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Welcome to the Jones Home!

Visit my About page, where I introduce ourselves, or just scroll down for the most recent wit and wisdom and… well, just whatever I decided to post about today. Glad you’re here. Leave a comment, and “Follow” the blog to keep up with the Joneses!

— SJ

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The 2018 Book List Party

Yesterday, when everybody was posting their 2018 Reading Lists, I didn’t comment on any of them. I kept thinking it would go like this:

Person One: Popular fiction! Self-improvement nonfiction! Memoir! Overly-wordy titled fiction!

Person Two: World War 2 fiction! Deeply moving fiction! Heartbreaking true account of personal tragedy and triumph!

Me: Nonfiction about daily life was like in England in certain eras.

Persons One and Two: [blank silence]

Me: Oh, and a book about why violence has decreased worldwide.

Persons One and Two: OMG, were you even invited to this party?

But on my own blog, I can be just as nerdy as I want to. Here are some books that I thoroughly enjoyed in 2018:

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker, on why we are experiencing the least-violent phase in history ever.

The Time-Traveler’s Guide to… by Ian Mortimer. He’s written three of them — one for Medieval England, one for Elizabethan England, and one for 17th-century England. They make the past feel very human, dealing with questions like “what would I wear” or “what would I do for fun?” The books are very readable and extremely interesting.

Don’t Make Me Pull Over by Ray Ratay. Part memoir, part history of the golden age of American road trips. Ratay is a funny author, and I am just old enough to remember some of what he talks about as a kid in the 1970s.

I did read a few other books. I even read a novel about a woman who senses ghosts (cool) and eventually discovers the one ghost that’s pulling all the others to her (nice twist), interspersed with three different storylines in WW2 Europe (redundant) and infodumps (tedious) and this is why I read nonfiction accounts of living in Shakespeare’s London instead. (A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner.)

Oh, and let’s not forget my ill-fated foray into late-90s women’s fiction with Big Stone Gap.

But the major reason why I list only five books for the year is because I used up most of my mental space to write 79,112 words on my novel-in-progress.

Please note that these thousands of words aren’t a jumble of loosely-connected scenes. They’re a cohesive story, carefully chosen and frequently revised. And for reference, most books are classed as “novels” when they reach 80,000 words. Here, let me highlight that number for you in case you missed it:

79,112 words

I expect to write another 20,000 to finish up, and then I’ll step into the fire of editing and revision.

So, looking back over things, I’m pretty happy with my reading list. Even if I’m not exactly the life of the book list party.

Happy reading in 2019!

Mundania: Christmas

It doesn’t take much to have a “magical Christmas” at the Jones House.
Here in Mundania, we find Christmas in the everyday details of life. That sounds so inspirational!

Our friends provide the bulk of our decorations in the form of Christmas cards. Although we get far fewer than we did when I started sending out my own sixteen years ago, we still received enough to make a festive wall.

Our outside decorations consisted entirely of this wooden cut-out nativity draped with lights.

And then there is, of course, our tree. Last year I looked at the limbs straining with eighteen years’ worth of ornaments and said, “Y’all, either we have to get rid of some of these ornaments, or we have to get a bigger tree.” The kids immediately began discussing how much more space we needed for the bigger tree.

A nativity set takes on the aura of a brave band of adventurers saying to one another, “If we just stick together, we can make it through this.”

And there’s a lot of Christmas in DJ’s festive lunch. (I caught it slightly too late; he’d just eaten the roll with raspberry jam.)

Nothing says “holidays” like presents piled under the tree. I wish I could wrap gifts as well as God wraps bunnies.

Even Dirk Pitt got into the holiday spirit and offered to write our Christmas letter for us. But we ended up having creative and theological differences.

The local paper asked for Christmas memories. I saw the reminder too late, so just barely missed the deadline. DJ told me to send mine in anyway — and here it is, in the paper! It’s funny how, in this world of effortless publishing, seeing your own words in the newspaper is still something special.

(Longtime readers of the blog might recognize this story as a trimmed-down version of a post from a couple of years ago. I see no reason to waste good material.)

The holidays call for something extra festive! That’s why I got this mead. Haha, that’s a lie. I bought the mead before Thanksgiving, planning to take it with me across the country to give to Queen of Carrots at her surprise birthday. But DJ reminded me that I couldn’t pack it into a carry-on bag. So I found another gift for the Queen (a collection of Zenna Henderson stories). Then I forgot about the mead until Christmas Eve.

It was really good, for the record.

And Christmas morning held surprises and joy for everyone.

(Please note the artwork on Sparkler’s t-shirt. It’s from the talented hand of The Ravens Landing.  See more of her artwork on Redbubble.)

