Sunday, May 31, 2015

Begin the Week with Words: For Jack

This weekend a really good friend of mine ended up in an emergency surgery that will require more surgeries and up to a year of recovery time. Besides parents and siblings and one other high school friend, Jack has been my friend longer than anyone else in my life, past or present, including my husband. Twenty years holds too many memories to recount, but I'm sure most people can imagine or have similar friendships.

Scrolling through social media and playing mindless games of Solitaire, unable to sleep, I came upon a post by Lysa TerKeurst and immediately thought to use it for this week's Sunday Sentence. I screen shot it because I also wanted her status with the image quote.

Praying for you Jack and believing in God's perfect plan for you in the year to come.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Hardest Peace

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard, By Kara Tippetts
Publisher: David C. Cook
Publication date: October 1, 2014
Category: Biographies & Memoirs, Religion & Spirituality 
Source: I received this book from NetGalley in consideration for review.

What can anyone say about this book? I took it at the suggestion of the publisher because the title reminded me of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, which I love. However, I hadn't made the connection between a more recent blog post of Voskamp's I was saving to read and the author of The Hardest Peace, Kara Tippets. Once I started the book it clicked: Voskamp's post titled How to Recover the Lost Art of Dying Well was about the death of Kara Tippetts on March 22, 2015.

The Hardest Peace, published by Tippetts in October 2014 before her death, is about having grace and dignity in death. As a pastor's family, the Tippetts (with four kids) had moved and were living in a new community when Kara discovered she had relapsed into cancer. Regardless the amount of treatment, the cancer continued to pop up, sometimes in new places. Although the book mentions the cancer, cancer is not the focus of the book. The timeline seems to lapse as you read and you become caught up in Kara's thoughts on dying and what that really meant to the here and now.

She essentially asks, "Is Jesus really good in the awful of cancer, fire, heartbreak, and devastation? In the face of all that is broken, is God good?" And with numerous examples of her experience she answers, "I see through the lives of so many facing brokenness they never dreamed and learning again that maybe, just maybe, brokenness is not to be feared but humbly received. Maybe it is our culture that is wrong. No, not maybe. I know it is wrong."

Kara Tippetts fully takes on the idea that "everything happens for a reason" and shows how thinking that presents Christianity as a way to only see the good and only be joyful in the good is false. She found God present in the hardest of times and Jesus her source of grace and peace where no one would ever think such things could be found.

I found her insights want to experience what she speaks of and yet, if something like cancer is what it takes, do you? Kara Tippetts leaves us with the idea that it doesn't take cancer to experience peace and grace. We find ourselves up against struggles in many ways and her insights apply to all of it. 

My connection to Kara Tippetts's words come through my own mother, who received a clean bill of health from her year long fight with breast cancer the very month Kara Tippetts passed away. I remember the night before my mom went in for her first chemo. She expected to be nervous, upset, etc., especially after a tough session placing her port. Instead she found herself inexplicably at peace and remained so despite the hardness chemo brought to every minute of every day. 

Rest in peace Kara Tippetts. Thank you for sharing your wisdom of grace, peace, and dignity. If you are interested in more of Kara's journey, she blogged throughout at Mundane Faithfulness.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Begin the Week with Words: My Classroom

The end of the school year is upon us! I have eight days left, only two regular days, a couple of days of finals, and some half days. So the room packing has begun, which made me realize, duh, my classroom is full of quotes I've never used here. So, here is a mini tour of some of my classroom quote decor.

These two plaques sit on my whiteboard.

Sits along the register in the back of my room.

The two plaques above sit on the windowsills to the left of my room.

Every English classroom needs a little Emerson on the windowsill.

Hopefully this one sounds familiar. Propped on my countertop,
I hope students take heed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Repeat (and my love of time travel)

Repeat, by Neal Pollack
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication date: April 21, 2015
Category: Entertainment, Fiction
Source: I received this book from NetGalley in consideration for review.

Everyone has their favorite types of books and generally there are a few. Sometimes there is one type of plot that will draw you in every time. I have one of those...time travel. Or anything along the lines of time travel, such as repeatedly being born over and over, reliving life with or without knowledge of the previous lives. You know, the Back to the Future movies and books such as The Time Traveler's Wife, Life After Life, and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Why? I think it's because time travel - and how the author chooses to set it up - gives the plot opportunities to twist. And as I've said here numerous times, there's nothing I like better than a good plot twist or twist ending.

And this is why I requested Repeat from NetGalley the very first time I heard of its premise, without further detail. Brad is a washed out writer with a small family to care for. They live in a dump and upon hitting his 40th birthday, he has nothing great to claim to his name, except his family, who also seem like a burden at times. A total mess, Brad goes to sleep the night before he turns 40 with the aid of a "potion" his wife has concocted.

