Reading Recap 2019: A Bajillion Books

I thought I read a lot of books in 2018. But last year I blew that out of the water by somehow reading 146 books! Now, 35%, or 52, of those were audiobooks, so it’s not like I sat down and read all of them. Audiobooks mean multitasking, which is a huge bonus. I also never watch TV or movies, so all my story consumption comes from reading. About 63% of the books are nonfiction, but only 13% were not narrative driven (mostly spiritual formation with the occasional investing or time management book thrown in the mix).

IMG_8842I didn’t set a reading goal this year, since I wanted to see how many books I picked up without a numerical finish line in sight. It worked so well, I surprised myself! And of course I’m not setting a goal for 2020 after that stellar reading year. Can I make it to 150? Who knows! I’m not stressing about it.

But reading so much means I read a ton of amazing books. Choosing which books to feature in 2019’s reading recap was agony. If you want to jumpstart your own reading life with top notch books, or have a weird interest in survival stories like I do, boy have I got recommendations for you!

As a heads up, I read a huge variety of books with all kinds of content, and so this is a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention. Please ask if you have any questions about a specific book. (There’s a lot of gruesome death and cannibalism in those survival stories, yo.)

Okay, on to the books!

The Indifferent Stars AboveThe Saddest Book:

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

A party of settlers treks across America to California, but disaster strikes, turning their story into the most well-known tragedy of the westward expansion. Full of terrible decisions and devastating loss, the Donner party’s journey drives some people to madness and all to the most terrible decision any starving person makes. Brown tells their story by following one young woman and her family, leading the reader to know them as people, not just names attached to a famous tragedy, and his writing does not shy away from the horrors they experienced. I learned about the Donner party in school, of course, but this book covers the full scope of the tragedy and how a series of poor decisions eventually boxed the settlers into a barren valley in the Sierra Nevada during the middle of one of the worst winters on record. Beware, this book is not for the faint of heart, but I’m fascinated by the decisions people make during unimaginable suffering and how those decisions shape their ultimate fate.

Bonus: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

In 1879, one daring explorer and his crew attempt to reach the North Pole, but when their ship sinks, they must trek a thousand miles across the ice to Siberia, fighting to survive.

The Winternight Trilogy

The Best Trilogy:

The Winternight Trilogy: The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, & The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

A young Russian girl must defy her society and battle dark forces to keep the magical world of Russia – the house spirits, old gods, and mythical creatures – from being destroyed. This trilogy landed on my all-time favorites list before I even finished the first book, and the next two were more incredible than I had dared hope. It reminds me of one of my favorite books of all time, Daughter of the Forest, the highest compliment I can bestow. Vasya has to make hard choices, but she does not play to anyone’s expectations, including the reader’s. A stereotypical YA fantasy heroine she is not. She talks to horses, loves her family, and chooses her own path every time. How could I not love her? The tight prose weaves a fairytale with gorgeous descriptions, fully realized characters, and a heart-rending coming of age story. If you like your fantasy with a historical bent, full of fairytale magic and wonderful characters, this trilogy is for you.

Daring to DriveThe Best Memoir:

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal al-Sharif

A woman born and raised in Mecca tells her story of awakening from Islamic fundamentalism and finding herself at the center of the Saudi women’s campaign to drive their own cars. A deeply intimate look at a world Westerners literally can never enter, this memoir demonstrates the power of a single woman to make a difference. I was fascinated, disturbed, and awed by the Saudi Arabia Manal introduces me to: a country where women are nearly powerless, where families battle poverty in the geographic heart of Islam while the Saudi rulers hold enormous wealth, and where education truly changes lives. Manal bares raw and personal parts of her life, and inspires and challenges with her sheer courage to drive, against everything her entire culture holds sacred.

Grace for the Good GirlThe Best Spiritual Book:

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman

Living as a good girl is deeply exhausting and painful, but Jesus sets us free. Emily P. Freeman’s beautiful, gentle prose provides a path toward that freedom for every woman who doesn’t have a dramatic testimony, a clear before Jesus and after Jesus story. It’s no exaggeration to say this book changed my life; it lifted a weight from my shoulders I didn’t know how to set down by myself. Being a good girl means wearing a mask before other people and before God, but God wants more from us and for us. You won’t find any shame or burdensome lists of what we ought to be doing for God in this book, only the truth that God delights in exactly who we are now, this moment. If you have a young woman in your life who bears the good girl reputation and all that comes with that, Emily also has a book for her that presents the same truths: Graceful.

Bonus: Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Being in relationship with an invisible God is more difficult and incredible than anything else we do in this life and is a profound and painful mystery.

A Year of Living PrayerfullyThe Most Fun Book:

A Year of Living Prayerfully: How A Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock

Two millennials go on a year-long quest to reawaken their prayer lives and explore prayer practices of Christian denominations ranging from ancient Orthodox monasteries to modern name it and claim it preachers. The sheer breadth of the traditions and beliefs Jared Brock explores astonished me. He visits Jerusalem, Rome, and the largest church in the world, located in South Korea. Only in this book will you find bemused commentary on the author’s experience visiting a Hasidic Jewish community as well as acute observations on Catholic saints and their monasteries. I couldn’t put this book down and was captivated by how much I didn’t know about the history of Christian prayer traditions. He even visits Westboro Baptist and lurks outside Billy Graham’s compound trying to snag a visit. After all, he got to meet the pope using a similar strategy!

Bonus: The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy

A trucker tells stories about his decades as a mover, giving you the wry behind the scenes look at the moving industry you didn’t know you wanted.

Tattoos on the HeartThe Most Beautiful Book:

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Greg Boyle

How does love change a life? By showing a gang member he is worthy, loved, and known, then officiating his funeral days later. Father Greg Boyle has spent decades working with the deadliest gangs of Los Angeles through Homeboy Industries, providing jobs and second (and third, fourth, fifth) chances to the young men and women trapped in the cycle of poverty and gang violence. This book captures the beautiful and devastating stories of these men and women in thematic essays on love, redemption, grief, and hope. Sometimes it’s only when the trappings of life fall away that we truly understand what it means to love each other, and Boyle writes about human frailty and compassion with equal frankness. Not only is this book thematically gorgeous, it’s also beautiful, simple writing that goes straight to the bones of what matters.

The Marsh King's DaughterThe Best Thriller:

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Set in the Upper Peninsula, this dark suspense novel introduces Helena, the daughter of a kidnap victim and her kidnapper, just as her father escapes from prison. Raised in isolation, without running water or electricity, Helena has built a life for herself beyond her origin, but to protect her daughters and husband, she must face her origin and track down her father, the man who taught her to survive in the marsh. The flashback scenes are as riveting as the present scenes, the psychological intensity building in both past and present until Helena comes face to face with her father again. It’s not often I find books set in Michigan, but this one has a strong sense of place and Michiganders will delight in the author’s attention to detail, with references to the bridge, Marquette and Northern Michigan University, Tahquamenon Falls, Yoopers’ unique culture and challenges, and more. Most thrillers let me down at the end, but this one kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Somebody's DaughterThe Book I Learned the Most From:

Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher

Human trafficking in America isn’t limited to women and girls brought across the borders, and prostitution isn’t limited to adult women living in poverty. The problem of child prostitution is complex and far reaching; Julian Sher follows the stories of several girls as they drift in and out of prostitution and come into contact with different pimps, law enforcement, and social services. He explores the organizations, most founded by former prostitutes, who are fighting for these girls, and he digs into police departments and FBI units who battle the pimps, the attitudes of their colleagues and society, and the desperate circumstances of the girls themselves. His point is clear: child prostitutes are not prostitutes; they are victims of the men who prey on them. This book was hard to read, but it’s vitally important.

BonusMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

Dr. Paul Farmer is fighting to cure the world, one disease at a time, starting with AIDS in Haiti and tuberculosis in countries from Russia to Peru.

The TigerThe Best Nonfiction:

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

It’s 1997, and a man-eating tiger is terrorizing a village in Russia’s Far East. A perfect kaleidoscope of my favorite topics: Russia, tigers, and survival, this book was basically made for me, but it’s also brilliantly written. John Vaillant takes the reader on a journey through the effect of post-Soviet chaos on the Far East, the history of tigers in the region, the struggles the remote villages faced, and the battle Russian officials waged against poachers and their own government to protect the Amur tiger. He writes the stories of the tigers and the people with elegant detail, and the man-eating tiger’s menace leaps off the page as the hunters track it down. The sheer amount of research he did, including visiting the villages and talking to the people who lived through the terrifying episode, is remarkable. I listened to this book on audio, and immediately decided to buy my own copy, which almost never happens to me.

I could also tell you about the historical fiction set in the Arctic with a supernatural horror element that I read during the Polar Vortex, the enormous literary Western, and the historical non-fiction from freshman year in college that I loved enough to read again. But I’ll stop here.

Reading 146 books this year didn’t put much of a dent in my TBR, though. Trying to decide which books are worthy of my time helped me abandon more books half-finished than I’ve ever dropped before. Here’s to DNF’ing more books in the future!

If you want to see what I’m reading all year round, come find me on Goodreads! I love to make new Goodreads friends so I can stalk follow your reading life – discovering new books and quirky interests through other people is the best.

I already have my “excited to read next” list drawn up for 2020, which I realize might give you spontaneous folks hives, but makes me feel super pumped to get started. I’ll be trying my first Madeleine L’Engle book since A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, reading a whole bunch more fantasy books and survival stories, finally reading the big habit book of the past couple years, and maybe I’ll get around to the Shakespeare play I didn’t read last year.

Last January my library was closed for carpet replacement, so I stuck to my own books and my roommate’s books for the whole month. This January I have a (large) library fine (darn you, 900-page Peter the Great biography!), so I’m staying clear until my hold comes in, then I’ll pay off my debt. I’ll be reading books a friend lent me, rereading some of my own well-worn copies, and digging through my roommate’s shelves again. Basically, living the bookworm life.

Happy reading, everyone!

2018 Reading Recap: Reaching for the Goal

Creating 2017’s reading recap was so fun that I’ve done it again for 2018! Once more I put myself through the difficult process of choosing books to highlight from my reading life last year, which is also a highly enjoyable process. I met my goal of reading 80 books, although I’ll admit I had to knock out two shorter ones on December 31st, and so many of those books forced me stay up late for just one more chapter.


Three books in my current pile…

While my To Be Read list grows faster than I can finish books, I don’t want to forget the best ones I read in 2018, so I’m sharing them to convince other readers that these are books worth devoting time to.

Remember, I read a wide variety of genres with varying content, so I’m issuing a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention online. Use your own discretion for your comfort level, and feel free to ask me about the books I’ve read.

Do you want to read more but don’t know what books to pick up? You aren’t alone; lots of people struggle with that. There are tons of ways to find good books, but finding the right book for you can be a different story.

I recommend Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next, or you can ask the readers in your life if they have any recommendations for you. Don’t be afraid to put a book down unfinished if it’s not for you – there are too many good books in this world to waste precious reading time on a book that you don’t like. (I need to take my own advice!)

Let’s do this!

his majesty's dragonThe Book I Finally Read: 

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

In the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, a young naval officer accidentally bonds a dragon hatchling and his entire life changes. I love a good fantasy where the worldbuilding is so matter of fact that no one blinks at the wild and unusual places the author’s imagination goes, and this book has that in spades. Nineteenth century Europe with dragon, aerial corps fighting in some of the biggest battles between Napoleon and the rest of Europe, all narrated in Regency prose. This book has been on my TBR for ten years, ever since I saw a 4-H friend reading it before bed on a club trip to the Rolex Kentucky. My friend was killed in a car accident three years later, as a college sophomore, and I’m so glad I finally read the book, with her in mind.

what's so amazing about grace

The Best Spiritual Book: 

What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey

An exploration of grace at the levels of ordinary life and overarching church culture, this book is remarkably relevant for being twenty years old. I was challenged, inspired, and humbled by Yancey’s words. It’s filled with true stories and simple prose, and Yancey shares some of his own journey toward grace. Our world is full of anger, bitterness, and hatred, but this book challenges us to take a hard look at ourselves and ask if we are truly ambassadors of God’s grace to the world, or if we are doling it out only to the ones we think deserve it. I think it says a lot that we as a church are struggling to give grace to the same people we struggled with twenty years ago, and I think this book offers powerful thoughts to consider.

unbrokenThe Book I learned the Most From:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

An Olympic runner joins the Army Air Forces, is stranded at sea, becomes a Japanese POW, and somehow survives to tell the story. Not only is Louis Zamperini’s story an incredible tale of grit and bravery, with an amazing twist toward the end, but I learned so much about the Pacific front of the war that I was completely unaware of. From the thousands of POWs, the terrible accident rate of the planes and their crews, and the sheer enormity of the war, Hillenbrand provides mountains of detail without ever losing her narrative. If you never read another book about the Pacific front, read this one – she’s a powerful storyteller and you won’t be disappointed.

the secret horses of briar hillThe Most Fun Book: 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

A young girl, living in a hospital with other children in the English countryside, finds that one of the winged horses she sees in the mirrors every day has entered her world. An absolute delight, this book would have been one of my favorites if it had existed when I was a child (although it’s high on the list for me even now). Not only does the girl have a special bond with a winged horse, she has to protect the horse by collecting objects of specific hues of color while also living with the realities of life during WWII in an English hospital. Whimsical while dealing with serious themes, strongly influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend this book for younger readers.

nothing to envy

The Saddest Book:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

A journalist traces the stories of six North Koreans over fifteen years, through the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise of Kim Jong-il, and the devastating famine that killed millions of people. For me, North Korea has always been a vaguely menacing, partially absurd Communist dictatorship on the other side of the world that I knew little about. Now I know quite a bit, and it’s all heartbreaking. Demick vividly sketches the country’s slow grind toward industrial death, economic collapse, and starvation, and the wide gulf between south and north becomes ever more stark and terrible, depicted on a personal level by the six North Koreans and their stories. This book was written prior to Kim Jong-il’s death and his son assuming control of the country, and I would love to find an update detailing the changes – if any – that a new regime and the immense shaping of the world by the internet has brought to a country so isolated.

