Fifty Two.

Election? Whatever. Let’s talk books.

I read a lot. All the time. I am never without a book, and in fact I get edgy if I finish a book and don’t immediately have another one to start. I am the opposite of a book snob – a book slut? – and will read just about anything.

In the last few years, I have started tracking my reading on Goodreads. I’ve also joined three book clubs – one through church, one parent-student group at the middle school, and one just for fun. I thought fifty books would be a challenging goal to read in 2016.

Crushed it.

I sailed through book #50 around November 1. In reviewing my list, however, I noted that one book was a skimmer (the enormous, textbook-like Decoration of Houses) and one was a re-read (Carry On, Warrior). So, just to make things completely fair, I am reporting 52 books to complete my 2016 goal.

Of these, I only purchased two books – To Marry an English Lord and Grounded. The rest were library books, gifted, or borrowed. Ten of the 52 are non-fiction. I feel like I’m supposed to say I’ll read more non-fiction next year, but meh. There are so many glorious books out there.

Here’s my list, with some notes:

52. Razor Girl, Carl Hiaasen – Very funny. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Hiaasen novel, and I think that helped.

51. Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor – This is the sequel to #49, and I really enjoyed it.

50. Club Dead, Charmaine Harris – More delicious fluff.

49. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor – I love, love, love this series. The world-building feels complete, but the author does not belabor the minutiae of the fictional world.

48. Losing it, Emma Rathbone – I did not love this book, mostly because I wanted to shake the main character.

47. Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson – Good middle school read.

46. Mistress of the Art of Death, Arianna Franklin – Read while traveling. Glad I didn’t buy it.

45. Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris – Palate cleanser!

44. Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers – Church book club selection. Well-written but repetetive.

43. The Blessings of a B-Minus, by Wendy Mogel – Parenting book, which I enjoyed.

42. The Nightingale, Kristen Hannah – GREAT. Could not put it down.

41. Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton (re-read)

40. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris – The book equivalent of sherbet.

39. The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware – Good, suspenseful.

38. Paper Towns, John Green – Well-done but I feel I am too old for John Green novels. I was never that cool in high school.

37. Imagine me Gone, Adam Haslitt – Well done but soulless.

37. The Decoration of Houses, Alexandra Stoddard (I skimmed this one.)

36. I Let You Go, Claire MacKintosh – This one was a great thriller.

35. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan – Quick in all senses of the word.

34. Grounded, Diana Butler Bass – To quote the woman who picked it, “I wish it had been better.”

33. The Girl in the Ice, Robert Bryndza – Picked-up-at-the-library mystery.

32. The Paper Magician, Charlie Holmberg – Good, but not enough to get me to read the rest of the trilogy.

31. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel – Outstanding.

30. Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt – Also outstanding.

29. Sundays at Tiffany’s, James Patterson – Not great.

28. Edible Estates, Fritz Haeg – This book wanted to be revolutionary, but failed.

27. The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh – Sharp British satire.

26. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford – A very nice read.

25. The Gates of Evangeline, Hester Young – This one surprised me by how good it was.

24. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis – Classic.

23. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, David Lagercrantz – Good for what it was, but not as good as the original Millennium trilogy.

22. Orphan Train, Catherine Kline – Good, if sappy.

21. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Bachman – Excellent. Thought about this one for days.

20. The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Weber Hurwitz – Sunshine State book for middle schoolers.

19. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry – Despite not being the kind of person who loves Westerns, I loved this book.

18. Midwives, Chris Bohjalian – My favorite Bohjalian so far.

17. To Marry an English Lord, Carol McColl – Intensely interesting.

16. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff – I had incredibly high hopes for this one. The writing was beautiful, but it didn’t grab me like her previous books.

15. Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs – Love this series.

14. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith – I liked Galbraith’s first two novels better.

13. Faithful Place, Tana French – Good gripping read.

12. Deception Point, Dan Brown – Browntastic!

11. The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, David Herlihy – Short but informative book on the plague.

10. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie – Another classic. It has held up well.

9. Airborn, Ken Oppel – Middle school read, but I really enjoyed it.

8. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin – Aggressively fine.

7. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson – I take all memoirs with a grain of sand, but this was an interesting read.

