Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Log: June 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

31) 6/7: Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy
After countless recommendations, I finally read this book. I'm not sure why I hadn't gotten around to it before now; while it does cover his time as a football coach, it's more about what makes Dungy tick. As people had shared, you need not like/follow football to appreciate this book. I do actually enjoy football in moderation, and we lived in Indiana while Dungy was coaching the Colts, so there wasn't any reason for me to have it on the back burner; I just kept finding other books at the top of my reading list.

I'd long respected what I knew of him, so reading more about his life and what has shaped his decisions and his responses was interesting. I had known one detail about his private life that I thought occurred after this book's publication (to remain relatively vague, a close family member dies by suicide); in fact, the death happened before Dungy published this book, so I had added interest in reading how he processed that loss.

32) 6/17: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I am partway through another Bryson work after having heard an NPR interview with him after its publication (At Home: A Short History of Private Life), but I haven't yet finished it; the man has an encyclopedic mind so I find myself reading a section, then setting it aside to digest, and I don't see that routine changing. A Walk in the Woods was read for a neighborhood book group I joined.

I can't decide what to make of Bryson, whether he would be the perfect dinner companion, filled with witty anecdotes and fascinating details on everything, or whether he's egotistical, the type to dominate because he could talk on any topic. However, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

This was an entertaining, well-written read (our book group was split as to how uproariously funny it was - I landed on the at-times-amusing-but-never-laugh-out-loud side, whereas others were more of the hysterical-giggles-while-reading camp). Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail, so this book covers the history of the Trail, his preparations for it and his experiences on it, details on the Park Service, and how flora and fauna have changed.

I couldn't shake the feeling as to how unprepared he seemed physically when he began (logistically, he had done his research and was prepared with gear and maps). And let's not get started on his hiking companion Katz. But I learned a lot about the Trail and find myself regularly checking the blog of a local woman currently hiking the entirety of the AT (I met her husband at the neighborhood block party, and her plans to hike the Trail influenced our book group to read this account).

33) 6/29: Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
This was a timely read. I knew of Nadia initially through a book review on Rachel Held Evans' blog, and then by chance I listened to Nadia share an incident on The Moth podcast that happens to be a chapter in this book. Side note: if you don't already listen, go subscribe to that podcast now - it's at the top of my listening list (yes, even ahead of This American Life most weeks).

Nadia is a progressive Christian and a Lutheran pastor. She previously published Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, but my library doesn't carry that title, so as is the norm, I didn't have any issues jumping to a later work.

In this work, she is vulnerable in sharing her faults. That was the aspect I appreciated most. It's easy to talk ourselves up to try to appear impressive, it is so difficult to willingly share our negative thoughts or our mistakes, and yet acknowledging them can transform us and others. She is also gifted at "finding God in all the wrong people," as the subtitle states. If we believe that we are all made in the image of God, it behooves us to recognize that essence in everyone, even if their actions are off-putting or even repulsive to us.

In addition to Nadia's transparency and frankness, I resonated with her mentions of the liturgy. We recently started attending a small local church that practices liturgy and have found it refreshing. Finding a tradition mindful of the church calendar and intentional in the words spoken in chorus has been a welcome fit.

I clearly enjoyed this book, and I only regret that I was finishing it under deadline (I try to avoid library fines and angering those next on the hold list...), as there were some passages I would have highlighted or earmarked had the copy been my own. I have every expectation this book will be added to my library.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Book Log: May 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

This month we hosted a near-constant stream of friends and family, so my reading was infrequent and limited. Towards the end of the month, as we entertained less and I was able to indulge in more reading time, it picked up.

26) 5/16: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
I have to admit this was an uneven book for me. I nearly abandoned it, but my lack of reading time for the month was starting to get to me, and as I was so close to finishing this one, it seemed a shame not to know how it resolved.

Major Pettigrew is the protagonist, and we see how his focus changes (from valuing things to people) as the book progresses. We see him process his brother's death, gain a new friend, and wrestle with family tensions.

Given the title, I was expecting the "last stand" to come sooner, or for the book to feel more intentional, with a specific aim, but instead there was a gradual, meandering tone. When the book shifted, it didn't seem natural. There are important themes addressed, including racial acceptance, but I could have easily dropped it midway and not missed out. It is well written, though, and I'm clearly in the minority with my impressions of the book, if you take a look at Amazon reviews.

27) 5/22: Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
This was recommended to me by a friend and was a pleasant read. The concept was interesting: imagine a reclusive author who published one novel that took the world by storm (a la Harper Lee), and then decades later found herself nearly penniless after falling victim to a Ponzi scheme. She must publish again to survive.

Enter Alice, who works for Mimi's publisher. She is sent to the author's home, by request, to help out so the author can focus solely on writing. These duties revolve around taking care of Frank, Mimi's young son. He's a charming character, and although it isn't spelled out, he seems to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum (obsessive with fashion and movies, regularly acts out when touched, and so on).

I won't reveal anything that will give away plot, but it was engaging and was quickly finished (and that's saying something, given that it was a hardcover book and not on my Kindle; anymore, e-books are more quickly read since it's easier to tote around my Kindle in my purse than actual books crowding out everything else).

28) 5/22: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I'm not sure when I began seeing mention of this, but it has only crossed my radar in the last few years. Three years ago, my husband and I were in NYC celebrating our ten-year anniversary. We were trying to find out what to bring home for our daughter, who was then not quite three. I remember picking up a copy of this book to consider - it was an elaborate pop-up book - but I rejected it since I was trying to find a NYC-themed gift, if possible, and I hadn't even read it yet to know if it was something I wanted to own.