Bonus Book: Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison

A foster mom tells the stories of just a few of the dozens of children she has fostered, and I cried at several points (which I rarely do for books). Yet somehow, the book also fosters hope.

the glass castleThe Best Nonfiction Book: 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

A family’s story is never simple, particularly a story that begins with charismatic parents chasing wonder and nonconformity on a nomadic trip across the country, stops in a poor mining town where the children must employ all their grit to carve out a life from intense neglect, and reaches New York City, where the children build lives as empowered adults and their parents choose homelessness. The beautiful, clear prose is nothing compared to Walls’ ability to present her family’s story as she saw it unfolding with no hindsight, no bias, and no filters. Her childhood was both magical and terrible, sometimes simultaneously, and I recommend this book as an incredible memoir.

the golem and the jinni

The Most Evocative Fantasy: 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

A golem and a jinni find themselves in New York City at the turn of the century, meeting by chance, and their opposite natures bring them together yet push them apart as they seek to create lives for themselves in the shifting chaos of the city. With the magic of folktales and literature, Yiddish and Middle Eastern culture, history and fantasy all woven together in one story, this book is compulsively readable. It brought me back to my middle school days of devouring fairytales by the dozens (although this book is not intended for youngsters). The prose is clear and elegant, but the characters really shine. Chava and Ahmad come to life (literally, in Chava’s case) through their emotional journeys, and although the book doesn’t end quite where I wanted it to, I was delighted to discover that a sequel is in the works.

You may have noticed that I mostly chose books for the same categories as last year, but that I replaced the favorite category. This year I read a lot of books that I loved, so I couldn’t bring myself to pick just one favorite. Last year was an anomaly!

I could share dozens more fantastic books, such as the two Guy Gavriel Kay titles I loved, the multiple memoirs and nonfiction narratives that taught me so much about other peoples’ lives and worlds, or the quiet dystopian novel that surprised me with its power, but I won’t overwhelm your TBR list.

If you want to keep up with what I’m reading all year, I post on Goodreads regularly, so come friend me! I do confess that I want you to friend me so that I can stalk follow your reading life – my TBR list is always ready for more titles.

In 2018, I read Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter book, and a Shakespeare play (Titus Andronicus), just as I intended to, and in 2019, my priority list includes PersuasionThe Merchant of Venice, and The Martian.

This year, I’m not setting a goal for my reading life. I originally set goals to help kickstart my reading habit again after graduating from college, but now I want to see how many books I tear through without the numeric finish line taunting me. Also, I want to reread some old favorites, and I’m not inclined to do that with a goal, for whatever reason.

Right now I’m going to go finish a thriller with characters that are pretty boring (so maybe I should actually just put it down for good…). My library is closed for carpet replacement for most of January (so sad!), so I’m currently limited to books from my own shelves, with a few thrown in from my roommate’s collection. Time for those rereads!

Happy reading, everyone!

10 Years


It’s a rare moment when she looks straight at the camera with her ears forward.

Ten years ago, I was a fifteen-year-old girl who desperately wanted a horse. Any horse. I was tired of lesson horses and wanted to ride the same horse over and over, to form an unshakeable bond with one equine. I wanted the teenage horse lover’s equivalent of a romance novel, that brilliant and uncanny connection with a beautiful horse who could run like the wind and would do anything I asked.

I am thrilled to say that I’m now ten years into that unshakeable bond, and it’s simultaneously exactly and nothing at all like the horse novels told me. Vannie does anything I ask as long as she’s decided she wants to do it and I asked properly, which is only about 70% of the time. She runs like the wind mostly when I don’t want her to, often straight at any spectators. Communication problems happen in any relationship, not just between two humans, I’ve learned.

We have a bond of trust and friendship, demonstrated frequently by pinned ears and wild nips at my shirt or my arm. But those moments when we just stand together, our heads touching as we breath together, are the some of the most perfect moments of my life.

We’ve been through a whole lot of frustration, and some exhilarating moments where it felt like we could hear each other’s thoughts. Just this week I wanted to wail in aggravation because of a bad habit I can’t seem to break her of. On the same day, though, we hit a near perfect moment while cantering.

Spring is coming, and we’re so excited to get outside and ride in the fresh air. The indoor arena gets small and claustrophobic at the end of a long winter. She’s always glad to see me, but especially so when we can go hang out on the grass while she grazes and I watch her, or read.

So here’s to my Vannie, one of the biggest blessings of my life. Ten years together has brought me through a lot of life changes, and only God knows what the next ten years will bring. (Not so many changes for her. The life of this horse is pretty easy.) But I’m so glad Vannie is mine, so that no matter what else happens in my life, I can always go to the barn and find the best horse in the world waiting for me.

2017 Reading Recap: Books, Books, and More Books


Library books for the win! I still haven’t read The Golem and the Jinni

This year was a really good year for my reading life. Two days ago I finished reading my 75th book of the year and achieved my goal, which was especially exciting because the last 2 years I was too busy reading fanfiction to read enough books to meet my goal. Oops.

I read a lot of great books this year, and quite a few books that made me say, “Meh.” But because I want to share the book love, I’m going to share some of the most memorable books I read this year.

Two notes before I dig in:

First, if you like reading or want to get back into the habit, set a reading goal for yourself! Find books you think you’ll really love, not books you think you ought to read. Don’t compare your reading goal to anyone else’s, either. I read 75 books, and am aiming for more next year, but I am a literal speed reader. People who read at normal speed can’t keep up with me, and that’s okay. Don’t let comparison keep you from enjoying some fantastic books in 2018.

Second, I read books of many genres and varieties, so I’m issuing a blanket potential content warning for all the books I tell you about. Use your own judgment and feel free to ask me about any book I have read.

Here we go!

The Book I Finally ReadHarry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

A boy discovers he’s a wizard and gets to attend magic school while an evil wizard tries repeatedly to kill him. I missed out on the Harry Potter books as a kid, and in college thought I was too old for the series, but in January I decided this would be the year I finally read Harry Potter. And wow, was I missing out! These books are just so much fun, and there’s so much packed into the story that anyone can find something to love. I read books 1-6 this year, but didn’t quite make it to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you like fantasy, children’s literature and YA, or just want to finally be in the know, you should definitely give the first book a try.

The Best Spiritual BookGray Matter

Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer… One Patient at a Time by David I. Levy

A neurosurgeon begins asking patients if he can pray with them before surgery, and the results are incredible and fascinating. I read quite a few books this year about missionaries, incredible conversion stories, and persecution of Christians that were all moving and important, but this book stands alone for me. I often make prayer a complicated thing in my head, but this surgeon’s simple and quiet prayers with people facing intense medical situations strips away any eloquence or trappings, and I found myself convicted of the power of prayer, quite unrelated to the words I use or the length of the prayer I pray.

The Book I Learned the Most FromSlave My True Story

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer

A twelve-year-old Sudanese girl is kidnapped and sold into slavery to an Arab family in Khartoum, Sudan, before finally escaping seven years later, thousands of miles away from home in London, England. I still don’t know much about modern slavery or its victims, let alone the terrible conflicts raging through Sudan in the past several decades, but Mende’s story gave me a glimpse into a world far removed from anything I have ever experienced. Her courage despite her enslavement and abuse humbles me. Bonus book: Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir presents the story of a female Sudanese doctor who grew up and worked in the middle of the conflict, before fleeing to England for safety.

