Unexpected Clarity


Zentangle Art by Jennifer K.

Last week I had a snow day–that magical event in childhood that becomes increasingly rare in adulthood. Plans were cancelled, travel suspended, obligations put off. I was excited by the opportunity to get a lot of writing done. Instead I vacuumed the house and spent four hours on Facebook. That last hour as I was scrolling through absurd memes, it felt like I was trying to create a reason to beat myself up. As I turned off lights in the living room and headed for the bedroom, bleary-eyed and numb, the light mantle of shame draped over me seemed almost comforting. The berating whispers in my mind caused a small thrill, like the voices of old friends do.

I climbed into bed with my journal to write out what the whispers were saying so I could clear my mind for sleep. This wasn’t the writing I’d excitedly envisioned earlier in the day. “But something is better than nothing,” I muttered to myself as I picked up my pen to give shape to the emotions swirling inside me.

“See what foolishness your dreams are, silly girl,” the whispers chided. “You don’t have what it takes to forge some new path. Why, you can’t even manage to make good use of day with no obligations. You had a day of complete freedom and accomplished nothing important. How can you possibly think you can forge a new career track in the midst of the daily grind?”

And a part of me felt some sense of relief at this. Some part of me responded with, “See? I’ve failed so completely today there’s really no point in trying to pursue these scary dreams of being an artist and a writer. It will take lots of work and today proves that I’m not a hard worker. I’m a lazy, undisciplined girl with no follow-through. My words and my art couldn’t possibly inspire anyone. Whew! What a relief that I don’t have to try this scary, new path you’ve been fantasizing about. That’s all it is really–a fantasy. It would be like LARPing; you trying to live as an artist is just a game of make-believe. How foolish! Glad we’ve got that sorted and can go back to trying to get your real life responsibilities in order–which, I might point out, you’ve been doing horrible at lately.”

How illuminating to see this interior chatter laid out in black and white! And so I found myself grateful for a day of blowing fuses to such an extreme extent because it brought to light what was hidden in the shadows of my heart. These fears, half-truths, and lies have been weighing me down as I’ve tried to move forward. I could feel them, but couldn’t see what they were until that night. And now, with hope shining from my eyes and gentle amusement rounding up the corners of my lips, I can say, “But none of that is true. These dreams and aspirations are real treasures worth pursuing. And I am competent and capable of pursuing them. I am a powerful and beautiful human being so I can dance in the irregular meter of life gracefully with purpose. I do not need a perfect day in which to do great things. Little steps each day will add up to great leaps on the path that I have chosen. Thank you for helping me see this more clearly!”

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Reflections on Last Year’s Reading Challenge



Three of the books I completed in my 2018 Reading Challenge

So this is the first of my year-in-review posts as I reflect on 2018. As you may have noticed, this blog tends to go on hiatus in December and January as holiday activities take up all available time in the former and I spend the latter catching up on all the things the fell by the wayside in the holiday hustle. But some semblance of order has been restored and I am eager to resume writing (even if the Christmas tree is still up)!

As a list maker, I’ve always been intrigued with reading challenges and have collected several reading lists on Pinterest. Many of these require a daily reading discipline or a reading speed that I do not currently possess. Some lists include categories that seem silly to me or books that I have no desire to crack the spines of. But Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge for 2018 had categories that were compelling and a quantity that seemed achievable, so I decided to give it a go. Here is what I read (or attempted to read as the case may be):

A book you can read in a day

The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke

I listened to this one-hour audio book on the drive to my parent’s house early last January. I thought it an appropriate choice since we were on our way to celebrate “Second Christmas” with my family after spending Christmas proper with my husband’s parents. It’s a charming story about a Magi who wanted to make the pilgrimage to honor Jesus’ birth, but missed the rendezvous with the rest of the wise men because he stopped to help someone in need. Arriving in Bethlehem after Mary and Joseph have fled to Egypt, this other wise man spends the rest of his life trying to find Jesus.