It's a lovely book with simple illustrations, and at one point Brennan climbed on my lap and asked me to read a few pages to her. It's not long, but it is poetic and I see myself returning to it again. I rushed reading it; there are some good nuggets in here that I'd like to savor next time.

29) 5/24: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
Last month I read the first couple books in this series. I'm continuing on, as it's a pleasant break from other heavier works I might find myself tackling.

This book had the sisters in two locations while their father and stepmother take their honeymoon - Rosalind, the oldest, was invited to vacation with her best friend's family. Other than at the bookends of the story, she doesn't appear for any significant length. The story centers on the three younger sisters' adventures in Maine for a couple weeks with their aunt. Skye is thrust into the OAP role (oldest acting Penderwick), and we watch her struggle with the role, as she's convinced she will be a huge failure, but as we all suspect, she rises to the occasion.

Their good friend from the first book, Jeffrey, joins them for the time, and there's a big plot point that involves him, quite a convenient revelation, nothing of the sort that tends to happen in real life. That doesn't detract from the story, but as an adult reading a book aimed for a younger audience, I found myself not completely buying into how smoothly it unrolled. All the same, I plan on reading the fourth book to conclude the series.

30) 5/29: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Friends, this book is one of the most important books I've read in a long while. But it was excruciatingly hard to read at times.

Bryan Stevenson shares how he ended up getting involved in representing individuals on death row, and he's also made huge inroads with the treatment of juveniles. (For those of you with a pulse on other recent publications, you might find this reminiscent of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - I am patiently waiting my turn at the library to read it.)

My heart ached and I would get so upset at some of the accounts in here (for instance, the account of the psychiatrist who faked his credentials and practiced for eight years, and yet gave testimonies about the competence of defendants that carried great weight; the case we learn about is when this "psychiatrist" failed to properly diagnose a defendant's recent brain damage after a severe car accident that led to the events that put him on trial).

Stevenson shares from many cases, but the one he spends the most time on is that of Walter McMillan, a man who was sentenced to death row even though there are so many issues with his case, not the least of which is the fact that he had numerous alibis during the time of the crime.

As these cases could feel so overwhelming and hopeless, I began to wonder how Stevenson could continue doing this, year after year. At one point, he shares how he nearly gave up and what he realized was the point of it all. It was poignant, and I found myself highlighting large passages; here's one excerpt from a large section I found powerful:
Whenever things got really bad, and they were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. I told myself that evening what I had been telling my clients for years. I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.
Several times I had to pause, maybe vent to my husband about how these things could be happening. But I would calm down and return to the book. The work done by the Equal Justice Initiative is meaningful, important, challenging work. And this book is a meaningful, important, challenging piece.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Book Log: April 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

19) 4/3: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Here's a book I kept seeing mentioned. I could understand why people were enjoying it. It's a fun read (although the middle third was slower to get through, and the cultural references felt tedious at times).

First off, I need to give the disclaimer that I am not a video game aficionado; we didn't own a console growing up, so my only experience was when I was at friends' houses. I don't play online games, either, but I certainly knew a little about World of Warcraft. However, this lack of information didn't lesson my enjoyment. Also, the summary I give below is introduced quite early to set up the premise of the book - don't feel that these are spoilers, as you'd learn these details in the prologue.

Imagine the world in 2044. Many people are very into playing the massively multi-player online game OASIS. It's quite realistic and allows people to escape the drudgery of their daily lives, all the more important as recession is rampant; the real world's infrastructure is crumbling, so people avoid reality and retreat to OASIS. Interest is increased when the creator dies and, since he has no family, he reveals that he has hidden an Easter egg somewhere in OASIS. The one who discovers it wins his fortune. First, they must discover three keys that lead through three gates, at the end of which is the Easter egg. The creator was a huge 80's fan, so interest is revived in music, culture, and games from that decade, as many suspect they will help discover useful hints.

Five years pass, and no progress is made for the hunt. Then the protagonist, a senior in a virtual high school, discovers the first key. Interest is again revived, and this story covers the hunt for the fortune.

I was pretty good at suspending my disbelief, although periodically I felt like Wade had magical epiphanies to aid in his success that likely would have been found out sooner by the lackeys at IOI, the token evil corporation, with their limitless resources. All the same, the author does a decent job sharing the history of the hunt as well as realistically explaining how the world has changed. Certainly there are questions that arise regarding what is real and could hint at our own tech addictions.

It's not a must read, nor an important read, but it's an entertaining one if you need something light.

20) 4/4: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I'd read this book when I was young, but I can't recall if I'd ever revisited it as an adult. My interest was revived when I realized how limited my memories of it were when I was reading When You Reach Me last month.

It was pleasant to reread. You get good versus evil, freedom versus conformity. You also see bravery in Meg, the flawed but faithful protagonist, as she travels to rescue her father with her human and otherworldly companions.

I enjoyed it, but I think I was expecting more, perhaps because I've read a lot of good literature influenced by L'Engle's transformative work - it's hard to hold up under such a legacy. Perhaps I expected it to be longer? It's certainly not a bad thing to be able to tell a story succinctly, though.

21) 4/11: Tara Road by Maeve Binchy

As a teenager, I once attended a presentation where the speaker shared about different levels of communication: the most general is casual, superficial talk, and at the pinnacle is deeply personal information. He shared how infrequently people spend time at the deepest level; even within marriage, it's easy to get stuck with figuring out practical details, especially when children are present -- transportation logistics, schedules, house upkeep, work and school commitments, extracurricular activities. It's often a luxury to have deeply meaningful conversations.