The Most Fun BookNo Biking

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Faye Green

An American family decides that four kids is not enough, and adopts five more from Bulgaria and Ethiopia, leading to the hilarious, poignant stories Melissa shares about the trials and joys of international adoption and her big, crazy family. With nine kids, including four teenage boys, nothing is ever quiet for long around this house. This book touches a lot of serious topics, but the humor and joy Melissa writes with make it a delight to read. I haven’t read many memoirs yet, but I think this one will stay at the top of my list for a long time to come.

The Saddest BookNight

Night by Elie Wiesel

The horrific autobiographical account of one teenager’s survival in a Nazi death camp, and how he lost everything. It’s a very difficult book to read because of the absolute horrors Elie Wiesel endured and witnessed. I was unaware this was a classic Holocaust account until I read it, but the author’s spare and haunting prose makes it unforgettable. How could humans do such monstrous things to each other? The death camps cannot be allowed to vanish into the murk of history.

The Best Nonfiction BookEvidence

Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose

The story of a young missionary’s survival and faith in the jungles of New Guinea and through four years in a Japanese prison camp. I was humbled by Darlene’s faith in the middle of terror, abuse, and isolation. She lost her husband and her health during those four years, but she never lost her trust in the Lord. She and the other Christians she was imprisoned with spread the gospel and served their fellow prisoners without ceasing. This book is an incredible testimony!


My Favorite BookGoblin


The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison


The half-goblin youngest son of the emperor is recalled from exile when his father and older brothers are killed, and is thrust into a court of danger, prejudice, and intrigue as the last surviving heir to a throne he has no idea what to do with. I read a lot of awesome fantasy books this year, but I adored this book above all others. Maia, the new emperor, is completely unprepared for the complexity and turmoil of his new court, and struggles to deal with the psychological damage of his father abandoning him to exile and his mother’s death while learning to be a ruler. Yet he is one of the kindest fantasy protagonist I have ever met, and ultimately it is that kindness which allows him to survive and thrive as emperor. The worldbuilding, lovely prose, and fascinating use of pronouns only add to the sheer delight I experienced while reading this book.


I could tell you about so many more books I read this year alone, including the 1200 page epic fantasy novel that was book 75, or the fascinating story of a nineteen-year-old Alaskan schoolteacher, but that would require writing a novel of a blog post.


So instead, check out my Goodreads account! You’ll find all the books I read in 2017 as well as previous years, and my enormous TBR list. I’m so excited for all the books I’ll read in 2018, and I’d love to hear what you’re going to read! My 2018 list includes Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter, more books by Guy Gavriel Kay, because he’s amazing, and a Shakespeare play that I have yet to choose. But first I have to finish the books due back at the library in just a few days…

Happy reading!

On Being an Introverted Christian

I’m an introvert.

I’m a fairly classic introvert, who is not outgoing or comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know, who requires lots of alone time to function, who could easily become a actual hermit if I lived alone and didn’t need to work for a living. Parties where I only know one person are very stressful. Fictional people are so much easier to deal with than real people.

Small talk is so hard. What do I say? What questions do I ask? Oh no, did I just come off as a crazy person?

Walking up and starting a conversation with someone I don’t know is enough to give me heart palpitations. I did that at church recently, with people I don’t know personally but who know who my family is, and my hands were shaking through the whole conversation, my heart was pounding, and I was praying I could get the words out without tripping over them and stuttering and saying strange things. Corners are the best place to be at events, because then people come to you if they want to talk to you.

If you see me at an event and I don’t talk to you, please know that I probably think you’re really cool but have no idea what to say to someone that awesome. If I speak to you I’ll end up saying strange things or just laughing a lot. It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously.

Phone calls are the bane of my existence. I’m extremely blessed to be in a job where I rarely have to talk on the phone. If I call you, I have probably given myself a script to start off the call, because there are only a few people on this earth I don’t get anxious about being on the phone with, and most of them live in the same house as me.

Making friends is like climbing a hill with no guarantee of ever reaching the top, complete with awkward conversations and heart palpitating moments along the way. This chart, found on tumblr, sums up most of my friendships:

Sometimes I feel like you have to be an extrovert to be a good Christian. (A horrifying notion.) Jesus loves people. He came to earth and spent so much time loving on people and meeting new people and being surrounded by crowds. He tells us to feed His sheep and go into the world and make disciples. So many people!

Being real here–people stress me out. A lot. 

So it seems like I’m not qualified for this being like Christ business. Especially when you need to show His love to people you don’t know. Believe me, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to do this and for someone who gets anxious about asking a worker at a store a question, it takes a lot of fear and trembling before God to do that.

Oh God, do I have to? Maybe someone else could do it? I’ll just show your love to the middle school girls I already know, and maybe another leader can talk to the new ones. I know, I know. I’ll go over and introduce myself in 3, 2, 1…

It has gotten easier, in some situations. Middle school kids don’t seem to care how awkward I feel when I talk to them. I actually hold short conversations with the moms who have babies in the church nursery where I volunteer.

But I am so much more comfortable in the background, with the people I already know. Church event coming up? Great! How can I help in the kitchen or with the kids? I’ll tell people what to do if there’s no one else to do it, but it makes me nervous. And please don’t make me a greeter…

So there are the two sides of the situation. On the one side, God made me who I am. I can’t force myself to be a people person, and I will never be someone who meets someone and bam! Instant friend. I have my strengths as an introvert–great with small groups, great listener, absolutely ready to pray or talk one-on-one, overwhelming love for my middle school girls–and I have learned (am learning) how to balance those with my weaknesses.

On the other side, God has called me to love people. Maybe not as a greeter at church events, or as the one who goes out into the lobby to find the moms new to the church and encourage them to bring their babies to the nursery. It’s so easy sometimes to avoid talking to people and tell myself it’s because I’m an introvert and it’s exhausting and anxiety inducing.

But when that middle school girl walks in to the student center and looks lost and uncertain, I can get over myself and my insecurities and go welcome her. When standing in a Jamaican nursing home with instructions to go into the residents’ rooms to pray with them, I can pray, Oh God, I don’t know how to do this and I’m really freaked out, and then do it anyway.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be people we are not. He does ask us to trust Him to change us and grow us into Christians–little Christs. And to do that, we need to lift our eyes off our own insecurities and fears, turn to God, and say, Ok, God. What do I do next?

I will always be an introvert, and Jesus will use me just as I am. I don’t have to worry about being different. All I have to do is turn to Jesus.

The Horse

Something incredible happened at the beginning of November.

See, I’ve had this dream since I was a little girl. A lot of little girls have this dream. Some grow out of it, some don’t. For some it comes true, for some it never does.

It came true for me.

If you ask any girl between the ages of five and twelve if they love horses, my guess is that at least half of them will say yes. Probably at least half of those that say yes have asked for a horse for Christmas or their birthday.

I was a fairly practical child, so I never asked for a horse. Oh, but I wanted one. Desperately.

Instead, my parents started me in riding lessons when I was eleven. I don’t know if they thought about how far this path would take me. Fifteen years old, and I screwed up my courage to ask my trainer if I could lease the horse I had been taking lessons on for the past month.

He talked to her owners and they said yes. I was thrilled.