From that point on Brad is destined to relive his life from the womb, starting over the night before he turns 40. With each incarnation the world's history plays out the same, but Brad has a second, third, fourth, etc., chance to change his own previous decisions; therefore, changing the life he lives.

At what point does starting over become tiring? At what point do you start looking for an end? Ultimately, what is the point? Eventually Brad is faced with these questions and spends lifetimes looking for the answers. This is also the part I liked best about Repeat - there is a lesson being taught in it all. For those who would wish to know, there are some rough parts, where Brad talks about sex and such, that I didn't think were always as valuable to the story (although they fit Brad's character). All in all though it had a different tone (more laid back?) from the like novels I mentioned above and it did have the lesson at the end. I don't star rate books often, but in this case I think it helps clarify where I stand. I'd give this one three stars.

Your favorite plot set up readers?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bout of Books 13 Update

For a number of reasons, mostly to do with time, I decided to write an overall update post instead of numerous posts throughout the week. So here was my week of Bout of Books 13.

Monday 5/11: Participated in the Twitter chat, which is always a good time. It helped that my iPad kept up with the madness! The questions were really good and I met new book people. I began reading Man, the Dwelling Place of God by A.W Tozer. I'm reading this with a friend though, so only two chapters for this week.

Tuesday 5/12: Finished Travelogue of the Interior by Karen Dabaghian, wrote and posted my review of it. Received later in the day a wonderful email from both the author and the publisher. My review was used on the NetGalley title page of the book and David C. Cook Publisher gave me instant access to any future galleys. Spent the evening our for coffee with a friend.

Wednesday 5/13: Reading this evening was somewhat hampered because I watched Survivor - twice. Yay DVR. But earlier in the day I started reading Repeat by Neal Pollack. I also read a little more in Born Survivors by Wendy Holden.

Thursday 5/14: Ummm, yea, not much reading. Spent the morning at my daughter's academic honors breakfast and then five hours shopping for the best deal on a lease, to replace my husband's dead car. He ended up with a beautiful royal blue 2015 Chevy Cruze and a payment for under $200, with no money down...I was pretty excited. Spent the evening watching Season 2 of Survivor with a fellow Survivor fanatic friend...yes becoming slightly more obsessed. All are happy...except for no reading. 

Friday 5/15: Made progress on Repeat. It's getting interesting and I read almost 20% of the book today. Spent another evening with another friend, talking books and life. 

Saturday 5/16: Made a little more progress on both Repeat and Born Survivors. Spent the evening out with friends at a new Casino that opened locally. No, I don't have a gambling problem, I promise, first time ever at a casino. As soon as we recovered our $20 spending money (plus $8.50), we quit. We had a really nice dinner too.

Sunday 5/17: Church, lunch with my family, and took kids to Nitro Circus Live in Pittsburgh, which is a stunt bike show. Tickets were free from my brother, couldn't turn it down. So again, no reading.

Oh yea, and my pool is open...if only the weather would cooperate so we could swim. Overall, I finished one book, got halfway through a second, and a little further in a third. Not too bad considering I did a lot with individual friends and my family this week. Come on summer! Not counting today, we have 12 days left...and then let the serious reading commence.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

Like last week, I have quotes from Travelogue of the Interior, by Karen Dabaghian for this week's Sunday Sentence. The book has been amazing, if you didn't see my review, you can read it here. I have never highlighted an ebook as much as this one.

I like this first quote because it kind of speaks to last week's quote about your true voice atrophying after pretending for people for so long. What you feel inside and what you show others outside are sometimes two different things and after suppressing feelings and thoughts for so long, you sometimes can't help but fall apart. Everyone has their moments, but not everyone has reliable friends.

"What do we do when our insides don’t match our outsides? Some of us can pretend for only so long, until the pain begins to weaken our resolve, shatter our courage, our perseverance, our hope. It forces us to be real, to feel and to express those feelings. Our true selves leak out at inopportune times and in awkward places. People who once coveted our companionship now run the other direction, anxious because they don’t know what to do with a person coming apart at the seams."

Ever feel like you are going full tilt at something just because you feel you should? That's the feeling this quote gives me, another good one from Travelogue of the Interior.