In Tara Road, we see how the various characters get stuck in their routines and become blind to the reality around them. Binchy examines relationships and the lies we tell ourselves and others.  The focus is on friendships, both platonic and within marriage. If you're not taking the time to reflect or have honest conversations, you settle into believing everything is as you see it. This can lead to misunderstandings that grow into something that can no longer be ignored.

Like the first book of hers I read (in January), this one was a pleasant read; she crafts a good story. I don't often need or want a lot of excitement in my books. This one is a longer read (648 pages), but that allows much to be done with the characters. We get to see what drives them and what their faults are, and then when their world is unsettled, how they respond, either uncovering unknown strength and abilities or losing themselves as they realize they were never truly in control.

22) 4/18: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
A friend's daughter was devouring this audiobook series, so I looked into it. Reviews were strong, and it was a National Book Award winner, so I added it to my list. Such a charming read! It is a sweet and innocent story of four sisters and a widowed father. The father is loving but very much a peripheral character in this book. This book covers their time at a summer home for three weeks and their adventures there; each girl gets some attention from the author (their ages range from 4 to 12, and their personalities are distinct enough to tell them apart). I feel like it won't be much longer before I start reading this aloud to Brennan.

The children aren't perfect (which would make for a boring read), but while they can get into trouble, their hearts are in the right place and there is eventually resolution. Their relationships with each other is sweet as well; the sisters hold family meetings, either emergency or planned, to discuss events and make plans, and they swear each other to secrecy, citing Penderwick Family Honor (unless it seems harm could come to someone, then they are released from their bond).

23) 4/24: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
This was the second in the Penderwicks series. The family lives on Gardam Street, and this book picks up soon after their summer adventures conclude. School is in session and their Aunt Claire delivers a letter to their father that had been written by his wife shortly before her death four years earlier. The contents - that her husband should begin dating again - frame the storyline; the sisters decide to orchestrate horrible partners for him to date so that he will give up on the venture. There are also other plot lines taking place - Jane's deception surrounding a school play is a primary one, but the other sisters have their own issues they wrestle with.

This was published in 2008, but it has a timeless feel to it; I could easily see it becoming a classic. It doesn't quite seem contemporary given the freedom the girls have to wander on their own, but it embodies the innocence of childhood and I can just see my daughter getting caught up in the story and discussing all the details at length.

24) 4/25: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

I taught for two years in Minnesota in a suburb of the Twin Cities, beginning in the fall of 2004. This book, published in 2002, was already part of the curriculum in the ninth-grade class I taught. That was my initial introduction to the book; first I read it that summer to get a feel for it, then I re-read it when the unit came up.

I'm not sure that I had read it since then, but it is a powerful, thoughtful book, and I have found myself revisiting some old favorites again.

One reason I don't go into much plot detail for these accounts is that I worry I won't do the books justice - a list of some of the highlights might take away the power of the actual book, or it may make you avoid reading it if my description isn't your typical reading style. Plus, I'd rather go into a book or movie with little understanding of what to expect. This is one I went into blind, and after more than a decade had passed, the details had dimmed considerably. It was a pleasure to read this one again.

The narrator is Reuben, and the story takes place when he is eleven. It is clear he is reflecting on this account as an adult, but the foreshadowing hints at tragedy to come and uncertainty as to who else reaches adulthood with him. It is well done - Reuben doesn't sugarcoat events, even when the truth paints him in a poor light. My freshmen loved this book, as did I. Seriously a great read with great themes to reflect on.

25) 4/28: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
I first read this as a young student (possibly sixth grade?). It's another Newbery Award winner.

I noticed I've been reading a lot of children's literature this month - I like to read YA lit, but this has been more than normal. It's due to the fact that we've been reading chapter books to our oldest for a while now; as she is growing as a reader and as we work our way through other books, I'm keeping an eye out for what might be on the horizon.

The protagonist is a young boy who writes fan letters to his favorite author. It takes a while for the author to initially respond, but Mr Henshaw, through his responses, pushes Leigh, an aspiring author himself, to develop the skills that would help him to reach that end.

I found myself invested in Leigh. Here's a young boy coming to terms with his parents' divorce and the new home and school that results from it. Through writing (both to Mr Henshaw and the journal he begins to keep), he matures as a writer and as a person. All of the accounts are epistolary, and I'm a sucker for a well-done book in letters (for two great books in that style, see The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Where'd You Go, Bernadette).

Friday, April 01, 2016

Book Log: March 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

11) 3/3: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I enjoy young adult literature - this interest began in a YA lit class in college, as I was introduced to a lot of the good literature that exists for students, but teaching reinforced my interest, and now as a mother with constantly evolving demands for my time, it is refreshing to complete a book in short order. I will sometimes peruse lists of award-winning books to guide my selections, and while I got this recommendation from an English teacher friend, it also happened to be the recipient of the 2010 Newbery Medal.

I originally read this book in 2012 and recalled really enjoying it, so I revisited it. It held up well. Take a child obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time, add in chapter titles that double as categories for The $20,000 Pyramid (which factors into the storyline of this book set in the late '70s), and a little science-fiction/fantasy dynamic with mysterious notes, and see everything culminate.

This was a favorite passage of mine:

Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way.
But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there's a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to.

