A Few Thoughts on Reaching Our Seventeenth Anniversary Today

DJ and I are celebrating our anniversary today.

Getting married was his idea first, but I came around soon enough.

You know how you think you know what you’re doing when you decide to marry?

And then you have life and kids and never seem to outgrow some conflicts?

But you also find out that you can both let each other change over time.

And the good in each other goes much deeper than you realized at first.

And sex reaches amazing levels unknown in your earlier years.

And you never get tired of being in the same room with each other.

You think, “We didn’t know what we were doing, but I’m glad we did it.”

Happy seventeenth anniversary today to my love and me!

(Ahem. Did you notice? Every sentence has seventeen syllables.)

(Including that line. Including this line. And including the title too.)


Sparkler is 11!

We’re here today with Sparkler Jones, who holds the distinction as the only person in the household who is turning eleven years old. Thanks for joining us today, Sparkler.

Q: What’s a good thing about turning 11?
A: I’m a tween! But I don’t know, 11 is kind of a boring age. Oh, I can wear makeup. I know that’s not official, but I can do it.

Q: What do you enjoy doing these days?
A: Pencil or digital art, always with bright colors; I like to draw my characters for stories, and also just for drawing and thinking. I also do a little web comic. I like recording YouTube videos (which is why I got a microphone for my birthday),

Q: What do you not like doing?
A. Chores.

Q: What would you like to get better at in the coming year?
A: Art. Not losing my temper. Putting on makeup.

Q: What is a favorite book?
A: The Gameknight999 series by Mark Cheverton.

Q: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
A: Flight! Or maybe shapeshifting, because if I could shapeshift then I could just turn into a bird and fly.

Sparkler is also specializing in (really terrible, absolutely awful) puns. Here’s a small sampling of her original creations:

“What do you call it when you decorate your first apartment? The Decoration of Independence”

“A clothesmaker who is fast at work… Taylor Swift.”

Even Sparkler says that 11 is kind of a boring age. But see, nothing that she’s excited about is ever boring. She makes sure of that. So it’s a fun and special day, launching into her second decade. We’re glad to be going with her.

Happy birthday, Sparkler! We love you!

For her birthday today, she got makeup, chalk art, colored pencils, and a pretty nifty microphone for recording videos. (Oh, also money. “I’ll hold this up so it looks like I’m really rich.”) Her cousin (behind her) and my mom are visiting from Mississippi, which added to the festivities.


Have You Read My Books?

Oh, hey, while you’re here I thought I’d ask you — have you read my books?

The Fellowship   follows the story of 20-year-old Bekah, who is torn between launching her life and staying loyal to the cult she grew up in. Anyone who is familiar with Christian patriarchy (Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, Douglas Wilson, the Duggar family, to name a few) will relate to Bekah’s experiences. Anyone who isn’t familiar with this subculture will still enjoy the characters and story.

According to my readers, the story is by turns disturbing, heartwarming, infuriating, and funny. And it has a good ending, so don’t be afraid to jump in.

Go Right is a short-story collection that you can read in one sitting, or on and off as you like. The six stories are short and almost fluffy, but substantial enough to give you a good read.

  • Intersections tells how McKee and Cheryl take a wrong turn in an unfamiliar town, and unwittingly leave a permanent impression behind them.
  • Jimmy’s Pizza Pie traces the evolution of a family pizza recipe through the generations.
  • The Secret Life of Paige Parker follows a mom-of-four, Paige, as she joins a new playgroup at the park — and the far more exciting imaginary world she constructs for herself. (Why yes, I owe it all to James Thurber and The Secret Life of Water Mitty.)
  • The Dang Truck features Hunter, who loves his shiny red Ford truck; and Makayla, who has a secret or two she’s trying to keep under wraps from Hunter.
  •  In a Canoe is the a story of Jordan and Curtis, two old friends who go out together in a canoe and discover more than they expect to.
  • Uncle Bobby’s Laying on the Porch–well, yes, it’s about Uncle Bobby; he’s obviously not doing well, and his sister Gloria has to get him to the ER. But there’s also family connections, an old romance, and what’s the fate of the chocolate cake left in the oven?

Both books are available from Amazon. Or click over to my author blog and contact me directly.

If you have read the books, I always appreciate new reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. And by all means, email me and let me hear from you!

You has nugs?

“Nugs,” in family parlance, means “tasty treats for the bunny.” He loves nugs. He will track nugs, including wonton noodles, which we refer to as “bunny noodles” for perhaps obvious reasons.