A book that’s more than 500 pages

The Little Country by Charles de Lint

It was a dark and stormy night in January–perfect for curling up with a new book. I chose this one and loved it! I was so impressed with the dialog. It’s tricky to distinctive voices for individual characters and use dialect in a way that doesn’t distract, but Charles de Lint does it masterfully. It wasn’t just the dialog, though–I loved the characters, the ideas, and the magic. I highly recommend this contemporary fantasy set in Cornwall, England, about Janey Little, folk musician and book lover, who finds a lost manuscript by her favorite author and discovers not just a new story, but an old form of magic. While Janey is captivated by the story, someone else is desperate to possess the magic. But can this long-bound magic even be controlled–let alone possessed–once it begins seeping out of the books pages?

A book by a favorite author

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

This is one of the few instances where I can compare the experience of reading a book in print and listening to it as an audiobook. When I read The Body in the Library a few years ago, I thought it was fine, but not one of my favorite Christie novels. Stephanie Cole’s performance of the book gave me a new appreciation for the story and I enjoyed this audiobook more than reading the novel myself. Stephanie Cole has become my favorite actress to portray Miss Marple and I wish she would record all the novels featuring Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth!

A memoir, biography, or creative non-fiction

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I picked this up at my local book exchange. It’s an inspiring memoir that a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon wrote as a legacy to his children after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Randy Pausch reinforced to me that even if life is hard, different than you expected, or shorter than you wanted, it can still be good, you can still enjoy it, and you can still accomplish your dreams.

A classic you’ve been meaning to read

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I posted a longer review of this book last year (but it does have spoilers). Fitzgerald’s execution of the story and the way he set up the themes it contained are what I admire most about this novel. If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth your time to read this story about a poor nobody who makes a fortune and builds a house in an ostentatious neighborhood to impress the love of his youth who is currently married to someone else. Even if it doesn’t end up being one of your personal favorites, part of Fitzgerald’s genius is his brevity, so it’s not a long slog.

A book nominated for an award in 2018

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

This novella won the Hugo Award for Best Novella last year. (Yay! This is the second year in a row that the novella I was rooting for won!) This is a fun story about a security robot who hacks his governing system so he can gain autonomy but continues to follow (most) protocols in order to avoid being tagged as “Rogue” and disassembled. I enjoyed the humor in this book, but the line that really resonated with me was more contemplative: “I don’t know what I want yet, but I know that I don’t want other people telling me what I should want.”

A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than you

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book evoked several contradictory responses from me. I found it fascinating throughout, yet by the time I was halfway through the book, I was ready to be done and move on to something else. It was very grounded in the nitty-gritty details, human tragedy, and personal triumphs of everyday life, yet it ended up feeling like a fairy tale to me (though to be fair, the happy ending worked–from a writing stand point–better than some romance novels I’ve read). I really enjoyed reading the book, and I didn’t like the story. (I wish I’d read this as a part of a reading group–the potential for discussion here is fabulous!) Still, I’m truly glad to have read this book and thus experienced, in a small way, the life of someone very different from me–a Nigerian girl who comes to the United States for college, ends up living and working here for 15 years, and becomes an American citizen before returning to Nigeria.

A banned book

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

It was worth doing this reading challenge for this book alone. I would not have gone looking for it otherwise and it would be such a shame not have this gem in my literary collection. I was enthralled by Janie’s journey through life in Florida a decade or so after the Civil War, not just because it’s a time and place I’m less familiar with, but also to see how Janie came into her own as a woman. Hurston’s writing is impressive and poetic. I took a little break from reading novels after finishing this one; I just wanted to sit with Hurston’s story for a while and think about lines like this: “Love is like de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”

A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection

Poems 1965 – 1975 by Seamus Heaney

So technically I finished this book. But I was listening to it at night to keep my mind off the torture device–I mean, contour device the physical therapist prescribed me to spend 15-20 minutes a day on to restore a healthy curve to my cervical spine. On the one hand this strategy was effective in helping me be compliant with the recommended time, but Heaney’s Irish lilt sometimes put me to sleep. I’d wake up when the timer went off and discover that I’d missed several poems. Sometimes I’d rewind for the next night; sometimes I didn’t. Nevertheless, I like the sound of Heaney’s poetry and found his imagery compelling. I’ve bought a print copy of this collection and hope to do a more thorough reading of it this year.