Thus began many years with this horse. When I first started leasing her, she’d greet me with pinned ears and an angry stare as I tried to put her halter on. I didn’t like her that much, but hey, sometimes horse crazy girls can’t be picky. Then after a year or so of much frustration and lots of time spent together, we became friends.

Slowly, I learned how to ride her well. Slowly, she learned how to behave under saddle.

Of course, every time I took her to 4-H shows, she became a crazy horse again. It took four years for us to win first place at a show, but from where we started, there had been nowhere to go but up. (It happened to be the last show, because I was aging out of 4-H. Otherwise we’d have kept winning.)

Now I’m almost three years out of college. I never imagined that I would spend almost a decade leasing this horse, but I’m so glad I have.

But all things come to an end, even leases. I’d always worried about this. What if her owners sell her and I don’t have enough money to buy her? I’m not kidding, I’ve had a few nightmares about this possibility.

Now, though, the timing (and the finances) was right. My trainer came up to me one day while I was putting away some new barn supplies and said, “Can I talk to you?” As soon as he told me her owners were selling her, I said, “I’ll take her.”

So. Meet Vannie. You may have met her before, but everything is different now.


Now, she’s my horse. Not the horse I lease, not the horse I love but don’t own.

She’s my horse.

She’s nothing less and nothing more than a dream come true, because at heart, I’m still that horse crazy girl who had horse wallpaper on her bedroom walls for most of her teenage years.

I am so blessed to own a horse. I can’t thank God enough for this incredible gift.

The day I signed the bill of sale, I went into Vannie’s stall to bring her out to ride. She promptly pinned her ears and bit me. My mom said later, “Well, I guess she knows you can’t get rid of her now. You’re stuck with her.”

Never change, Vannie.


One Eyed Dog

Lots of people have dogs. Some people treat them like their children, some people use them as working animals, and some people treat them as pets.


Meet my dog.

I have a dog. My dog is one of my best friends.

As a kid, I wanted a dog desperately. My dad had a dog when I was very little, but she died when I was six, so I don’t remember much about her. Beside, she was my dad’s dog, not mine. I asked for a dog fairly often after that. But my mom is not a dog person; she prefers cats. She was far from enthusiastic about having another hairy, smelly dog in the house.

In December of 2003, I was at a family Christmas party. At eleven years old, I was too young to hang out with the adults, but I was starting to feel too grownup for the kids’ group. I saw my aunt pull my mom aside, a picture in hand, but I had no idea that picture would change my life.

After the Christmas party, my parents loaded my siblings and me back in the car, but I realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going home.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

Mom said, “Your aunt and uncle have puppies at home. We’re going to see them.”

Puppies! I hadn’t seen very many puppies, but that sounded great to me. I wondered wistfully how much the puppies cost, but I didn’t have high hopes. My aunt and uncle bred English Springer Spaniels, and the puppies probably cost a lot of money.

We pulled up the long drive to my aunt and uncle’s house in the country. It was late, so we were all pretty tired, but puppies were waiting. We tumbled out of the van, and as soon as we stepped in the house, we could hear puppy noises. Mama dog and her babies were closed off in the mud room with a gate, and we crowded around to see.

My aunt scooped up a puppy and dropped it in my arms.

First meeting.

First meeting.

“This one’s yours,” she said.

This one was mine to hold, cool.

“No, this one is yours,” she said.

I looked at my siblings. Then we all looked at our parents. They smiled and nodded.

I looked at the puppy. She was tiny, with silky dark brown fur and a white spot on her head. White paws, a white neck and chest, and she was ours. As it sank in, my siblings started clamoring to hold her.

As we passed her around, the first thing on our minds was her name. I don’t remember who suggested it, but it didn’t take us long to agree on Dusty. My mom later vetoed that name, saying she had spent years with a female dog named Tank and this female dog needed a name that sounded like a girl’s name. We eventually settled on Jessie.

My parents weren’t expecting to come home with a dog that night, so Jessie spent her first few months sleeping in a cat carrier. It was a scramble to put gates up that confined her to the kitchen, so that any accidents before she was potty trained happened on a tile floor.

Tiny puppy.

I don’t know how I slept that night. I went into the kitchen the next morning expecting it to have been a dream, but there she was. My aunt and uncle had sent some dog food and a couple toys home with us, so she had familiar scents with her in her new home.

My poor mom bore the burden of nightly puppy howls while Jessie was homesick and before she was potty trained. It didn’t take too long for her to settle in, though, and she learned to go outside quickly. We tried to get her to ring a bell when she wanted to go out, but she never caught on. To this day she still sits by the door waiting for someone to notice her, and if she thinks she’s been waiting to long, she barks.


First Christmas.

Within the first few months, though, my dad noticed that she didn’t have very good vision. I didn’t want to hear that my puppy was less than perfect, but I soon had to admit that he was right. She could see a little bit, but we were never sure how much, and before she was a year old, she was completely blind. We later found out that at least one other puppy from the litter also had vision problems.


Let’s play find the dog…

It didn’t matter to me or my siblings, though. We figured out ways to work around her blindness. Instead of just calling her when food falls on the floor, we tap the floor next to the food so she can find it. “Jessie, careful!” is used more often than “Sit”, because when she hears it, she knows there’s something in front of her or coming at her. Furniture rearrangements confuse her, and it takes time for her to relearn how to get around the house. When we moved, it took several months for her to learn the layout of our new house.

Enjoying the summer day.

Enjoying the summer day.

The first summer we had Jessie, she accidentally ran away several times. She just didn’t know where our yard ended and then didn’t know how to get back to it. Sometimes neighbors brought her back, sometimes we went running after her. If we were riding bikes or scooters up and down the sidewalk, she would get worried and chase us, not understanding that we were coming back.

We play fetch with her just like anyone else does with their dog. We throw the toy extra hard so that it makes an audible noise when it lands, and we say, “Jessie, go get it!” so she knows we’ve thrown it. She runs around searching for it, and there’s a certain noise we make when she’s right on top of the toy, so she knows she’s close.


Which direction is the shore?

Jessie doesn’t care about being blind. She’s always been that way, so she lives her life as fully as any other dog. Swimming is her favorite activity ever. She’s taken herself swimming without someone with her while we were camping, because she decided she had gone too long in between swims. My best friend loves to tell the story of Jessie taking herself swimming one time, and my friend found her running around on the beach, soaking wet, her fur filled with sand. She looks pretty skinny and ragged when she’s wet, and as my friend grabbed her collar to take her back to the campsite, a man passing by said, “Look at that gorgeous dog! She’s beautiful!” We still laugh about that.

But because Jessie is blind, she doesn’t like meeting new people. She’s comfortable with people she’s known all her life, but new people make her nervous. There are only a couple dogs she’s ever liked, and she is easily intimidated by new dogs. She’ll bark at them, but hide behind my legs as she does.


Must destroy bow.

She loves shredding wrapping paper, loves chasing and fetching rocks (sticks are okay too), and was patient with all the shenanigans a bunch of kids pulled while growing up with her. We’ve given her all kinds of crazy nicknames, like Snuffleufagus, Jayness, Munifel, Skunk, Lorrible, and Walrus Breath (that’s from my dad). Her registered name is Lady Jessica Brooke, but no one calls her that, although she does answer to Jessie Brooke.

