The Letter Project: Sneak Peek!

Chapter 1

Quiet nights on the roof were the hardest for Anna, especially when the only sound was her own shallow breathing. But somehow, tonight, as she lay on the edge, looking up into the black sky dotted with tiny, bright stars, life didn’t seem so bad. She’d learned how to deal with a lot of things up there: her parents’ divorce, her heartbreak over Colton Jones in ninth grade, the rejection letter from her first pick, Yale, and the latest tragedy that had outweighed them all. Up there on that roof, she had perfected the art of learning to cope.

“Your mom said you were out here,” a voice said.

Anna jumped at the sound of her best friend’s voice from the window. She steadied her palms against the rough, weatherworn shingles and sat up slowly. “You scared me.” A little light-headed, Anna tried to focus on the dozens of moonlit rooftops around hers—all in the same two-storied bungalow style.

“Sorry.” Jules crawled over to Anna, lying down next to her.

“I thought you were leaving. I came to say bye,” Jules said, lying down next to her. The low rumblings of a car echoed from the street below.

“Change of plans. We’re going in the morning. Five a.m. sharp.” Anna pinched her eyes shut and inhaled, holding her breath tight in her chest. She was afraid to breathe sometimes—afraid of what might come next.

“You know how much that sucks, right?”

“What? Five in the morning?”

“No! It’s our last summer together before college and you’re spending almost half of it in New York—without me.”

“Not my choice.”

“It’s not like you’re a little kid anymore. Why can’t you just stay here?”

Anna bit her lip. She’d been over it a thousand times with Jules. “You know why.” She thought of the letter tucked inside the back pocket of her jeans.

“Can’t your grandmother hire someone to move all her stuff here?”

“I wish. The woman is practically a hoarder. There’s no telling what’s in that old house.” Anna shivered as a slight breeze swept through the trees and her thin t-shirt.

“That show creeps me out—the one about hoarders.”

“Besides, my mom thinks it’s a good idea for me to get away for a while.” A part of Anna agreed with her mom, even though she’d never tell her that, especially since she was mad at her for running off to Europe for two weeks while Anna stayed behind to pack.

“Wish I could go with you,” Jules said. “Not to help with the packing though.”

“Funny.” Anna turned to face the girl who had known her deepest, darkest secrets since first grade. “Me too.”

Jules smiled, and her huge blue eyes lit up, making her look six again. “Hey, want to watch a movie?”

“Like right now?”

“Sure, why not? It’ll take our minds off stuff, like you abandoning me for the big city.”

“She doesn’t actually live in Manhattan,” Anna said.

“I know, but you’ll be so close to it.” Jules sat up carefully and started crawling back toward the window overlooking the backyard.

The girls had spent hours on that low-sloping roof, laughing, talking, and crying about so many things. Anna’s mom had converted the dusty attic of the 1920s house into a bedroom for Anna—a consolation prize after a bitter divorce. The back window had become almost like an escape hatch for Anna, getting her farther and farther away from reality and closer to a sky full of stars and hope.

“Give me a few minutes, okay? And pick whatever movie—anything but—”

“I know…nothing with people dying,” Jules said.

Anna draped her arm over her eyes and listened as Jules’ feet hit the hardwood in the bedroom. Nothing with people dying, she repeated in her mind.

With her eyes shut, Anna saw his face as clear as if it were in real time. She touched the line of his jaw, then his lips, and wondered, in that second, how many times she had thought of kissing him—a hundred times? More? She remembered the first time they’d actually kissed. It was in her basement playing truth or dare. Jules had dared her to do it, and Anna, thirteen, had hated and loved every second of it—hated it mostly because she was so nervous. But in that dark closet, Josh was calm and his lips soft and warm.

She pictured the last time he had kissed her too—Josh in his army uniform and with a newly shaved head and Anna in a red dress. He had turned around on the tarmac, and she ran to him, practically falling into his arms. He held her tight, breathing his warm breath into her hair and kissing her temple.

Her stomach clenched, and she turned on her side away from her bedroom window. Balled up with her knees to her chest, Anna wanted to cry, but not in front of Jules again. Jules had never said anything mean, like ‘get over it already,’ but Anna sometimes wondered if she’d thought it. Deep down, she knew that going away to New York was best for everyone—that a change of pace or scene was more than needed.

Before going back inside to Jules, Anna pulled the worn letter from her pocket and started to read it again slowly, one tragically beautiful word after the other.

