Rogue Homilies by Deidre Price

a study of life that smacks of the divine

Month: September 2013

What I Want My First-grade Daughter to Read

 My sole memory of my entire first-grade year was the morning I peed in my pants during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Told to wait by a teacher swapping recipes with another teacher and taught far too well at home to believe my six-year-old self would survive running out of the room on my own volition, I stood there, wiggling and waiting for permission. Tears welled up in my eyes as the intercom blared into the room a loud voice with rehearsed pauses until halfway through her words, it happened in such a quick and uncontrollable way that it was almost as if it were happening to another girl in another body. And once begun, it could not be stopped, and I found myself standing there in pants and shoes soaked to the core, my head filling with horror as I stepped back to the teacher once more to report what had happened. Her response was, “Well, why would you do that?”
           
When I think back on these moments, I realize how much I’m harboring still, how sick to my stomach some memories still make me, and how Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant I have to forgive someone so willfully stupid and unkind.
 
And when I hear about how far behind in science and math American students are compared to those in other countries who have taken the STEM lead, my reaction is only that I want to let them have it. Science and math are the least of my concerns most days. Maybe we could teach mercy for a while. Yes, maybe the whole year of kindergarten could be counting, letter recognition, and empathy. Then, first grade could be addition, phonics, courtesy, and charity. We could pepper in lessons like how to use scissors and social cues like the acceptable length of a hug, but really the focus should be how to interact civilly with one another, how to pay attention to others’ needs before our own, and how to be better than a person who would choose to embarrass a six year old in front of her peers and default to shame instead of love.
           
This year I do not have a first-grade daughter, but I have before, and I will again. I will also have a first-grade son, and I will have friends and relatives whose lives will be full of first-grade years for years to come. As much as I would like to return to my own first-grade self with my assertive, adult voice and my clear head that holds down a job and pays bills and plays house in such believably grown-up ways, I cannot. She who was me is fixed in time and destined to have had that day for all her days. It’s just done. And that’s that.

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The Kind of People Who Ban Books

My daughter is twelve, which means the good folks at Barnes and Noble believe she loves paranormal romance novels and books with vampires in them so much so that 80% of the shelves in their teen section carry one, the other, or some combination of the two. Consequently, it has been increasingly and incredibly difficult the past two years to find books that are richly written and also age-appropriate. I have been grateful to friends and colleagues who pass titles my way when they run across something Daina-appropriate, which means sex-free, deep, and delicious–although that sounds like I’m describing a nun cookie . . . which, according to the Google gods, exist.


As a literature professor and bibliophile, my philosophy has always been read anything, read everything. And I was fortunate to grow up in a house where this was possible. My father’s attitude was always “better you than me” since he prided himself in having gotten so far in life having never read any complete books and never understood my penchant for them. 

I am grateful to my mother for several things. Most obviously were that she and books were always present in the house and that she made book-reading a part of our daily routine in such a strong way that it seemed odd to go to homes where there were not books on shelves, beside and below beds, and stowed away in secret corners of rooms and closets. 


There are, however, the less obvious, too, those quiet—or not so quiet—and brave acts parents do in defense of their children. Some cannot be put here, but should there ever be an occasion where you want both me and coffee in the room at the same time, we will sit in sworn secrecy, and I will tell you strange stories of books other adults had taken from me “for my own good” and replaced with things other girls loved. I’ll then tell you of other books sneaked back onto my shelves and even those which needed to be turned around with the spines facing the back of the bookshelves in case company came. 


These experiences helped me to understand reading as both risk and reward, to read the act of reading some books as forbidden and subversive and necessary. In retrospect, I look at my mother and her love of language and realize how generous and strong she was to let me wander through the stacks as I did, to let me wade in the words and find my own way.


I’m realizing this now as I’m faced with deciding how far and how deep my own daughter’s reading should go. Although our cable-free, cloth-diapering, homeschooling selves live like a band of hippy peace, light, and lovers somedays, the mother in me is at odds with the read anything, read everything philosophy I’d held for so long. 


The truth is I don’t want her to read anything, read everything. But the reasons aren’t sex, drugs, or rock and roll like some might expect. For me, it’s a matter of light and dark. I believe too much in the power of words to affect a person for me to be comfortable with her indulging in too much dark. I see elements of her I recognize and know as mine, and I don’t want her to dwell too long in depth for fear of her drowning in it. 


But I do want her to wade. She deserves the mother I had, the kind who sneaks books on her shelf and apologizes for the hands that would slap her reaching ones away. 


