Of Birds and Providence

I don’t know how this story ends.

But I do know how it started.

We’d just finished watching Jeopardy! on the eve of my twin sons’ thirteenth birthday. I sent the boys outside to run off the last of their energy before bed and I stepped into the kitchen to do up the supper dishes.

One boy came back in, telling me I had to come to the backyard.

I’m the kind of housekeeper who is always happy for an excuse to put off chores, so I went with him, a little nervous that I was about to see a snake.

Instead, I looked where he pointed, way up-up-up in our tree to a branch at least 40 feet from the ground. There, an oriole struggled, his foot caught in the makings of his nest. His efforts to fly came between moments of hanging upside down. Every few minutes he managed to flop back up into the nest, only to end up dangling from his foot again.

I ran inside to get my phone so I could message my friend Bruce.

Bruce is the guy I go to about anything wild and natural and winged. He’s the one I asked about loons when I was writing All Manner of Things and who I named a character after in The Nature of Small Birds.

“The nest is too far up for us to safely reach,” I wrote. “Any advice?”

He responded that, if I couldn’t get to the nest, it was best to let it work out on its own. It was what I expected. I had a hunch that there would be no easy fix. But I had to do something.

“Praying for the best,” he wrote. “He watches all.”

I knew that Bruce meant God.

And I thought how strange and wonderful it was that he wrote that. Because in The Nature of Small Birds, the character Bruce rushes outside to tend to a bird, stunned after crashing into a window.

Fictional Bruce quotes Shakespeare, saying, “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

Then, a few lines later, he says, “God sees everything and cares, even if it’s just a little critter smacking into a window.”

God sees and He cares. Even if it’s just an oriole hanging upside down, his foot tangled in his nest.

I stood outside, keeping watch, for as long as I could. I watched a female oriole try to pull his foot loose to no avail. I watched as he tried and tried and tried again to work himself free. I watched when a red tailed hawk came at him, talons first, to snatch him away.

And I watched as a couple of bluejays chased that big old hawk away, screeching their lungs out at him, making him leave empty-handed.

And I watched the oriole — still stuck — fight to get loose, even wounded and weak.

And I prayed to the God who sees and cares and knows more than I ever will.

I stayed out with him until it got too dark for me to see. Until the mosquitoes found me. Until my neck ached deeply from looking up for so long.

I don’t know how this story ends.

But I know how it started.

With a God who pays attention to the smallest of birds and the world weary hearts of His children.

*Image courtesy of Audubon.org

The Easter Chicken

I wanted to make this Easter feel at least a little normal in the middle of this abnormal era.

We managed a pared down egg hunt in the backyard and worshipped as a family with our church’s livestream. I even put on a dress (although, as comfy as it was, I don’t know that it counts).

And I planned a mini-feast for our celebration. I felt VERY fortunate to have found a whole chicken in our freezer. Thanks for the BOGO deal a few months ago, local grocery store!

I held back my gag reflex to retrieve the innards from within the bird. I tried not to think too much about it when I rubbed the outtards with butter and sprinkled on the seasonings.

I put the hen in the pan and threw her in the oven.

When she reached temperature, I even had the patience to let her rest for 30 minutes before carving her. (When Martha Stewart gives an order, follow it. You don’t want to make that woman vexed.)

We set the table, put the veggies and potatoes, etc into nice serving dishes, and even remembered the napkins.

Then I sunk the knife into the chicken.

But there was no meat in the breast. None. It was just skin and weird looking fatty stuff. I tried on the other side, hoping that maybe it was just an asymmetrical critter.


“What is wrong with this chicken?” I said, clenching my jaw.

I wondered if it was possible for a chicken to be flat chested.

I did my best to pick off as much meat as possible, glad that both wings were in tact, even if the drumsticks fell apart.

Then I flipped over the bird, hoping for something. Anything.

That was when I realized that I’d cooked the chicken breast side down. I. Felt. Stupid. But at least there was plenty of meat!