A book in translation

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is definitely a book lover’s story–it makes me want to rescue forgotten books! A coming-of-age novel set in Barcelona as the city deals with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, this novel is thick with portent and consequences, rye humor, colorful characters, and wonderful quotes. It makes you consider how the stories we love shape us. Maybe that effect is the unrecognized magic in our mundane world. Although, this story also makes a case for love being the true magic in our world, and like all magic, it comes with a price.

A book recommended by someone with great taste

Dune by Frank Herbert

A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Perhaps if I hadn’t taken that break from fiction after finishing Their Eyes Were Watching God, I might have gotten through these last two books. Then again, Dune is not a quick read. Maybe I’ll get around to these stories in 2019.

So those are my thoughts on the books from my 2018 Reading Challenge. Did you do a reading challenge last year? If so, what was the best book you discovered from that list?


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Double Book Review: The Great Gatsby and No One Is Coming to Save Us


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My personal rating: 4 out of 5

My three sentence synopsis: In the 1920s, Nick Carraway leaves the Midwest city where his family has been prominent for three generations and sets out to make a life for himself selling bonds in New York City. Choosing to live in a commuting town outside of the city puts Nick at a curious intersection of upper and lower class society, of people who have always been on top and people who are trying to move up the ladder. It also gives Nick a supporting role in the drama that unfolds when his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, meets up with Tom and Daisy Buchanan.

The first morsel of prose: In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.

Why I chose this book: This year I’m participating in the 2018 Reading Challenge posted on ModernMrsDarcy.com. I chose this novel for the category “A Classic You’ve Been Meaning to Read” for two reasons. First, because my husband read it in high school and didn’t like it, but then revisited it a few years ago and was impressed with it. Second, more than one review for No One is Coming to Save Us compared it to The Great Gatsby so I wanted to make sure I was familiar with the earlier novel so I could appreciate the literary allusions in the recent story.


No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

My personal rating: 4 out of 5

My three sentence synopsis: JJ Ferguson grew up as a foster kid in Pinewood, North Carolina, and few people expected him to survive, let alone amount to anything. But when he returns, he has enough money to build a house on Brushy Mountain Road, the section of town where “the people are rich and their lives are so removed from yours you almost expect them to speak another tongue.” This display of fresh wealth unsettles the declining factory town in general and has more direct consequences for three specific people: Ava, JJ’s high school sweetheart; Henry, Ava’s husband; and Sylvia, Ava’s mother.

The first morsel of prose: The house he’s building is done mostly. All that’s missing now is the prettying, stain on the sprawling deck, final finishing inside. At least that’s what they say. This house has been the talk around our small town. Not much happens here but the same, same: a thirteen-year-old girl waiting for the baby her mother’s sorry boyfriend gave her; the husband we wanted to believe was one of the good ones found out to be the worst kind of cheater with a whole other family two towns over. The same stupid surprises, the usual sadnesses. But this thing is strange. The boy we all saw grow up came back to us slim and hungry-gaunt like a coal miner. With money. JJ Ferguson made it. The poor child who lived with this grandmother, dead for years now, the ordinary boy we all fed when he wouldn’t leave at dinnertime, looking like he was waiting for somebody to ask him to play. We had no idea.

Why I chose this book: The title arrested my progress through the bookstore. Curious, I read the blurb and the reviews on the cover. When I suddenly found myself halfway through the first chapter, I decided I wanted to read it in the comfort of my living room.

Spoiler Warning: Normally, I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but I wanted to do a compare and contrast essay on these two books with the freedom to discuss anything that struck my fancy. So this is your spoiler warning. If you have not read these books and want to experience the twists and turns of the stories for yourself, then know that I recommend both these books and stop here. If you have read the books or don’t care about spoilers, by all means, continue on to the next section.

My experience with these books: Both of these writers are excellent at their craft. In fact, that’s really what kept me going through the first half of The Great Gatsby. Every night after I finished reading a section, my husband would eagerly ask, “What to you think so far?” and the first few nights my response was the same, “Fitzgerald’s writing is impressive, but I’m not sure what to do with the story–especially with these characters.” There wasn’t really anyone in the story who managed to win my sympathies. Everyone was so miserable with varying degrees of shallowness and cruelty. Granted, that was part of Fitzgerald’s point and I think it’s brilliant that he didn’t let the story drag on until you were beyond caring when the Mrs. Wilson is killed and everything falls apart. Despite my lack of affinity for the characters, once they set out on the fateful car trip, I was riveted. Fitzgerald’s execution of the story and the way he set up the themes it contained are what I admire most about this novel.

