few days later and rescued him. After the incident was reported, Eugene was given the opportunity to return home, which he did. With untreated P.T.S.D., he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, spent almost two decades in jails and prisons, and lived on the streets of Tampa for eight long years.

In 1998 he changed his life. I met him a few years later and we started working on A Quiet Voice in 2005. It took us almost two years of meeting weekly to complete it. Today he is married, holds a responsible position at the Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is held in high esteem by hundreds of people who know him. The V.A. sends him to speak to veterans about his life at conferences nationwide, and he has received many incredibly heart-warming letters from readers. I’m very gratified to know that writing this book has helped him reach so many people.

4. Ray Bradbury once said, “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices.” What do you think about this statement?

Well, actually, I never studied writing in college, but for me it has been really important to read a lot, to learn from what others do, and to get feedback on my work. I’ve done this mostly with other writers; I’m in two critique groups and value their input. When I’m critiquing others, however, I always remind them that what they’ve written is their work, and while it’s good to listen to input, in the end it’s their creation.

SusanPHLibInitially, I was told that I should know my entire story inside and out before actually writing it; have my outline and character sketches completed and go from there. And heaven knows I tried to do that. But when writing fiction, the only way that seems to work for me is to have an idea about a character and then just watch to see what happens; when there’s a knock on the door in the story, I go along to answer it and we both see who’s there. Of course, I do a lot of editing that way, but it works for me.

I enjoy writing short stories, keeping it light. These days I can hardly bear to watch the news or read the paper; seems to me there’s plenty of negative out there and we could all use a laugh once in a while.

5. What were your educational experiences like? Do you think these experiences have influenced the kind of writer you have become?

I was never too wild about school and wasn’t a great student, partly because when I was growing up my family moved almost every year so I was always the new kid on the block. I remember in the second grade, looking out the classroom window and thinking I’d give anything to be outside with the guys trimming the hedge rather than sitting at my desk. But somehow I ended up with a B.A. in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Education.

I’m sure everything I’ve experienced in my life has colored what I write. I don’t think any author can avoid putting themselves into their work, even if they want to. I spent a number of years working in child abuse and neglect, as well as with young children with behaviour/emotional problems or developmental delays, and their families. Being able to watch people work to make changes in their lives has been both rewarding and heart breaking. They all taught me a great deal.

6. What brought you to the writing world? What made you decide to write?

I am definitely a late starter. I first began writing when the last of my three children moved out. I remember coming home from work that day, sitting on the couch in an empty living room and listening to the quiet; nobody yelling that somebody stole her sweater (nothing was ever misplaced, it was stolen), no loud music competing with the television, no phone ringing off the hook. I felt let down, a little lonely. For about ten minutes. Then it occurred to me that after twenty-two years of raising kids, mostly as a single parent, I had a life of my own again and could do whatever I wanted. I started with family stories, and branched out from there.

7. Do you have future projects up your sleeve?

I’m in the middle of recording the Seashells book, in my grandma’s old Florida vernacular and hope to have it done this fall. (Why is everything harder than it looks?) And I have a number of stories completed for a companion book.

8. Who are your favorite authors? Do you have an author whose career you aspire to emulate?

Years ago I discovered Lee Smith, whose stories about poor families in Appalachia drew me in. While I haven’t intentionally used her as a model, she has unquestionably had an influence on my work.

9. I see on your facebook page that you do a number of public speaking events and lead group discussions on your books. What do these events involve? How do they work out for you?

I’ve been fortunate to be asked to give a number of book talks at local venues, and have been gratified to see how encouraging and supportive audiences have been. When I first started speaking, I found it quite challenging (read terrifying), but with practice, I no longer feel that I’ll have a nervous breakdown before it’s over.

I talk a little about how I got into writing and my Florida family’s background, read some excerpts from the book, and encourage listeners to record their family histories.

