Hello, all! Somehow, January has felt like a million years, and yet here I am squeaking out this month’s newsletter with only a few days left in the month. (to be fair, I think it had more to do with the fact that I didn’t read much during the first two thirds of the month). We finally seem to have settled into a loose routine of home-therapy-school-church activity; and I don’t mind saying that this girl is tired! That said, let’s get to the good stuff (and make sure you scroll all the way down for the new feature!)
What I’m reading…
The Guest List by Lucy Foley was exactly the book I needed to get me out of a brief period of reading paralysis. This book won’t be for everyone-- people acting like gross humans, and people making some very poor decisions. However, if that doesn’t bother you, or if you can skim past the stuff that does, then you’ll find a very atmospheric mystery-thriller that’s really tough to put down. It reminded me a lot of Big, Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty (which I loved)
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat has been on my wish list ever since I saw the Netflix limited series based on the book, and I was ecstatic to receive it as a Christmas gift. Although it does have recipes Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is more of a how-to-cook-anything book as opposed to a traditional cookbook. Samin’s voice is so distinct, and her love and passion for food and cooking come through loud and clear. Plus, she lays down such good information. It feels like taking a masterclass on food basics. I haven’t read it cover to cover yet (it’s a big book!), but I’ve begun diving in, and am thoroughly enjoying it.
The Trouble with Love, by Toni Shiloh. One thing I’ve enjoyed doing the past year or two is connecting with other authors and readers on social media. Another thing I’ve been trying to do the past few years is to intentionally read diverse books, books written by someone with a different perspective and life experience from me. Those two simultaneous activities led me to this sweet, contemporary, Christian romance about a famous pop singer and her equally-famous-in-their-own-right friends. Holiday was a main character that I wanted to get to know, the romance was realistic and swoony, and paced really well. The faith elements were integrated well into the story (this is one of my biggest criticisms with some Christian fiction). It was a breezy read--there was nothing really earth-shattering about it, but it was definitely an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, by V.E. Schwab. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It was fascinating, engrossing, and beautifully written. The characterization was so vivid, and the characters take the reader on quite a journey. I liked that the author found the perfect balance between grounded contemporary and a mystical, fairy-tale-esque vibe. However. I just kept feeling sad (and not in the way I prefer to feel sad when I read books). I felt like the characters kept searching in the wrong places for what they wanted. The characters were searching for meaning, pleasure, and connection; but in a context in which God is not present, in which God did not answer those cries. And that just…felt so fundamentally sad to me. Of course, when the wrong supernatural being did answer, the results were about what you’d expect (NOT GOOD). I can’t really pin down what my problem was because I’ve read and enjoyed books in which characters have a different world view than me, in which people make terrible choices (see: earlier mention of The Guest List), and in which characters are unlikable. But for some reason, this book was just shy of being what I wanted it to be. (and maybe my own expectations were part of the problem!).
The Push, by Ashely Audrain is the kind of book you read in one big, intense gulp and then want to immediately go talk about. Emotionally, it’s not an easy book. There’s significant mental illness, post-partum depression, and child endangerment. The narrator is possibly unreliable. Yet somehow, the author manages to make almost everyone in the book sympathetic in some way. Despite the tough nature of the story, it was so well written, engrossing, and absolutely thought-provoking. It won’t be for everyone, but the librarian in me knows this will be one of those best sellers that doesn’t stay on the shelf.
What I’m listening to…
One of my favorite musicians is Sandra McCracken, and a few weeks ago, I came across a collaborative project that she was part of called The Porters Gate Worship Project. This project has released four albums in the past few years: Work Songs, Neighbor Songs, Lament Songs, and Justice Songs. I’ve only listened to Work Songs and Neighbor Songs so far, but holy cow I LOVE these albums. The albums are full of quiet, beautiful music by a variety of artists, with songs that center around a central theme (as you can probably tell by the names of the album). The music is lovely, and the lyrics are so thoughtful.
Speaking of music, I’m still digging my Magnolia Record Club subscription. This month’s selection has covers of some classic songs by newer artists, and how did they know that I’m a sucker for a good cover? One day I’m going to have to put my money toward something else, but it’s hard to quit!