12) 3/4: The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks
I enjoy short stories. I was reflecting on this, trying to pinpoint a time when my interest in them began. We certainly read them in school growing up, and there were some great ones we read as examples in my fiction writing class. But my love of them grew even more after I started having children. My reading habits changed, as my opportunities to read decreased. There was an uptick in my YA lit and short story consumption, as those genres could be completed in shorter amounts of time.

This collection had some intriguing selections. I think there was only one or two that I had absolutely no interest in and it was a trial to complete, although there were others that were interesting to read but ended up falling flat.

13) 3/7: Rising Strong by Brene Brown
This book came out in 2015, around the time I started seeing Brene's name come up frequently and her TED talks regularly shared on social media.

She champions vulnerability, and in this book, she examines why we need to own our stories instead of living in the shame, real or imagined. She frames her Rising Strong process in the stages of The Reckoning, The Rumble, and The Revolution. I particularly enjoyed the stories from her own life and those she has encountered through her workshops.

One useful phrase I appreciated was, "The story I'm telling myself is..." It's not a new concept (I'm familiar with the benefit of saying something akin to "What I'm feeling is..." to try to deflate a situation), but I think it's an effective tool. She also recommends people writing SFDs (the PG version is Stormy First Drafts) to get out what you're feeling. This resonated with me - I process my feelings by writing; if I'm out of sorts, it's best that I find a time to write down the situation, and often when I'm done I've learned something about myself and what is really the issue.

14) 3/8: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
This was a fast, enjoyable read. It centers on a dour bookstore owner. When the story opens, he is a grieving widower. The book shows his transformation as he responds to loss in his personal life and an unusual bequest found in his store. We also see his impact on those around him, often through the lens of related stories and books.

Each chapter includes a story story review from the protagonist's point of view - I found myself making note of the ones that I hadn't read, and when I finished this book, I found several of the short stories online to read. It's clear the author is a bibliophile, so a bookstore protagonist was a natural fit for her.

15) 3/16: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This is one I listened to via audiobook; it was yet another recommendation from a friend (clearly my MO is already established - if a friend is excited enough about a book to recommend it, I'll give it at least a glance). I was curious about the book after looking at a sample, and the audiobook version was the only one the Overdrive library had.

Baseball is at the forefront of the book, with several of the primary characters playing on a college team; one is a hotshot shortstop who revives the mediocre team, but his success and his quest for perfection come to a head. There's this sense of everyone trying to find themselves, even if what is fulfilling to them runs contrary to what others would expect/want for them.

This one was back and forth for me - at one point I considered just setting it aside instead of finishing it, but there was just enough curiosity about what would happen to the various characters that I found the time to finish.

16) 3/23: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I loved To Kill a Mockingbird when I encountered it in school. When I learned of this sequel/prequel, I had mixed feelings. Certainly the rumors that the rights to publish it were perhaps secured when Harper Lee wasn't in her right mind are enough to cast a big shadow. Even without that big stumbling block, you have this remarkable debut novel - how can you follow that up?

I held myself a bit aloof from it; I knew it would portray one particularly beloved character in a poor light, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that image to be tarnished.

 Here we find grown-up Jean Louise returning home for a visit, viewing all the changes that have transpired since she last was there. Her childhood home is now an ice-cream shop. The racial mood in town is very tense (her visit to Calpurnia was devastating). She struggles to fit in, feeling that her single life in NYC has made her unsuitable for returning home and making small chat with other women about their young children, husbands, and the like.

How do you respond when you learn people you revere end up being human with human failings? Can you hold yourself above the fray, or do you recognize your own shortcomings as well? What is your responsibility to those you see as wrong?

The flashbacks were often choppy to me. They were interesting, and they helped round out the characters she was crossing paths with, but they lacked some finesse as far as entering and leaving these memories.

17) 3/25: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This was a young adult novel (but as the setting includes a woman being held by the Gestapo, with the torture that one can expect in such a scenario, it would probably be best to wait until high school -- maybe late middle school -- to introduce this to a student, unless you have strong reason to suspect they would be mature enough earlier).

The book covers the relationship of two good friends, one a female pilot and the other a female spy. It's well researched, but I admit that after reading The Nightingale last month, which also covers covert activities in Nazi-occupied France, it pales in comparison. It could be an appropriate introduction to a younger audience, though.

18) 3/28: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I listened to the audiobook of this one; I had a long trip with the girls to and from Iowa this month, so this was my listening when they were sleeping or engaged enough not to need me.

It was an okay listen. I felt like it could have been shortened (the print version comes in at 538 pages). I was most interested to see (hear?) how the author carried out the characters' storylines, since time is linear for Claire and Henry's experience is more fluid. We encounter several scenarios on two occasions, once from each perspective. You often gain some new understanding, but apparently not enough to erase my aforementioned feeling of tediousness.

I'll forever remember this book as being what introduced 5-year-old Brennan to her first swear word (and I was assuming schoolkids would offer that introduction...).  During our car trip, I was listening to the beginning of the story while she was coloring. In the story, six-year-old Claire calls her brother an a**hole with no warning, he calls her one back, and even though I was quickly trying to pause the story, Brennan pipes up, "What does a**hole mean?" The short of it was, I told her she can always ask us the meaning of words without getting into trouble, but using those words against others would result in serious consequences.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Book Log: February 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

6) 2/4: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My husband read this book a few years ago and recommended it, and now that we activated our Family Sharing Library, it was easy to get access to his Kindle copy and read it.