10. If there were one thing you would want your readers and fans to know about you, what would it be?

One of the reasons I thought to write this book was because of interviews I did with my Grandma Keathley. Years ago I sat down with her and recorded her reminiscences about growing up in Mango, and later raising her six children in Tampa. I had to kind of twist her arm to do it; she finally relented after I talked her into reciting poetry like she did to her kids when they were small, and singing a few hymns. Then I just kind of sneaked her into the interview by asking questions.

I love hearing her stories about growing up in Mango in her voice with the old Florida “southernisms” Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I’ll make myself the breakfast she’d always fix me, a fried egg on top of some buttered oatmeal, then listen to one of her interviews, and I feel better.

When I speak, I strongly encourage the audience to interview the older members of their families – these days it’s easy to videotape them – or write about their own histories. The little details are what I love most – knowing that the oxen my great-grandfather hooked up to the wagon to take his vegetables to market were named Red’en and George; and when my great-grandfather would pull my grandmother up on the horse with him so she could see the baby birds in their nest; and once, when my grandma was at a “Church Sing” with a new boyfriend, the horse took off with the buggy and when they found him he’d gotten stuck halfway over a fence. For me, details like that make my family history come to life.

And you can quote me on this: “There is NOTHING more interesting than families.”

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How a Reader/ Texan/ Redneck Does 4th of July

July 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

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No words needed.

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Circle of Quiet, Trails of Solace

June 17, 2014 at 6:37 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

circle of quietTitle:A Circle of Quiet
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Memoir/ Spirituality
Length: 229 pages

A Circle of Quiet is powerful.  So powerful it inspired me to write nearly 10,000 useable words, to writers you may note the awe I have when I say useable.

Some were used for the sequel to my novella, a novel that is supposed to come out in the fall of this year – fingers crossed.  But most of the words were for a new book, stories about my trails in the woods that are itching to be told but I’ve not known how to tell them because it’s all still happening, my trails are still real.

What is most impressive to me about A Circle of Quiet is not how many beautifully quotable quotes there are, but how completely relevant L’Engle’s story is to me.  So relevant, I didn’t noticed until 3/4 of the way through the book that it was published in 1972 and the things she writes about occurred in the early seventies if not the late sixties.

I was baffled to discover this.  A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of her children’s books are as fresh to me as the Harry Potter series.  I read them as I child without the impression that they were old.  In my mind, L’Engle has been an author of the 80’s who would be around as long as C.S. Lewis once the years had passed.  I did not realize that the books were much older than that and that the years had already passed.  A Wrinkle in Time was first published in 1962.

How is this possible that every moment, every ache, every joy (aside from winning the Newberry of course, as I’ve won nothing) is one I feel in every fiber of my being as a thirty year old in 2014? When she was born in 1918.  What struck me most is that A Circle of Quiet is timeless.

Madeleine L’Engle is timeless.

This is a must read for any mother, any writer or creative, any soul searching for God, any person trying to balance their introversion with their extroversion, and ultimately any person.

She published these from her journals, which she admits were written for publication, but still I am honored to have been allowed a peek into the window of her thoughts.

 

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The Keeping Quilt

June 3, 2014 at 5:23 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Little girl got soap in her eye in the bath tub tonight.  It was awful.  There was banshee-like screaming, bright red faces from all involved, and a lot of tears.  Her daddy, the man with the magic hands, was able to pat her back long enough to soothe her into a half slumber after we got the eye rinsed out and pajamas donned.  Just as we headed out of the room, though, a little voice piped up from beyond the darkness, “But you didn’t read me my bedtime story.”

So snuggled under her own quilt, I whispered to her the story of Patricia Polacco’s family –

the_keeping_quiltTitle: The Keeping Quilt

Author: Patricia Polacco

Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks

The Keeping Quilt is a beautifully illustrated family history that spans six generations.  From the first immigrants of a family coming to America, through the making of a family quilt from the few cherished possessions they have from the mother country, through weddings, births, and old age, The Keeping Quilt tells a story of many lives united by love and history.

This book doesn’t just belong in every child’s library, but every quilt lover’s library as well.  As we were reading, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rich Fabric edited by Melinda McGuire and all the beautiful family histories captured in that volume as well.