One of my biggest pet peeves about our modern times is the 24 hour news inundation. On the one hand, access to information is a great thing. On the other, our brains were not built to filter and sift and sort through the amount of information available to us. When it comes to news, I err on the side of ignoring it all, but I know it’s good to know what’s going on in my community and in the world around me. Enter...The Newsworthy Podcast. This podcast is headline news with no commentary, contained to just 10-15 minutes. The host touches on a variety of news items each day, and has links on her web site if you want to read her sources or dig deeper into the stories she covers. She also puts out a weekly newsletter that I’ve begun subscribing to with links from the week, as well as links to some feel-good news stories. It’s helped me feel like I’m not going to miss anything big, but helps me control what can feel like the firehose of news sometimes (and no commentary. Did I mention how much I value no commentary?).
Something I’m grateful for…
I’m grateful for the fact that a Covid vaccine is entering the scene. I’m grateful that Jeremy’s job has good insurance. I’m grateful for great therapists for Christina and for school administration that are (so far) easy to work with.
Meet the Author is on hiatus for the moment, and I’m pleased to introduce a new recurring feature: Story Corner! While novel-length stories are more my jam, sometimes I stretch my creative muscles with short stories and other short-form writing...which I’ll be featuring here! The story this month is a very rough-cut exercise that I previously published on my website. It was based on a three-word story challenge I saw somewhere else: give me three words and I’ll write a short story. My friend Kristi gave me three words and this was what came out. It was fun to write, and while it’s pretty silly, I hope you enjoy it!
“Be Careful Who You Game With”
The dice rattled, coming to rest inches from the edge of the table. Rebecca rubbed her eyes, bleary from lack of sleep, and tried to focus on the pips.
“So…”she rubbed her eyes again. “I can’t math right now. I rolled a four. I have three persuasion and the fancy duds so that’s…”
“Ten. You passed.” Terry’s voice drifted up from the floor where he was stretched out with his eyes closed.
“Thanks. Ok, that completes that job then, and that’s my turn.” Rebecca moved her cards, and leaned over to pull money from the bank. She handed a small, green plastic dinosaur to Haley. “You’re turn.”
Haley yawned as she began her turn, moving her blue ship across the board and turning over cards as she went.
“When did we start this game?” she asked. Flip. Slide. Flip. Slide. Flip. Roll. Slide.
“Almost 3 p.m. I think,” Aaron answered, returning from the kitchen, his arms full of popcorn bowls, Dr. Peppers, and a bottle of water for the pregnant Rebecca. “I logged off of my work server at 2.”
Rebecca reached for the water, walked over to the living room window, and pulled the curtain back. “That can’t be right,” she said. She let go of the curtain and turned back to face the others. “It’s as bright as noon out there.”
Four pairs of eyes turned toward the large round clock on the wall.
“Has the clock stopped?” Haley sounded confused.
“Well, I can still hear it tick-tocking,” Aaron replied, but he also sounded confused.
Terry sat up and pulled his phone from his pocket. “Guys.” he said. “It’s 2:00 p.m. We’ve been playing this game for almost 24 hours.”
“No.” Rebecca shook her head and sat heavily in the nearest chair. “Impossible. Even our longest game of Firefly only takes four or five hours. Max.”
“We have to stop,” Haley said firmly. “No winner, just stop and sleep. We’re all clearly delirious. You two just crash in the guest room,” she gestured to Rebecca and Terry. “I don’t feel comfortable with either of you driving right now.”
Rebecca nodded, but didn’t stand up. Aaron sat down next to her, absently passing around the snacks, for which everyone absently thanked him then sat in a silence punctuated only by pop, hiss, crunch. No one moved.
“The thing is,” Terry said finally, scratching his week-old beard. “I know you’re right. I want to stop. I really do. But I can’t. Like...I physically can’t.”
Reecca rolled her eyes. “What are you even talking about.” She paused. Her brown eyes widened. “Crap,” she said, voice cracking. “We can’t. We can’t stop.”
Haley reached out and completed her turn quickly and silently, then passed the dinosaur to Aaron. As he went through the motions of his turn, she stood up and walked down the hall, walked back toward the kitchen, went outside on the porch, and returned to the dining room table.
“It’s true,” she said, sitting down. “I can get up, walk around the house. I didn’t even have trouble going to stand outside. But as soon as I think about not playing the game...I can’t even describe it. It’s like a compulsion and mental block all rolled up into one.” Her sigh was deep, frustrated, weary.
