Authors: Our Special Weekend Guests

This morning began like most of our weekend mornings do – a good breakfast, hot coffee with vanilla creamer (or as my nephew pointed out, creamer with some coffee added), a random game with our girls, and a good book. I love the ritual and rhythm of our weekend mornings.

When I say a good book, what I really mean is a book Kevin and I take turns reading to each other, a relatively new ritual we added a little over a year ago. The experience has been incredible. We have had discussions we never thought to have. We have laughed and cried together, and on so many levels, we have been inspired.

These authors have become our friends, invited guests into our morning liturgy. They have enriched our day, our life, our story, and our relationship to one another.  Sometimes I imagine them pulling up a chair beside us – a rocking chair on our porch or a spot on the loveseat across from us in our bonus room. We genuinely enjoy their company.

Our guests have been poets, priests and ex-priests, storytellers, theologians, academics, children’s authors. They have been gentle, pushy, thoughtful, wordy, opinionated, bossy, charming, eloquent, simple, and down right hilarious. Some have been frequent visitors – Donald Miller and Brennan Manning. Another stayed for months – Dallas Willard. A few duds appeared, in our opinion, but we decided to make the most of our time together. Just this morning, I introduce a good friend of mine to my husband and they seemed to hit it off quite well. I think she might even be added to the frequent visitor list.

One day, after this life is over, I hope to sit at a table with these friends of mine and tell them face to face how their words, their brave expressions, have shaped and inspired me. After that moment, I envision myself leaning back into a big comfy chair to listen to what else they have to say, things they never got to say on earth or never managed to get into print and of course, their new thoughts. And you know what? I even imagine they will care about my thoughts as well. At least I hope they will.

Until then, Kevin and I will continue to enjoy our special guests on our lovely weekend mornings.

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I Write Because….

I wish I could give credit to the one who first penned the line, I write because I must, but after an extensive Google search, I am no closer to the answer. Suffice to say, it is a popular sentiment embraced by many. If I were to complete the line I write because …, I would have a far different answer.

I write because it helps me process life. I wake up every morning with literal blank pages before me bound in a leather cover. After grabbing my cup of coffee with pages in hand and a book I am currently reading, I retreat to my front porch, one of my favorite places, and sit in my rocking chair to think and write about life. I may read a little or just sit and sip from my cup. And then, I write and write and write. Some pages are filled with rants and others with gratitude. Some days I tackle the deep philosophical or cultural issues of the day and others, I jot down a to do list. I complain. I pontificate. I question. I dream. I dread. The pages have coffee stains, blurry letters from tears, rips from being dropped, doodles from daydreams, but every word is my way of processing the story I am living – the twists, the turns, the mystery, the characters, the changing setting.

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For me, these pages aren’t monologues. They are a conversation between me and the One who sees and knows it all. I pour out my heart, sometimes with snot flying and tears dripping and sometimes with laughter flowing or sarcasm oozing. And when I write until I can’t write another word, I wait.

And almost always, God speaks to me. Some days he uses words that seem to bubble up inside of me, and then there are days when He uses birds, neighbors, books, a phone call, and Scripture to give me understanding and offer peace. I can’t explain it completely, but I have discovered, He is always speaking. And over time I’m listening more.

I write because I want to process my life. But maybe on a deeper level, I write because I like having chats with the One who knows my story and enjoys living it with me. That seems like a good enough reason to me.

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Characters

Every story, good or bad, is propelled by the intricate interaction of plot and characters. However, you can have the most compelling plot, but without a character, not much can happen. It’s like having a sentence with only a verb. Stop! Listen. Go. Wait. These sentences are powerless without a character to carry out the action.

Characters give the story context and meaning. I have a box full of photographs in my garage I will probably never throw away. The characters in that box have changed throughout the years, and the photographs have chronicled those beautiful, and sometimes not so beautiful, transformations. Those two clueless twenty-something year old kids who fell in love hiking hand in hand in the North Georgia mountains, that doe-eyed newborn who looked up into my eyes, making love at first sight an actual reality, and the three others who followed causing my heart to profoundly grow, not divide – these are some of the memories contained in that treasure box of developed film.