"It would take every ounce of courage I could muster to allow God to unmake me and begin from what felt like scratch to form a new person from the ruins. Teeth-clenching courage. The courage that lets you run headlong into ruin, not because you are confident of the outcome but because you would rather die than live a false life." 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Travelogue of the Interior

source: NetGalley 
A Travelogue of the Interior: 
Publisher: David C. Cook
Publication date: April 15, 2015
Category: Christian, Religion & Spirituality 
Source: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

From the time I've started this blog, I've always said I don't believe in coincidence. I believe things happen for a reason, even the hard things. I can't always explain the why or see it at the time, but I've had enough 20/20 hindsight to tell me there are reasons for everything. All that to say, I didn't technically request this book. David C. Cook emailed me asking if I'd like to review it as an ARC, which I could find through NetGalley. Not crazy to most book bloggers, but I have very few personal connections with publishers, requesting the majority of my review copies through a third party, like NetGalley or Edelweiss. So it seemed random and, feeling special, I thought, "Sure, looks good enough." It was definitely meant to be.

The book in question, A Travelogue of the Interior, is about author Karen Dabaghian's journey through her study of the book of Psalms in the Bible. What she thought would be a simple class about the Psalms of the Bible became a personal year long discovery. At one point in the years before this specific piece fell into her journey, Dabaghian says that she knew courage would be needed. She states: "It would take every ounce of courage I could muster to allow God to unmake me and begin from what felt like scratch to form a new person from the ruins. Teeth-clenching courage. The courage that lets you run headlong into ruin, not because you are confident of the outcome but because you would rather die than live a false life."

Yes! I've hit a place where I'm done with life/myself as is. I guess that means I feel the need for change. I don't know what it entails, but I feel it and relate to Dabaghian's statement on courage. Actually, for me, most of Dabaghian's feelings, discussion, and statements were like mind reading. If I were writing in the book, "YES!" would've been the most used sentiment. (Thank God for ebooks that allow note-taking and highlighting!) 

The book of Psalms itself is a roller coaster of emotion. From high praise to deep lamenting, it is more than meets the eye and more than many of us have been taught to expect or experience. Dabaghian says that "We learn early and well that truth-telling, especially concerning our souls, comes with painful consequences, and in response we become so adept at speaking falsely that we wake one day to discover our authentic voice has atrophied." I hope to have such an experience - a change in myself as a person and follower of Christ - as Dabaghian had.  I want my authentic voice and all it takes to find it and use it as I was made to.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

This week's Sunday Sentence comes from a book that I think will be life changing for me, called A Travelogue of the Interior: Finding Your Voice and God's Heart in the Psalms. You will definitely hear more about it soon as a review.

"We learn early and well that truth-telling, especially concerning our souls, comes with painful consequences, and in response we become so adept at speaking falsely that we wake one day to discover our authentic voice has atrophied."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Legacy: An Anthology Interview with Maureen Foley

Yesterday I posted a review of a new anthology of short stories, Legacy. If you've not heard of it yet, please check out yesterday's review for more information about the anthology. But for today I have the pleasure of conducting my first ever author interview with Maureen Foley, who has a short story, "Bound by Water," in Legacy.

From her site: "Maureen Foley is a writer, teacher, and artist who lives on an avocado ranch by the sea with her husband, writer James Claffey, and daughter.  Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Caesura, Santa Barbara Magazine, Wired, as well as in numerous literary journals. Her novella, Women Float, is a coming-of-age story set in Carpinteria, California,  and was published in June 2013 by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.  In 2013, she started Red Hen Cannery, a small-batch, artisanal jam company. She is currently working on a new novel about the experience of loss and new motherhood. For more information, visit:"

After reading Ms. Foley's story "Bound by Water," I asked a few questions about the why's and how's of writing. I appreciated her detailed answers, and so I've included them in full. Welcome Maureen Foley!

1. If you had to write a six word autobiography, what would it say?

 In avocados and words, she trusts. 

2. Who/What inspires you to write?

I can only answer this question on the basis of today. Meaning: my inspirations are varied and mercurial. My first and foremost muses are my husband, also a writer, James Claffey, and my stepson and daughter. They make me endlessly interested in the world. I am a voracious reader of anything newsworthy, low-brow to hard news, from a variety of sources including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and then my local papers, the Santa Barbara Independent and Carpinteria Coastal View. I am fascinated by true stories and have written about many peculiar things as a journalist, from pet psychics to wine country weddings to Michael Jackson to contemporary art. My curiosity is boundless.

 Lately, I've been really noticing the nature in my immediate surroundings, on the avocado ranch. Right now, the avocado orchard has this record-breaking blossoming happening; my backyard is awash with pale chartreuse puffs of blossoms (avocado blossoms are green.) I can literally hear the bees at work from my front doorstep. Having my daughter has forced me to slow down: holding he as a baby, waiting for her to wake up from naps, sitting with her while she slowly eats lunch. I started hearing bird songs. I'd never noticed them before. Now, I can identify a Nuttall's woodpecker or a scrub jay or a kite or a hawk from its call. In a more direct way, I've rediscovered Sharon Olds' The Gold Cell and I just read Elisa Albert's After Birth. They're both so good I almost want to give up writing altogether because who can top them? 