The feast was delicious (even the upside-down chicken). The kids ate like beasts (because they’re all growing like monsters). Jeff said everything was great (because he’s kind).

This morning, when I finally let myself laugh about the boob-side-down bird, I thought about how this is a story I don’t want to forget. One that I’ll want to tell about the Easter we spent in distance because of Covid-19.

These stories we’re living at this time have the power to draw us near to the people we love. They’ll work to form new bonds to the friends and family we haven’t even met yet. And they’ll be great to help us process this time.

These are the stories that bind us.

So, I’d love to hear from you. What made yesterday especially memorable for you? What made the day special? What stories did you create yesterday?

What to Wear: 1960s Version

One of my favorite things about writing 1960s era fiction (Stories That Bind Us is set in 1963 and All Manner of Things in 1967) is all the fun fashion!

Here I’ve compiled some fun ideas! Which is your favorite?

Grab a pair of flared jeans (or bell bottoms if you’ve got them) and pair them with a button up shirt. Extra points if you use a scarf or tie as a belt. Throw on some ankle boots or strappy sandals and you’re all set!

Guess what! Palazzo pants are back! They go great with a fitted top (the simpler, the better) and some fun jewelry. This look is great with those strappy sandals.

Fellas! Plaid shirts (both long sleeve and short) are very 1960s. Bonus points if you go for a floral print or some fun paisleys. These looks have been EVERYWHERE the past few years.

Boots! Boots! BOOTS! Tall, short, high heeled, or flat. Boots were super groovy. Wear them with a shift dress or mini skirt (if you dare) and you’re on your way to fabulous 60s style!

Grab the shirt you tie dyed at camp. Pair it with a pair of bell bottoms and some groovy sideburns for a great Joe Cocker Woodstock look.

Tap into some flower power! Funky florals were everywhere in the 1960s. The wilder the better!

Go bold! Geometric patterns and strong lines were a big part of the mod fad of the 1960s. Go with a sold tight (bonus points for a bright color) and flats and you’ve got the look down!

Guys! I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here, but if you figure it out, more power to ya! I’ll for sure give you a double entry if you sport that faux fur vest up there.

Ladies, most of us have at least one shift dress. It can be patterned or solid, sleeveless or whatever. Pair it with a string of pearls (long or choker length) and a pair of flats or those go-go boots and you’re all set!

Keep it casual and go for some fun colored jeans! Wear them with a striped or floral top and a pair of canvas sneakers to look neato!

Or you could just go with the hippie look which is…well….kind of hard to define. Just throw some clothes on, paint a flower on your face, wear your hair long and call it good.

Or, if all else fails, grab some aluminum foil and come ready to blast off into space!

I’d really love to see you at the release party this Thursday, even if you don’t dress up. Be sure to bring your friends and be ready for a great time!

#FBF: 5 Groundbreaking Shows of the 1960s

The 1960s was a great decade for television. People enjoyed many (MANY) hours around the tube watching variety shows, comedies, and dramas. But it wasn’t just an era of entertaining TV, there was a whole lot of groundbreaking.

Today I’m highlighting five shows that took some risks, changed things up, and made a big impact on society.

1. I Spy (1965-1968)

From the hindsight of one living in 2019, it would be easy to see I Spy as just a fun secret agent show with lots of action, intrigue, and a couple of well cast stars. But, this show was actually a trailblazer as it cast a black man (Bill Cosby) as one of the lead characters. This was completely unheard of previously and set a precedent for other shows that followed.

2. The Twilight Zone (1958-1964)

Okay. I cheated a tiny bit, including a series that premiered in the 50s. But The Twilight Zone was such an innovative, unpredictable, out of the box show that I would be sad not to include it. I’ve been working my way through the original series on Netflix and have found myself thoroughly creeped out by a few of the storylines. This concept has been echoed in shows like Black Mirror. There’s also a reboot of The Twilight Zone coming our way soon.

3. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

To the casual viewer (particularly one born after the 1960s), The Dick Van Dyke Show might look like the average family sit com. But, really, there was a lot more to it. For one, Rob Petrie (played by Van Dyke) was a writer for a television variety show, which gave viewers a behind the curtains view of the makings of a TV show. Also, Laura Petrie (played by Mary Tyler Moore) was not a Donna Reed type of television wife. She wore capri pants (which was a HUGE deal, people), expected her husband to help out around the house, and kept him in line (rather than the other way around).

In what was perhaps their most groundbreaking episode, “That’s My Boy??”, Rob and Laura bring home their newborn baby. Rob is convinced that the child isn’t his. After looking into things, the Petries figure out that their baby got switched for the Peters family’s baby. Rob invites the Peters over to swap babies, only to find that the Peters couple are black.

That episode almost was never filmed because producers thought it would be too controversial in light of Civil Rights. But, after Carl Reiner (one of the show’s writers) insisted, it was filmed in front of a studio audience. The moment when Van Dyke’s character opens the door to the Peters is an iconic moment in television history. Not to mention, it’s comedy gold.

4. The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971)

Another cheat. It’s all right, though, because The Ed Sullivan Show is greatly associated with the 1960s because of the HUGE acts he showcased. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Elvis…Not only was he a star, he was a star maker. His was, by no means, the first variety show. However, it was one that featured a wide range of acts — some of them quite edgy. And, because he had such a draw, his show was the source of a lot of our iconic TV moments.

5. Star Trek (1966-1969)

Space may be the final frontier, but the writers of Star Trek blazed some earthly trails in more ways than one. They had a cast of characters who represented different nationalities, ethnicities, and species (I mean, there are Vulcans). In many of the episodes, the characters confront issues that their earth dwelling counterparts lived with: racism, feminism, war, right for all, etc. Additionally, the show featured one of the first interracial kisses between Captain Kirk and Uhura (not the first, but close).

Oh, and it opened up a whole genre of nerdery to the world at large. I say this as one who has watched most of the Star Trek iterations at least once.

So, did I miss any shows? What shows from the 60s sticks out as a groundbreaker to you? Why?

This is a friendly reminder to pre-order your copy of All Manner of Things! The best place to order it is Baker Book House. After placing your order, make sure to enter your receipt number into my pre-order giveaway form. You could win one of three pretty sweet prizes! Each order is another chance to win!!!!

#FBF: Make-up trends of the 1960s

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been much of a make-up loving girl. As a matter of fact, I’ve only figured out how to put on eyeliner in the past 6 months. Friends, I’m 41 years old!

But I am a fan of 1960s make-up trends. Why? Because it’s fun. Isn’t that the best reason to be intrigued by fads of the past?

Here are some of my favorites.

The Twiggy Eye: Normal line right about the upper lash line with a thick curve of black at the crease of the lid. Then exaggerated lower lashes drawn directly onto the skin.

With all the fancy work on the eyes, many chose a natural color or an icy pink lipstick like Diana Ross in this diva-tastic photo.

In My Girl the movie starring Macauley Culkin and destroyed us all emotionally in the early 1990s, Jamie Lee Curtis’ character says, “The first rule of eye makeup is that you can never wear enough blue eye shadow.” And all the ladies of the early 60s said, “Neato!”

Lipstick in a “rainbow range of shades”… but only if that rainbow consists of red, red, pink, and red.

As long as we’re looking and red, red, and pink lipstick, we may as well match our fingernails to it! Also, is it just me or does the woman in the above advertisement look like she’s in utter agony?

Perfectly shaped and full eyebrows which Nina Simone did so well.

The Sophia Loren cat eye: A very thick line that grows thicker toward the outer edge of the top lip, ending in a point to give the eye a feline shape. Good old Sophia had an advantage as she already had that shape of eye.

And, finally, what Google has so lovingly tagged as “Hippie Make-up”, the flower child face painting! This one is still popular at school carnivals and amusement parks.

