Two Old Favorites

My public library is just plain awesome.  I love it.  Nothing beats the library.
logo  Every year, give or take a couple of months, I get a craving to read an old favorite.  I’m getting ready to take a road trip to visit the Munchkin at her graduation.  I wanted to get something to read on the plane up and the drive back.

An all time favorite is Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown.  This is one book that I have read and enjoyed every year since I discovered it at the Munchkin’s seventh grade book fair.  I especially wanted an e-book for my iPad or audio version for my iPhone.

My library has a couple of different options for ebooks and audio books.  You can check out the Kindle or audio version of a book using the OverDrive Media Player app. Audio books are available from Recorded Books on their OneClickDigital app.

The e-book version of Hero and the Crown isn’t available on Overdrive, so I checked the library’s OneClickDigital page.  Lo and behold! A Recorded Books audio version was right there, available to check out.  The Library is closed today, but that is not a problem.  I downloaded the book and started listening on my commute home.  Wow!

I mentioned two favorites.  This other was a very copacetic find.  While browsing the catalog for The Hero and the Crown, another Newberry Medal winner came up in the search results: The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli. This book won the Newberry Medal in 1950.  The title jingled a bell in my distant memory, so I checked out the Kindle version.  I was reading it on my lunch hour and it became more and more familiar.

I read The Door in the Wall when I was in seventh grade.  I was volunteering in my middle school library at the time.  I became lost in the monastic life portrayed in the early chapters of the book.  This book further fueled my love of reading and kindled a longing for the monastic life.  I only recently ‘fessed up to this secret desire while sharing in our local small group discussion.  I thought it was buried beneath thirty-three dusty years of accounting, but the spark still burns.

Thus ends the story of my two latest finds among the stacks of the digital library system.

What are your favorite reads, and how did you find them?

Answered Prayers

Prayer works.

I was getting bored and frustrated with random reading.  There’s too much dystopia in the bookstores these days, don’tcha think. What happens when the lights go out?  Or an asteroid hits the moon? Or the rapture comes and I’m Left Behind?  I get enough dystopia just reading the newspaper every day.

It’s depressing.  Vampires, shmampires. It seems like everyone is trying to write the next The Twilight Series. Yawn.  “What does this have to do with prayer,” you ask? Hold your horses.  I’m getting to that.

I did enjoy Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Twelve (Book Two of The Passage Trilogy).  It’s quite different from the usual smarmy vampire romance. The characters are interesting and engaging.  Enough interesting things happen and with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter the story keeps rolling along. What will happen in book three I wonder.  (Hurry up Mr. Cronin!)

Now that’s done and I need a new fictional fix.   I’m craving something without vampires for a change.  There’s a certain kind of story that just makes you feel good. Hmmmm.

Here’s my list of feel-good favorites that I turn to when I’m burned out.  Like Mom’s baked macaroni and cheese, they’re comfort food for the brain.
The Hero and the Crown & The Blue Swordby Robin Mckinley.  I can never get enough of these two stories.
Dances With Wolves 
Watership Down
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Random Harvest, by James Hilton

I found myself standing in front of my bookshelf, looking at this collection.  I wasn’t really in the mood to re-read any of them, but wanted something like them. I prayed a little prayer and it trickled up to heaven. I prayed quietly, so silently that I almost didn’t hear it myself, feeling guilty that I wasn’t praying for something more providential, like ending world hunger, or for an end to human trafficking. (That’s whole ‘nother post.)

Somebody upstairs must have been listening. (Maybe Saint Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of libraries?)  While browsing the online audio book collection of my local I found an available copy of The Hollow Hills (Book 2 of The Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart).

After a quick download on the Overdrive Media Player app, I started listening to it on my commute.  I could tell right away that this would be another of those feel-good favorites. But I really hate to start a series in the middle (pesky spoilers).  Book 1, The Crystal Cave, was not on audio.  Eager to start at the beginning, I checked out a really beat up first edition (1970) hardback from the library.

Yep, it’s an answer to prayer. It’s not even Christmas yet, and God has given me a personalized gift of love, a new book by a new author, custom made for me.