Both of these books have the same premise: a poor nobody makes a fortune and builds a house in an ostentatious neighborhood to impress the love of his youth who is currently married to someone else. But whereas Fitzgerald wrote about white people in New York in the 1920s, No One Is Coming to Save Us is set in a black community in present day North Carolina. And while some of Watts’ characters have similar motivations as their counterparts in The Great Gatsby, they are different people who have had different life experiences so when all the dominoes in this game are finally lined up and the first one is pushed, they fall in different directions. And I loved that! Ava is a more independent person than Daisy, so I was thrilled that when she realized JJ and Henry were more interested in proving themselves to each other than building the life she wants, Ava rejected them both. Watts’ characters were far more sympathetic to me than Fitzgerald’s cast, so I didn’t mind reading three times as many pages in No One Is Coming to Save Us. I think I was rooting for every character at some point in the story.

I was fascinated by Watts’ ability to shift from present to past in a character’s reverie the way we often experience memory in real life. I enjoyed seeing characters grapple with who they are versus who they want to be and how different characters deal with feeling trapped in their lives. Unfortunately, I don’t think Watts’ ending came anywhere close to being as masterful as Fitzgerald’s bombshell that paid off the building dread of last half of his book. Thus The Great Gatsby lost points based on my personal enjoyment of the book and No One Is Coming to Save Us lost points for a weak ending, so they both earned a 4-star rating from me.

If you’ve read one or both of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts about them!

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Re-imagine What’s Possible

For as long as I can remember, every autumn in our backyard the dogwood tree colors itself burgundy. With a red so deep mottled with a darker green and set with bright dogberries, the branches seem better suited for Christmas sprays than autumn banners. Our dogwood tree is ancient and each year another large limb dies. We remove it and the burgundy canopy gets smaller by degrees. We considered replacing the tree all together this year, but other home improvements seemed more urgent. So as the weather cooled, I once again expected to see the burgundy flags waving at me through the patio door.

Now you will understand my compete surprise in the last few weeks as the sun’s arc angled southward and it’s beams began illuminating a robe like Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors. This year our dogwood tree wore a myriad of red shades, strokes of orange, flashes of yellow, and lingering stains of the light summer green. I’ve never seen the like from my patio door!


A branch of colored dogwood leaves.

Our dogwood tree that is undeniably in the last stages of it’s life did something completely different, created a new kind of beauty for itself. Without giving advance notice or requesting permission, it broke expectations and established patterns. In doing so, it inspired this on-looker to re-imagine what is possible in and for myself. As Jen Hatmaker wrote in Of Mess and Moxie, “You don’t have to be who you first were.”


The dogwood tree glowing red and yellow in the morning sun.

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Early Autumn

Early autumn in the garden
Hot, but no longer oppressive
Summer plants
Still alive, but haggard
Green, but no longer glorious
Autumn plants
Gaining their vestments
But not yet crowned
Transforming, and not yet radiant
The breeze stirs the leaves,
The clouds, and my awareness
I feel it and know the truth
Early autumn in my self.

–Jennifer K.


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Advice from a Solo Hike

Last Saturday I succeeded in accomplishing one of my 2018 goals: Do at least two out of town hikes, with one of those being at least eight miles long. It ended up being a solo hike and I thought I’d share some of my experiences from it in the form of a “Do and Don’t” article. This post is dedicated to Trish, who helped me remember how rejuvenating spending time in the wilderness is, and to Dan, who inspired me to hike farther.


A trail through the glade heading back into the woods.

Don’t wait for the perfect day.

There are perfect days for hiking, but there’s no way you can guarantee when those days will be. I debated right up until 8:00 a.m. on the morning I’d scheduled for hiking whether to go or not. “Maybe next Saturday would be better,” I thought. This Saturday was the coolest temperatures we’ve had so far this autumn with overcast skies and a chance of rain in the morning. Next Saturday was supposed to have more sun and no rain. The friends I’d invited to go with me weren’t available this weekend; would someone be free next weekend?