I’d love to hear from you! What’s your favorite 1960s make-up trend?

What to Read Next — Books By My Friends

You know what I love? Being able to recommend a good book. What do I love even more? When that good book is written by a friend of mine. I have the good fortune of having many author friends whose work I greatly admire.

And today you get to benefit for those friendships!

Hopefully you’ll find a new-to-you book to read or give as a gift!

P.S. All links are to Baker Book House. Why? Are they paying me? Nope. I just love them and think it’s worth it to support local businesses. And I love them. Did I already mention that? #ILoveThem

Catie Cordero’s 1920s series is written with snappy dialogue, sharp narrative, and lovable characters. If you’re a fan of period pieces and jazzy fiction, Cordero is your gal!

I’m just so very proud of my buddy Josh Mosey and his debut, 3-Minute Prayers for Boys. This pocket sized, quite affordable book has motivated my boys to spend more time in prayer, to think about some of the deeper issues they face, and to meet up with a friend every day for a time of Bible study. There’s also a version for girls by Margot Starbuck.

So, My Dearest Dietrich isn’t released yet. BUT it is available for pre-order and you will want to read this novel of Bonhoeffer’s life. I had the honor of endorsing Amanda Barratt’s book and I adored it.

This book is achingly beautiful and I was pulled in from the very first page. I adore Alia’s work. She offers a rare and special gift in Glorious Weakness. This is a book I keep thinking about and know I will for a long time.

I will read anything Jocelyn Green writes. In fact, I’ve read all of her novels and most of her nonfiction. So, I think I can speak on authority when I say that Between Two Shores is her best work yet. For readers who love history, adventure, and a plot that will keep you on your toes.

Oh, poetry lovers! I know you’re there. You NEED to get a copy of Matthew Landrum’s Berlin Poems. Landrum writes in such a way that the reader feels transported to Berlin. And he allows us a glimpse into a story that is intimate, vulnerable, and gorgeously penned.

Every moment that I spent with Jolina Petersheim’s How the Light Gets In was a moment fully transported to Wisconsin to experience Ruth’s story. Petersheim is a literary writer and is skilled at writing characters who feel as real as friends.

Jot That Down is a book for writers (or those wishing to pursue a writing life). The compilation book is one I was honored to take part in. When I look at the list of contributors, I am happy to say that I count nearly every one as a personal friend (I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting some of them).

Which of these books is new-to-you and looks interesting? What book recommendations could you give me? I’m starting to make my summer to read list and can’t wait to find more to add to the stack.

Readerly Confession: the part of the book I don’t read

If you follow me on Instagram you no doubt already know that books have basically taken over my life.

Books and the cat. And coffee. And ridiculous selfies.

But mostly books.

My entire literate life has been spent with a nose stuck in a book. I listen to them when I drive, read them while I’m cooking (which is a little risky), and always have one tucked away in my purse just in case.

But there’s one thing that might shock you about my reading habits. In fact, my editor (the lovely Kelsey) was aghast when she found out.


Are you sitting down?

I don’t read the back of the book (or the description blurb on Amazon) when I buy/check out/start to read a book.

That’s right. I like to go into a book completely blind.

So, how do I know that it’s a book I’ll want to read? I just do! I take the recommendations of trusted friends, authors I admire, and yes I go by cover design (don’t judge me!).

I’m an adventurous reader with eclectic taste, so not knowing the basic premise of a book is usually no problem.

But sometimes it is.

Like last week when I accidentally read two post-apocalyptic novels that were about the few who survived a horrible flu outbreak at the same time (Station Eleven and The Star Dogs). Or when I thought a friend had spoiled a plot for me via Instagram on a book I’d just started (How the Light Gets In) when the “spoil” was already in the back cover blurb (whoops and whew).

Generally, though, it results in me reading a bunch of books I might not have otherwise.

How about you? Do you read the back covers of books? Or do you go in without knowing anything about the plot like I do? What’s your system of picking out a book to read?

