As a toddler, Gail Caldwell was among the last wave of polio victims in America. Although her right leg was affected, she never let the disability hold her back. When her leg became increasingly useless and painful in midlife, she chalked it up to polio – and so did many doctors she saw over the course of years. Finally, one doctor took the time to discover that Caldwell’s hip was almost completely worn down and could be fixed with a simple hip replacement. Thus, she embarked on an unexpected new adventure of mobility at the age of sixty-one.

New Life, No Instructions weaves important events from Caldwell’s life together with the near-present story of her hip replacement. That doesn’t sound very interesting on the surface, but she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner for a reason. This book plumbs the depths of hope, love, loss, and regret. Caldwell lost both parents, her best friend, and her dog within just a few years, and she pays tribute to them while also acknowledging the difficulty (and sometimes futile feelings) of carrying on without them. Her words deeply resonated with and touched me. Ultimately, this memoir is not a downer, but a beautiful picture of the full range of life, a great read for me in my Year of Alive. When I’m in my sixties, I hope to be half as cool and wise.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Add a Comment + Posted in: book reviews

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I hope everyone had a happy Easter weekend! Mine was full of beautiful spring weather, delicious food, and good times. I was even visited by my own personal Easter bunny, who appears to be living under my shed (though I haven’t seen him since I mowed the lawn on Saturday).

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My brother came from Indiana for the weekend! He and my parents went with me to my church’s annual Easter Eve concert and picnic at the Levitt Shell. The Shell is a big deal in Memphis – Elvis performed the first rock and roll show there. This year’s Easter Eve featured artist was my friend Myla Smith! She and her band totally rocked our faces off, and I was so happy to be present for this milestone in her career. (The live album will be available soon!)

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On Easter morning, I went to my parents’ church so we could all be together. My mom and I didn’t match intentionally! (My dress was a lucky Old Navy clearance find – you may see a lot of it in the coming weeks.)

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Instead of getting a traditional ham, my family let me plan and cook the Easter meal for the four of us! I made a mustard-crusted pork roast in a shallot gravy (one of my favorite special-occasion dishes), with a side of sweet potatoes and carrots in a balsamic pineapple glaze. My dad added green beans, and we also had a spinach dip platter that I’d made for the Shell the day before and then brilliantly left in the refrigerator at my parents’. I was really pleased by how everything turned out!

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Dessert was lemon icebox angel food cake. It was really refreshing and easy to make. Most of us had two slices.

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Among the things my family does for fun: shoot bows. My mom just got her own ladies’ bow, and I wanted to see if it would work for me. My past attempts at using men’s bows haven’t gone well, but I took to this one right away and got good shots on my first try! I was excited. I’m not interested in killing any animals, but archery is a good skill that I’d like to practice more. You never know when you might be forced into battle in a treacherous arena, or whatever.

Anyway, I know it’s cliche, but Easter time really refreshes me spiritually. I feel close to Jesus and so thankful that He is who He is, and that He conquered death so spring could arrive for all of us, and someday winter will never come again. He is risen!

2 Comments + Posted in: celebrate, family, memphis, spring


I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.

- John Stott, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

Calvary is judo. The enemy’s own power is used to defeat him… It is, of course, the most familiar, the most often-told story in the world. Yet it is also the strangest, and it has never lost its strangeness, its awe, and will not even in eternity, where angels tremble to gaze at things we yawn at. And however strange, it is the only key that fits the lock of our tortured lives and needs. We needed a surgeon, he came and reached into our wounds with bloody hands. He didn’t give us a placebo or a pill or good advice. He gave us himself.

- Peter Kreeft, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

1 Comment + Posted in: faith, quotes


I’ve always loved stories about guy and girl best friends and whether or not they’ll become more, so I scooped up Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg. (This was my first Eulberg book, but her other titles are intriguing!) When Levi moves from California to Wisconsin in the middle of seventh grade, his classmate Macallan is the first person he meets. Macallan is still recovering from the loss of her mom in a car accident, and, though pretty and well-liked, is a little bit of an outsider. Levi’s surfer cool sticks out like a sore thumb in a sea of Midwestern jocks, so Macallan takes him under her wing. Before long, they’re inseparable – almost like family. Better Off Friends follows their friendship through the ups and downs of middle school and high school, as they repeatedly wonder whether they should take their bond to the next level or they’re better off… you know.