But here’s the thing: You don’t need a perfect day to have a good hike. Yes, my hike would have been different in 70̊ F with sunshine. I might have gotten more pictures on a bright, sunny day, but I also may have gotten more fatigued (and sunburned) in the heat. Yes, Saturday’s rainy weather affected my hike–I hiked in wet shoes and socks most of the time and got more muddy–but I had a really good hike. The last mile might not have seemed so long if I’d had company, but the taste of victory was no less sweet by myself. Going on a good hike is better than waiting for a perfect day to hike.

Don’t under estimate hypothermia.

This is especially important if you’re hiking solo because later stages of hypothermia affect your cognitive skills and you start making bad decisions that get you in real trouble. Honestly, it was one of my biggest concerns as I considered hiking solo. Hypothermia doesn’t just happen in the winter with snow; it can happen with rain on a 60̊F day in autumn. With hypothermia, an ounce of prevention is totally worth a pound of cure, so avoid getting chilled in the first place. If you are getting chilled, a general rule of thumb is get as dry as you can, eat something, and get moving. This is why I always carry a little more food than I think I’ll need that day; if something unexpected happens, I want to make sure my body has plenty of energy to deal with it. (Click here for more info about hypothermia prevention and treatment.)

Do dress in layers.

I had started hiking with a thin, long sleeve, synthetic blend shirt under a tee shirt and a rain jacket. After climbing the first big hill, I was way too hot for that base layer, so for a while I hiked in the tee shirt and rain jacket. After an adrenaline rush and a faster pace on a later section of the trail, I got really sweaty in the jacket, and stripped down to the tee shirt. Somewhere in the last three miles, I noticed my arms were cold. (Hypothermia prevention time!) I put on the jacket again, but the still damp sleeves were cold and clammy against my skin. So I went back to the rayon base layer under the tee shirt and finished the hike in comfort (temperature-wise, that is–I wouldn’t describe my feet as “hiking in comfort” that last mile or so).

Don’t forget to enjoy the view.

If you’re just wanting to put miles on your shoes, any indoor track will do for that. In the midst of managing weather conditions, hydration, and calorie intake, remember to enjoy the view!


A view from the top: Green wooded mountains in the distance with a few Black-eyed Susans in the glade near by.

Do follow the map (and not some random teenager).

At the last creek crossing, I took time to explore among the boulders that in a wetter season would have had water cascading over them. I emerged on the opposite bank close to a group of boys setting up camp for the night.

“Sorry about setting up my tarp right on the trail,” one of the teenagers said. “Don’t trip over the tie-down string when you come around it.”

“So this is the trail?” I asked him.

“Yeah, you’ll find it along here.”

So I picked my way along the edge of the camp and found the trail. Except that the trail was running parallel to the creek and on the map it looked like the trail turned away from the creek and headed back uphill somewhere near “The Falls”.


“The Falls”?

To be fair, when the creek you’re crossing is dry, it’s not as obvious where “the” crossing is (and thus where the trail picks up on the other side). Likewise, when there’s no water running over the rocks, it’s not as obvious where “The Falls” are since there isn’t an unmistakable cliff the water pours over (this is a “shut-in” type of waterfall). Nevertheless, I knew pretty quickly that the trail I was on did not match what was shown on the map. The wise thing to do would have been to backtrack from as soon as I realized this, but I continued on because I assumed that this group must have hiked in to the campsite on the trail that I wanted to hike out on. My moment of truth came when the trail that was “supposed” to take me all the way back to the Trailhead ended at another creek crossing. I knew the Trailhead was on the south side of the creek, not the north side where this trail was going, which meant that I was undeniably on the wrong trail.

Do depend on the kindness of strangers.

Shortly before my “moment of truth” I had met a father and daughter on the trail. As we chatted, the dad mentioned how he had been bringing his son to hike here since he was six and now this was his daughter’s first hiking trip with dad. Backtracking to where they were, I asked if he knew where the trail turned back uphill because I’d missed it.