I found this piece of  a Gwendolyn Brooks poem when rereading her Selected Poems yesterday. I adore the kindred feelings here between mother and child, that shared nature which makes us reach unafraid, bold and ready for the new, whatever may come.





This week is Banned Books Week. Go and read something delicious. 


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We Give Books

One of my favorite websites is WeGiveBooks.org. The site provides free access to children’s picture books online, and for every book you finish reading on the site, the organization gives one print book to a charity that promotes literacy.

    

The site offers a mix of digital copies of classics and newer books you can read right on the site with your laptop or mobile device. A lot of our kids are on iThings anyway these days. Just route them to the site and click on Read to get started! 

The first book I read and gave was Goodnight iPad



Happy reading! And happy giving!


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Julie Kate’s Top 20 Books for Teens

When Daina runs out of books to read, I consult one of the smartest gals I know: Julie Kate Brooks, dear friend, fellow lover of Firehouse Subs and anything at Target, and daughter of a couple fantastic colleagues of mine. She shares my love of books, and every time we have a conversation about what Daina just has to read next, I want to bottle up her recommendations and pass them along to others. 



The Little Literati gives me a perfect chance to share the book love, so I asked JK if she would be a guest blogger and share her top 10 or 20 favorite books. And why share 10 when you can share 20? Here they are! Happy reading!

Title
Author
Favorite Quote
Basically
Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
“I like good strong words that mean something.” 
Five fantastic females. Plus, a wonderful movie adaptation.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.” 
Hilarious. Heart-breaking. Pictures.
Emma
Jane Austen
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” 
Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match!
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
“You have bewitched me, body and soul.”
They hate each other. They love each other. What’s it gonna be Liz and Darcy?
O Pioneers!
Willa Cather
“A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.” 
You gotta be tough to survive on the Plains.
The Twelve
Justin Cronin
“Because that’s what heaven is…it’s opening the door of a house in twilight and everyone you love is there.” 
A wonderfully scary post-apocalyptic world. Lots of characters. Make a diagram. 
Columbine
Dave Cullen
“When I fell out the window, I knew somebody would catch me. That’s what I need to tell you: that I knew the loving world was there all the time.”
A possible explanation. A triumph for the survivors.
The House of the Scorpion
Nancy Farmer
“He has his good side and his bad side. Very dark indeed is his majesty when he wants to be. When he was young, he made a choice, like a tree does when it decides to grow one way or the other. He grew large and green until he shadowed over the whole forest, but most of his branches are twisted.” 
Clones. Drug wars. Romance. All of the genres rolled into one great read.
Bossy Pants
Tina Fey
“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.” 
When you need a laugh.
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green
“My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” 
I simultaneously hate and love John Green for creating the character of Augustus Waters.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini
“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Powerful. Survival. Friendship.
The World According to Garp
John Irving
“In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.” 
You thought your life was weird?
The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
“You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and not get wet.” 
Favorite book to read aloud.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee
“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 
Coming of age. The South. Justice.
How to Be a Woman
Caitlin Moran
“What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” 
Makes me proud to be a feminist.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Eugene O’Neill
“For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on towards nowhere for no good reason.” 
Watch a family break down before your very eyes.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
JK Rowling
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” 
A great conclusion to a classic series.
The Thirteenth Tale
Diane Setterfield
“Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother, but the rest of the time there was none. This story is about one of those other times.” 
A story within a story. Best to read when raining.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer
“Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life.”
Letters. World War II. Love.
The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls
“It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.”
Crazy parents. Interesting life. Not a history book about castles.

Julie Kate Brooks is a seventeen-year-old nursing major at Florida State University. She spends most of her time in class or at the library, and though she is very young, she hates staying out past 11:00 pm. In addition to becoming a nurse, she would like to travel the world with a rag-tag team of….doesn’t really matter. Just as long as they are described as “rag-tag.”

Photo Credit: Plumb Photography




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Confessions of a Slow Reader

My twelve-year-old daughter is a fast reader. A suspiciously fast reader. She reads so fast that it makes me a suspicious mother: “You couldn’t have finished. Did you read the whole thing? Even this paragraph?” I pop quiz her to prove her supposed skimming insufficient, and I can never do it, which leads me to believe that she isn’t skimming at all. What would be skimming for me is reading–real, actual, word-for-word reading for her, and she gets it–completely and fully–even the first time. 

She is an anomaly, so I never include the example of her in my class lectures. For one, this one-read approach doesn’t work for most, so I teach a cold-read/warm-read approach to my students to encourage at least two passes through a work before commenting on it. And two, I’m jealous of her. 