Behold the mini rex rabbit who discovered that DJ had bunny  noodles on his rice:


Communication Intervention

DJ was addressing a possible internet issue with Sparkler. He was trying to be calm, although he’d overreacted a bit, and Sparkler began to cry. He explained why he thought it was a big deal.

“I know,” Sparkler said “It’s just…”

“Just…? Tell me why you’re upset.”

“I don’t know!” she sobbed.


“I think,” I said gently, “that Sparkler has put a lot of work into the project and she’s proud of it.”

Sparkler nodded.

“And she thought we knew what she was doing.”

Sparkler nodded.

“And she’s scared that she’s done something wrong and is in big trouble.”

“Yes, that!” Sparkler wailed. “All that!”

In the end, it turned out that everything was fine. DJ apologized for overreacting. Sparkler will continue to observe internet safety.


Mundania: Summertime

On a rainy Friday morning, I’m savoring the low-demand days of summer by drinking coffee and going through pictures on my phone. That way you can savor summer with us! Oh, come on, you know it’s fun. Don’t be a spiky apple!

Um, well, I guess that’s a good place to start. Behold, the Spiky Apple:


The story behind this is simple: one of the boys found a jar of toothpicks right next to an apple. Somebody in the family remarked that the Spiky Apple aptly illustrates what certain family members are like when they first wake up.

We all laughed.

Because it wasn’t first thing in the morning.

Moving on, I found this Basket o’Doom in a store. It appears to contain: glitter, sequins, glitter glue, and stickers. Not only does it promise short-term rewards of excessive crafting disaster, it comes with a fifty-year guarantee of glitter in your household. Even if you replace your carpet. Even if you rebuild your whole house. I can’t believe a store would be so irresponsible as to put something this right at eye-level of tween girls.


Speaking of tween girls, Sparkler made this cat out of a couple of socks. She named it Button. Allow me to steer you toward this type of craft, which involves no glitter.


Our back yard hasn’t always been very hospitable. It faces west and originally had no trees. The only place to sit was on our 12×12 deck, which is kind of a sad deck after fifteen years. So I’ve put a lot of work into the back yard.

I planted a tree, which has grown merrily for about twelve years. At this point I see I made two major mistakes: it’s a Bradford pear, which tends to get brittle as it gets bigger; and I planted it at the corner of the yard, so that when it does fall, it’s likely to take out two sides of the fence.

But that hasn’t happened yet. So I’m working with what I have.

This year I bought a hammock and put it under the tree. Then I discovered a previously-unknown proclivity toward collecting solar lights. I currently have five solar lamps and one string of lights, and I figure I’ll pick up some more by summer’s end for next year.

A friend suggested that I bill myself as a “cultivator of a garden of natural light.” Absolutely. Sir Hiss, put it on my luggage!

Here’s Bookgirl enjoying her favorite summertime retreat. The camera valiantly tried to capture the picture in the low evening light.


Here’s a non-flash picture that includes the string of lights. Ranger saw my display and exclaimed, “This is amazing! It’s like a festival!” Why yes. That’s how we Cultivators of Natural Light feel also.


Filed under the same category as The Spiky Apple, this pack of crackers was sitting right next to a bread knife. So Ranger sliced them in half, then left the scene because he wasn’t sure what to do with the body.


Edit to this photo: Apparently it wasn’t Ranger. It was Gamerboy, who told me, “Actually, the crackers thing was me. I got a bag of crackers, decided I wasn’t hungry, left them in my room for anywhere from 6 to 48 hours, and then cut them in half.” I can’t say I’m any more enlightened. 

Two out-and-about photos I snapped recently. Here’s an old house on a hill. It was probably once pretty grand, but now it’s surrounded by construction on three sides so I doubt it’s long for this world. I took a picture before it passed on to the Great Neighborhood in the Sky.


On my way to pick up Sparkler from a day camp over town, I caught this moment. I call it “Diversity Out for a Stroll.”


Sparkler met a friend at day camp, so they shoved their mothers together begging for us to exchange phone numbers. We moms actually ended up having a lot to talk about; I look forward to seeing her again. As we were offering bits of introduction about ourselves, I mentioned that I homeschool Sparkler. She lit up and said she’d homeschooled her older children, and she thought I was probably a homeschooler too!