And while DJ and the kids played one of the three new games we added to the household, I whiled away some time practicing from of my new lettering book.

So that’s Christmas with the Joneses. I hope your holidays were as full of magical mundania as ours was!

Because if not, the creepy Thrift Store Angel might have to pay you a little visit.

Mundania: Truly Random Assortment

Outside, the evening winter light is tired and yellow. It’s what high noon in Charn would look like. But if we turn to my camera gallery, I’m sure we’ll find happiness, brightness, and… um… a curse upon the head of the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis:

(This was a transcription of words written on some kind of fabric, left by a Union POW. We were pretty impressed with the poetic scope of it.)

On a much more cheerful and friendly note, last month I flew to the West Coast to party. I mean, I’m totally the rockstar type of person to do that pretty frequently, by which I mean more often than, um, dying. But this was a special occasion: a surprise birthday party for Queen of Carrots. The Queen and I have been friends for many years — several children’s worth, at least — but had never met in person before. Her husband invited me out to be part of the surprise. It was pretty grand.

The scenery wasn’t too shabby, either. This was the kind of landscape I always saw in movies and books, but sure not anywhere around my little Mississippi town where I grew up.

Back here at home, one of the current catchphrases in the household is “F!” As my teenagers explained, it comes from some game where, when a character died, the player was advised, “Press F to pay respects.” Now it’s just their way of expressing sympathy.

So when I showed them this Chick-Fil-A sign that obviously needs to be repaired… well, what else could we say?

(We did, of course, refer to the restaurant as “Chickillay” the entire time we were in the mall that day.)

While shopping recently, I found a whole rack of these mislabled pies. I never did figure out what kind they were supposed to be. Nectarine Starfruit Apricot? Nutella Salmon Acorn? Not So Awesome?

And here’s a sticker that’s ideal for those times that you need to get a message to Jesus while you’re overtaking him on the interstate.

This car looks like it’s auditioning for the part of Lightning McQueen’s snaggletoothed little kid.

I know, I know. It really looks like I just snatch up my camera and take pictures of weird things at any random moment — including while stopped at a long red light. Huh. Imagine that.

Oh, remember Creamsicle, the oddly-colored rabbit who lived in and around our backyard? 

Well, here’s what he looked like by the end of autumn. Since no other rabbits in this neighborhood have changed coat colors with the seasons, we guess he has some condition that causes his fur’s pigment to fade. Yes, it’s the same rabbit; we saw him almost daily and watched the brown fade.

We last spotted him about a week and a half ago, still hale and hearty and absolutely unaware that he is not completely camouflaged. 

As for our bunny, he’s still the Fierce Forager of the Wild. Here he is stealthily feeding on some paper or book that he’s not actually supposed to be getting into.

I can’t think of a clever way to end this post. I guess I’ll just serve a slice of Nougat Spinach Aoili pie and give it up. F!

Gamerboy is 16!

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Gamerboy’s birthday was yesterday, but so was Thanksgiving. So he got his cake, presents, and friends yesterday, and his official blog post today.

At 16, Gamerboy is taller than DJ, and absolutely dwarfs me. Not one for social niceties, he can be brusque; but on the other hand, he will still snuggle close to me while we’re doing school together. We’ve learned a lot this year about talking things out and understanding how to handle big emotional moments.

He and Bookgirl have a cordial relationship most of the time. He and Sparkler (after years of almost constant bickering) have hit a point where they enjoy the same nonsensical, almost surreal, humor. Since both are energized by funny social interaction, the two of them are very loud together in the evenings. Gamerboy and Ranger are still navigating their big age gap, but they share a love and aptitude for games—they just saved up their money together to buy a Nintendo Switch—which is a good foundation for a couple of brothers.

Interview with Gamerboy Jones on his 16th Birthday

Thanks for joining us, Gamerboy. Let’s talk about you, while you fiddle with a little jar of toothpicks and destroy at least three of them in the process.

Q: What are your current interests?

A: T-posing, Discord, pigs, video games

“T-posing” is a current internet teenage thing where they yell “T-POSE!” and then stand with their arms straight out. It’s funny, so I am reliably informed. “Discord” is a video/voice chat platform where all the kids hang out because Facebook is for old people.

Q: Any romances?

A: I have no idea if I am capable of romance, so no.

Q: Tell me about your gaming.

A: I like Darkest Dungeon, a turn-based RPG where you defeat monsters, get loot, and hope your characters don’t die. You have to deal with your party’s mental health as well as physical health. It’s hard. I like turn-based single-player games better than online multiplayer games.