“Well this trail doesn’t. It isn’t an official trail, but if you follow it, it will still take you close to the Trailhead and you’ll recognize the area where you started,” he replied. Then he proceeded to describe the landmarks I would need to follow as the trail cut in and out along the creek.

“I’m not very good at bushwhacking,” I confessed.

“It will take longer, but you can hike back to The Falls and pick up that trail if you want. From what you described of where that group is camped, if you head uphill from there, you’ll hit the trail.”

“Thank you so much!” I said as we shook hands.

“Good luck!” he replied.

It was nice to know that I wasn’t alone, even though I was hiking solo.


A cairn someone else had built by the creek.

Don’t panic.

So about that adrenaline rush that I mentioned earlier. It had started at my “moment of truth” and was in full force by this point. When the dad wished me good luck, my disjointed response was “I will. I mean I will take…luck…ah…I will take good luck with me. Thanks!” I had already turned and begun taking flying steps back upstream.

How much time had I lost? How far was I having to backtrack? I missed the trail the first time. What if I couldn’t find it this time? I knew this trail wasn’t going in the right direction. Why didn’t I turn back sooner? What if I wasn’t able to finish the hike before dark? After a few minutes filled with a few lifetimes of worst case scenarios, I was back at the boys camp.

“Don’t panic, Jen,” I told myself. “Breathe. You know that the trail is here. You know what direction you need to go to look for it. You are not alone. You can ask for help if you get stuck. It’s still daylight now, and you’ve hiked in the dark before. You can do this.”

And I did. I hiked a little farther upstream from the boys and found a (rather inconspicuous) trail marker that indicated “the” creek crossing. I hiked uphill from there and found another campsite. Following the path led off from there, I found myself directly above the boys camp at a signpost announcing the start of the trail that would take me home.


The uphill trail leading home.

Do remember to bring bug spray.

You would think this goes without saying, but this is the second hike this year that I’ve found myself in the woods without bug spray, so apparently some people (like myself) need to be reminded. If you want to avoid spending the ten days after your hike trying not to scratch your ankles raw (like I am doing now), bring bug spray!!

Do pack enough water to stay hydrated.

When I decided that I wanted to hike more this year, one of the reasons that I challenged myself to do at least one eight-mile hike is that was the distance one of my 70-year old friends hiked last year and I’d like to be able to keep up with my elders. The other reason was the personal bragging right to say I’m in better shape now than I was my twenties. That was the last time I hiked more than two or three miles, and it was brutal. By my own admission at the time, I was not in great shape (and I had lobbied for a four-mile hike, but was overruled). It was a six-mile hike and the last half of the trip was putting one foot in front of the other through mental force of will until I reached the next mile marker. There I would let myself rest long enough for my feet to stop feeling like leaden weights (for at least the first few steps of the next mile), while I talked myself out collapsing in the grass and sleeping in the park that night.

So I worked out and went two other hikes to get in shape for my trek this weekend. And while I literally began singing the iconic refrain from “The Hallelujah Chorus” when I sighted the Trailhead, there was never a time in the hike when I doubted whether I could/would make it. I never experienced the crushing exhaustion or the every-muscle-aches-with-each-step that I remember from that exhausting hike in my twenties. And with hindsight, I’m beginning to suspect the particular brutality of that six-mile hike was due to dehydration. While it’s true that I am in better shape now than I was in my twenties, it was also ludicrous to hike six miles in 90̊ F heat and 80% humidity with only 16 ounces of water! No matter how good of shape you’re in, you won’t get far without enough water.


A spring-fed pool farther downstream from The Falls.

Do hike your hike.

I chose to do this hike because I wanted to prove something to myself and because I wanted to spend time enjoying the wilderness. The first reason dictated the route I chose. The second reason dictated the pace. Although I had hoped to complete the hike in about six hours (it took eight hours), once I checked in with my husband via text at the Trailhead, I put my phone in my pack and never looked at it again until I sent him my victory text at the end of the trek. If completing the hike in six hours was the goal, then keeping tabs on the time would have been important. But that wasn’t my goal for this hike. So I paused to watch the creek run and listen to the water chattering over the stones. I stopped and ate whenever I was hungry (and could find a good “sit stone”). I took photography interludes when something caught my eye (and it was dry enough to get the camera out). It was a longer day than I expected, but I have no regrets.