I am a good reader, but I’m supposed to be. I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood, and over the course of eleven years of college work, I earned multiple degrees, including a doctorate in literature–ahem, reading. Also, I am a writer, and I’ve become that by reading and studying all the books a library card can buy. I should be a good reader. I paid good money to other good readers to teach me to become one. Despite this, I will say that my daughter is, hands down and every day of the week, a better reader than I am, and I’ll confess that I’m not sure how she does it. 


All the rules we’re supposed to teach, she breaks. She can read in a loud and crowded room with no lighting in an uncomfortable chair while hungry and busy, and the book still seems to read itself to her. She can sneak in a page at a time and be able to tell you exactly the scene where she left off–and what she knows will happen next because she’s probably read the book five times before. If you ask her what she’s reading, she usually says several titles. She’s reading them all at once. 



I am a comparatively slow reader. Okay, not comparatively. I’m just a slow reader. I have to work to start and work to finish books. I get distracted, and I get impatient. I even get bored sometimes. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the page sometimes, or if my eyes are on the page, my mind won’t follow. Other times, my body works with my autopilot mind, and they believe they’re reading, and then my fingers follow their cue and begin to turn the page when a third part of me jolts awake wondering when we all paid attention last. As I flip back through the pages, looking for familiar territory, I get more and more frustrated at myself, wondering how it was possible to be present yet so completely unaware of my location. 


For someone like me who is considered to be a literate person, I have too many false starts. I have to read aloud to get started sometimes, at least for a few pages. I need to hear the voice–or I need to hear Morgan Freeman’s voice, and so I’ll imagine he’s reading to me. For some time after I watched Stranger Than Fiction, I heard Emma Thompson reading to me, which was lovely. Who doesn’t completely adore Emma Thompson? 


Surely, I’m not alone. Surely, there are others who keep British voices in their heads narrating in a precise formality because their natural inner reader is a gum-smacking, hair-brushing tween who can’t be trusted to finish a chapter. And surely, there are some of you whose eyes begin to burn at the sight of ink because a book is about the only thing that won’t cry or set the house on fire if you fall asleep instead of keeping watch over it. 


I’ve developed a “special set of skills” (insert Liam Neeson voice here) to cope with my grandmother-tortoise-covered-in-molasses reading speed. My key is to slow down even more. It sounds counterintuitive, and it is, but it’s the same tactic I teach for writing, and it fixes the brain block in so many marvelous ways. 


  • When possible, and especially for short passages, read them twice. The cold read happens first to see what the reading is about and what’s happening–in general. The warm read is for noticing and making sense of details. The second reading experience is the faster of the two, despite being the deeper of the two, because you have the context for those details.
  • Read with a pen in hand. I mark everything of potential import when I read: lines of dialogue, words I don’t know that I might need to learn, recurring themes and symbols, and the entrance and exit of characters. My heavy marking habit lends itself to better rereading, as well. I love going back for a second reading to see what I’d thought the first time around. 
  • Read aloud sometimes. As much as it is an adult life skill to be able to read silently without moving your lips, there is something very beautiful and engaging about reading aloud, whether to someone or to yourself. I am sure this is the poet in me, but I love the way reading aloud slows me down and forces me to dwell on each phrase and sentence. It keeps me from hurrying, keeps me from drifting, and keeps me present.
  • Read sitting up or standing up. I started reading the first book I fell in love with, The Catcher in the Rye, leaning against my bedroom closet door. By the end of the first chapter, I slid down the door and sat on the floor. I didn’t get up until I finished the whole thing. I wrote the whole last chapter of my dissertation standing at my kitchen counter with a laptop and the bright florescent lights shining on my notes. Location and movement matter. 
  • Stop reading in your leftover time. Give your best to get your best.



These tricks help. They really do. I’ve gotten to be faster at reading because I’ve tricked my body and my brain into being more focused, into being more present. I still know I’m not my daughter though. I’ve learned to tune out my personal bores, like football games and sci-fi movies, but I haven’t mastered being able to read in the middle of the night or under the table at a restaurant with a fork in the other hand because I just have to finish a book. 


I haven’t gotten into the habit of bringing a backup book light in case my first-string book light breaks or dies, and I don’t pack spare batteries for both for a worst case scenario. My purse carries one book at a time, not four, and I don’t have another five on the stand by my bed because I’m working on those, too. You are as likely to point out a book on my shelves that I have not read as those you will point out which I have read. Daina’s shelves are done: the books have been read, reread, and revered. They look new, but it’s because she guards their spines. 


I want to learn from her, but I’m afraid it’s something unteachable and tethered to her bones. The cells just keep on blooming and multiplying, and the words keep on calling her name. I want to hear them, but I’ve learned to stop studying and just marvel at the reader she’s become. 