I didn’t expect this book to skew so young (how about reading the summary more carefully, Brenda?). But Macallan and Levi are pretty mature for their ages and have some mature problems too. This is a believable story with well-rounded, likable characters, true-life issues, and lots of witty banter (I laughed out loud at some of it). If I’d read Better Off Friends in middle or high school, I would have absolutely loved it. But I think it’s still enjoyable at any age.

Recommended for: teen readers; fans of friendship-based love stories

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

2 Comments + Posted in: book reviews


This month’s One Word linkup is a three-month(ish) check-in. Well, Alive is still inspiring me and remains very applicable!

When I chose Alive, I knew it would mean dealing with negative emotions I’ve tried to sweep under the rug. Even after working on it for many years, I still feel guilty about feeling angry or discouraged. Especially since most of my anger and discouragement falls into one of two categories: things I can’t do much about, or things prompting me toward actions with problematic outcomes. Like many other Christians who bought the self-denial package early on, I tend to dismiss these feelings while reproaching myself to have a better attitude. Last year I realized that in the process of shutting myself off from negative emotions, I was also hardening my heart. My emotional range was narrowing quickly. It scared me, because God made me sensitive for a reason, as a gift, not to torment me. I’m convinced that to fulfill my purpose on this earth (whatever it is) and find happiness, I need to be fully myself and fully open to God and life. Opening the door to all that, accepting the messiness of it, was my main motivation for making Alive my word. Well, let’s just say it’s working. It’s not fun, but I keep reminding myself that it’s far preferable to being a well-behaved robot.

I think about my word almost every day. It’s especially easy lately, with the black-and-white starkness of winter giving way to a Technicolor nature cartoon. Alive is all around me. Even the knowledge that I’ll have to start mowing soon doesn’t dampen my excitement about the grass greening up. After this Longest Winter Ever, when I notice a new flower or tree in leaf, something in me relaxes. I feel more alive just because the world is too. I also remember my word whenever I wear my chai necklace.

Overall, I know Alive is the right word for me. I don’t feel that it’s disappointed me, so far, but sometimes I feel like I’m disappointing it. There’s so much to learn. I need to keep working on my openness to messiness, but I also want to become more and more attuned to beauty, joy, and God’s presence in the everyday. We still have over eight more months, but seriously, I don’t think this effort is going to end with 2014.

This post is part of a monthly One Word 365 linkup at The Messy Middle.

7 Comments + Posted in: one word: alive, spring


I’ve been looking for a new spring and summer purse. Although most of the bags I own are well worn, they’re still functional, so I haven’t wanted to spend a lot. Yesterday evening I stopped by TJ Maxx and browsed through the purse section. Finding nothing good under triple digits (!), I was on my way out when I spotted a pretty coral bag of just the right size and structure. The tag said $16.99! Done. Just to cover all my bases, I quickly looked through the rest of the rack. Another purse that caught my eye turned out to be a duplicate of the one I was holding. That’s it, I thought, I need to buy this purse.

But something made me pause. I examined the bag a little more closely and noticed how flimsy it was. The material was very lightweight, some threads were poking out, and I could tell the lining would rip at its first contact with a key. The bag would fall apart in no time, and then I’d be back here, on another search for a replacement for something I liked that hadn’t lasted. Suddenly I felt tired. I’m always compromising in the name of sensibility and a good bargain, but in the long run, it usually means more work and trouble. Sure, I could buy this purse and have a bright new accessory for Easter. I could be satisfied right now. But I knew it would be a temporary satisfaction. I put the purse back on its hook, and left.

I didn’t realize until that moment how weary I am of disposable things. I’d rather not invest myself in them anymore, even if they truly make me happy in the short term. I’d rather hold out for what lasts, even if it requires more of me and the wait is long. I’m tired of disposable clothing, disposable conversations, disposable relationships. It’s time to make peace with preferring quality in a quantity world. There’s a place for fun and frivolity, but I don’t want to make my home there. I want to be able to rely on things that are enduring and real.

6 Comments + Posted in: reflections, Uncategorized

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The small park near my house is a consistent joy in my life. It’s where I jog and people-watch. Sometimes I drive over with a picnic blanket and read next to the fountain with the ducks. There’s a thicket of trees in the back corner that has always been sort of magical to me – one year I took pictures of them at the peak of all four seasons. (Note to self: do something with those pictures.)

For about a week in spring, all the cherry trees in the park bloom at once. It’s an incredible sight. On my way to a party on Saturday, I stopped to take some photos!