6. Gateways, F. Paul Wilson – It’s a thriller with a whiff of the supernatural. Good series.

5. Flat Water Tuesday, Ron Irwin – Probably good for rowers and non-rowers alike, but better for rowers.

4. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doer – SO GOOD.

3. In the Dark, Dark Woods, Ruth Ware – Suspenseful and awesome.

2. At the Water’s Edge, Sarah Gruen – Also suspenseful and awesome.

1. The Haunted Air, F. Paul Wilson – Repairman Jack is a great character, and this series is a fun read.

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A Glimpse

It has been seventeen months since my mom was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, and had surgery to remove the tumor and part of her left frontal lobe. This week, I took her for her most recent checkup – a two-day process that involves labs, an MRI, and a meeting with her multidisciplinary team at the Mayo Clinic. Before that, I brought her to Tallahassee to show her the house and talk to her about Where We Go From Here.

She did much better than I expected at my house. But “better than expected” doesn’t mean much when I had set my expectations at ground level. She was able to get around, slowly, and even made it upstairs in the big house to see the bedrooms. We talked about moving her over to Tallahassee at the end of the year, and hiring in-home caregivers to help her establish and maintain a routine. Her current typical day involves eating three meals and watching three movies (read: probably taking three naps) at the facility’s theater. As a result, her physical abilities have diminished and she has lost interest in things she used to love. She hasn’t even watched a Jaguars game this year. A Jaguars game, people.

Adjusting to mom’s new normal has been harder for me than for her. I remember her before she was sick. She doesn’t have any visible scars – no amputated limb, no braces or wheelchair – to remind me that she is irrevocably different now. At 17 months out from surgery, she has probably made most of the cognitive recovery she is going to make, and where we are now is…. well, it is what it is.

It’s like this:

She asks me constantly, like a toddler, what time things will occur. “When is my MRI?” “When do we need to leave?” “When do you want to eat?” It’s almost funny, except she has no concept of time or schedule. If I tell her we need to leave at 6:15, there is a zero percent chance she will be ready at 6:15. She kind of drifts through time like a manatee, and cannot fathom why other people find it aggravating.

When you or I are interrupted, we devote a portion of our mind to the interruption. Let’s say I’m cooking and Hazel asks for a snack. I wait for a break in the recipe process, get her a snack, and get back to work. When my mom is interrupted, it’s like a record skips and time starts over. For example, Saturday night we were at dinner, discussing plans for Sunday. I told mom that we’d come have breakfast with her and then I’d drive her to church.

Less than five minutes later, her phone rang.

Interruption. Record skipped. Time reset.

I heard her say, “Sure, I’ll meet you in the lobby at 10:30 tomorrow morning. See you then.”

I waited for her to hang up, then asked who had called. “It was my friend. She offered to take me to church tomorrow. Isn’t that nice?” When I pointed out that we had just talked about this, she seemed baffled. The interruption – the sound of a ringing phone – created a clean break in her mind. This makes it difficult for her to go out, because the world is filled with interruptions, creating fragments of time that overwhelm her.

She also tends to get ideas stuck in her head, and once lodged there, they are impossible to remove. When the doctors arrived for our meeting on Thursday morning, her first question was, “Has the bleeding in my brain stopped?”

Let’s be clear. She does not now, nor has she ever had, bleeding in her brain. But somewhere along the line, she got it in her head that the reason she was having bi-monthly MRIs was to track the progress of a brain bleed. Her doctors told her that she never had a brain bleed. I told her she never had a brain bleed.

In the car on the way home, her pastor called her. She told him the bleed in her brain had stopped.

Several weeks ago, she got a bad cold. I asked if she was taking anything for it.

“I can’t take cold medicine,” she informed me.

“Who says you can’t take cold medicine?”

“My doctor.”

“Which doctor?”

“All of them.”

“When did they tell you that?”

“They tell me all the time.”

This is simply not true. She’s had someone with her for almost every doctor’s appointment over the last year, and no doctor has ever said anything like that. But she’s got it in her head that she can’t take cold medicine, and so she suffers through colds.

Most of her convictions are relatively harmless, but the one area where we continue to struggle is her car. She demanded to have it at her assisted living facility, and she drives it several times a week.