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Worlds Apart

Thanks for stopping by my blog. This week, my guest blogger Walt Duncan is talking about family connections. You know, how to stay close to the people you love even when the miles separate you. It’s not always easy finding ways to stay connected, but the key is to make an effort. Yeah, I need to work on that.

Walt writes: My family is what one might call competitive. I have no idea why, but being competitive has always been a staple of my family’s bond, specifically between my brothers and me. Whether it be sports, video games, or even the occasional board game, we have always found a way to make whatever we did into a rip-snorting, smack-talking good time. arm-wrestling-176645__180Sometimes it was being competitive in stupid ways, like getting into an argument. Other times it would get to a point of devolving into an absolutely hopeless mess, where only the swift intervention of a parent would put an end to the argument. It’s at those times where my brother and I were throwing around strong words like “hate” that my dad would impart his wisdom to us. He would say “You boys might think you hate each other now, but I can guarantee you there will come a time when you’ll wish you could come back to this house and spend time together.”

As the years went on, my brothers and I would explore dozens of competitive games and activities in a constant drive to satiate our competitive thirst. As we grew older, my brothers and I became more mature and stopped getting so hot-blooded over such trivial things. However, we still had the desire to play and compete together as only we could. road-trip-925859__180The problem was that my older brother, who was probably the most competitive, moved off to college in another town, leaving me and my younger brother to our own devices. Whenever he would come home, on rare occasions, we would game together, but there was a gap. My older brother and I were pretty close when it came to gaming, so his being away from home was sort of disheartening.

My brother came home one Friday and seemed pretty excited. He’d found this new game for us to play online. It was played by millions of people, we could play it together, and best of all: It was highly competitive. I was a little hesitant at first, but after a few matches I was hooked.

game-1232879__180It was a ton of fun, even if I was getting smacked around all over the place. My brother left that weekend, but the next night we played, and even though we were miles apart, playing together online felt like we were kids again, hanging out, busting heads, and just having fun.

It’s been 2 years since we started playing online, and even though it isn’t real contact, playing online has been something that has kept us together. For a little while we went to the same university, and would play together a lot. Recently, my older brother and his wife moved again and aside from the occasional phone call, or weekend at my parents’ house, the game has been the only contact we’ve had. However, thanks to that game, we’ve kept pretty close.

With life being as hectic as it is, and both of us hitting adulthood like a brick wall, there’s something comforting about just being able to sit down for 30 minutes and play a game with my brother.

The funniest thing to me though is that my dad was right. There are times that I truly wish I could go back to our childhood home and spend time with my brothers. Even though it isn’t the same, I’m glad that if only for a moment, I can spend time with my brother before life dragged us back in. Even if he’s hours away, being able to spend time with him is something that is valuable to me, though I’ll never admit that to him.

One of Those Weeks

Its just been one of those weeks.We’ve all uttered this phrase at some point in our lives, right? Keep reading to hear what guest blogger Hannah Walls has to say about getting through a really bad day or week. girl-1098612__180

Hannah writes: I’m not sure if this particular sentiment is universal or American based, but somehow, we all understand it to mean “my life feels terrible right now. I know it’s not actually terrible, but it just feels that way right now.”

However far reaching the phrase is, the sentiment itself is something that knows no bounds. You’re running on little to no sleep. You got a speeding ticket. Your best friend is upset at you for a reason that still alludes you. Your boss got upset over an honest mistake and your significant other just can’t understand what the problem is. Of course these are fairly mild examples, and sometimes the trials we face are much more difficult than these, and may seem insurmountable. No matter how young or how old, we’ve all had these times in our lives when it just seemed like we couldn’t make it through, and this week would truly never end.

But the good news is, the week always does end. The light at the end of the tunnel might be small and impossible to see, but it really is there. Of course, the end of the week doesn’t always mean the end of all problems. Friday doesn’t bring magical solutions to all problems, but it does bring something else with it— confidence.

I recently had one of those weeks myself, grappling with making very adult choices (and quickly discovering just how un-adult I truly feel). But I made it through that week. And then, guess what? A new week started. And while life hasn’t fallen perfectly into place since, I know I can push myself, and that when these tough situations come along there is strength to make it through. woman-570883__180I probably won’t handle everything perfectly; I’ll most certainly make mistakes and at some point I’ll dig myself into a hole or find myself at a dead end. But life will go on, I will learn and grow, and a new week will always come.