When I got home, I had Bookgirl take this picture of me. This is how I looked. Apparently I give off homeschooler vibes. I’m not sure this is an entirely good thing. On the other hand, I guess I do give the impression that I don’t care about whether I fit into the system or not.



The bunny continues to be my faithful companion for about two hours every day — well, almost every day, or at least a lot of days — for two hours, after which he disappears under a bed or behind the couch and is too sleepy to care.


And lastly, one development this summer is that Gamerboy is looking a whole lot like his dad.


Hope you’ve got summertime moments to savor, too! But if you’re lacking, you’re welcome to borrow one of my random assortment.

An Interview with a 16-year-old



Bookgirl is 16.

I’ve watched her grow up, of course, but a birthday compels me to stop and really take notice. She’s still highly introverted, but willing to be a friend to her very sociable sister. She laughs at her brother’s jokes while keeping him literally at arm’s length when he tries to hug her. And she grants her youngest brother the extremely special privilege of being allowed to sit on her back and tug on her ears to fire laser beams.

She’s incredibly like her dad in how she approaches (or evades) life, but got a hefty serving of her mom’s love for words and characters.

Before I digress into motherly reflections on how feel about this occasion (a mixture of joy and apology), I’ll hush up and let Bookgirl talk about her own self. Straight from the dragon’s mouth, as it is.*

*Haha, joke! Bookgirl has loved dragons for a long time. As in, she mentioned them in her very first birthday post when she turned 4.

Interview with Bookgirl Jones on her 16th Birthday

Thanks for joining us, Bookgirl. You and your ever-present best friend, your laptop. Let’s talk about you.

Q: What are your current interests?

A: Reading, writing, drawing, surfing Facebook, Match-3 games, the bunny


Q: Any romances?

A: No romances, except in writing.


Q: Tell me about your writing

A: I tend to write girls who are snarky with strong personalities. They tend to drive the plot, which is good. This month I’m working on a sci-fi.


Q: What are three favorite books/genres?

A: Covenants (high fantasy); Paradigms Lost (urban fantasy); Dresden Files (urban fantasy)


Q: What is a book you hated?

A: The last book of “The Name of the Book Is Secret” series. The ending was… ugh. The big secret was a literal JOKE.


Q: Any ambitions in life?

A: Get through college, be an English major, get an internship, work up to being an editor


Q: Anywhere you’d like to travel?

A: Hershey Park. And Hogwarts


Q: Do you still like dragons?

A: Yes, a lot. I tend to like big dragons that breathe lots of fire and have hearts of gold.


Q: What is one of your earliest memories?

A: Lots of bright lights and I heard you say, “Well, hi there!”

(Note: her mother does not believe this assertion, despite the fact that she’s insisted it for years.)

A: Also, running through the house waiting to wrap a present for Gamerboy’s second birthday.

(She would have been 4.)



Q: Where do you like to spend your time?

A: In my room or the storage room. My room has better wifi. (We call the storage room her “cave,” as in, “Could you tell Bookgirl it’s time to eat? She’s in her cave.”)

A: And outside on the hammock. Bouncing on the trampoline.


Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Oh, web comics.

Q: What about web comics?

A: I really like web comics. Daughter of the Lilies, Kiwi Blitz, Casseopia Quinn


Q: Any thoughts on turning 16?

A: I am old enough to legally drive now and that’s scary.


Q: Anything special you’re doing for your birthday?

A: Eating s’mores cake!


She’s been her very own person from the first day she arrived. It’s been a pretty grand experience watching her grow up. Here’s to many more years of books and dragons and unverifiable assertions.

Happy birthday, Bookgirl! We love you!

She often poses with elephants because it’s a running joke in the Facebook group where she does most of her socializing.




Fantasy in the Suburbs

What happens when a housing developer never quite gets over that doomed fantasy novel he wrote when he was nineteen?

What happens is the neighborhood where Bookgirl and I went for driving practice last week.

The first thing we noticed about the neighborhood is what anybody who has read A Wrinkle In Time would think. We expected to see children all bouncing balls in unison, until all the doors opened at the same time and all the mothers came out at the same time and called them all inside, in unison. It’s like it was designed by Camazotz Builders and Mind Control, Inc.


It had the usual ironically idyllic street names. Driving on Garden Path Road we passed Waterfall Court and Firefly Lane. None of which objects actually, you know, existed.

We did blink a little when Bookgirl turned us onto Mollie Mae Avenue, though. Most of these Camazotz developments have an obvious theme that informs their name choices. Mollie Mae puzzled me.