Jessie likes to dig, but usually when she thinks she’s chasing something. She can get pretty crazy when she’s playing hard. Although she’s not a biter now, when she was young, she bit us almost as much as she bit the toys sometimes. I’ve never been sure if she just got caught up in the game or since she couldn’t see the toy, just started biting anything in reach. Always in play, never in aggression, though.

Don't I look nice all dressed up?

Don’t I look nice all dressed up?

So many shenanigans...

So many shenanigans…

The only time she ever seriously bit someone and drew blood was when she was about three years old. For a while, Jessie hadn’t been herself. She lay around a lot more, didn’t play much, seemed less cheerful. Her right eye seemed bigger, weirdly colored. She’s always had cloudy eyes, but this one was getting worse. My little sister, born after we got Jessie, was about a year old.

Yes, Jessie is in the baby's seat.

Yes, Jessie is in the baby’s seat.

She was petting Jessie and accidentally jabbed her right eye. Jessie yelped and snapped at her. After my poor sister was bandaged up (don’t worry, it wasn’t a serious bite!), we knew Jessie needed to see the vet.

The vet tested the pressure in her eye, studied it carefully, and announced that she had a tumor in her eye, and it was growing. She was in a lot of pain, and her eye needed to be removed.

This was horrifying news to me and my siblings, but since she didn’t see out of the eye anyway, my parents decided to go ahead with the surgery. I was on a canoe trip the weekend she was at the vet clinic, and I came home to find her eye socket stitched closed, a drainage tube sticking out of it, and a milk jug on her head. Instead of a fancy E-collar, my dad cut out

Poor Jessie.

Poor Jessie.

the top and bottom of a milk jug and slid in over her head, so that she couldn’t rub her incision. It took about a month and lots of antibiotics and pain medication, but Jessie was soon back to her normal self.Because her downhill slide with her bad eye had been so gradual, we hadn’t realized just how abnormal she had been acting. It was a relief to get our happy, crazy dog back. She wore the milk jug until the incision was completely healed, but happily chased rocks and toys and basketballs around the yard without a care.

When my sister got a rabbit, Jessie obsessed over smelling and licking the bunny, who was more annoyed by the attention than afraid. Jessie got along very well with my brother’s parakeet, though. Jessie would lay on the floor and Kirby the parakeet would stand by her head and whistle and chirp at her. She never tried to eat or chase him.

Jessie and Kirby.

Jessie and Kirby.

Jessie loves being around her family, whether playing or just snoozing in the same room. She hangs out under the table while we eat dinner, and it’s not uncommon for four or five different pairs of feet to be resting on or next to her. She will gladly snuggle in bed with us, but only on her schedule. When she’s ready to leave, you can’t stop her. Bare legs are just asking to be licked, and she’ll scrub you clean if you don’t stop her. If legs aren’t available, she licks her own paws obsessively.

Am I allowed on this bed?

Am I allowed on this bed?

When Jessie outgrew the cat carrier, a new kennel was a necessary purchase. We tried to leave her uncaged while no one was at home, or during the night, but she’s too sneaky. She’s emptied trashcans, devoured Christmas cookies and Hershey kisses, licked the butter, and has a history of snatching food off unattended plates on the table. When she was a puppy, she destroyed more than one of my dad’s shoes and ate my sister’s orthodontic retainers on several occasions.

With candles, of course.

With candles, of course.

She’s a healthy dog, and we are convinced it’s partly because of all the fruits and vegetables she’s eaten over the years. If anyone is eating a banana, orange, or baby carrot, she will come from anywhere in the house to sit at their feet and beg, nose pointing straight up, a whine in her throat. Jessie hates celery and lettuce leaves but loves lettuce stalks. We’ve celebrated her birthday more than once with a “cake” made out of peanut butter, dog food, carrots, and apples, which she inhales.

Jessie was seven when my mom’s wish came true and we got a cat. She was almost as thrilled about the cat as she had been about the rabbit, but the cat was more willing to snuggle with her. That didn’t last long as the cat grew up, but they have a congenial relationship now, broken by the occasional scuffle and chase. More than once, the cat has sat on the back of a recliner, looking down on Jessie as she searches frantically for the vanished feline.

Snuggle time!

Snuggle time!

Although Jessie loves to swim, she thinks baths are terrible, terrible things. If we try to brush her teeth, she growls and chews on the toothbrush, so we gave up on that years ago. She will come to my room and scratch politely at the door when she wants something, but if I ignore her, the scratching becomes more impatient. We take her on almost all our vacations, and she is so excited when she realizes we’re packing. She’ll hang out in the van until it is time to leave, and then she sprawls out on the seats with us. Going to the vet makes her very nervous, and although she normally loves car rides, she knows something is up when she gets in the car to go to the vet. She hates going to the groomer to get shaved just as much, but when she comes home, she’s ecstatic that all her fur is gone and rolls in the grass for minutes on end.



Height of fashion.

Height of fashion.

If she’s laying down and you pet her, she instantly rolls over for belly rubs. We only allow her on one couch, but that is her couch. It’s next to the window, where the sun streams in, so she’ll sleep the day away basking in the sunshine.

Belly rubs, please.

Belly rubs, please.

Two summers ago, she ate rat poison, and my mom happened to find her right afterward. I had just gotten home from work, and my sister came running to tell me.

I worked at a vet office then, so I knew what to do. Hydrogen peroxide, to make her vomit. I sat in the grass with her for at least an hour, putting peroxide down her throat with a syringe, and after she vomited three or four times, finally let her go sleep in her kennel. That was a very scary night.

But she made it through and continues to steal cookies and eat cakes put in the garage to cool. More than one birthday has had half a cake because the dog ate the other half. I know dogs are allergic to chocolate, but this one seems to be immune. She’s eaten a dozen Hershey kisses and we didn’t even know until we found the wrappers under a bed days later.



Jessie is eleven now, white hairs decorating her muzzle where there were none before. Her hearing is going, her sense of direction almost vanished, and she sleeps more than ever before. But come summer, she’ll be in the middle of things, barking at rocks and playing in the hose.

She still tries to convince us she hasn’t been fed breakfast or dinner that day, and we still fall for it, later discovering that she’s had at least two dinners and maybe three. Although an elderly dog, she still has lots of energy and love left to share.

Jessie has been around for half my life, and I can’t imagine life without her. I wanted a dog so badly, but I didn’t know how much I would love Jessie. People find it fascinating or creepy that she only has one eye and isIMG_0248 blind, but to me she’s perfect just the way she is. Those moments when we’re sprawled together on the floor or playing tug of war with a toy are some of the best moments in my life.

Lots of people have dogs. I have a dog.

But my dog also has me.


winterweather1Soft flakes fall from the sky, blanketing the sleeping earth in white. Icicles stand in jagged relief against the sides of houses, and the world is quiet. Waiting for spring to come again, resting after the mad dash of the holiday season, giving nature a chance to rejuvenate.

It’s the time of year for hot cocoa, for snowball fights and sledding, for snow forts and cheeks bright red with the cold. Now is when we pause and hibernate, watching the snow falling outside the window while a fire crackles in the fireplace. Sipping hot tea, a rabbit bounding across the fresh white expanse leaving clear tracks to mark its passing.

Dark nights meant for contemplation, long walks in the crisp air, looking up at the stars. Night comes early in the winter. Everything slows down and becomes still and quiet.