And then there are the other images, shots with no characters at all, just flowers, trees, landscapes. For the life of me, I have no idea where or when they were taken. Ah, but when I see the same scenery with a child in the foreground, suddenly I remember the event or the location.

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This is what people do. They give meaning, context, and beauty to our stories. The shared experiences remind us that life has happened and someone else remembers what took place. When I look at images of red stained mesas, I remember that Kevin and I stood breathless together, hand in hand, looking out into the divine artistry of the southwest. We did that together. We do a lot of ordinary life together too – dishes, paying bills, driving, drinking coffee, reading. My family, friends, and others are characters in my story and I am one in theirs.

I am so very grateful for the characters in my life and wait in expectancy for the new ones who will appear on the pages yet to be filled. I need them and they need me for the plots and twists that are to come.

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The Artist’s Way: Being a Froot Loop

The worse part of a trip for me are the last two days. I start to think about the adventure ending and a sadness mixed with slight panic sweeps over me. When I inventory all the things I still want to do and see, I wonder how on earth I can possibly make them happen. And then my mind wanders to the routine of life that awaits me when I return home.

The final evening of The Artist’s Way felt much the same way for me. We were asked to bring a final creative project to share and some light hors d’oeuvres. Professor Profound brought a lovely red blend wine – called Creative Block of all things – which he found on one of his recent trips. He shared it with pride and generosity, a true reflection of his heart. Hard on Herself Virtuoso (now a sweet friend of mine) brought a big pot of vegan chili (the adventures never stop for me) which was surprisingly good even with the foreign matter she referred to as vegetable protein. Sadly, the group was incomplete. Pet Healer was missing, but as it turns out she needed healing herself at home. Somehow though she still felt present.

We sat around that familiar rectangular table which had strangely become our temporary shelter of sorts. With each class, the accommodations became more and more comfortable, more homey as the inhabitants added pieces of themselves to the space. It had become a safe harbor from the storms of perfectionism and the thunder of criticism.

In the middle of the banter, the Silver Desiderata handed each of us a handwritten note expressing her love and gratitude for not only who we were but also for the unique creative expressions we brought to the class. Her words were a sweet addition to the warmth and love already present. Between taking pictures and engaging in snatches of conversation, I sat back to watch the scene unfold, to soak in the laughter, to take in the love and color radiating from their faces.

The lovely Lady of the Box invited us to join her in the living room and indeed it was a living room . The walls were covered with oil painting her father had created; plants and candles tastefully dotted the space. Every inch felt alive and inviting.  She was the first to share. The woman who had given us so much over the past twelve weeks, was giving us yet another gift – our own personal collection of photographs of the symbols she used at the start of every class. Our snapshots were enclosed in a black box wrapped with a red ribbon. Like a flight recorder found on every commercial airplane, our black boxes contained images, reminders of what happen during our flight, our journey on The Artist’s Way. My heart was full.

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Color Lover shared a journal she had been working on, every page filled with vibrant images and rich hues. The girl who came to us in black and white was now full of color much like the collages she had created in her book. Super Hero Zombie Girl was next. She showed us bold and textured canvases of comic book superheroes she had painted. She explained how when she was unable to sleep she would create these pictures, pictures of her friends. What an image – a super hero painting her super heroes.

And then it was time for The Quiet Man to speak. He read us poetry whose source came from the deep well within him. As he read, tears puddled in my eyes making him a blur, and yet we all could see him more clearly that night than any other we had spent with him. One by one, our members shared their creativity. They were generous. They were vulnerable. They were alive. We were a tribe, a tribe of artists.

Finally, it was time to share my offering. What else would a want-to-be illustrator share but an illustration representing my experience of the last twelve weeks. It was simple, a watercolor study of a bowl of Froot Loops. I had decided if I was going to be authentic with this group, I needed to share my initial impressions from the first night of class. I explained how I felt like a Bran Bud in a bowl of Froot Loops. Many laughed but some didn’t. Perhaps they were recovering from the sting of being labeled a Froot Loop. I further explained as the weeks passed, I started to wonder if it really was a noble thing to be a Bran Bud. After all, people only eats Bran Buds because it’s a have to of life, but for a child, eating Froot Loops is a definite want to.