I noticed a few months ago she stopped using bookmarks. “I don’t need them anymore,” she said. “I just know where I am.” 



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Hand-me-downs: Those Words We Grow Into

Words have always been important to me because they are how we tell our stories. It is through the telling and hearing of stories that we communicate with one another and connect in such a way that we know we are not alone. 
 
Some of us are born with stories falling out of our mouths and dripping off of our fingers. I remember as far back as second grade, writing a story about three rebellious rabbits (Hopsy, Flopsy, and something else that rhymed) who had run away from home and taken to a life of drugs on the streets. The DARE program had clearly made a profound impact on me and driven me at the age of seven so much so that I wrote a seven-page story (front and back, no skipped lines). Side note: You have to specify “front and back” when you’re seven. You have to. 
 
Diary after diary, journal after journal, words continued to be important to me. I sloughed them off between classes in markered, bubble-lettered, origami-folded notes with arrows labelled “Pull here” and  warning signs reading, “Don’t open until lunch.” They wore off through the day and regenerated with every conversation and observation and interaction, wending their ways into letters and poems and stories. 
 
A multi-year spelling bee winner in elementary school and yearbook editor in middle school, I learned quickly that it was easy to impress people with your words. They would reward you for it, even label you with new words like “smart.” They would put you in a category like “honors.” They would keep you around but at a distance–close enough to check their homework, far enough so that some labels like “nerd” and “geek” didn’t wear off you and onto them.
 
I’d grow, as most do, to wear those last words proudly. 
 
By high school I had learned that words could get you into trouble. These are the stories I don’t write for free. 
 
Like words, names have power. I do not think they wield the power to determine who we become, but they certainly generate others’ expectations of us. Impressions attach themselves to names so that, once we’ve met one by a name, we judge all others by that standard. We expect all Jennies, all Beckys, all Deborahs to be the same just like so many people have met black Deidres and then look at me, disappointed, when I walk in a room white, like I will never not do. 
 
My name actually means “sorrowful wanderer,” and I am. Some days.
 
I have three children, ages twelve, two years, and two months. When I named each, I named them with great hope and anticipation for the adults they would become. Each of them corresponds with a avian reference (I’m pre-Portlandia), and all of them are literary. 
 
Daina stands for song. It is the name of traditional music or poetry from Latvia. She is my songbird. Her name’s spelling has ties to dainty, and her middle name is Alivia-Lee. When I think of it all together, it occurs to me as dainty, alive, and free. It always has. 
 
 
 
Atticus is my son, named after the noblest character in all of literature, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. I love how this character represents the ones who speak for those who cannot, despite the cost. Atticus is a high bar for anyone to reach, so we gave him Holden as a middle-name backup from Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye
 
 
 
Evangeline Ever is our newest. Her name means “bringer of good news always.” Our third bird, she’s the dove and olive branch, the promise of good things to come. 
 
 


When I gave my children names, I paired a word with their life and what I’d hoped it would be and who I believed they could become. I gave them names with high bars and big shoes.

These are the stories I’m telling about them before they happen, written with hope onto their birth certificates, above closet doors, in lunch boxes, and on the tags of winter coats.


I etched each letter with love, thought of every serif curve, planned how I would pen it on presents and at the bottom of Christmas cards. I played the mean girl while pregnant and imagined how it would be botched by too-tired teachers who would, after mutilating every syllable, shoo my child’s corrective words away with a dismissive Frenchman’s wave. I weighed the cost of the time and energy I’d spend spelling out “Daina” and explaining that it’s like “Diana” but inverted. I’d forecast the pained face I’d fight each time someone cited Atticus as a character from “that really good movie,” never knowing who Harper Lee was or what that book did. I knew the ways everyone would try to shorten Evangeline (“Have you thought about Angie? What about Angel? Maybe Evie?”) to make it easier when I know good and well that easy is the last thing most people need.


What they need are words big enough to grow into and strong enough to pass down when they’re through.
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Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys


My husband and I have a few people in the world we absolutely and collectively adore. One of our friend’s fathers is such a person. He says things like “He’s driving like a cowboy!” which is to say that that the person has a complete and utter disregard for the law and which, naturally, we’ve adopted into our family-friendly traffic cursings.


I’ve adored the phrase and its nuances so much that it has become part of my grading vernacular: “He’s writing like a cowboy!” 

I don’t say this, of course, but I think it with an echoing contempt for what appears to be that complete and utter disregard for the law and an outright refusal to “share the road.”