3. Why did you write your short story, "Bound by Water."

I wrote it because it made so much sense to me, as a farmer's daughter, to link this land to my daughter. Those two things, and perhaps writing itself, are my only legacy. As a Zen Buddhist, I believe that this present moment, right now, is heaven. So, even thinking about what we leave behind, as this great thing, feels a bit forced. But from a practical sense, the land will always outlive us, as individuals but also as the human species. In Zen there is also a great emphasis on lineage, what we learn from the ancestors, and knowing where you come from and what great teachers lived before you. In some ways, isn't that the same as DNA, but in a spiritual sense? I will leave my words, land and genetics to my daughter. I'm not sure there's anything else that matters, after I'm gone, for better or worse. Last, I wrote it because there is something naturally "of the earth" about giving birth. It forces you to be part of a much larger cycle. Mine happened to take place in a hospital operating room and I think I'm still figuring out how to reconcile the anger I felt around such a medicalized rite of passage, with the great beauty of my daughter's life itself. 

4. "Bound by Water" is a nonfiction piece. Do you mostly write nonfiction? 

My flip answer to anyone who asks me what kind of writing I do is: I write for anyone who pays me. That answer always seems to make people smile, but it's not totally true. While I haven't always gotten paid to write at all, there was also a moment, post-MFA in creative writing at Naropa, when I paid the bills with my freelance writing. Granted, my overhead was miniscule at that point, but I wrote and wrote and wrote journalism to cover rent and food. My first job out of college was as a news reporter for a group of community newspapers in Marin County, north of San Francisco. So, in a way, nonfiction comes very naturally to me. I'm just now becoming interested in personal essays, however. But I like to play with different genres. My first big publication was a chapbook of poems, Epileptic. I've also published a fictional novella. I also have a nonfiction manuscript about my bike trip across the West with my cousin that I'd like to see published (and I've already published sections of that as a comic strip graphic memoir.) I sometimes wish that I could just choose one form and go with it, but it doesn't seem like that's my personality. 

5. Many readers also dream of being writers. Do you have any advice about the process for new writers?

I just heard this great TED talk thing on NPR about a woman who battled some serious personal illness by playing a game where she pretended she was a superhero. I was thinking about that today as I biked home from dropping off my daughter at day care. Then, I tried to imagine what my slogan as a writing superhero would be and I remembered a pin I once owned with a typewriter and a skull and crossbones on it. It said, "Write hard, die free." I also thought about the various rituals I would complete, each day, to move me closer to my current deadline goal.What am I trying to say?  In a nutshell: your audacity trumps talent, so keep going. You can get paid (pretty well, sometimes) to write. You will succeed if you can break a writing project down into bite-size lumps and stick to self-imposed deadlines. You are a writing rockstar, although you alone may be the only one to see it for a while. 

To be more concrete, I found an MFA program really helpful but I don't think it's necessary. Naropa has amazing summer classes that are open to the community and are inexpensive if you take them for no credit. Community is more important than a degree, so find your people, find your readers, find a group of writers or a teacher to work with. Listen when people don't understand what you're trying to say. Be humble. Take note of a good editor's feedback. I also really enjoy reading Poets & Writers, and submitted quite a few things to publications looking for writing in the classifieds. It's a great place to see what's happening in writing, locally and nationally. I think the best thing for a new writer is to see their name in print, as soon as possible. I also recommend marrying a writer. Seriously! Nothing keeps the romance of writing alive like the romance of a writer. Another well-known poet I know, gave me this advice: marry well. She didn't elaborate, but in her case she'd married a very successful, quirky minimalist painter. I do think a strong partnership with someone who has a real regard for your talent can be critical, but I know that's also a huge miracle to find a kindred creative spirit. Last, I don't think age matters at all. My most successful writing student, Juanita, had always wanted to write and took to it as a grandmother. Now she's off and running! She's fearless and amazes me constantly. I'm just so glad she took the writing plunge finally.

I love hearing writing advice or about the writing process from experienced authors. There's nothing like advice from someone who's been there. Thank you so much Ms. Foley for taking the time to speak with us today and for taking part in the excitement of!