In my devotional this morning I read,
“Without God’s love, there is no way to establish [a foundation for a true family]. Without God’s love, there is no way for us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Love is truly the source and wellspring of our life and happiness.”Exposition of the Divine Principle

I have received many answers to prayer over the years. They are usually related to work or mission.  More like a, “Let’s get this job done,” kind of answer (James 2:18); a soldier’s marching orders.  But this answer was special, because it was purely unconditional, from God’s heart of love to my heart.

I want to abide in Your heart of love always,
To be inundated, overcome,
Swept away by that sweet love.
No agenda,
Just Your loving presence.
With every beat of my heart,
Every breath I take.
Every day fresh and new.
Every morning amidst the sparkling dew.
Soak my feet with Your love as I walk barefoot in the grass.
Freshen me and breathe me in,
as I breathe You in
to dwell in the altar of my heart.

Thank You Notes as a Spiritual Practice

What kind of writer are you?  Do you prefer pen and paper, writing longhand or is typing easier for you?  Are you an extroverted writer that shares with everyone or an introverted writer who keeps it private?  I’m a pen and paper writer.  It doesn’t really seem like writing without the tactile experience of the ink flowing onto the paper.  I’ve also been a very private writer, hardly ever sharing with others.

Writing in a journal has been my primary form of spiritual practice for years.  It’s personal and intimate, but something that I don’t share.  Blogging has caused me to consider how my writing is received by others, real readers.  Does my writing really express what I mean? Only real readers can say.

 The Art of the Handwritten Note

I used to write a lot of handwritten letters, but over the years I got out of practice with advent of email. I was reminded of this when I discovered The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd.  This quick read inspired me to revive my practice of writing personal notes in my own handwriting.  I am normally not a very goal oriented person, but I set a goal for myself to write two or three notes each day.  This challenged me to be more observant, and look for opportunities to express my appreciation to coworkers, friends and even strangers.

Many books and articles on gratitude recommend writing down five or ten things per day that you are grateful for.  I even read one article that suggested making a list of one hundred different things that you are grateful for.  This stretches your concepts beyond the usual default things on the list, like spouse, kids, yummy food and sunshine.

It is one thing to write your gratitude list late at night alone in your room or in the privacy of your journal. No one will ever see it (unless you have a snoop in the house) so you don’t have to sweat the penmanship, grammar or spelling.  It can even be in a personal shorthand.

It is quite another thing to write out a thank you note that you are going mail to someone.  You want the recipient be able to read your handwriting, understand your grammar and spelling. You want them to feel appreciated.  You want to make their day.  
Thank you notes are the simplest notes to write.  As a recently diagnosed Celiac patient, I started writing thank you notes to considerate and helpful wait-staff at restaurants with gluten-free selections on their menus.  It’s like saying grace after the meal.

Synchronistically, while starting on this grateful journey, I ran across Almost Home, a cute story of a homeless sixth grader about Sugar Mae Cole and her adopted dog.  The author, Joan Bauer, won a Newbery Honor Medal for an earlier novel, Hope Was Here.  This is a story with epistolary elements that spice it up and give this serious subject quite a bit of humor.  I have a thing for epistolary literature (blog post to follow). The story is sprinkled with poems, homework assignments, emails and thank you notes.  She also describes a thank you note game, that inspired this post.

I’m not going to spoil your fun and let the cat out of the bag by describing the game.  I’ll let you dig for this nugget of gold on your own.  The description of the game encouraged me to redouble my efforts to find reasons to send thank you notes.  Sugar Mae even finds ways to send thank you notes with a twist by finding unique ways to thank people for negative experiences.

That’s where I received my epiphany on the thank you note as a spiritual practice.  It is a quite a challenge to find the silver lining in a difficult situation or a negative interaction. Expressing it gracefully with the sincere intention to turn the situation around and brighten someone’s day isn’t easy.  It requires mindfulness, intention and prayer.  Writing the note, and sending it, is where the spiritual rubber of gratitude practice meets the rough road of daily life.

If you want to get started on your own journey of gratitude, has quite a selection of delightful note cards that will help you get inspired.  At the time of this writing, Peter Pauper has a 4-for-3 promotion on select note cards and thank you cards.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a nice selection of note cards with reproductions of fine artwork.