I continued as each of them handled my offering, reading the little notes I had written throughout. I expressed how over time their creativity and love seeped into that room like the color of Froot Loops bleeding into the milk they float in. Over our journey, we shared, we mingled, we realized we were all in the same bowl. We were a bowl of artists who struggle, who create, who sink at times yet float to the surface again and again.

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And I concluded with my big reveal…I AM NOW A BIG ROUND FROSTED PINK FROOT LOOP! A metamorphosis of sorts had taken place in me on this journey. And now I get to create in beautiful, messy, imperfection and hopefully help color the world with my artistic expressions.

Thank you, Froot Loops and The Lady of the Box. I have been forever changed along the way – The Artist’s Way.

The Artist’s Way: Nurturing Dreams

I was intrigued by the wooden box sitting on the table off to the side. It didn’t have a place of prominence in the room, but it was there, high enough to capture my attention. There’s something about a box that piques my interest.- a gift box, a  wooden jewelry box, a brightly painted toy box, round hat boxes, even boxes in my garage.  I want to know what’s inside. I want to unearth the hidden treasures buried in a drawer, a closet, the garage.

So as the leader spoke, my gaze periodically turned to this wooden box. I listen as she spoke about the journey were all on and the need for our class to be a safe place for our dreams to be shared and nurtured. But, if I were to be honest here, I was a bit distracted by that darn box.

Finally, she opened it and carefully pulled out a bird’s nest complete with feathers and even a piece of twine woven into it by it’s feathered builder. It was masterfully crafted and it’s current owner not only handled it with care but saw it’s tremendous value. Week after week, The Lady of the Box would open the lid revealing a symbol for the week’s lesson – a seashell for safety, a kite for possibility, headphones for connection, and so on.

Week nine of The Artist’s Way, our assignment was to bring a totem or symbol to class. I wasn’t sure about a totem, but a symbol worked for me. Symbols can be concise and powerful reminders when words are abundant. We were asked to bring a totem/symbol to class representing one of our dreams fulfilled. When I considered the dreams I have, I realized many are in the gestation stage. Growth is happening, but they are not necessarily ready for the world.

My symbol, as it turns out, ended up being a nest – the first item our leader took from the box. I went on Pinterest and saw a small nest pendant made from wire and beads. Instead of purchasing it, I decided to try my hand at jewelry making, a feeble attempt, I might add. Jewelry design is not in my wheelhouse of creativity. My bird’s nest would contain three small beads, each representing the dreams that are still growing inside of me. I threaded my bright blue dreams onto the 20 gauge wire, weaving, twisting, bending the silver to create their shelter.

This is what I wrote in my morning pages after I had finished my symbol.

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Dreams are fragile

Dreams take time

Dreams grow on the inside even when there’s nothing to see on the outside

Dreams must be birthed

Dreams must leave the nest so they can soar

I made a nest for myself and one for The Lady of the Box as a gesture to thank her for being part of the nurturing process. She handled my dreams and the dreams of the other Artist Wayers as carefully as she held that nest on the first night of class.

As it turns out, this group was a very safe place for dreams whether they were still being incubated or standing on the edge of the nest poised to soar.

The Artist’s Way: Dwelling in Possibility

List five things you are not allowed to do: kill your boss, scream in church, go outside naked, make a scene, quit your job. Now do that thing on paper. Write it, draw it, paint it, act it out, collage it. – Task 4, week 8 of The Artist’s Way

Those things are not in the realm of possibility for me or for most people for that matter. But what about for an artist?

I considered the assignment. The first thing that came to mind was taking a bath in chocolate. I’m not quite sure which appealed to me most, a chocolate bath or drawing the image. I quickly dismissed the idea for two reasons. First of all, I don’t do naked much in life and never in my art, so the picture of me in a bathtub looking down at my knees poking out of a tub of thick creamy chocolate was hilarious and out of character. Secondly, we had men in our class and feeling the weight of responsibility to make sure I didn’t cause my brothers to stumble, I put that subject right out of my mind. Just so you know, I am rethinking the naked thing, at least in my art, but I’ll save that for another post. 