Wow. This is a detailed account of what led to the financial crisis and the recession that followed. I'm not sure I could accurately explain, without this book in hand, all the nuances (credit default swaps, subprime loans, toxic assets, the credit rating agencies, etc), but trust me that it's a fascinating read and Michael Lewis is thorough. There were a small number of individuals who foresaw the way the markets were going and made out like bandits. Lewis tells the stories of how they figured out what thousands of others missed (in one case, Asperger's helped).

I know hindsight and all that, but it's staggering to read this and learn how the wool was pulled over everyone's eyes; no one even considered the housing industry would lose value nationally at the same time, even though people were buying homes they couldn't afford without being asked to provide income documentation (there's an account of a migrant worker with an annual income of $14,000 given a loan for a house over $700,000).

7) 2/5: Crazy Love by Francis Chan (as well as the accompanying workbook, Living Crazy Love by Francis Chan)
These books were for a book study I did with a handful of friends.

First, a tangential story. In college, a mentor was sharing how he read a book that transformed his life. He bought numerous copies and gave them away to friends and family. A few months later, when he followed up, he was typically faced with two responses: either they hadn't gotten very far into it because it was a bit too academic, or they acknowledged it was a decent read, but not as earth-shattering as it had been for him. That's when he realized he just happened to be in a place where that book could reach him, but for others, it might have no lasting impression, and yet another book might speak to them.

So back to this book. It provided a lot of discussion in our group, which I especially valued, but I feel like I wasn't bowled over by anything I'd read in it - I've encountered similar ideas in other works over the years. I really enjoyed the accompanying videos, though - Chan's intensity and passion come through and they're engaging.

8) 2/6: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
I don't have much to say about this one - it was a brief read before bedtime after some headier stuff. I read the first one, and this embraces more of the Gothic novel, with a murder mystery.

9) 2/15: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This book runs about 450 pages. Read on the heels of last month's The Goldfinch (which was nearly 800 pages), as well as some other longer books I am juggling, it appears this year may be the year of lengthy reads. It has over 19,000 reviews on Amazon, and it's at an impressive 4.8 stars. I didn't know those staggering stats when I picked it up (at a friend's recommendation), but I'll add my praise.

It is centered in France during WWII. We focus primarily on two sisters and how they survive the war years. I've read other war literature, but this one struck me with the specific details; the author doesn't try to rush past what daily life would feel like; it might not be new information, but you dwell on it more, so it makes more of an impact. With rationing in effect but goods in short supply, hunger was prevalent. Nazis forced citizens to house them, punishing defiance (whether confirmed or suspected), confiscating radios, crops, furniture, artwork.

It led me to pause and think how quickly everyone's lives changed. How devastating to be raising a child during that time while you are living in fear and compromising so as not to bring attention or harm onto yourself or your family, or working in secret for justice (how to explain to a child why the Jews were the ones singled out in the beginning, friends they lived and played alongside suddenly being taken away?). It's a worthy read.

10) 2/24: A Mystical Heart: 52 Weeks in the Presence of God by Edwina Gateley
This fall, I heard Edwina speak. I didn't know of her or her work before, but it was a moving time. She is passionate and shared how she, as a layperson, was convicted to live her life serving God. Her life story, full of social justice, is powerful. I selected this book for purchase that night (and others in the coming days).

This one is a selection of 52 reflections/poems with a challenge for each week and sometimes an accompanying sketch, but I devoured them much more quickly than that. I set it aside at one point after realizing how quickly it was going (I think unconsciously I didn't want the book to end).

Here is one from Week 10:

Often we anxiously seek the will of God,
as if God had gleefully hidden dreams for us
deep in unfathomable places.
As if it were God's intention
that our whole lives be spent
in endless searching for signs and directions
buried in obscurity.
The will of God is that which brings us
peace and fullness of life.
The will of God is the seed of our dreams
ever gestating with possibility
and longing to leap forward
scattering new and surprising blessings
in our gray reality.

Here is one of the free-form passages, from Week 41, made especially poignant as I read it when the Syrian refugees (and the warring opinions on them) were center stage in the media:

We build walls around our hearts, around our land, around our borders to keep out the strangers, the different, the other; to protect ourselves from getting hurt or from having to share our space with others. We guard our hearts, our land, and our country with great vigilance until the very guarding obsesses us and we become so outwardly focused and defensive that we lose touch with ourselves and our humanity. In our efforts to protect and defend we become disconnected and fragmented.

God, who will have nothing of walls and barriers, is like the Great Illegal Immigrant -- ever looking for cracks in our walls and defenses, seeking vulnerability so that She might slip through our barriers to convert and to transform us. God, in great longing for wholeness, constantly invites us to dismantle all that is exclusive. We cannot be whole until we come to embrace all that God has made and to share all that God has given. In matters and issues of exclusion we may be sure that God is always on the outside with those very people whom we do not accept. We diminish ourselves and we diminish God until we break down our walls. All of them.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Log: January 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

1) 1/12: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Yes, I know I'm late to the bandwagon on this one. Some of my interest in reading this one was because of the interest so many others had in it -- when I was teaching, I would try to stay relevant and read the books that were trending (I also watched American Idol then, as did many of my students). While I'm no longer in the classroom, I still find myself checking out popular titles, although if they don't interest me, I have no problem ignoring their existence (I'm looking at you, Stephanie Meyer).

This one was a pleasant surprise in its writing style, although perhaps it shouldn't have been. I knew the premise for the book, but not much about Elizabeth Gilbert, and I wrongly assumed it would be flighty and vacuous. She writes well, is intelligent, and her account of her year of seeking and self examination is easy to read. I read The Signature of All Things last year, which was a thoroughly researched piece of literary fiction (interesting to the end, but not on my must-read recommendation list), and that actually pushed me to finally check this one out.