I also like Pirate 101, Slay the Spire, and Binding of Isaac.

Q: If somebody googles any of these, will it freak them out?

A: Possibly.

I just got a Nintendo Switch and I have Let’s Go Eevee and Darkest Dungeon on it, and I’m getting Kirby Star Allies.

Q: What are some favorite books/genres?

A: I like short stories anthologies, particularly sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery. I find short stories to be more interesting than full books.

Q: What is a game you hated?

A: In general, I don’t like racing games. I find them to be very, very boring. Pretty much any game with a vehicle, or any vehicle in a game, I find boring.

Q: Any ambitions in life?

A: To be a functioning adult in society and to do something in the world probably to do with games.

Q: Anywhere you’d like to travel?

A: No. Thanks for asking.

Q: Why are you fond of pigs?

A: From Minecraft, kind of. Baby pigs are very cute. And mini-pigs do not exist; “teacup pigs” are just baby pot-bellied pigs, but breeders say they’re miniature pigs and all of a sudden they’re huge grown-up pigs that walk around and crompch* stuff. Kind of like me.

*Crompch is the internet way of saying crunch, which means eat.

Q: What is one of your earliest memories?

A: When I got a Little People’s castle set with a toy green dragon, when I was 4.

Q: Where do you like to spend your time?

A: In my room, with like 15 electronics. Or in the living room, on the computer. Basically, inside the house.

Q: Any thoughts on turning 16?

A: The passage of time scares me. I want to stay a little boy who doesn’t have to worry about taxes, and rent, and money, and having to fend for myself.

Q: Any positives?

A: I’ll get to drive, I guess that’s cool. I get smarter hopefully. And can make games someday.

Gamerboy is a complex bundle of humor, anxiety, passion, and obliviousness. He’s shown great strides in maturity and empathy over the last year, and nobody is funnier, louder, or more nonsensical than him.

Happy birthday, Gamerboy! We love you!

He picked out a Pokemon plushie for his siblings to buy for him, but then gave it to me and said he wanted it wrapped anyway. I hate wrapping gifts, and this seemed supremely unnecessary. But I wrapped it up and gave it to him…

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… and lo, it had evolved into a yellow Birthday Bear Care Bear! It was a great moment.

(Then I gave him the Pokemon, which I had wrapped as well.)

Buy a Book, Save 10%

Happy anniversary!

To me, I mean. I released my two books just about this time in Novembers past. Since it’s no fun celebrating anniversaries all alone,  I thought I’d spread the excitement around a little.

For the rest of the month over at my Bookshop: Print copies of both books are 10% off.

The Fellowship:  use the code FELLOWSHIP18

Go Right: use the code GORIGHT18

The Fellowship tells the story of Bekah, a young woman who learns the truth about the authoritarian church she grew up in. It seems like a niche subject — how many people grew up in a tightly-knit community where the girls always wore long dresses, dating was forbidden, and everybody made jokes about the Bible because it was your only shared culture? But Bekah is struggling against a system where someone has too much authority and no accountability — a system that protects abusers and silences victims. And that’s very relevant in today’s world, from pastors to Hollywood directors to corporate bosses.

Also, you know the Duggar family, right? The happy beautiful TV family whose life maybe isn’t one you’d choose, but it obviously works for them? No, it doesn’t. This novel gives a glimpse inside the world where they live.

Go Right is a much different experience. These short stories are warm, feel-good, and an easy read. They’re about ordinary people with ordinary lives. But sometimes a choice can change a person’s entire day… or life.

(Not that I’m telling you what to do, but Go Right would make a perfect read-over-the-holidays gift for somebody.)

As an independent author, I rely on and deeply appreciate your support. Happy anniversary to us all! Now go save 10%.

Cross-posted from Sara Roberts Jones, Author

Eighteen Years

Today in 2000, we were really happy but able to pause for some photos.

Wedding

Today in 2018… well, I thought about trying for another selfie, but I like the way this one is blurry, kind of like we seized the moment in among the mundane busyness of life. Huh. Kind of like.

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Our whole anniversary celebration ended up being a day together at a conference. And by “together” I mean that DJ spent the day speaking, going to meetings, and listening to people talk, while I skipped all the sessions and ate chocolates. We managed to get some time away from everyone else in the middle of the day, and enjoyed the three-hour roundtrip drive to and from the conference.

That was it. We would have done more if we could, but we couldn’t, so we made the most of what space we got. And it was very good.

(The kids, home alone all day, went through snacks at an alarming rate and played computer all day. They considered it a day well-spent.)

Happy 18th anniversary to my love!

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(Still my favorite portrait of us as a couple.)