I’m so glad I stumbled across this book today at the bookstore, honored to have been given the opportunity to step into Polacco’s family for the evening, and amazed at how perfectly soothing it was for a child who was emotionally and physically exhausted after a battle with a bar of soap.

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Mother’s Day

May 11, 2014 at 7:03 am (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , )

This is my third mother’s day – fourth if you’re one of those people that count mother’s day when you’re pregnant because you’re a mother from the first heartbeat.  I believe in life from the moment of conception, but I wasn’t really thinking of myself as a mother yet.  I didn’t really feel like a mother until I was nursing and changing diapers and praying I didn’t screw it up.

Preggo me with fam

Me & Ayla Day One

Although this blog began as a book review blog, it is still a blog and by definition it is an online diary.  Which means it contains not just one of my passions, but all of them.  Books, Kung Fu, Cycling, and now, of course, for the last three years – mothering.

Being a mother, for me, has meant that I have found every possible way to make half my previous yearly income from home.  I’m not quite making half as my book sales are chronically lean because it’s in the wrong category on Amazon.  I’m a little conceited about the beauty of its cover and enticing back jacket blurb and think it would sell like hotcakes if only the right people could find it by browsing.

Of course, being a mother has actually made it possible for me to finish writing a book in the first place.

Day in the Life 054Being a mother, for me, has meant that my book reviews take me twice as long to write because I used to be able to completely bury myself in a book until I felt like coming up for air.  Now, I don’t get to choose when I come up for air – that is usually chosen for me by a precocious three year old who will say things like, “Mommy, I need more juice.”  “Mommy, look, it’s echoes, like in the bathroom.” (After drawing a series of parenthesis like lines getting larger across the width of her chalkboard.)  “Mommy, I need a peanut butter sandwich.”  “Mommy, you be the orange dalek and I’ll be the white one – ‘Exterminate! Exterminate!” (While dancing rubber Daleks across my kitchen table.) “Mommy, I want to learn something.  Can we do a lesson?” “Mommy, can you teach me my letters now?”  I love my tiny, vocal, human who will assert her needs and remind me to read to her at every turn and not neglect her schooling.

At the dock 6Being a mother, for me, means endless beautiful walks in the woods.  Miles and miles of trails, flower picking, foraging, bird-watching, and outdoor story time.  It means multiple trips to the park, the lake, the grocery store, bookstores, and libraries.  It means art projects, painting, dancing, extra house cleaning just for the fun of letting her sweep and mop knowing I’ll have to do it again.  It means demonstrating all of your passions, all your talents, all your dreams, and all your healthy habits to a small person who is watching your every move and gathering every ounce of information she can from it all.

Being a mother has meant seeing this little girl go from this:

Ayla

To this:

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In what can simultaneously be equated to a blink of an eye and the longest three years of my life.

I didn’t think I’d be a mother.  But I’m enjoying it immensely.

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Stuffed Grape Leaves and Dewberry Pie

May 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homeschooling adventures have turned into some serious life skills lessons, which in turn have become foraging.

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As previously mentioned, we use foragingtexas.com as a main source of information, but we do a lot of external research on our own as well.

Mustang Grapes – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Vitis mustangensis
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruits, leaves, young tendrils
How: fruit raw (very tart), cooked, dried, preserves, wine; leaves and tendrils cooked,
Where: Edges of woods. Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside.
When: summer
Nutritional Value: calories, antioxidants
Other uses: water can be obtained from the vines (see technique in grapes- muscadine post), wild yeast from the fruit
Dangers: Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth.

When homeschooling, this is a good time to teach your kiddo about plant classifications.  While picking the leaves (we had a mixture of Mustang grape leaves and Muscadine grape leaves, but I don’t recommend stuffing the Muscadines, they end up a little stringy).