2) 1/14: A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
I hadn't heard of Maeve Binchy's work before she passed in 2012, when a good friend mourned the loss of one of her favorite authors. I made note to read something of hers someday. I somewhat arbitrarily selected this work - I read a lot on my Kindle through Overdrive, and this one was immediately available, but it did not disappoint.

It was a refreshing jaunt through Ireland, as seen through several different characters, all of whom cross paths at a guest house as they struggle with finding acceptance. I'm a sucker for a book of short stories, all tied together by a common thread (you were exceptional at this, Olive Kitteridge - and I see Amazon calls short stories as I mentioned above 'linked tales').

It just so happens that this was Binchy's final work, published posthumously, but I don't anticipate it being the last one of hers that I read.

3) 1/23: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I make note of books that others recommend, and this one had the further bonus of having won the Pulitzer, so I put myself on a long waitlist to see what it was all about. It is not for the faint of heart, coming in at 774 pages, but it was a fast read for me. I love reading classics, the longer the better. The time and attention to character development is what gets me. This is a contemporary book, but the length allows Tartt to delve into several story lines and explore them at length. As I read this, it reminded me of a Dickensian book - the protagonist down on his luck, eventually finding redemption through relationships as he tries to make sense of his circumstances.

The characters haunted me. That is the best compliment I can pay; too often I read a book, but I can't fully enter it because something is off in the writing - maybe the dialogue is forced, maybe everyone runs together in my mind or the reactions to situations aren't natural. But this book has a protagonist who is put in some extreme situations (and makes so many poor decisions I just want to shake him), but the story is believable. One impulsive act can lead to another, poor choices can become destructive habits.

The entire book isn't all doom and gloom, but there's an underlying feeling of suspense throughout (not to the level of Gone Girl  or The Girl on the Train, but even when things are going well, there's still this pulse of his past coming to haunt him).

Theo tries to tie everything together at the end - the meaning of life, the role art plays, how love factors in. Hints of Ecclesiastes come in, with him feeling how meaningless life is. But he finds hope and meaning, and the last pages are some of the most poetic in the whole book. I found myself touched, highlighting them to remember.

4) 1/24 A Week in Summer by Maeve Binchy
I read this short story as a quick palate cleanser after the magnum opus I just finished. It fell flat with me. Binchy can write, and as I saw in the other book of hers, she can do short stories well, but this was too abrupt. It's 25 pages, but I felt like it either needed to be edited down to work better, or fleshed out more. As is, it was a disappointment.

Also, I chose this book thinking it was a companion to her work A Week in Winter, but it is a stand-alone, not tying in the guest house (that didn't factor into my 'meh' impression, but it's worth mentioning).

5) 1/28: The Awakening and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin
I knew nothing about The Awakening, other than it having a place in Americana (after reading, I wasn't surprised to learn that it met with criticism and has appeared on banned book lists over the years). I thought it was time to add a classic to the mix, so this book was the selection.

The title for the main story is apt. At the start of the book, we meet Edna Pontellier, a married woman and mother of two boys, going through the motions of life. The mood throughout is a relaxed, sleepy feel. We begin on Grand Isle, where the family retreats over the summers, and the lazy days stretch on when she returns to New Orleans.

Edna is detached from her life, feeling quite disconnected when she returns home. Her husband travels often, and she went from a docile wife and disinterested mother to being awakened to a longing to seriously weigh her passions and desires even when they run contrary to society's expectations.

"She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her."

It's a sobering read. It's not easy to find the freedom Edna seeks without sacrificing the attachments to her spouse and children. I believe there's often this understanding that while there are compromises within marriage and parenthood, they are deemed worthwhile because of what you gain in exchange. But Edna seems to have been pushed along, not having contemplated much of anything before, and when she starts to focus on herself, change doesn't happen without great cost.

There are several short stories to end the book. My favorite was "Silk Stockings" (I enjoyed reading an account of a hard-working, devoted mother coming into a little money, and while she had every intention of spending it wisely, she finds herself indulging in some overdue self-pampering).

Chopin isn't one for tying up loose ends into happy endings, but that need not be a reason to avoid her stories - I can appreciate a realistic ending. Although I do admit the repeated sadnesses and disappointments make me read into Chopin's perspective on life.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Brutiful

Seven years ago, we became parents to Katherine, our first daughter. For six days, we embraced our doctor's "cautious optimism" and celebrated each hurdle she passed, even as my health and vision continued to suffer after her premature birth. But then we were grief-stricken as we had to say goodbye all too suddenly to our precious 19-ounce daughter.

It was the hardest thing I've ever had to face, but it would be incomplete to end there. I have to borrow Glennon Merton Doyle's word and admit it was the most brutiful time in my life, where I experienced the most brutal, raw feelings as well as getting to be present for some amazing, selfless acts of love.

So many comforted us by their words and actions. Friends and family gently surrounded us until we could begin to stand for ourselves, shouldering the burden whenever they could.