I wandered onto other images of childhood fancies and young daydreams and finally landed on me riding my bright red Schwinn Pixie bicycle with the white basket through the Winn Dixie. I loved the idea of dodging people and maneuvering through the tight turns.

And then it hit me, the insecurity, a familiar roadblock in the creative process. What if I couldn’t create this piece in a way fitting for a want-to-be illustrator? You see, the first day of class we were asked to go around the room, introduce ourselves, and share a creative dream we have had. I remember half choking out, “I have always wanted to be an illustrator/writer of children’s books.” As soon as those words left my mouth, I felt like I had revealed a secret that would have been better off left in the closet of my mind. That way, no one would get hurt, especially me. Once a dream is spoken out, it somehow feels like it can’t be shoved back in, like a baby making it’s screaming entrance into the world, never to return to the safety of the womb. I reassured myself that many weeks had passed since my pronouncement, so surely by now it would be forgotten.

I ignored the fear and sat down to paint the image in my mind. My imagination began taking over, and soon I was in the Winn Dixie making serpentine movements around the fresh vegetable and fruit displays. I envisioned myself soaring down each aisle, weaving around the shoppers moving at a glacial pace with their carts. With every aisle that I went down, my speed picked up and my confidence soared. I could see box after box of cereal and imagined grabbing some Count Chocula and placing it in my basket. A girl can work up a thirst after all that activity, off to the Coke aisle for a little refreshment. Every southerner knows, Coke is not a brand but a category of beverage. The grand adventure ended with me sailing through the checkout and exiting out through the automatic doors.

With each stroke of my color laden brush and every carefully placed ebony line, I found myself experiencing a childhood impulse I only imagined. Creativity had given me opportunity to do the unthinkable, to act uncharacteristically, to be bold, to be impetuous, to dwell in possibility. IMG_3911

Thursday came around and I arrived with my watercolor in tow – Whimsy in the Winn Dixie. Though I had contemplated  accidentally leaving it at home, I sheepishly shared my offering with my fellow Wayers. To my surprise they received it with open arms –  no judgment, no critiques, only encouragement. I blushed with gratitude. Every forbidden expression shared that night was received the same way. Such a beautiful moment.

At the close of class, the Silver Desiderata asked if she could read a children’s book she purchased on one of her Artist’s Dates. This woman had such an innocent wonder about life. She read to us like we were children sitting cross legged in a magic circle of story time. She turned the illustrations towards us and read expressively, making eye contact from time to time. We were captivated. We were children again. The book had no hidden adult message and the reader had no special interpretation or secret agenda. She simply wanted to share the delight she had found in the words and art in this children’s book.

As she closed the book, she looked into my eyes and handed it to me. She said she remembered my dream of wanting to be an illustrator, so she decided the best place for this book would be with me. My eyes puddled as her words watered my dreams. For that moment and many moments since, I dwell in the possibility that not just one day in the future, but today, I am an illustrator.

The Artist’s Way: Coloring at the Bar

We met around the familiar table for a second time. The faces were still the same but now they weren’t strangers to me. We were all fellow sojourners on The Artist’s Way. The Lady of the Box lit the candle once again, but this time my heart was calm and and my shoulders were down. She asked if each of us would share some of our experiences we had the first week, especially focusing on our morning pages and artist’s date – two of the essential practices of The Artist’s Way.

Since I had purchased the book a couple of years before joining this group, I had already been introduced to the idea of morning pages, even incorporating them into my regular routine. But the artist’s dates, they were an enigma to me. Julia Cameron describes them as “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist…a play date that you preplan.”  I truly couldn’t wrap my head around this activity, until Zombie Superhero Girl changed all that for me.

She was the youngest of the group, and I determined that she would be put off by this fact and not return the following week. I misjudged her. Come to think of it, I misjudged quite a few things along the way. 

She lit up like a Christmas tree as she recounted her first Artist’s date. The planning, the thought, the creativity that went into her activity showed me that this was no ordinary girl. Creativity just oozed from her every pore. I guess that’s why I made a point of sitting next to her every chance I could from that moment on.