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I love the carpet of fallen petals almost as much as the blossoms on the trees!

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Other signs of spring:

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When I opened the blinds Monday morning, this little cottontail rabbit was eating fallen seed from my bird feeder! I had a wonderful pet rabbit for eight years, and therefore get VERY excited about them. This one hung out for about fifteen minutes before suddenly spooking and hopping away. I hope to see him again!

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My daffodils took a while to emerge, but they were worth the wait.

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And of course, the squirrels are always around!

2 Comments + Posted in: nature, spring


I realize that the finale of How I Met Your Mother aired over a week ago, and most people with anything to say about it have done so by now. It’s taken me so long to sort out my reactions that I thought it was too late to post about it, but friends are still asking what I thought, so let’s go for it!

WARNING: The following will completely spoil the ending of How I Met Your Mother. If you don’t want to know, don’t continue reading!

Things I Liked About the Finale:

- Ted was happy in the end… even though he lost his soul mate much too soon.

- Lily and Marshall are still awesome.

- The first meeting under the yellow umbrella was perfect.

Things I Hated About the Finale:

- So this was the ending the writers had planned from the beginning, had filmed with the kids eight years ago. The Mother (Tracy) dies, and Ted still ends up with Robin. What I find unforgivable is that, KNOWING this, they developed the plot and characters totally contrary to this plan for the last five or so seasons. They showed Ted and Robin growing in opposite directions, and him “letting her go” over and over again, finally for real. They convinced us that Barney and Robin made sense. They let us get to know Tracy and showed us how completely perfect she was for Ted. Then they turned around and gave us the final slap, but it never had to be that way. More thoughts about that in a minute.

- WHY would you set an entire season at a wedding for a marriage that lasted ten minutes in show-time… then cram another twenty years’ worth of important events into one episode? If they’d given us a little more time to get used to the endgame, it might not have been such a blow, or felt like such a betrayal of Tracy, who was seemingly reduced to a speedbump and egg donor on the way to Ted finally getting Robin. I really loved Tracy and wish we could have seen more of her and Ted together, although we did get some good moments.

- By the end of the show’s timeline, Robin had spent years estranged from the gang. How were she and Ted still close enough for him to start a relationship with her? How did his kids even know her well enough to call her “Aunt”?

- I hated what they did to Barney. After being redeemed as more than a one-note womanizer, he regressed to a nauseating degree. The only thing that finally settled him down was unexpectedly becoming a father. (To me, this also felt like a subtle jab at Robin, since she’s infertile and a child was the one thing she couldn’t give him. But they could have adopted!) Also, I guess we can assume “#31″ is the main character of How I Met Your Dad? I don’t plan to tune in.

- I watched the show with my dad, and at every commercial break, I expressed disbelief about how depressingly it was unfolding. He shrugged and said “It’s the truth. This is how life is.” He was right. As I said in my plea for the mother, real life is already overfull of painful divorces and close friends drifting apart and losing loved ones too soon. Most of us have lived it, and we don’t want to see those everyday tragedies on a comedy that we watch to feel uplifted and hopeful. We want help believing that something better is possible, not more fodder for our cynicism.

- Finally: from a writing perspective, I think this jarring ending is a cautionary tale about listening to your story. Over the years, How I Met Your Mother took a slightly different track from the writers’ original vision, and they should have rolled with it. I can’t remember the source because I’ve read so many articles about the finale, but one pointed out that a story – especially a long-running one on TV – is a living thing. Anyone who’s ever written fiction knows this. You have to give your story some room to breathe and be open to turns you weren’t expecting. When they filmed that final “Go ask out Aunt Robin” scene with the kids years ago, why didn’t they film a few different ones, just in case they changed their minds? To me, that’s irresponsible. There’s nothing admirable about staying the course if it means totally invalidating most of what you’ve built. It’s also not cool to pull a Lost and spend years vehemently insisting that a show is not going to end a certain way, then end it exactly that way.

It’s been a long time since I watched the early episodes, so I may go back and see how they bookend with the finale. Maybe then I won’t feel so double-crossed.