Family Traditions

In this week’s post, guest blogger Beth Adams asks the question:  What’s a special part of your family’s identity? Here’s what she has to say about family traditions.

If you ask my mom to bring something to a potluck, she’ll bring dessert, which will probably be a chocolate pound cake: rich, dense, and frosted with thick chocolate icing. In preparation, she’ll get out the cake cookbook, flip to the most worn page, and scan down to the last recipe, marked by “so good—like Mom’s” in pencil. But baking means more than just cakes. cake-170191__180New neighbors receive fresh loaves of bread, and the first day of school means streusel coffeecake for breakfast. Maybe it’s part of Southern culture that we picked up in our borderline state of Kentucky, but baked goods have almost become a love language in our family. In our hectic lives, however, something as time-consuming as baking a cake may seem impossible. Instead, perhaps your family loves hiking or seeing the latest movie together. Traditions like these are part of what bonds a family together.

Find out what you and your family love. For my family, it’s baking. My sisters and I have inherited my mom’s knack for baking and the love that it conveys. cakeFor my mom’s birthday one year, we baked an Italian Cream Cake—her favorite. Four-layers tall, smothered in cream cheese icing, walnuts, and coconut, we thought it a masterpiece. It actually tasted pretty good, but we had more fun baking it and presenting it to mom than eating it.

Pass down traditions. My mom taught me how to bake, observing as I measured flour for pancakes, showing me how to use the flat edge of a butter knife to achieve a perfectly smooth cup. Mom knows the pancake recipe by memory, stored away with chocolate sheet cake and no-bake cookie recipes. I used to help her make her famous chocolate cake; I’d mix while she measured. Once I could read a recipe and didn’t need a stool to reach the mixing bowl, we developed a different routine. Now, I bake the cake—all by myself—and Mom makes the icing.

Share your tradition with friends. Most people love receiving a fresh, homemade loaf of bread or plate of cookies. My family loves board games, so we’ve started a tradition with another family that loves games, too. Every Christmas season, we have a game night with snacks, games, and a blazing fire. For generations, baking has been part of my family’s identity. chocolate-cupcake-993327__180Whether it’s a kickball tournament in the backyard or catching the latest sci-fi movie, each family has unique traditions that should be shared.

Remember what it was like to…

This week’s guest blogger, Christina Lynn, challenges us to be young at heart–and, most, importantly, to have fun.

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It’s funny how as kids we refuse to let go of certain things—books our mom or dad read to us every night or cassette tapes we listened to nonstop in a Fisher-Price tape player. But as adults, the way we look at those things often changes. After reading classic literature, we notice how the words of those bedtime stories sound so simple. After listening to classical music, we realize how unsophisticated those sing-along songs are.

When you’re a child, you can find enjoyment from almost anything. But is that necessarily a bad thing? As adults, we’re often taught to analyze and criticize. Yet if we stop and think about what made us love those books or tapes in the first place, we’ll realize that Goodnight Moon does have pretty pictures, and “Old MacDonald” is quite catchy. person-857021__180

Maybe we should watch crazy cartoons or listen to silly songs every once in a while. They might not be very educational or thought-provoking, but they remind us what it’s like to be young – and, most, importantly, how to have fun.

Travel Plans, Anyone?

If you’re planning a trip this spring or summer, this week’s post from guest blogger Ellen Howard is worth the read!

road-trip-925859__180Ellen writes: Traveling with friends is fun, but it’s not easy, and things almost never go perfectly. So, here is my amateur’s guide to planning last minute trips.

First, get the hotel, stat. Hotels, especially in prime vacation areas, tend to fill up in advance, and the deals go first. If you’re on a tight budget, getting the hotel as quickly as possible is vital. Also, keep your reservation number as well as your confirmation number in case you later realize that you accidentally booked for the wrong month and have to go back and cancel.

Next, raid your friends’ family trees. One of the best possible money savers is to grandmother hop. Recently, my friends and I stayed with two different grandmothers on our trip to Florida, and it saved us a ton of money. Not only is the housing free, but there is hardly a grandmother alive who will let anyone pass through her house unfed. We went days without spending a dime on either food or lodging. Admittedly, the ham in someone’s grandma’s fridge isn’t quite the same as a gourmet French restaurant in Epcot, but if you save on the meals en route, then you can actually afford more than a single baguette when you get to Epcot.