When you set out for a hike, know why you want to go and what you want to get out of it. Make choices based on what’s important to you for that expedition. Then hike your hike.


A trio of Black-eyed Susans.

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Captain’s Honors for 2017

I was reviewing the list of books that I’ve read so far this year and getting excited about some of the possibilities for Captain’s Honors for 2018, when I suddenly realized–I hadn’t made awards for 2017! So this post is the remedy for that.


Five of the nineteen the books I read in 2017. (The rest were either loaned to me or listened to via Audible.)


It’s fascinating to see the how the scope of my literary voyages varies from year to year. Since I read almost as many books in 2017 as 2016 (19 books and 21 books respectively), I expected to 2017’s line up of categories to be fairly similar to 2016 and the differences surprised me! There were three completely new categories and the perennial category of Favorite Fiction Book has the largest number of contenders of any Captain’s Honors list so far!

The Captain’s Honors for 2017


Favorite Memoir


Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and Overcoming Love by Katherine and Jay Wolfe
Take Your Mat and Go Home: A Story of God’s Faithfulness by Maggie Allen

The Honor goes to Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and Overcoming Love by Katherine and Jay Wolfe.

Both of the memoirs that I read last year were accounts of families whose lives were disrupted and irrevocably altered by medical crisis and I recommend them both. From Take Your Mat and Go Home, I gained a better understanding of the challenges of rebuilding life after someone is well enough to go home. After following someone’s medical crisis on Facebook or even being more involved in supporting them through it, I confess at times I’ve have paid less attention once the person is well enough to go home, assuming that “going home” was the real life equivalent of “they lived happily ever after”, but that’s not the whole story. Hope Heals wins the Honor because it’s the book I wish I’d had in 2014 (it was published in 2016). It is a fount of wisdom for any journey through the desert of hardship regardless of the specific, unique challenges of each individual journey. Not only is there much to learn from their experience in the “Young Suffering Club”, but both Katherine and Jay also tell their stories in captivating prose. I think everyone should read this book because everyone will have to travel through a dark valley at some point and it’s helpful to have someone else shine a light on the path.


Favorite Graphic Novel


The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Mouse Guard, Volume One: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

The Honor goes to The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman.

I feel sorry for Mouse Guard in this category. It’s like “The Fugitive” going up against “Schindler’s List” at the 66th Academy Awards; there’s really no contest. And that seems unfair to Mouse Guard, because it is a beautiful fantasy story in it’s own right. Nevertheless, Maus is a masterpiece. This is the second time I’ve read it and I consider it an essential piece of Holocaust literature. Maus gives me the sense of this tragedy’s scope in a way that nothing else does.


Favorite Youth Fiction Book


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Dogsong by Gary Paulsen
The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull
The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

The Honor goes to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

I confess that when The Book Thief out a decade ago and began generating all kinds of buzz and critical acclaim, I was skeptical. I mean, a book about the Holocaust narrated by Death itself–what kind of gimmick is that? And were there not enough stories of real people and their experiences in World War II? Did we really need a fictional novel set in that period of history? The answer to that question is yes, we did need this fictional novel set in World War II because you can paint pictures, raise questions, and offer commentary or insights in ways that are difficult to do in non-fiction. (Side note: One of the reasons that the high school English teacher who recommended The Book Thief to me teaches this book out of the myriad of Holocaust books is that in their small, homogenous school, it is difficult for students to imagine themselves as Hitler’s Youth or Jewish kids in a ghetto, but they all identify with Liesel trying to grow up and survive not just the normal pitfalls of adolescence but also forces in her community and country that she finds herself in conflict with.)


Favorite Science Fiction Book


The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette

The Honor goes to The Dispatcher by John Scalzi.

I enjoyed both of these books, but The Dispatcher probably wins because I like police procedurals. What’s more, Scalzi knows how to effectively add science fiction elements to a well-plotted mystery–namely, that you are clear about what the rules or parameters of the sci-fi schemes are and you let the characters and plot interact with them accordingly. Scalzi’s characters felt like real people living real lives in the midst a fantastical paradigm. While some readers might find The Dispatcher long on conversation and short on action, I enjoyed the discussion of practical and philosophical questions raised by the sci-fi paradigm. (Besides, if you’re investigating a missing persons case, you’re going to have to talk to a lot of people!)