I wish.

Winter is my least favorite season. Maybe it’s partly because I live in the city, but winter for me means gray slush everywhere, drivers clogging the roads when so much as a single flake falls from the sky, and sliding around turns in my neighborhood, hoping the slide stops before the neighbor’s car stops it for me.

People don’t slow down; winter is when school and loads of other activities occur. Sitting beside a quiet fire watching the snow fall is all well and good, but when there’s homework to be done or an activity to rush to, quiet moments are shoved aside in the mad dash to accomplish.

Most of the icicles I see live on the bottom of my car, and they definitely are not crystal clear – more of a muddy color. After a few temperature swings, the snow blanketing the ground looks quite soggy, patches of brown earth peeking through. Salt makes its insidious creep into the fibers of my car, laying the groundwork for dark rust spots.

The sun goes away so much earlier in the winter, and it’s so easy to feel down in the dumps with no sun. During the day, the sun often hides behind a gray sky, shading the world in gray. Far from a pristine white blanket, the backyard is covered in uneven lumps of show, sprinkled with other gifts, courtesy of the dog.

I find myself grumbling about winter almost daily. I will never understand why some people proclaim it their favorite season.

But this winter, I am choosing to make it a season of reflection, planning, and dreaming.

Rather than sulking in my bedroom every night after work because the sun has already gone down, I am choosing to take the dog for walks in the cold darkness or make goals complete with action plans for 2015. (Okay, I do still sulk in my bedroom some nights. I can only handle so much cold and darkness at once.)

Rather than allowing myself to be caught up in hustle and bustle, my calendar full of activities, I am choosing to be quiet and still in the events and with the people I value most.

Rather than complaining endlessly while with my horse in the unheated barn that my toes are numb and my nose is dripping, I am choosing to be thankful for the indoor arena and riding my horse bareback (she’s like my own personal heater).

Rather than lamenting that I have no idea what I am doing with my life and feel directionless, I am choosing to remember that right now, it is winter. After four crazy years in college, I am in a season of reflection and reassessment. Maybe big things aren’t happening in my life right now, but that’s okay.

Spring will come.

(Fellow recent graduates, I hold scheduled lamentation sessions every Friday from 6 to 8 pm. Please bring tissues to share. Lamentation may occur only within scheduled hours.)

I See My World In Books’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I’ve read more books than I can count, but some stand out because I love them so much.

When I finally got my own library card, my parents gave me a big rolling backpack for Christmas, so that I could fit all my library books in one bag. The librarians smiled when they saw me coming with my 30+ books to check out. I’m a very fast reader, so I always had to check out lots of books to survive from one library trip to another. In the summer reading programs the library put on, I challenged myself to read a hundred books one year, one hundred twenty-five the next. Of course, this was before I had a job, so I had lots of time for reading.

When I was little, my mom read me the entire Little House on the Prairie series, as well as a series of missionary books. I still remember reading ahead in one of the missionary books and then feeling guilty when my mom realized what I’d done. She wasn’t disappointed that I’d disobeyed or lied to her; she was disappointed that I had read ahead without her, that I had created a dissonance in our reading time together.

My memories of books are often tied to what I was eating, or doing, or feeling when I read them for the first time. I remember reading the entire Jedi Apprentice series, consisting of about twenty 100-page books, on one long car ride down to Tennessee. I read a huge amount of Lurlene McDaniel books on Tennessee car rides, and later, dozens of Star Trek books on other Tennessee journeys.

The first time I read Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, I was sitting in my car on my lunch break at work, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I later read the rest of the series in my dorm room at school that fall, except for book four, which I read mostly during several days of a camping trip that August, and finished it at breakfast one day.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was on my list of classics to read, and I started it at a horse show one summer, but I was so tired that the words were swimming on the page in front of me, so I finished it in my car during a lunch break, over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches once again. I read a lot of books during lunch breaks. One book I did read at a horse show and stayed wide awake for was Matthew Stover’s novelization of The Revenge of the Sith, the third Star Wars movie.

I read Ender’s Game one summer day over lunch, and I meant to put it down and save the rest for that evening, as I was planning to go to the barn, but I could not stop until I had finished it. It was that intense. I remember reading Inheritance in bed one Saturday. I’d been waiting several years for that book, as it was the last in a series. I did not put it down until I had finished it, and that book is at least 700 pages long. (And utterly underwhelming.)

I love the books by Jim Kjelgaard: old style tales of dogs and men and other animals in the wild, fighting for their lives and relationships with each other. Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang were also staples of my childhood, which I still adore. The book by Joanna Campbell, Battlecry Forever, still makes me cry at the end. To this day, The Black Stallion is one of my favorite books of all time, and I credit that book with fueling my childhood desire for a black stallion of my own.

National VelvetBlack Beauty, and the Phantom Stallion series fed my horse obsession. The Han Solo Trilogy fed my Star Wars obsession. The Warriors and Redwall series convinced me that animals are just like people, only with a different perspective. Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain made me fall in love with wolves and falcons, and now I have the (probably unhealthy) desire to be lost in the wilderness for a few months. Nancy Drew, however, did not interest me in being a detective.

My speed-reading abilities enable me to avoid putting a book down until I have finished it. I will confess that I have very carefully read books in the shower when I was so enamored that I could not bear to part from them for even a few minutes. So many of my nights have lasted far beyond my bedtime, and I’ve perfected the art of tucking a flashlight between my neck and the pillow as I stay awake for just one more chapter, only to discover that the book is finished and it’s three in the morning. I have avoided countless assignments by reading. When I was little, my mom had to search the bathroom every night to find the books I thought I had hidden, in order to prevent me from disappearing into the bathroom for hours on end.

My bookshelves are crammed, and I have become very creative in shelving them. If you stack the smaller ones this way and adjust this shelf to this height, you can fit three more in this space! It’s not easy to pull books off the shelves because they are jammed so tightly. I can never have too many books.

I have lived dozens of lives through books, explored this world and many others, and had my heart ripped out by fictional characters both animal and human.

I am a bibliophile and book addict. I’d never want to be anything else.

A Love Letter


Today isn’t Valentine’s Day, but you don’t know the date anyway, so I’m writing you a love letter today.


I have a confession: When I first asked if you were available to lease, I didn’t care about you. You were a horse, and that was good enough for me. I didn’t know your quirks or preferences and I definitely didn’t know the journey we’d take together. Mr. Ed’s barn is great, we both know that, but there is a definite shortage of horses for young 4-H riders to show. So when you showed up and I rode you a few times, I thought, Hey, here’s a horse. I wonder if I could lease her and show her at the 4-H shows?

Lo and behold, your owners said yes, and in February, 2008, my mom and I signed the paperwork.

It’s been six years this month, and these have been the best six years of my life because you were there. Can you believe it’s been that long?

Back in the days of long ago...

Back in the days of long ago…

We weren’t friends at the beginning. Mr. Ed warned me, but I didn’t realize how much time and effort and frustration would go into your training. I don’t think he realized how much of a challenge you would be, either.

That first year, I’d get to the barn, go into your stall, and you would turn your back and pin your ears. You didn’t want to come out and work, and you didn’t like me because I made you do hard things and wouldn’t let you get away with bad behavior.  You were not happy that I was now riding you two to three times a week, and you let me know. I had never seen such a bad mannered horse, but I was not going to let you drive me away. I wanted a horse, and you were going to have to deal with it.