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Vitales

Family – Vitaceae

Genus – Vitis

Species – V. mustangensis

Our lessons then continue into the kitchen where we follow recipes and learn about fractions and conversions.  You’d be amazed at how much a three year old will pick up on if you just show them.  We halved this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/my-own-famous-stuffed-grape-leaves/ as well as added lemon balm from our home garden to the rice mixture.

P1020054Our dewberry & grape leaf haul.

Dewberries – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Rubus species
Abundance: plentiful
What: flowers, berries
How: open mouth, insert flower/fruit, then chew. seep flowers/young leaves in hot water for tea
Where: Sunny wastelands, borders between woods and fields. Dewberry plants grow as a low, horizontal ground cover.
When: Spring
Other uses: wine, jelly, tea, wine
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, vitamin C; small amount of minerals and vitamins A & B
Dangers: sharp thorns

Again, our goal is to memorize the classifications and understand how they work:

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Rosales

Family – Rosaceae

Genus – Rubus

Species – R. arborginum

Well, that and to make pies.

We used this pie recipe, except exchanged the blackberries for dewberries, and used a bit more sugar.

It was a hearty dinner and dessert.

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Freelance Writing

April 11, 2014 at 3:15 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

RoyalPort30grnI wish this blog was a post about me receiving one of those… see Daphne, above, a royal portable from 1930.  Green, no less.

It’s not.

But it is pretty exciting.

I’m pursuing supplementing my income with freelance writing jobs.  So far, I have been hired on by Money-Fax.com and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.  Money-Fax has me writing about Kid & Family Budgeting, which is pretty perfect because I’m a homeschool mom chronically on an author budget.  (That’s code for mommy who lives off nothing.)

Here are links to my published articles, so far:

The Economics of Cloth Diapers

How to Entertain Your Child for Free This Summer

How Much Does it Really Cost to Homeschool

The more traffic my articles get, the more people will want to have me write them – naturally.  So, please, if you have someone in your life any of these articles would interest, share them.

There are more to come.  Keep checking Money-Fax.com for budget friendly pets and ways to celebrate Easter.  Browse through their site for other helpful articles as well.  They are an education service geared toward helping the public learn to improve the state of their finances.

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Lost in Morton

June 27, 2013 at 6:42 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

dISTANTTitle: The Distant Hours

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Length: 562 pages

Kate Morton writes my favorite general fiction sub-genre.  Did you grow up reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and the Mysteries of Udolpho? Just before your reading level allowed the immersion into those worlds were you held captive by The Secret Garden, gothic ghost stories, and possibly some Anne Shirley who was a hopeless book-nerd and romantic?  Kate Morton writes these tales, all grown up and contemporary.  And they put me out of commission from line one until completion.

I have loved every story I’ve read by Morton. They are each one incredible and amazing, riveting and beautiful.

The Distant Hours was no different.

Except I figured it out far too soon.

I spread a lot of work out by authors to keep this from happening.  I have a rule about Morton, that I must give at least a 12 month break between books (which works out well because she takes just the right amount of time to write them and makes this not only possible but necessary).  This rule also keeps my husband sane, as I get completely lost in Morton and am completely gone from this world until her stories have ended; and even when they end, I have a nostalgic resignation that is hard to kick.

Morton’s layers are deep and onion-like, piece after piece of the puzzle is laid out for you over the course of the book.  Always leading up to the moment when you are presented with the facts of the matter, revealed to you with a shudder of lovely understanding of everything all at once.

But I figured out The Distant Hours too soon, I think around the the two hundred page mark or so rather than the typical five hundred mark.  Of course, I still had to read every word after my realization to be sure I was correct.  I half expected her to shake me up a bit, and she tried! But in the end, I was right!

I still LOVED this book.  It is highly recommended to any gothic loving book fiend, or even World War II reader… if you love castles, are a British bibliophile, or just plain love a good story about people.  I recommend ALL Kate Morton books.  If I could write half as well, I’d consider myself a success!

I just also had to note that this being the third book I’ve read by her, I felt like I figured her out.  Still, looking forward to The Secret Keeper.

Kate Morton Blog Pic

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