Here is just a brief glimpse of what we experienced:
  • As I was leaving the hospital, one of the nurses who had regularly cared for me during my ten-day stay gave me a huge hug and choked out through her tears, "We'll see you in here again." She, too, had recently lost a child and knew that another baby wouldn't replace Katherine or remove our grief, but those words were received like a prophesy, offering a hope that someday we would find ourselves there again, not forgetting Katherine, but welcoming another child into the world. That somehow we would survive this.
  • After I was finally discharged, we had people providing meals every day for over a month, many of whom were previously "just" coworkers
  • Several people shared stories of their own losses, some decades old. This reminded me that I was not alone in grieving the tragic loss of a child, and I could see that they had found joy again. As hard as that season was, it meant much to witness their fortitude. And being entrusted with those stories of loss was a gift. Here was something that shaped who they were years ago, a story so close to their core that they didn't often reveal it, and I was being given a glimpse, often through shared tears, of a pivotal moment in their lives
  • When Katherine's first birthday approached, my ob-gyn office remembered her by sending us a card with many handwritten messages
  • My department regularly sent out packages via Fed-Ex. They congregated in our office, where the Fed-Ex driver would collect them at the close of every day. Some days, he would rush in and out in a hurry, others he might have time to linger for a few minutes. When we held the memorial service in Indiana, he drove to our church before it began to give us hugs and offer his condolences, even though he had a commitment so that he couldn't stay.
  • Every day for weeks, several cards arrived in our mailbox. It was one of the most emotionally exhausting but healing times of the day. We'd read the condolences, often through tears. So many different friends or acquaintances sent messages, flowers, books, even some strangers wrote notes after hearing of our loss
  • One family friend sent a necklace charm as well as the reminder that "You are still parents, even if your arms are empty." 
  • A couple friends quickly knit and crocheted preemie outfits as soon as they heard of our daughter's arrival. They delivered them to the hospital, ready for whenever Katherine would get to wear them. She never got the honor, but those items are so treasured by me.
  • I had bumped into a dear family friend while in Iowa and mentioned my pregnancy. She is a quilter and began asking me about color preferences. When Katherine passed away, she must have worked feverishly to complete the quilt and mail it to us, now to offer us comfort. It's still my favorite quilt, and in my monthly giraffe pictures of the girls, you will notice it draped in the chair behind them.
  • So much anticipation, joy, and love was showered upon us once people learned we were pregnant again.
  • Never did people suggest we should be over our grief once a certain amount of time passed or censure us as we slowly started to find joy again. Instead, friends would share their own times of tears when something would bring us or our daughter to mind. Or they would laugh alongside us.

Collective grief was a gift. Yes, we felt the loss most keenly, but knowing that Katherine's death was sobering and difficult for others meant something. She had not been forgotten. And friends, by coming alongside us as we were, joined us in that grief and affirmed us. I'm sure most of the steps above seemed like such a small thing - a meal by one lab, a card from a former classmate. But collectively, these things helped to heal us.

I wonder what life would have been like, were Katherine still alive. But I know her brief life shaped us as parents. We are different for her having lived, and we are better for it.

This may seem a strange transition, but Stephen Colbert helped to articulate my thoughts as this date neared. I read a recent interview with him, and at the close he shared about the experience of losing his father and two of his brothers when we was ten:

“I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died.... And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

As I reflect on the hard experiences of my life - my mom's illness, the loss of my brother and my first daughter - Colbert's closing phrase resonates with me: "I love the thing that I most wish had not happened." 

The brutiful.

I would love to restore sanity to my mother, life to my brother and daughter, but in the same breath, I'm grateful to have experienced such outpourings of love in my darkest seasons. And having lived through those experiences means that I have been given opportunity to cry with others as they enter brutiful seasons of their own.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Letter to My Daughter Gretchen: Eleven Months Old

Dear Gretchen,

You are nearly a year old. My aspirations of writing monthly letters from three months to one year quickly disappeared. I think this is due to having two children (before, with your sister, I could compose letters on my laptop while she slept on me, whereas now my attention is often focused on her while you nap). Also, your sleep has been a work in progress, not often allowing for much downtime. Come evening, my ability to coherently string words together can be sketchy at best.

You are clearly a determined and busy child. I joke that you will be the one we need to take to urgent care for stitches or the like, as you are so curious and mobile. You can climb your sister's armchair and you attempt to get on the couch by yourself.

Crawling started early for you, at six months. Then you were pulling yourself up to standing within a week. And that was the last time I felt productive! I'm sort of teasing, but mastery of those skills also led to the deterioration of your napping and sleeping. You would stir and the first thing you would do is pop up on your feet. It was as if you believed your crib was hot lava and to willingly go down would surely lead to your destruction.

This led to some exhausted weeks and months for your parents. Your naps were to the point of lasting around 15-20 minutes, and with sleep, you got to the point where some nights you were waking up every hour to 90 minutes. After Christmas, when you were sleeping much worse than your newborn cousin, we finally addressed it. I didn't think we would ever try crying it out, but what it came down to was that something had to change, and I'd already read and tried several other techniques but got nowhere. I could handle poor napping if you slept well at night, or several night wakeups if I was getting some relief with daytime naps, but we were fighting it on both counts. This meant that when I got sick (which was repeatedly this fall and winter), I would be fighting the illness for weeks, since it was hard to get sufficient rest.

We had a rough night of sleep training in early January. You actually fell asleep standing in your crib, which made me both want to laugh and cry, because you knew how to get down from a standing position whenever you weren't in your crib, but you would stubbornly refuse in your crib to budge. However, after that first night we saw immediate progress. You realized your crib wasn't out to get you and you could safely lay yourself down. This was about the time naps improved in length as well.