Her neuro-oncologist told her six months ago not to drive unless it was an absolute emergency – like if the building was on fire.

She continued driving – to the grocery store, choir practice, the bank.

Her new neurologist and oncologist told her Thursday morning that she was not to drive under any circumstances, ever. Period.

Guess who drove herself to choir practice after dark on Thursday night?

Ding ding ding!

Sigh. It appears I am now tasked with prying the car keys from her fingers. I remember mom having to do the same thing with her own mother, and how much tension it caused between them. I hate to be the bad guy. I feel like so much has already been taken from her, mostly by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. She had to leave her home of 30 years. She gave up a lot of her volunteer work. Her once-packed social life has withered to almost nothing. Her car is one of the last vestiges of her old life, and she clings to it.

This is understandable.

It doesn’t change the fact that she shouldn’t be driving.

It’s a good thing I get so much practice enduring tantrums. Time to dust off my Mom voice.






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The World’s Lamest Reveal

In July, we bought this fixer-upper:


After 3 months and a substantial number of renovation dollars, I present…..


(hushed, excited whispers)

(maybe a little cowbell)



(loud sigh)

That’s right, almost all our renovation dollars were spent on stuff you can’t see! Psychologically speaking, this was a terrible decision! We should have just lit a pile of money on fire in the front yard!

Here’s a breakdown of where the dollars went:

  1. New Roof – Hartsfield Roofing & Construction
  2. Complete Rewire – Chad O’Hara’s Quality Electrical Services
  3. Foundation Work – Alpha Foundation Systems
  4. Vermin Elimination – Black Thumb
  5. Plumbing and Gas – White’s Plumbing
  6. HVAC Unit and Duct Replacement – Central Heating Consultants
  7. Drywall Repairs – Wall Doctors

Fear not! It appears the hard part is over. We’ve unpacked most of our boxes and are gearing up to paint. We’re going to start with our own room. The kids are miffed, but HEY, they don’t pay the mortgage.

Jason asked for a blue room, so I picked three shades to test:


Top to bottom, that’s Wythe Blue (Benjamin Moore), Palladian Blue (Benjamin Moore), and Flora (Behr). I liked the darkest and he liked the lightest, so we compromised on the middle shade.

And that’s marriage in a nutshell.




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I’m calling it

Hazel continues to grow up at an astonishing rate. Since we moved, she has outgrown bed rails, her high chair, and diapers.



When we moved, the prospect of laundering cloth diapers with only intermittent power was daunting, so I decided to go ahead and potty train Hazel. It was fine – like all other potty training experiences, it was occasionally gross and got better over time. I don’t think anyone needs a play-by-play.

The most important lesson I had to impart to Hazel was that it is VERBOTEN to wipe yourself and then use the same toilet paper to blow your nose.


I didn’t start this post to talk about potty training, per se. I set out to talk about cloth diapering – specifically, how I feel about it now that it’s over.

Cloth diapering was one of our best decisions, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I mean, yes, there were days when I just did not feel like washing the same d@mn diapers for what felt like the millionth time. But the cost savings and environmental impact were worth it.  We had several brands in our arsenal, but our clear favorite was Charlie Banana. Unlike FuzziBuns and BumGenius, the Charlie Banana inserts load from the front. That means that if your baby has pooped, and the poop has migrated up her back, you don’t have to touch it to get your insert out of the diaper. It seems like a small thing, but in parenting, the small things matter. These diapers also seemed to work better on Hazel after she became mobile.

Like everything else in modern life, the internet can be a valuable resource in the world of cloth diapering – but it can also be a land of treachery and deceit. Many people made cloth diapering out to be a lot more complicated and snowflake-special than it needed to be. For example, I never stripped my diapers with bleach. I also never used special, expensive cloth diaper detergent. I followed the care label on the diaper (how novel!). I used regular powdered Tide and dried them in the sunshine when I could.

So, now that Hazel is all grown up, I am in possession of a ton of cloth diapers and cloth diapering accessories and am looking for a buyer. I have at least 30 diapers (mixed brands) with inserts, a diaper pail with two large wet bags, diaper liners for older babies, and everything else you need to cloth diaper a baby for two years and three months.