It just got weirder from there.

Our half-mile circuit through the neighborhood took us along streets named Carrie’s Wind, Twelve Moons, Nightbird, Falling Hill, and finally, Velvet Ridge.

Bookgirl and I talked it over, and I think now we get it.

The developer, I imagine, often returns to this development, standing next to skinny little maple saplings and brand shiny new vinyl siding, watching the sun set on his fantasy world. Once again I revisit the City of Twelve Moons, he muses. Little do these people understand the dark secret of Falling Hill, and the tears shed on the hill of Carrie’s Wind…

A jarring thought interrupts him. He remembers a co-worker’s comment and frowns. It is not true that it sounds like Carrie was a victim of flatulence. It’s because her soul was released from her cursed body and she became as a firefly, guiding the hero to the regenerating waters of the Waterfall… in retrospect, he could have named that one a little more creatively.

He returns to the sunset and fantasy. The adventures of Nightbird, ninja assassin pirate, and his undying love for the half-elven vampire princess Mollie Mae, will live on– even though these soccer moms and summertime grillers don’t understand the legacy on which they stand.

So, young developer whose poetic soul has been sucked into blandness of soulless suburban conformity, please know that Bookgirl and I understand. We salute you.

But your co-worker was totally right about that one street name. FYI.


Note: Sparkler learned via Tumblr and passed on to us that the exact opposite of “waterfall” is “firefly.” You’re welcome.

SJ Escape 2017

About once a year, I abandon my daily cares and responsibilities and run away for about three days. Because of our big road trip last year, I didn’t get an escape. I was seriously due for one this year.

In the past, I’ve ridden the train and slept at B&Bs. I still love the train, but realized at some point that having to get up early for breakfast and socialization was not actually ideal for me. I don’t like getting out of bed, I don’t like people in the morning, and I don’t like breakfast. Why was I doing this to myself?

DJ has been suggesting for about three years that I try out Corhaven, a spiritual retreat center. I could drive there. I didn’t have to follow anybody’s schedule. And there was a creek there. So this year I made reservations.

When DJ went on retreat there, he requested to meet with the priest (it’s Anglican) for counseling and confession. Me? I just wanted to have space to think without interruption. I didn’t want an engineered spiritual encounter. I’m accustomed to dodging triggers at “retreats” and “Bible studies” like Katniss in the arena. As far as I was concerned, God could show up if he wanted to, but I wasn’t going to study the Bible and have praise and worship time to get him there.

So I packed up essentials like my laptop, Milano cookies, and my phone… oh, and a change of clothes… and headed off for Corhaven. Before I left, Sparkler came flying out the front door to give me my traditional  Escape Companion  (that’s two links from two previous Escapes).

Meet Estella Greta Grace:


It wasn’t long into my trip before I sent a message back to the kids. Somehow half my coffee disappeared once when I was in a store. I was very puzzled by it:


Meanwhile, Estella Greta Grace sure was chatty and energetic for a while.

I decided that I’d go on one of the several cavern tours that are available here. As soon as I drove in, I could tell I was on vintage ground. Its heyday was probably the 30s to 40s, the era of little ceramic gnomes set up in a comic tableau, before Disney’s animatronics swept away interest in still-life. (Of course, animatronics are now considered clunky and funny by digital standards.)

I was right. The cafe was “a 1957 original.” But the elevator we took 60 feet down to start our tour was built in 1931. And the entire park opened in 1922.

Sure enough, the little gnomes greeted us underground:


And warned us not to break the law.


All the rooms had grand names like “The Cathedral Room” or “The Diamond Cascade.” It was an interesting tour through time. Not just the vast span of centuries it took to create the formations, but also a glimpse into a much closer past when experiences were harder to come by, and these caverns must have seemed truly otherwordly.

All that to say, the cavern tour was fascinating even to twenty-first century people jaded by too much adventure. The park did a good job of making its walkways and lights unobtrusive, so you really got to see the formations around you. Except no touching. I hated the no-touching rule. I love the feel of rock in my hand, and these rocks glistened with crystals and minerals. But evidently oils from the skin can cause the minerals to decay and discolor, so I obeyed. Mostly. Maybe I brushed my fingertips across one dripping rock once. But only once, honest.