Favorite Mystery Novel


At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The Honor goes to At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie.

All three of these novels are set in England and could be considered historical fiction since Maisie Dobbs takes place between 1910 and 1929, Her Royal Spyness is set in the 1930s, and At Bertram’s Hotel provides a view of London in the 1960s. Dobbs is an intriguing heroine with an interesting back story and I enjoyed watching her solve mysteries largely through her study and gentle manipulation of human nature. Georgiana is the most humorous of the three sleuths and I recommend Her Royal Spyness if you like a bit of romantic comedy with your mystery. At Bertram’s Hotel is the favorite, not just because it features Miss Marple solving a mystery, but because Miss Marple’s dealing with memories–What do you do with them? Can you relive them? How do you move forward with them?–made the novel that much richer for me.


Favorite Fiction Book


At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Dogsong by Gary Paulson
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Honor goes to The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson.

These diverse books ended up competing for the Honor of Favorite Fiction Book in 2017 because they all received my personal 5-star rating. (I read a lot of great books last year!) The Emperor’s Soul wins the Honor because I loved this book! It made me do something I haven’t done since high school–the day after I finish the book I went back and re-read my favorite parts. This winner of the 2013 Hugo for Best Novella reads like a great heist movie with the first two thirds of the book full of making plans, moving pieces into place, and building tension among the players before the fuse ignites the explosive action in the rest of the book. I enjoyed seeing the potential for different outcomes as various pieces were introduced so when the wheels were finally put into motion, I wasn’t entirely certain what would or would not happen beyond the main objective. I highly recommend this fantasy story for it’s in depth world building, it’s fascinating heroine, and it’s exploration of ideas about art, authenticity, and value.


Favorite Audiobook


At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie, narrated by Stephanie Cole
The Dispatcher by John Scalzi, narrated by Zachary Quinto
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Angela Lin
The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette, narrated by Steve Carlson

The Honor goes to At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie.

I cannot say enough good things about Stephanie Cole’s narration of this book. Cole’s performance has become my favorite portrayal of Miss Marple!


Recommended from the Rest


Lessons from a Sheep Dog by Phillip Keller
Louisiana Longshot by Jana DeLeon
A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

The Honor goes to A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas.

The only reason A Quilt for Christmas wasn’t a contender for Favorite Fiction Book was that the category was already packed by books with 5-star ratings, and I had rated this as a 4-star read. Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors and in this book I especially appreciated how her dialogue for a story set in the 1800s sounded neither modern nor stilted. I highly recommend this historical novel about a Civil War widow in Kansas.

Barnacles for 2018

There were a couple of books that I read in 2017 that were not favorites, nor would I recommend them. These are the Barnacles that I picked up in my literary voyages last year.


Worst Mix of Manure and Ice Cream

The Barnacle goes to Shadow Fires by Dean Koontz.

To be fair, this isn’t a book that I would have picked up at a bookstore based on the blurb on the book jacket. A friend loaned me this book and since I have enjoyed at least one other novel by Koontz, I agreed to try it. This was such a mixed bag! There were characters that I really liked, some plot lines that I was very interested in, and some scenes that were highly effective (Koontz knows how to build tension!) But there were also villains who were over the top–one of whom became so outlandish that I found him boring for the last half of the book. There were also scenes that were over-wrought and melodramatic along with narration that sounded like the author’s soapbox. It was not worth wading through the manure to get the bits of ice cream in this book.


Worst Disappointment

The Barnacle goes to A Season of Angels by Debbie Macomber.

When I say this book was disappointing, please understood that I did not go into this story expecting high literature. It was just after Thanksgiving and I thought A Season of Angels would be a fun Christmas story “beach read” if you know what I mean. It ended up being a silly story, loaded with stock character and featuring a ridiculous plot twist in one of the storylines. I swear, sometimes what I read in fantasy stories is way more believable than what I read romance novels!

With this blog entry I am completely caught up on awarding my Captain’s Honors. I can’t wait to see what the categories look like for the 2018 Awards!

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