I love to hear from YOU! And happy reading!

Good Enough in a Perfection Obsessed World

 Hands up in you’re a perfectionist.

I see ya. Yup, you, too. And over there.

You know, there are those who might be surprised to see my hand waving in the air like I just don’t care. I mean, I do care.  A lot.

I’m a perfectionist. Of course I care. A lot.

See, I’m a perfectionist in such a way that, if I can’t do something absolutely amazingly and wonderfully, and PERFECTLY, I just don’t want to do it at all. Maybe that’s why I’m not the world’s best housekeeper…hm.

One might think that perfectionism would be a boon for a writer. That it would fuel me to do my very best work and that it would drive me to keep going until it’s — well — perfect.

Really, though, my perfectionism trips me up more than it urges me on.

In my writing life, that looks like working a scene over and over until it’s exactly how I want it. Even then, it’s not as good as it could be. Or perfectionism looks like paralysis, an inability to start a chapter for fear of doing it wrong.

That’s not great, in case you wondered.

My perfectionism overflows to areas of my regular life, too.

There have been times when I haven’t invited friends over because I didn’t think I’d ever get my house perfectly clean. I used to beat myself up over vocal performances when I didn’t hit every single note perfectly. I’ve avoided trying new things because it took the risk of showing that I’m not perfectly good at everything.

I don’t wear sleeveless shirts and I rarely wear a swimsuit in public because I’m afraid of people seeing how really imperfect my body is. I don’t want them to be disappointed by my chubby legs and misshapen belly (which, to be fair, has never been the same after being stretched out by a couple of babies who decided that being twins was cool).

It’s often not enough for me to try to be perfect. I usually want other people to think I’m perfect, too.

The problem? I’m totally not perfect.

The problem? I am a mere mortal with limitations.

The problem? I like chocolate more than I like doing sit ups.

The solution?

Sometimes, in some things, I need to be content with Good Enough.

Hear me, please, not in a dismissive, slack off way. But in a “I did my best and can give no more of myself” kind of way.

When a friend comes over and sees that I haven’t gotten that cobweb in the corner, it’s okay. I vacuumed and scooped the poop out of the litter box. Good enough.

When I sing at church and my voice cracks, it’s okay. I still put my heart into serving others and worshipping God. Good enough.

When I serve dinner on paper plates every night for a full week, but those dinners had all the important elements (including a veggie). Good enough.

When I falter under the temptation of the chocolate chips in the cupboard, but I also had an extra handful of spinach at lunch (without ranch). Good enough.

When I don’t know what to say to comfort a friend, but am wise enough to know that a hug speaks plenty. Good enough.

When I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got and trying my very best to hear what God has to say (even though sometimes His voice is so soft I have to strain to listen). Good. Enough.

It’s grace that I give myself. To do what I’m able to and let go of what is beyond me. To put my time and energy into the tasks that God has enabled me to do and to allow myself to sit back and imagine Him looking at my efforts.

And I imagine Him smiling in the way that fathers do and taking my small gifts and saying, “Good enough.”

#FBF: 51 years and 1 day ago

Fifty-one years and one day ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. On that day, Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis for a presidential campaign rally.

But instead of campaigning, Kennedy announced the death of King.

His speech was improvised, empathetic, and — despite the darkness of that day — hopeful.

When I watch this clip with my understanding of history, I remember that two months and two days later, Bobby Kennedy would also be shot and killed. An ache swells in my chest to think about it.

But then I need to take a breath and try to watch it the way Mary Evans did on that night fifty-one years and one day ago. She was 16 years old at the time and recently shared her story. It’s a good one. Click here to read it.

The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. Upheaval, violence, hatred, and turmoil are not even close to novelties.

But hope is nothing new either.

And we have this hope; that all that is wrong will be made right. That love will overcome hate, light drive away darkness. That, even though we encounter all kinds of trouble here, we have the chance to follow One who has already overcome all of it.