Please share your feedback and experiences with gratitude practice and writing thank you notes.  Thank you!

Dystopian Fiction or Dystopian Reality?

Santa Olivia Audio CD cover

While reflecting and praying about my post last night I realized that dystopia isn’t fiction for a lot of people, it’s reality. There are a lot of hot spots that must be pretty dismal, Kabul, Baghdad, Gaza, Sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to these global dystopias, many people are living in their own personal dystopia.  Check out this blog on Domestic Violence Survivors, Donna’s story

We can curl up in our easy chairs next to the fire with our favorite dystopian literature while sipping hot chocolate, safe in the knowledge that it’s only fiction.  Our world is safe.  But what about the children in a refugee camp in Gaza who don’t even have a book to read or a chair to curl up in.  They may not know where their next meal is coming from, or even where their parents are.

I’m sure that God, called by whatever Name, hears every prayer.  But who can He count on to help answer those prayers?

What can we do to help our Heavenly Father relieve the suffering of the countless non-fiction dystopias around the world?  How can we Pay It Forward?

I can’t believe that I forgot one of my favorite books from last year.  Senior moment!  I stumbled upon Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey.
Loup Garron is a girl with superhuman strength living in a kind of buffer zone between the USA & Mexico.  This is a modern twist on the classic wolf-man tale.  Her dad was the product of a military experiment in genetically engineered fighting men.  She has to keep her abilities under wraps, but joins a boxing gym to work out.

The sequel, Saints Astray, was just released.  I’m looking forward to it.


Teenage Dystopia

Definition of Dystopia from 

dys·to·pi·a [dis-toh-pee-uh]


a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding.
Compare utopia.
Origin:  1865–70; dys-  + (u)topia
Related forms
dys·to·pi·an, adjective
dys·to·pi·an·ism, noun
More on dystopia from  
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I’ve been curious about the seeming rise in popularity of Dystopian YA Literature. In 2011 I read a few of these novels to see what was developing in this genre.  Here’s my list or recent reads.  

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer – This is the one I’m reading now.  The things that go wrong are deal with such ordinary things that I keep looking around to see if it’s happening now. Is the moon hanging low in the sky, or are we having runs on food at the supermarkets.  We do have lines at our local gas station. . .

It’s not exactly a creepy feeling, but this book makes me uneasy because I can totally see these things happening.  Other dystopian plots are just so out there that you know they are fantasies, even while you are enjoying being  caught up in the action.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier – This is an older story, late 1970s, that used to be required reading in some schools.  That was after my high school days.

Our dystopian reads (1960s & ’70s) were things like 1984Brave New WorldFahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies.


Witch & Wizard by James Patterson – This is the first book in the series that is popular around my office. None of us are YA.  We’re MA, OF or AR (middle-aged, old fogies or ancient relics). Reading stuff like this keeps us young, or at least give us the illusion that we feel young.  It also gives us something to talk about with our kids.

Witch & Wizard combines a dystopian world with elements of magic.  It features a super-villain with magical powers called, The One Who is The One (as opposed to the One who must not be named or Big Brother).  It was OK, but I  preferred Life As We Knew It

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. He is more famous for The Book Thief, but I liked Messenger better.  I would describe it as random-acts-of-kindness with a dark twist.  I listened to the audio narrated by an Ausie, so it had a down-under flavor.  I think this was my favorite novel of 2011.

The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany during WWII.  It’s pretty depressing, with Death as the narrator, but there are some interesting aspects.

I haven’t started The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins yet.  My daughter just finished and she describes it as “Better than Twilight, not as good as Harry Potter”.


All of the books listed above can be found in your local public library.  Many libraries now offer online, downloadable audio-books and eBook options, including Kindle versions available through has most of these in Kindle format as well.
What do you think of Dystopian Literature?  This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’ve probably left out your favorite book (The Giver? – Among the Hidden?)  What is your favorite?  Why do you think this genre is so popular now?  Is it the unstable economy?  Wars and rumors of wars? 
If you were to recommend an alternative, more positive reading list, what would be on it?