If you know someone who is interested in trying cloth diapers, please put them in contact with me. I would love to help!

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My

“Lions and Tigers and Bears” sounds a lot better than “Rodents and Web Worms and Ants,” but the latter is what we’re actually dealing with over here. Gross.

During our long exile in the guest house, I noticed mouse poop every time I’d visit the big house. I secretly hoped that Bonus Cat (a black cat who came with the house and dwells in the crawl space) would help keep the rodent problem at bay, but alas. The mice continued to cavort all over our belongings, leaving a trail of misery and poop pellets in their wake.


We selected a company called Black Thumb to eradicate the rodent menace, because Black Thumb is a terrific name for an extermination company. They have trapped four mice so far – two in the house, two under the house. We have not seen any sign of rodent activity in almost a week.

Once we got that problem under control, it was time for something else to fall apart. Our favorite contractor came out to begin wood rot repairs, and discovered a colony of carpenter ants in our siding.



That ended up being a relatively easy problem to treat, as I just called our regular pest control company and they came out the next day to spray at no additional charge. When does that ever happen?

So, two problems down. I was feeling pretty competent, until the yard guy (who, like Bonus Cat, came with the house) pointed out a crop-circle-like spot in the grass.

Bad things come in threes, remember? Not twos.


Probably sod webworms. Greeeeeaaat.

The pest control company doesn’t treat grass, so we’ll have to tackle this one ourselves. Wish us luck.

Finally, an update! Thanks to everyone who voted in my Friday Lighting Poll. The Farmer squeaked out a win, so three of ’em are headed this way.

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A Friday Poll

I have a lighting question.

Here is our kitchen. Please note the large, beautiful windows.

We asked the electricians to add pendant light boxes over each window, because I like my kitchens as bright as an operating room.

I’ve narrowed my pendant choices down to two.

Option 1: The Farmer

This fixture is 10″ wide.

Pros: Makes a statement, fits the farmhouse feel of the house.

Cons: Blocks more of the natural window light.

Option 2: The Hipster

This fixture is 6.5″ wide.

Pros: Interesting shape, refined lines, smaller pendant doesn’t block the windows.

Cons: Clear shade means light is not only directed downward, small pendant may not make much impact.

So, what do you think?

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Wait, what?

Yes, this post will include a house update. BUT FIRST!

Earlier this week I stopped by my friend’s house. Her daughter and Tyler are 12 days apart and, for the first time this year, have classes together at the middle school. I walked in the door and my friend says, “Brenna, YOU TELL WINDY WHAT YOU JUST TOLD ME ABOUT TYLER.”

Oh, Lord, I thought, he’s dealing drugs at school.

“Well,” the eighth grader began, “Tyler is… like…. kind of…



(stunned silence)

“Wait, what?” I could not believe my ears. “Tyler? Our Tyler?”

“Yeah, I know, right?”


So that was weird.

OK, now we can talk about the house.

The plumbers have done their work, with a couple of exceptions. They still need to re-rough the drain lines under the kitchen sink (SEXY) and the City of Tallahassee needs to turn on our natural gas (GASSY).

The electricians have contented themselves with punching an alarming number of holes in our walls and ceilings.


Really? Was every single one of those necessary?

There have been a series of minor crises. In my head, the severity of a problem corresponds to the number of digits in the price to fix said problem. So, we’ve had a four-digit mouse problem, a three-digit HVAC problem, and a three-digit van AC problem…. in the last week.

We’re also remembering – slowly – why we bought this house in the first place. We’re finally seeing through the veil of repairs to the house itself. The porch is an amazing place to sit, whether it’s first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee, or last thing at night with a glass of wine. The bedrooms are taking shape, and the kids have spent a couple of nights in “the big house.” I have not – my rule is that my coffee maker and I must sleep under the same roof. Also, the mouse problem brings with it a flea problem, which no.

It appears that we’ve inherited a cat along with a landscaper. We call him (her?) Bonus Cat. It’s all black, and it loves to lurk in the crawl space and scare plumbers and electricians.

I believe the electricians will be done, or substantially done, by the end of next week. Fingers crossed, people!





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