As I messaged my kids, I’d invited Estella Greta Grace to come with me, but she said she didn’t want to. Too bad, because she missed some very interesting formations:


But she might not have been dressed for the temperatures; it was a steady 50 degrees in the caverns:


Trying to wrap my mind around the timespan in these caves, not to mention the fact that rivers once forged pathways and carved out chambers, was almost impossible. Geologists estimate that a single nodule of rock can take up to 125 years to form:


So a mid-sized stalactite has been around for much longer than any world we ever knew:


And I didn’t take any pictures of the hundred-foot ones.

Everything had a weird melted-alien-plastic look to it. But it was solid rock. At least, that’s what the guide said. I didn’t touch any to make sure.

On the way back to the elevator, the guide pointed out the original access to the caverns from 1922:


A tour in 1922 was probably a lot more exciting, really. “Watch out for that drop-off, ma’am, you could lose a kid there, haha! How’s your ankle, sir? Probably not broken. Now, those of you aren’t actively keeling over after the stairs, follow me up to this next room. But don’t talk too loud. Rocks are kind of shaky, don’t want to encourage them, haha!”

Back in the car, I told Estella Greta Grace all about it. She said she didn’t miss much. Party pooper.

On to my escape. It turned out that DJ was right. That happens pretty much all the time in our marriage. In fact, it was his idea to get married in the first place. But Corhaven was exactly what my tired, closed-in soul needed. The woman on staff showed me my room and the bathrooms (in two separate buildings — that was a fun 3am bathroom run), gave me just enough instruction that I knew my way around, directed me to a binder with more information, and then vanished until I needed her again.




It turned out that God didn’t have to “show up.” He was already there. From finding rocks in the creek, to sitting outside at night watching the fireflies, to reading bits and pieces of books I’d never tried before — everything I did, God was with me. It was a deep, quiet, profound refreshment.

I trekked up the path to a restored slave graveyard, which had been forgotten for 150 years until Corhaven bought the property and found the graves. I also picked up Maya Angelou for the first time, and wish I’d read her sooner. I’ve been thinking a lot about the racial wounds of our past, and now I see that there were voices crying out all the while. I just didn’t know to listen.

These two books gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t finish either one. I read enough that I had a lot to think about, then put them down.


I always asked Estella if she wanted to come along with me on walks, but she was a slacker.


She could have at least kept an eye on my Milanos to see how they kept disappearing. I have this trouble on every single escape, come to think of it.


However, I always had a very affectionate and enthusiastic companion in Yates. He lived for the moment that I walked toward the gate that led to the woods:


“Haha! Look at me! Egg drop soup!”

“Get out of my lunch, Estella.”


I stayed two nights at Corhaven, then took a leisurely drive back home along Rt. 11 — which I knew very well from my Sunday rambles a few years ago. As I left, I assured them, “I will see you again.”


And I got home to a clean house and a family who was very happy to see me. DJ and I spent a good half-hour catching each other up on what was, objectively speaking, three rather uneventful days — but full of ordinary-life goodness.

I unpacked my stuff and got ready to settle back into real life. And discovered that Estella Greta Grace had gotten into my coloring stuff:


I guess she had a good time, too.

8 Is Great!


“Imagine if a box was empty, but it cost all the money in the world to buy.”

“Would you rather… have to sleep on a glacier, or on obsidian?”

Ranger’s mind is constantly buzzing with these conundrums. He’s often too busy “wondering” to take into account the consequences of his decisions.

Like when he found a can of white spray paint, smashed it open, and anointed several objects including the back fence, the mailbox, and the hood of the van before it occurred to him that “maybe I should ask about this first.” He’s always very sorry.

He’s like quicksilver when it comes to video games or board games. He insisted on graduating himself to the adult version Settlers of Catan, and it turns out that he’s entirely capable of understanding intricate rules and strategy. DJ and I rarely have to take age range into account now when we decide on a game to play with the family.

He’s very affectionate and a peacemaker at heart, although he spends most of his free time turning everything — from sticks to breadsticks — into guns.  His best friend is Sparkler; he thinks she’s really funny, and when she gets bossy he just tunes her out so it’s all good.

He’s 8 years old today. I’m actually not home with him today, although I pointed out that I was present on his original and most important birthday. He’s happy with his presents from his siblings, the cake that Sparkler is baking for him, and playing games with Dad.

Imagine if… your youngest child grew up into a big boy much more quickly than you were expecting. Would you rather have that little baby back again?

Nope. We love our big-boy Ranger. Happy birthday!