“Okay, let’s think about this,” Aaron said as he passed the dinosaur to Terry. “What is different about tonight?”
They sat thinking, the only sound that of Terry rifling through a deck of game cards.
Abruptly, Terry set the stack of cards down and looked up. He grabbed the plastic dinosaur and plunked it down in the middle of the game board. Ships jostled out of position, but no one cared.
“Where did you get the dinosaur?” he asked. “Have you played a game since you got it?”
“It was a gift,” Aaron said. “From a work friend. Acquaintance really. Chad. I’d been telling him about the game and he really wanted to play, so I invited him over for a game. He brought it with him. It’s the only time I’ve used it.”
“Was it a long game?”
Aaron shook his head. “Two or three hours. About normal. Chad one.”
“Wait!” Haley stood up. “Chad!? Training to be a wizard Chad? Practical joker Chad? Likes to cheat Chad?”
Haley smacked her palm against the table, making them all jump. “The nerve! Twenty bucks says he put a spell on that dinosaur that makes it impossible to stop playing unless he wins.”
Aaron shook his head. “That’s so...specific. Why would he do that and then leave it here?”
“Spite? He thought it was a good joke?”
Rebecca stood up. “I’m so tired, I’m not thinking straight,” she said walking to her purse. She rummaged around and eventually stood, holding a small brown glass spray bottle.
“For emergencies,” she said.
She shook the bottle gently as she walked back to the table, then reached out and sprayed the dinosaur. “Usually only takes a minute.”
As they watched, the mottled green paint appeared to melt, sliding down the toy and coalescing into a shimmery ball next to the now naked dinosaur. They stared.
“Looks like you owe your wife twenty bucks,” Terry said.
“Is the spell broken?” Haley asked.
Rebecca shook her head. “No, the spray just revealed it. But it’s small and simple. We can break it ourselves even without the originator. Which is good, because it’s possible that Chad had someone else cook the spell for him.”
“So what now? When you say break do you mean...literally break it?” Haley gestured to the green ball.
Rebecca nodded. “Yes, basically. But we need to make a salt circle to protect the area from the release of energy. I’d do it myself but…” she gestured to her five months pregnant belly. “No hands-on magic after the first trimester.”
“This might be a stupid question,” Aaron chimed in, “but if we need a protective circle, how do we protect the person doing the breaking?”
“Well, if it were a witch or wizard they could just ward themselves,” she said. “But I’ve got something in the car that we use in school. Be right back. You guys keep playing while I’m getting it. It’s starting to feel a little hard to move.”
Rebecca returned before the end of Terry’s turn carrying what looked like a cross between a fire fighter’s uniform and a trench coat. She was slightly out of breath.
“Lead coat,” she explained, dropping it to the floor with a thunk.
She picked up the green ball and found a bare spot on the tile floor to set it on.
“It’s your turn,” Terry said. “I think you should play it while we make the circle and do the rest of it.”
Rebecca nodded and went to the table, reminding Terry to make sure the salt circle was clean and unbroken. Haley went to get salt from the kitchen, and Terry picked up the lead coat.
“Want me to do it?” he asked.
“Aaron should,” Haley said as she returned with the salt. She turned to Aaron. “Your friend, your responsibility.”
Aaron sighed. “Not my friend,” he grumbled. “But I get your point.”
He took the coat from Terry and put it on, going to stand next to the spell. Terry bean encircling them with the salt. Rebecca finished her turn and handed the naked dinosaur to Haley who raised her eyebrows at the gesture. Rebecca shrugged. “Well, we’ve been passing turns with this dumb dinosaur for 24 hours. Why stop now.”
Terry finished the circle and stepped back. “All you now, brother.”
“Wait!” Rebecca reached out a hand. “Close your eyes. I forgot safety goggles. Just in case.”
Aaron took a deep breath, balanced his foot above the tiny, unassuming spell, closed his eyes, and stomped.
Air whooshed through the room, ruffling their hair and clothes, and the pressure in the room shifted abruptly, like a balloon being popped. For a long moment they all stood still, then Terry said, “I think it’s time to stop playing,” and walked down the hall toward the guest bedroom.
Rebecca laughed and followed.