For this first date, she needed supplies, so she went to the store and made her purchase of coloring books and crayons, and not just any crayons but the 64 count box of Crayola Crayons with the built in sharpener. You know the one. Her description of the box instantly transported me to my four year old self, laying on on my stomach on avocado green shag carpet, coloring pages, lost in time.  Ironically, that night Zombie Superhero Girl was stood up on a blind date, but that didn’t stop her. Being stood up was not her Kryptonite. Her super powers transcended that.

Armed with books and colors, she went to a local bar, pulled up a stool, ordered her favorite brew and began her date – her artist’s date. I love the image of her sitting with a tall frosty glass of beer with all of her kids stuff strewn about the bar. She was coloring, truly having a playdate with her inner artist. The most remarkable part of her story was the fact that several people caught sight of what she was doing and asked if they could join her. By the end of the evening, this place was filled with adults drinking and coloring together. crayola-wax-crayons

Her creativity inspired others at that bar and it inspired me as she recounted her tale. I love that she turned a potentially horrible evening into a wonderful one, impacting many. For that, I will always consider her a Superhero.

The Artist’s Way: A Bran Bud in a Bowl of Froot Loops

What on earth am I doing here? In an effort to find out who I am, what I love, and how to express that, I have been on a quest of sorts. My role for 25 years was pretty clear – wife, mother, volunteer, worshiper, leader, caretaker, teacher, tutor, etc. But now, I am in that transitional place. Some call it empty nest and others, midlife, but regardless of the title you want to give it, I am determined to find out more about myself apart from the roles I have had most of my adult life.

And this led me to The Artist Way. At the close of the writing group I was a part of last year, I heard about an opportunity to join a group of people going through Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. This book came highly recommended by many of my creative friends, so I purchased it two years ago in hopes it held the key to unlock more creativity in my life. Well, nothing would be unlocked as long as the book sat on my shelf gathering dust, so the decision seemed obvious.

The evening of the first class finally arrived. I walked nervously into the house and seated myself with the people perched around a dining room table, eight quiet souls waiting for the class to begin. The leader, The Lady of the Box I will call her, graciously welcomed us all. She shared how Julia Cameron views an Artist’s Way group as a Tribe. So in keeping with that idea, she lit a candle welcoming the spirit of acceptance and creativity. I got to tell you, it felt weird. The people I hang with don’t light candles for the tribe. We light them to make our house smell good. I kept telling myself, This is fine. These people are fine. We are all fine.

Then we each went around the circle sharing our name, a little about ourselves, and one of the dreams we have regarding creativity. My secret dream – to be an illustrator and writer. One by one, each person shared their desires. I discovered I was in a room filled with writers, poets, visual artists, all hoping to be changed, inspired, and emboldened through this class. I felt my shoulders descend and the pace of my heart slow. This is good. These people are good. These people are artists, just like you.

The evening continued. I really wasn’t sure what to think of the whole thing. I was uncomfortable. I felt vulnerable. I felt out of place. And yet, I had a strange excitement that maybe being out of my ordinary was exactly what this artist needed.

When I arrived home, my oldest daughter asked me, “So, how did it go?”

My response, “I felt like a Bran Bud in a bowl full of Froot Loops.”

“Mom, maybe you’ll discover that you are more like a Froot Loop than you think.”

The funny thing is, when I said that out loud, I actually thought being a Bran Bud was a good thing. Now, looking back on this 13 week journey, I’m not so sure anymore.

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For the next couple of posts, I hope to share some snapshots I took along the way, The Artist’s Way to be exact. It was a trip I will never forget. After all, a transformation from a Bran Bud to a Froot Loop is worth sharing. I hope you’ll join me.

Hanging Onto Every Word

We didn’t plan it. Actually it started as solution I came up with to help my husband gain some strength in his voice. More and more he was speaking at conferences on Technology and Ethics and almost every time, his voice would strain near the end his presentation. Being the fixer I suggested reading aloud might help. I grabbed a book I had on my shelf, and the metamorphosis began. I call it this because what started as a potential remedy to a problem actually grew into a lovely weekend activity that my husband and I have enjoyed together ever since.