Around seven months or so, after your mother regularly whisking you away from the steps whenever you tried to scale the first one or two, I decided to spot you and see what happened if I let you have continue on, as you so clearly wanted to. You made it all the way to the top and were beaming with pride. We quickly abandoned the gate at the foot of the stairs after that. It was more of a nuisance than anything, as your sister couldn't operate it and we still had to keep your distance from it since you could pull it free if you got your hands on it.

You are an adventurous eater. Since you already were accustomed to putting everything possible in your mouth, it was a pleasant change to learn some of it was edible. We retired purees fairly early on, as you were determined to eat anything we were eating, within reason. You have had eight teeth since Christmas, and I can spot somewhere between four and six more trying to break through. Teething has made overnight sleeping ebb and flow. In the last couple weeks, we've had some amazing nights, anywhere from zero to one wakeups, but sometimes there might be a couple when you're pretty miserable. At least we're to the point that after some medicine and/or some milk, you go immediately back down, even if I'm returning you to your crib awake.

One thing that you insist on at bedtime is having your sister in your room. You're like an alarm system - you may be contentedly laying in your crib, nearly asleep, but if she climbs out of her bed and comes to us with a question, you alert us immediately to her pending arrival with your sudden cries.

The two of you are still close. You have equal interest in each other's toys, although she gets to play with far more of your toys than you do of hers (the day you finally get to color with her you may faint from elation).

Around the time you hit nine months, you became a little more content to play quietly with a toy for a season instead of the near-constant ball of movement that had become the norm since you learned to crawl. Now you have specific ideas of what you want from your toy basket, and it's fun to see you dig and emerge victorious.

It is always amusing to have you draw attention to anything we unwittingly left out from the night before. You are quick to spot laptop charging cords, earbuds, remotes, pens. Basically anything you want to get your hands on but we keep away from you during the day because everything goes immediately into your mouth.

One big change is that we are moving to a new home. We expected this on the horizon, likely with a move before the end of the summer. However, we went to an open house on a whim after church one day (not entirely out of the ordinary). What was unusual was that we left the house really excited about it. That began a whirlwind process of contacting our realtor for another visit and placing an offer. The move is actually in less than a week. I think it will be great to give you so much more space to explore. And at least for the time being, you will get to continue sharing a room with your big sister. She wanted this, and as I have fond memories of the late-night conversations and moments with my own sisters in the times we shared rooms, I am happy for this room-sharing to continue for the two of you, at least in the near future.

It is such a gift to see how close you two already are - I wished for enduring friendship between you two, but I thought the emphasis would be on the "enduring" aspect until you were both older. It's a pleasure to see it otherwise.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Letter to My Daughter Brennan: Four Years Old

Note: this was originally drafted six months ago in September even though it's just now being posted, so I'm back-dating it. The delay was in hopes I would gather pictures, but that will have to happen sometime later.

Dear Brennan,

You are now FOUR years old.

Since I last wrote, you became a big sister. You once told me that “everything” would be your favorite when you became a big sister, and I admit I doubted you. However, I couldn’t have guessed how much you would love your sister. Once in a while you might ask, “Mommy, why do you have to do so much for Gretchen?” or “Why do you have to hold her so much?” I answer the questions, often asking for your help to do so, and you end up giggling by the end.

You started school. As expected, you love it. In fact, when I pick you up at lunchtime, you regularly want to continue playing school. The advantage of this is that you don’t ever try to argue with your teacher!

Your adored baby, Close-and-Open-Eyes Baby, has become a frequent topic of conversation. Much like an invisible friend, she has an active life. She’s constantly having birthdays, and you will soberly tell me of when she’s naughty and we are equally mortified by her actions.

You still mispronounce words or have amusing turns of phrase. When you have a cold you regularly search out ‘neenex.’ And you will tell me, “Mommy, we never went for a bike ride in a long time.”

You continue to be creatively driven. You can – and sometimes do – color for hours. You love to roleplay.

Books sometimes keep you distracted for long stretches. We recently gave you one of Daddy’s books from childhood, The Way Things Work. It is a bit beyond you, but it hasn’t been unusual for you to request us to read a couple sections as your bedtime story (I recently read about zippers and planes before tucking you in). I love reading chapter books with you. We only have one chapter left to go in The Little House in the Big Woods, and I can’t wait to move on to the other books in the series that I remember more.

While you are quite artistic and bookish, the athletic gene seems to be missing (don’t worry – you’ve come by this absence honestly!). And during summer swim lessons, while I would try to encourage you to do everything the teacher asked of you, it wasn’t unusual for you to tell me, “I just didn’t want to, Mommy. Maybe tomorrow.”

Daddy and I really wrestled with whether or not to start you in school early. But when we weighed all the factors, it seemed you were more than ready, and the school, as well with many friends or family that knew you, agreed with us. I admit my hesitation was emotional. You have a tender heart and are easily wounded when we have to be firm with you. Add your imaginative streak, and I wondered how you would adjust to a more rigid school day. And I don’t know how you will react to a harsh word from a classmate, or correction from a teacher.

However, these concerns were unfounded. You blossomed at school. You quickly made friends with several of the girls. You are a huge rule follower, so the teacher’s word is law. If she says that when you walk in the halls, you need to pretend to put a bubble in your mouth and give yourself a hug until back in the classroom or outside, you will do it very seriously and be the best at it. You are very empathetic. Some days I would pick you up, and you would be sad. As I would draw you out, you’d admit it was because someone had a necklace break: “Isn’t that sad, Mommy? It was her favorite.”

And now I’m returning to this letter six months later. I’ll end it here for now, as I hope to add an updated one. Just know that, as always, I’m so happy to be your mommy.