11 Comments + Posted in: reflections, tv


My cats having a moment, 2009

At work a while back, my boss handed out spa gift cards as a bonus of sorts. I hoarded mine until last week, when I decided to take a day off and get a massage. Several people close to me are massage devotees, but I hadn’t had one in several years. I take pretty good care of myself (or so I think) and haven’t been feeling especially stressed. But this masseur, a stranger, was able to tell me everything about my habits and physical problems based on tensions in my body – many of which I hadn’t even noticed – and advise me on how to fix those tensions. I got very ticklish a few times (it also happens whenever I get a pedicure), and he explained that ticklishness happens more when you’re not accustomed to being touched. These observations were unexpected light bulb moments. Until I reflected on these things, I wasn’t aware of the extent of the current touch deficit in my life.

Singleness often equals serious physical isolation, at least in American culture. As an adult, unless you’re in a demonstrative romantic relationship and/or parenting a small child, you’re probably running a touch deficit. After almost four years alone, I unconsciously take this for granted, but I still don’t think it’s okay or healthy. Family and friends usually greet me with hugs, and my two cats are affectionate companions, and that’s important. But it’s not the same as regular, dependable (non-sexual) physical closeness. Access to a comforting hug when you need one, a pat on the arm, a huddle together on the couch, is good for the soul in a deep and mysterious way. It provides a sense of connection not only to that person, but to all people. It even makes you feel more comfortable with and at home in your own body – especially in marriage, when your spouse is as familiar with your body as you are. It’s a genuine need, even if that need is not being met. I know all this because I’ve experienced it, and I believe God made us to respond this way.

Until I experienced some attentive, caring touch, I didn’t realize how far removed I am from it. That makes me sad. I worry sometimes about feeling increasingly closed-off from others, and now I wonder if lack of physical contact and care is contributing to that problem. As a result, I think I’m going to budget for more frequent spa services. What I’ve always seen as a lavish indulgence now seems like a good investment in my overall health.

I share this to encourage you: hug your single friends – especially the ones who live alone and don’t have a day-in, day-out bond with anyone. Hug your married friends too, because maybe their spouses don’t. Affection doesn’t have to be a weird, hypersexualized thing. It can be a way to help each other be fully human (and alive).

6 Comments + Posted in: health, singleness

Last weekend, my dad and I went to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games here in Memphis for the NCAA South Regional! It was a bucket-list experience that I’d been looking forward to for a long time. As a Tigers season ticket holder, I got an advance offer for a special tournament package last fall. I forwarded it to my dad, asking if he was interested. He said “Let’s do it,” but it was expensive and I kept hedging. A month later they sent the offer again, and I forwarded it to my dad again, and he replied, “GET THE TICKETS!” So I did. As it turned out, it was a steal compared to what I heard they were going for the week of the event… and totally worth it. My main motivation had been that if the Tigers did advance to those games, and I wasn’t there, I’d never get over missing it. I didn’t find out until a couple of weeks ago that per NCAA rules, no tournament team can play at its home, so it wouldn’t have happened anyway. Oh well!

On Thursday night at the Sweet 16 games, the Dayton Flyers were the stars of the show. If you haven’t been following, Dayton was the Cinderella this year. They beat Ohio State and Syracuse. I had never HEARD of them before this and still don’t even know what conference they’re in, but I was duly impressed by the the team and the fans. Everyone I met was so nice (also: TONS of cute guys, maybe they’re all in Ohio!), and they had such enthusiasm and spirit. They packed out the Forum like it was their home game. Even though I have Florida winning it all in my bracket, in my heart I kind of wanted Dayton to win!! And they did beat Stanford that night.

I was perplexed by Stanford’s mascot, a giant Christmas tree with a face. (Someone on Twitter explained it to me.) Stanford alums Condoleeza Rice and Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman (AKA “Don’t You Ever Talk About Me“) were in attendance, so that was cool. I did not get a photo of them. :)

I was amused by the photographers on the floor. Every time the action came their way, they all picked up their giant lenses in unison and followed the action with the cameras in unison.

In the second game, Florida beat UCLA! I learned to do the Gator Chomp.

We went back to the Forum on Saturday evening for the Elite 8 game, Florida vs. Dayton.

Dayton hung in and have nothing to be ashamed of, but Florida won as expected! We hung around to watch the trophy presentation and net cutting. I remembered the Tigers doing that when we won the C-USA championship at home a few years ago. Someday I WILL see that again.

Even though it wasn’t my team, I had a wonderful time and felt really blessed to be there, like I got to be a part of history. My dad decided that next we need to go to the Final Four. He met a couple who have gone to ALL the big tournament games for 20 years. Can you imagine? Anyway, yay basketball!

1 Comment + Posted in: memphis, sports

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