IMG_1158You’ve scared off a lot of people with your antics. You threaten to bite and kick and you glare at anyone who walks by (including me). But you don’t scare me. You never really have.

That first year, we showed walk-trot at the 4-H shows, and we won some second and third place ribbons. That sounds impressive until I mention that there were 100_0104only two or three riders in each class including us.

I remember the last show that year, after it had rained all morning. There were only two of us in the class, and you hate mud and puddles, so you were trying to jump over most of the arena. I didn’t know how to put my hair into a horse show bun, so all the bobby pins fell out and my ponytail trailed down my back. The other rider’s horse didn’t like the mud either, so we just looked at each other and laughed. What else could we do? We got second place in that class.

100_0108That first year was a rough year, in both shows and barn time. Believe me, there were great moments, but overall, it was an uphill battle.

Then another horse came up for lease, and I had the chance to break my lease on you and ride him instead. I chose you. Granted, I still didn’t know how long the journey would be, but I had an idea of how difficult you are, and I still chose you.

In the spring, one year into the journey, Mr. Ed and I started teaching you how to canter under saddle. That was an experience I will never forget. Going around on that lead line until I was dizzy, you and I both learning the cues and the feeling of the gait done right–you liked moving fast, but you didn’t like being controlled while going fast.

Classic Vannie. "But I don't want to!"

Classic Vannie. “But I don’t want to!”

That second year of shows was a bad one. You’d only been cantering for four months or so, and with your abysmal learning speed, it might as well have been two weeks. We almost ran over the judge, nearly crashed into other horses more than once, and got excused from at least one class. Other riders looked at us from their elegant, ribbon winning, push button horses and shook their heads. I cried more than once that year. Back to the barn we went, for more training.


That very first spring.

But we were friends now, and that made all the difference. Otherwise I might have given up on you.

After another year of hard work, the shows came around again. I had just graduated from high school and was on top of the world. We didn’t win any ribbons for the first shows, but for the last show, everything changed. Mr. Ed couldn’t go to that show, so Dad and I packed everything up, loaded you ourselves, and managed to get through the show without any huge problems. anna pics 268

We won sixth place in huntseat equitation.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life until then, equal to receiving my diploma. Okay, so equitation is judged mostly on the rider’s ability, not the horse’s performance, but they won’t look at the rider if the horse is acting up, so that was awesome. Then we spent forty minutes trying to get you in the trailer to go home, because you had to make something difficult.

He's the greatest horse show dad.

He’s such a great horse show dad.

But my last year in 4-H, the summer after my sophomore year of college, something great happened.

We didn’t win any ribbons until the last show, but that last show is one of the best days of my life. It was a double judged show, with two judges for each class so that riders can get enough points to go to the 4-H state show. For riders like me, that just means more chances to win those elusive ribbons.

We won fourth and fifth in saddleseat equitation. Saddleseat is not our better

She knows she did well. :)

She knows she did well. :)

discipline, so that was a big surprise.

Then we won fourth and first in huntseat equitation. And sixth in huntseat pleasure.

It was indescribable. You’d been causing problems going into the arena, and as always, you thought we were racing the other horses when the announcer asked for a canter. But that day, one of the judges liked fast horses, and we won. Just placing in pleasure is a miracle, because that class primarily judges the horse, not the rider.

So fast.

So fast.

It took a long time to earn that blue ribbon. By that point, it was a fabulous

Mr. Ed trained us well.

Mr. Ed trained us well.

bonus, but the real joy that day was proving to myself and everyone else that you could do it. I already knew you were worth the effort, but now everyone else knew, too.

Of course, even if you hadn’t cooperated to win ribbons I’d still love you. Besides, who else would put up with you?


You PMS worse than most women I know. You kicked me on my sixteenth birthday and again the day before that ultimate show. You glare and threaten to bite me all the time, especially when I’m tightening the girth. You had a rearing problem for two years. You hate puddles and baths and fly spray and are so strong willed, sometimes it’s a battle just to get you to do what you know, let alone something new.

You get annoyed when I brush out your mane and tail, and you despise hoof black.  Your bad attitude has mostly diminished into endless amounts of sass,

So much personality.

So much personality.

but sometimes I just want you to be good and you refuse. You’ve embarrassed me in front of so many people, and you’ve almost run over nearly as many. Your mood swings rival those of a teenager, even though you are almost twelve, a mature age for a horse.

You can’t stand still in the crossties before I ride you, you can’t stand still when I mount, and you hate it when I brush the right side of your belly. Speed is king with you, and you despise being behind anyone on trail rides. You’re a bully–you beat up the other horses in your paddock. You’re too curious for your own good. Curiosity killed the cat, Vannie.


You love me. And I love you.

100_0550I know you love me because you breathe into my face and I feel peace wash over me. I breathe back and you stay still, listening. I’m the only one you trust enough to rest your head atop mine for minutes on end. I can rest my forehead against yours when no one else is around and we stay that way in an endless moment, relaxing in each other’s company.

You let me wrap my arms around you and you blow green slobber down my back. You lick my hands (I know you’re after the salt) and you stick your velvet muzzle in my face, investigating with your soft lips to make sure that I’m your human. You lip at my hair, and you nibble on my sweatshirt when I bend over to pick your hooves.

You’re the reason I’ve made it through college without losing my sanity. You

Pictures are hard without someone else to hold the camera.

Pictures are hard without someone else to hold the camera.

push all my buttons and you love me unconditionally. You keep me balanced in life and you bring me peace. I go to the barn after a bad day and you make it a thousand times better. Even if we have a bad ride, I don’t leave the barn upset. I spent time with you, and that’s what matters.

You’ve taught me more than I ever dreamed possible. You’re the reason I’m the rider I am today. Because of you, I’ve learned how to train cantankerous horses and ride through antics I never expected. Because of you, I learned persistance and how to never give up.

I know you inside and out, Vannie. I know all of your moods, your body language, your attitude shifts. I know when you are about to snap at someone and when you want to snuggle with me. I’ve memorized the way you feel as I ride, what every muscle movement means and every ear twitch indicates. I know that you’re way too smart for your own good, but that intelligence is what makes you so quirky and interesting.


She wants to be a rider, too.

You like my dad and you let Emma ride you. You tend to dislike my friends on first meeting, but you like them well enough later. Although Elizabeth is going to have to come hang out without helping me give you a bath, because otherwise you’ll never forgive her.

My dad, the groom.

My dad, the groom.

You had an injury this summer, some weird skin infection that made your leg swell. I couldn’t ride for about a month and a half. But I still came to see you, because we need each other and I love you too much to leave you alone while you healed.

Your registered name is Atta Lane Pavanna (I know, I don’t know where that came from either), but Vannie suits you far better, because it’s just the right combination of quirkiness and mystery. You also think you’re funny, so there’s that.

My family cheers me on.

My family cheers us on.

God created me with a equine-shaped hole in my heart, and at the right moment, He brought us together. I still don’t own you. I only lease you. But I know that He will give us as many years together as is right for us. Six have flown by. Here’s to many, many more, baby girl.

Love, Sarah

IMG_3508Best friends.

Best friends.