Third, take a physical map with you. I rely on my GPS as much as the next person. navigation-1048294__180.jpgWhen people start giving me directions, I hear Charlie Brown’s mom, so my Garmin, named Johnson, is my best friend when I drive. But, on a road trip you need a backup for your GPS. My ever faithful Johnson tried to take us to the wrong state at one point, and the girls not driving had to scramble to figure out where we were and where we were going.

Next, if you’re going to a theme park, get your tickets online ahead of time, get the wait time apps, and go in with a plan. Even on a busy day, you can conquer a lot of theme park ground if you’re smart about it. Talk to your friends ahead of time about what you want to do and move with purpose. You can twist the plan as necessary once you’re there, but do not go in blind. ferris-wheel-1031279__180

Finally, go with people you love. Getting lost in Alabama (when you’re supposed to be in Georgia), having to wait after a ride breaks down for the third time since you’ve been in line, and discovering that you forgot one of the air mattresses would not normally be considered the highlights of your trip. But you’d be amazed at how much fun even the most annoying things can be when you’re with the right people. Ultimately, it’s not the sights on a travel brochure that will make the trip. It’s the people you travel with.

To See or Not to See?

This week, guest blogger Shauna McCauley is talking about the latest Disney film Zootopia. Read her review to get her take on the new movie now in theaters. movies-1262361__180

Shauna writes:  I’ve been a lifelong fan of Disney films, and the warm critical reception that Zootopia had already met with made me hopeful.  What I found in Zootopia was a complex story about dreams, growing up, and prejudice.  In a world where animals have evolved to the point that their society looks a lot like ours, a rabbit, Judy Hopps, abandons small town farm life to be a cop in the big city, and gets a bit more than she bargained for.  The stellar voice cast led by Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time) as Judy, Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) as fast-talking fox, Nick Wilde, and Idris Elba (Luther) as the tough and gruff water buffalo Police Chief, Bogo, brings this diverse group of characters to life, and brings the overflowing abundance of heart to this film.

But, the character’s voice is only part of their essence; this is an animated film after all.  Artistically, the digital animation is relatively similar to what we’ve seen from Disney in recent years with films like Tangled and Wreck-It-Ralph, with clean lines and vivid colors.  One point where the animation in this film really stands out, though, is the variety of environments created, from farm town, to rain forest, to arctic tundra.  All these are viewed as the characters race through an entertaining script peppered with saucy one-liners, and references to The Godfather and Frozen, among other things, which, along with a bubblegum pop soundtrack, keeps what could have been a much darker film light and energetic just like its main character.

Zootopia shows how people cope with challenges to personal dreams, and confronts prejudicial stereotyping in a way that is easily identifiable to adult audiences, and non-confrontational to child audiences.  By presenting these big issues in this format as a sort of dialog between characters, maybe we can start to have serious and loving conversations about this in our own lives.

Stop Waiting for Friday

girl-1208307__180“Stop waiting for Friday, for summer, for someone to fall in love with you, for life. Happiness is achieved when you stop waiting for it and make the most of the moment you are in now.”

Guest blogger Libbie Atchison writes: I once read that quote and the words struck me—like they were written to me. I knew I was caught in the cycle of waiting. Waiting for the weekend. Waiting for holidays. Waiting for summer. I knew I was constantly making countdowns like five days until spring break or three weeks until my birthday. I knew I was causing myself to live in the future. The saddest part of this realization was that I told myself if I made it to that date, I would be okay and life would be happy again. Those anticipated days and little countdowns helped me get through the monotonous days.

Some don’t see a problem with looking forward to upcoming events or counting down the days until an awaited moment. I don’t see a problem with it either. But when our life revolves around waiting and crossing off the days in our calendars, organizer-791883__180.jpgthere is no contentment in the here and now; there is no purpose to everyday life. Always looking to the future prevents us from seeing what’s right in front of us, the people standing there, and the opportunities that need to be taken.

I would like to own the attitude of living every day as if it’s my last, to wake up and start each day with a clear purpose. But, let’s be honest. That’s hard and not completely realistic. Some days are just difficult and need to end as quickly as they began. But I think if we dropped the countdowns and stopped waiting for Friday, we would see each day as its very own. We would view the days as days filled with lessons to learn, people to love, and opportunities to seize. Suddenly, happiness won’t come in 15 days. It will come every day woman-570883__180because we will be aware of the potential the day holds. Life won’t seem monotonous, but bright, changing, and eventful. If we stop waiting for Friday, we might just be able to make the most of the moments we live in right now.