Fifty-one years and one day later, let’s take the time, as Kennedy said, “…to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”

Compassion, love, faith, and a willingness to listen. All of these fueled with hope. Hope that has outlasted the ages, that has persevered through hardship and war and drought. Hope that holds on in the wildest storms.

Hope that good will win out over bad just like it has so many times already.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Ove and Emil and winning a smile

A Man Called Ove has been on my list of hyped books to read for two or three years. I’d look at it when I visited the bookstore, nearly adding it to my pile. But then something always prevented me.

Then I saw that it was available as an audiobook through my library.

“What the hay?” I thought while clicking the borrow button.

I was entranced from the first moment.

Ove is a grumpy old man who just wants to go about his business. What’s his business? Well, if I told you, it might ruin part of the story for you and I’m not a spoil queen. But every time Ove tries to do his thing, he’s prevented by a spectacular cast of troublesome neighbors.

It’s a curmudgeon-turns-soft-hearted-teddy-bear-because-he’s-confronted-with-the-fact-that-he’s-needed kind of a story. A tale about how important community is. How much we need each other.

I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Ove reminded me of a man who lived in the retirement home I worked at in college. His name was Emil and he was a tough customer. At lunch he’d get upset because the food was either too chewy or too mushy. He’d complain that we didn’t break his crackers small enough. He’d complain that we crushed them to powder. He’d moan through dinner, sometimes even throwing his spoon on the floor in frustration (and the spoon only because he wasn’t allowed to have knives or forks anymore!!! Yikes!).

All the girls I worked with couldn’t decide if they were afraid of him or just hated him. Or maybe it was a little of both.

As upsetting as Emil often was, something about him made me sad. I asked my grandma about him (she lived in the same retirement community) and she said that in the three years she’d lived there, no one came to visit Emil.

Not once.

I decided that I’d get him to smile somehow. I wasn’t sure how, but I was determined that I would win a smile.

I’d slip him an extra pudding cup or sneak him a cookie before helping him get to his apartment after meals. I’d wheel his chair the long way to the elevator so he could see the goldfinches at the bird feeders.

Eventually, he stopped grumping at me. He started saying “please” and “thank you”. He even told me one time that I was doing a good job.

Every once in awhile he’d tell me about serving in the Polish Army in World War II or his wife who passed away years before. Sometimes he’d even tell me about his “good for nothing children” who “never visited”. Then he’d talk about how proud he was of them anyway.

Just like Ove in the book, Emil in real life warmed up a little.

The last time I saw Emil was before I took two weeks off for Christmas vacation. I wished him a good holiday and handed him a card with a candy cane taped to the front (all I could afford on my college student budget).

He patted my hand and told me I was special.

Then he gave me the slightest little smile. If I hadn’t been watching I would have missed it.

Three days after Christmas, Emil passed away.

I was absolutely devastated. Going to work after that just wasn’t the same. I missed Emil.

That was over twenty years ago and I hadn’t thought of Emil in a long time. Not until I gave A Man Called Ove a chance. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought Fredrick Backman had used Emil as a template for his character.

While I listened to the story, it struck me that what made Ove’s life worthwhile was seeing the need others had for him. He had to live one day more just to help one of his pea-brained neighbors.

Then I thought about what it had been that Emil needed. It came to me right away. Emil needed to be seen. Seen for more than the angry old man. Seen for someone who was frustrated, yes, but for very good reason. Seen as a man who remembered the strength of his youth from the body of a man who could hardly wheel his way down the hall.

What Emil needed was to have his worth acknowledged.

We have Oves and Emils all around us. Hard-to-love folks who annoy us or grump at us or defy our ability to understand them.

No matter who they are, they need to be loved. They want to be seen. It’s important for them to be acknowledged as having a purpose.

It costs so little for us. Maybe a little time, a bit of effort, a space in our hearts. When we choose to recognize the worth of someone else we can never fully know what difference it makes in their lives.

We can only know the way it changes ours.

Photo by Alex Boyd

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