We sat at the table with freshly brewed coffee and a copy of Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. Kevin began reading the foreward, “When our children were young I would sometimes rise early on a Saturday morning and fix them pancakes for breakfast. It was great fun – the broken eggs, the spilt milk, the batter and the chatter.” The words cascaded from his mouth, gently, fluidly, all in his beautiful South African accent. I so love that accent. When he would call me when we were dating, I felt my knees go weak when I heard his voice on the other end. He continued to read, page after page, until the words were interrupted by the clearing of his throat, a sign of strain. He eventually passed it to me to carry on for a bit, and I gladly accepted. Back and forth, we handed the book to one another, taking turns reading. I don’t know where the time went. Two hours passed like it was a quick 15. Such a lovely morning it was.

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Sunday we decided to do the same, except this time our coffee would be accompanied by scrambled eggs with sauteed peppers and onions, sliced avocado, and toasted English muffins topped with real butter and locally farmed honey. After breakfast, Kevin took the lead, and I listened, sipping my coffee, hanging onto his every word. Something he read evoked a memory from my childhood, so he paused as I shared an experience from my adolescence, a painful memory that I hadn’t thought about in years. He listened intently to the details.

Then I read a bit, and he stopped me to discuss an idea presented by the author he had never thought of before. And this is how it went for the next 2 hours, the back and forth, memories, discussions, laughter, tears.

In those 4 short hours we spent reading that weekend, we discovered things about one another we had never known. We discussed topics that weren’t part of our regular dialogue. We were walking into uncharted territory and loved it.

Many months have passed and several books have been consumed and enjoyed by us both. I cherish our time. I love the unhurried tempo of our weekend mornings. I love that after spending over half my life with this man, I am still learning new things about him and myself as well.

But what I love even more is that I am still being read to in this season of my life. I find I am enjoying it every bit as much as I did as a child, maybe even more. I hope I never get too old for this.

Why Did I Stop Reading Children’s Books?

While I was visiting my favorite place in the whole world, Asheville, with my favorite person in the whole world, my husband, I walked into a quaint little shop filled with books, gifts, and what-nots. We wandered in not looking for anything in particular but just to soak in the culture and be together. Now mind you, all my children are grown, so picking up a children’s book is not my automatic go-to anymore, but for some reason, I reached for this book and read it from cover to cover. I was captivated. I was swept up in an illustrated world of color and whimsy. And I was challenged, really challenged by the words.

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I wonder why I stopped reading children’s books. I guess as my children grew, I grew with them. I read to them in the womb, hoping that they would somehow absorb pieces of wisdom before they entered this overwhelming world. I continued the practice as they lay in my arms as infants, a cooing captive audience. In the toddler years, we read picture books, me pointing to the characters, the figures, the animals, asking them to tell me what the dog says or what color is the tree. Then we entered a season of the reader, you know the books – filled with simple words strung together forming sentences – tools to teach your children to read. Their reading was stilted, halting, labored, but with each word uttered, a small victory was celebrated. Once they became more fluid with their words, we graduated to the juvenile section of the library, devouring books like My Life as Dinosaur Dental Floss: The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, The Young Biographies of Famous Americans: Clara Barton, and The Dear America Diaries. We still read together, but the goal of literary independence was in sight. In High School, they begrudgingly moved onto the classics. I can still hear them complaining about the Brain Trusts who decide what should be considered a classic. In retrospect, I so understand their frustration.

I am proud to say that my four adult children can, and like, to read. Their tastes vary from Chuck Palaniuk to Donald Miller, from fiction to how-to. And they still read an occasional classic by Steinbeck or Wilde or Dostoyevsky, actually enjoying them. So the goal of literary independence for my offspring has been met, but I wonder what has been lost along the way.

I don’t read aloud anymore. I don’t wander to the children’s section of the Barnes and Noble or even virtually at Amazon for that matter. I only read books with words. I miss pictures. I miss simplicity. I miss the companionship of reading together, enjoying the words and discussing ideas.

Though I am grateful that I have four literate children, maybe the goal of complete literary independence was a bit ill-conceived.