 

 

An Extrovert’s Guide to Finishing a Book

kindle-381242__180Thanks for checking out my guest blog today by Andrew Graham. I love his tips on making time to read—and finish—a good book. Let’s face it, we’re all running in a thousand different directions. Who has the time?

Andrew writes:  Four years ago I took a test to see what my personality type was. I found the idea kind of terrifying, restricting, and not exactly reliable, but it was an interesting prospect and a group of us were doing it for fun. This test confirmed a fact about me that I have known well for a while: I am 97% an extrovert (I leave room for 3% for those days when you just have to stay inside your room and eat ice cream, chocolate, etc.). This comes with its perks, as I can relate well with people, have good conversational skills, and get the privilege to invest in many people’s lives. However, as many extroverts may find, it also has some downsides. Specifically, I have found reading an entire book to be a constant struggle. It is not that I lack the motivation or desire to read books, my personal collection of books would prove otherwise. But I find that my energy slowly drains away as I read. So I am inspired to give you an extrovert’s guide to finishing a book.

My first tip is to have people present when you decide to read. This will be the most dangerous step in the journey, as this leads to the most temptation. children-684584__180You will want to talk to the people. You will want to invest in the people. They are, after all, a source of energy. But you must endure! Two ways to alleviate the temptations are listening to music while you read (spotify has some great playlists for such occasions.) and to make the purpose of the human interactions to be for reading. Get some friends together and make your hangout time a reading hour. The important thing is to make sure you are having fun while you are reading, or else you won’t want to do it.

My second tip is to schedule times for you to read. It can be easy to have the good intentions to read a book, but when a friend invites you to play a game or see a movie, those intentions are easily put to the side. Now, don’t get me wrong here, those things are definitely important and should be pursued. But if you always find yourself shoving reading time to the side, try to schedule a small block of time to read a chapter a day, or every other day. Something that you can maintain consistency with, while still being able to maintain consistency with your friends.

My third and final tip is to keep trying. If you are trying to read a book you don’t like, find a different one. Keep trying until you finish a book, and then another, and so on. It is a worthy pursuit, and something that you will thank yourself for later. It is essentially caring for your mind, which some people would identify as a vital part of our existence.

library-425730__180This may be difficult adventure for you, or this might be something you already pursue with great gusto. Either way, I hope that you will be able to fully enjoy the books you read. And maybe together, extroverts or introverts (or ambiverts, or whatever else there is), we can continue to better ourselves by finishing more books.

 

My Favorite Childhood Book…

narrative-794978__180Today’s guest blogger is Karis Lancaster who takes a step back in time, remembering the power of a good book.

Karis writes: My favorite childhood book is not one that I read dozens of times or one that my parents read aloud to me every night. It isn’t the first book I ever read or heard. I didn’t even discover it until midway through my first-grade year. Although written for a younger audience, Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney remains my most treasured book from my early elementary years because it was the only present I received on my seventh birthday.

In all fairness, my parents didn’t to deprive me of presents to be mean. luggage-933487__180A whirlwind of packing, language learning, goodbyes, training, and travel had swept us up, and my March birthday fell right in the center of the pandemonium. In a few months, we would be traveling to the other side of the world with all our earthly belongings backed into twenty-three trunks and so it came down to space. We simply did not have enough room for surplus toys or books or whatever other gifts one buys a seven-year-old girl.

I remember my store-bought cake with Spirit figurines on the top, the temporary quad we lived in at the training center, the smell of new carpet, and the one lonely, but appreciated, present sitting on the table. birthday-1208233__180Guess How Much I Love You, with its fanciful watercolor illustrations and amusing dialogue between Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare made me feel special in an uncertain time.

The trademark page gives this summary: “During a bedtime game, every time Little Nutbrown Hare demonstrates how much he loves his father, Big Nutbrown Hare gently shows him that the love is returned even more.” The father and son playfully argue about who loves the other more, with each employing limbs and trees and moons to prove his greater love. person-857021__180I needed to believe that my parents knew what they were doing, that their love for me surpassed my love for them. I had to trust. For a young child about to go to an unfamiliar third-world country, the reminder of the simple and foundational family love proved instrumental to settling my nerves—at least on the plane ride over.

The book has followed me to every home since and currently occupies a place of honor in my dorm room thirteen years later. One day, I will read it to my young children, reminding them that I love them to the moon…and back.