If you are interested in reading more author interviews from Legacy, see the schedule here for those past and to come. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Legacy: A 30 Authors Anthology

Last September Allison of The Book Wheel ran an amazing 30 day event of authors reviewing a favorite book on various blogs, called 30 Authors in 30 Days. It was quite an undertaking and for quite awhile #30Authors (as it became more commonly known) was thee hashtag for quite a few of us. Well, 30 Authors is back. This time as an anthology of short stories written by previous authors of 30 Authors, as well as a few new names.

Legacy, as the anthology is titled, published April 17th by Velvet Morning Press. Velvet Morning Press is a boutique publishing house with the goal of discovering new authors and launching their careers. VMP publishes fiction in a variety of categories, short story anthologies, and special projects involving new and established authors. Please visit to discover more great books, and sign up to find out about new releases at

The anthology is titled Legacy because each short story, fiction or nonfiction, deals with a legacy of some sort. And, as with any set of short stories, I have my favorites. I figured a good review would give readers what I consider a few highlights of the collection.

"Four Days Forever" - J.J. Hensley
Wow - starts on present day and takes you back four days past, one day at a time. What you think you are reading on day four is not what you expect to find on day one.

"A Forever Home" - Regina Calcaterra
A very good informational piece about the trouble older foster children have finding adoptive homes and the consequences of "aging out" of the system, typically homelessness, incarceration, and/or public assistance survival. It brings awareness to a fixable problem, if only people knew and responded.

"Gracie’s Gift" - Piper Punches
A grandmother harbors bitterness and pain from the death of her child, but in her old age must make the decision whether or not to relinquish her granddaughter to the very man responsible for her personal tragedy. A very touching story.

There is one story I did not mention - "Bound by Water" by Maureen Foley. I figured I'd save it for tomorrow for my interview with Foley! So remember to come back tomorrow for an author's view of legacy and writing! 

If you are interested in other opinions on Legacy and hearing from other author interviews, see the schedule linked here for all of the good stuff we have to offer!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

YSU English Festival 2015

Zoomed in view of the opening ceremony

Every year our local college, Youngstown State University (YSU), holds the English Festival. The English Festival began in 1978 in memory of Candace Gay, the thirteen-year-old daughter of two  English professors, who died of cancer. Over three days approximately 200 schools - 3,000 students - from three surrounding counties in Ohio and two from Pennsylvania participate in the annual events.

Zoomed out view...and this is just straight ahead...
not my right, left, or behind!

But what is it exactly? Students in grades 7-12 read from an assigned list of seven books over the winter months and in April attend a full day of activities on YSU campus. Activities range from fun games to serious writing competitions. There are many prizes handed out, from stacks of books to hundreds of dollars. Students spend the day surrounded by book talk, other readers, and guest speaker authors such as Chris Crutcher, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Christopher Paul Curtis, to name a few. The festival has done wonders for my personally signed collection.

English Festival has become quite the tradition. As a student I attended almost every year from grades 7-12. And for most of the past ten years I've taken Mohawk students, hoping they find the pure joy in reading and being surrounded by a reading community that I did at their age. Not to mention, YSU is my alma mater, so it's always like going home.

This year my colleague and I took a small group of 10th and 11th grade students on April 22nd. The cool thing about the trip is that students are assigned a schedule of events to attend. With plenty of adult help present, students go about their day without their teachers, so it ends up a nice day for teachers and chaperones to enjoy the campus when their duties are done. I reconvened with my students and colleague at the end of the day for the awards ceremony. Many schools take 15-30 students, while I usually end up with 5-10. But every year, we never fail to win something. This year it was a jackpot. One of our 11th graders won 1st place in the journalism writing, which was $150! Students meet with the guest speaker in a conference type setting, asking questions and taking notes. They are then given time to write a journalistic article about the guest speaker. Every single school receives one student schedule with the journalism opportunity, so we are talking first place of dozens of other schools! 

Supervising the back section of Writing Games teams.

We also take grades 7-9 on the junior high day, which for us is always the Friday after senior high attends. Fun part of the day this year was that my daughter attended with her own school and we were able to eat lunch together! As for Mohawk, I took four freshmen girls and they had a ton of fun! Once again, we left with a prize. One of my students' team won fourth place for Writing Games. When she came back she told me she was shocked because they hadn't even finished it completely before time was up. I supervised writing games that morning and with two sessions there were at least 70 teams participating. They received fourth place of 70 teams without having even finished the assignment?! 

I was a very proud teacher and mother that week.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

A friend introduced a poet I've come to love - Tyler Knott Gregson. His most recent collection is called Chasers of the Light: poems from the typewriter series. I found a few images of poems I love, although I'm not sure they are included in the aforementioned collection. Regardless, what a wordsmith.