I don’t say this, of course, not aloud, because it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between someone who hasn’t tried and someone who doesn’t know, and I would never want to accuse someone of the former when the latter is true. It would be simpler if these beginners could hang a sign on the back of their paper, like we see affixed on so many Civic bumpers, alerting us of learners’ status. Warning, they’d say, Student Writer. Proceed with caution (and a healthy slathering of traveling mercies).

I don’t say this, of course, never aloud, because I am busy worrying about how many times they must have seen the words don’t, can’t, or won’t in books and believed the apostrophes to be merely decorative. The gasp echoes again when I see a lonely lowercase I (see, I can’t even reproduce it here it’s so terrifying) and stop to think of how many first-person books they mustn’t have read along the long path to believing that (deep breath) “i” ever appears on its own in nature.

I don’t say this, of course, when I see I seen without room for the Holy Spirit and a helping verb left between them. 

And this isn’t the only thing I don’t say. 

I don’t tell them I can spot a reader from across a room, or worse, that I can spot a non-reader from across a parking lot. 

I try to keep quiet that, because I’ve read so much and so long, I can spot an accidentally italicized period after a book title in a works cited entry. They don’t need to know that my eyes have traced and memorized half the fonts in Word so that I can’t not see a header in Calibri 11 when it’s supposed to be Times New Roman 12. I don’t tell them I can spell words I can’t pronounce because I’ve seen more words in print than I’ve ever heard spoken. 

Instead, I tell them that to be better writers, they must be better readers. What I mean to say, though, is that they must have been better readers, and what I need to give I cannot: a time machine, a lap, a love, and a library card. 

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Bednight and My Goodnight Book

Ever since my twelve-year-old daughter Daina was little, she called our nighttime ritual “bednight.” Here are a few of the usual contexts: “I’m going bednight,” “I’m ready for bednight,” and “Do you want to go bednight?” Although she’s well past needing anyone to read her bednight stories or to even use the term bednight to make it sound less threatening (“Go to bed” sounds so lonely, and “Say goodnight” sounds so evilly permanent), we still use the term even with no children present. It just stuck, and I have a feeling it will stay around now that we have two more little ones to coax into unconsciousness. 

When my husband and I were children, our mothers read us Bible stories before putting us to bed. Because neither of our brothers have children, we’ve inherited what seems to be dozens of children’s Bible storybooks from both sides so that we could, if pressed, open a Revelation-less evangelical used bookstore. 

But another book stands out as a staple from my bedtime memories. It was called, ever so appropriately, My Goodnight Book. The book takes the reader through a “night in the life of” this Everyday Jane who is clearly tired (see toddler trademark eye rub below) and fully equipped, layered pajamas and apathetic bear in hand, to go to bed. The ritual is tracked through the pages of this board book, which I still have in my son Atticus’s stash of “try and tear this one–ha!” books.

I remember reading and reading and reading this book or, rather, having it read to me, as I likely procrastinated through the whole bednight process. And, looking back, it was such a very direct approach compared to the bednight books I see nowadays. It was none of that Goodnight Moon nonsense where the reader is encouraged to talk to inanimate objects. My mom knew what she wanted–my three-year-old self in bed now–and she just went for it: here’s a goodnight book, so goodnight. 

I’ve overcorrected, perhaps, with my own kiddos. We tackle gritty fare when the sun sets. With Daina, I must have read this book a thousand times: 

It is one of my favorite children’s board books, and it’s one that every parent should have. Another bednight book I love is How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? 



This was a Daina hand-me-down to Atticus, and he adores dinosaurs (hey, that rhymed!), so the book hits several right notes with him. 
There is something about books and bed that just feels right. Although the natural connection is the peace and solitude that happens in the evenings and how that makes it easier to read and just be with a book, I think this is only half of it. 

Perhaps the more important half is that we are willfully ushering ourselves into our dreams. We are calling together everything and everyone we want to take with us, and we pack them tight into our mind’s weathered case. The book is that “all aboard” call before the train sets out. 

We kiss a cheek and squeeze a hand. And then we go.  


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How to Make Windows and Doors



When we give our children books, we are handing them escape routes. One page is a crowbar; another a key. Some stories teach them how to jimmy locks, how to unlatch gates from the outside, how to get out from in and in from out. 


These books aren’t books. They are ladders and bridges. They are rescue ropes fit with carabiners. They are the jetpacks and the fuel.  

When we read to them, we are saying, “Look what’s here. You see this? This exists. And it will stay here. You will never open this book to this page and not not find it here. It will always be and be just as it is.”

This blog will be a collection of stories about my stories and stories about my children’s stories. I want them walking with eyes wide open and a pocketful of keys. I want them knowing how to make windows and doors in a world too full of walls.




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