Good Times with Better Homes & Gardens

One of several wedding gifts from my grandmother was a subscription to Better Homes & Gardens. Up till then, I’d really only read it to make fun of it. When I was working at my hometown newspaper, I once wrote a caption for a Yard of the Month winner in which I deliberately mocked the style of BH&G. Everybody else liked it and it ran as a serious caption.

For the first few years, I’d flip through the magazine in memory of my grandmother, who died two years after I got married. But I always renewed the subscription, and now, nearly twenty years later, I look forward to my issue every month. Heck, I even asked for vintage copies for my birthday, so I’m pretty up-to-date all the latest 1963 trends.

That’s not to say I don’t still make fun of it.

This is the magazine that suggests building a party tray around lettuce wraps and whose decorating advice invariably includes the verb “pops.” My favorite thing to look for are the families who houses are featured in articles. These are ordinary, down-to-earth people who can afford to “bump out a wall to make more room for a custom shower,” “reconfigure their kitchen footprint to allow more light from the new patio,” and “fill their home with beautiful mementos of their travels.” You know, like we all could do, if we just gave up that weekly specialty coffee habit! Anyway, the articles usually list the children’s names, and that’s the part I like.

A recent issue mentioned a little girl name Anna Price. That was her first and middle name. As in, “This is my daughter, Anna Price Breckwyth. Anna Price, say hello to Mommy’s investment broker.” There’s no way for Anna Price to not sound pretentious. Unless, I suppose, if she had a sister named Pretentious.

However, the articles are well-written and entertaining. Occasionally I come across an honest-to-goodness gem. The September 2018 issue featured an article about a garlic farm, and Diana Dickinson wrote this perfect little vignette:

Labor of Love

Guy meets garlic. Guy starts garlic farm. Girl works at farm and falls in love with garlic, then the guy. Jordan Clasen and Whitney Brewer’s love story works even better as a business plan. ‘”We’re both hard workers and into growing organic,” Whitney says, “and we both smell like garlic.’ In the past three years they’ve added 30-plus vegetables and fruits, 300 chickens, and honeybees. You could say it happened organically.

I don’t think you can improve on that.

In among the articles, BH&G has always been stuffed to bursting with ads I mostly ignore them, but the other day this advice caught my eye:

Sneak in more vegetables for your family: substitute zucchini noodles instead of pasta, or cauliflower rice instead of rice. Bonus, lower carbs! 

I can see the marketing department justifying this claim: “Yeah, sure, we tried it out. On, like, robots. Hahaha! Come on, go ahead and approve it. I have to pick up pizza for supper on my way home. Anna Price prefers handmade cheese and locally-sourced pepperoni.”

Sparkler is 12!

Twelve Things About Sparkler on Her 12th Birthday:

1. She was my smallest baby, at 6lbs, 12oz. Now she’s almost taller than her older sister, and rapidly catching up to me.

2. Over the past year, her straight bobbed hair began giving her fits. It’s because it all of sudden decided it was curly hair. She’s got it figured out now — which is a major headstart over most of us at age 12.

3. Over the years, she’s fallen in and out of love with various crafts, shows, characters, books, ideas, plans for the future… Sparkler doesn’t do stagnation.

4. Whatever she loves at the moment, she loves it with every bit of her. For years, her favorite color was green because her birthstone is peridot. Green green green we heard all about how green was her favorite. But now it’s purple. She plans to use birthday money from the grandparents to get her (now curly) hair colored purple.

5. Recently she’s begun returning to certain activities. Digital animation and character creation are enduring interests.

6. She likes stories that involve magic and fantasy. But she can’t resist a good nonfiction book with lots of interesting information.

7. She will argue a point until we are ready to die.

8. She has very big emotions, sometimes over matters that warrant it (working out a friend problem) or over matters that, um, don’t (working out a long division problem).

9. She thinks a lot, and whatever she’s thinking about, she wants to talk about.

10. She’s our resident extrovert. It used to be a big strain on DJ and me to maintain the interaction she craved. But now she can hang out with each of her siblings. She and Bookgirl have lots of inside jokes about memes and internet videos. She and Gamerboy laugh over the banter in their Discord groups. She and Ranger drag their pillows and blankets out to the trampoline and pretend.

11. She’s been honing her repartee for a few years now, and can often get off some real zingers.

12. She’s so engaged with the world around her, thinking and asking and figuring it out, that sometimes we have to remind ourselves that she’s only 12.

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Sparkler with one of her birthday presents, a “squishy” fox named Reginald. She currently loves foxes.

And what a wonderful 12 it is! Happy birthday, Sparkler. You make our lives so much more interesting.