The Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis


This is not the kind of thing I usually read. I’m not typically a reader of essays, and – though I am Southern – I’m not intrinsically drawn towards Southern stories. That is why I am so grateful for bookstores, where I stumbled across this collection by Helen Ellis. The title (and the cover) got me to pick it up, but the first page made me snort as my thumb and index finger came immediately together to turn the page. This is the kind of bookstore moment we crave, right? I knew I’d leave with something that 1. Was not “in my wheelhouse” (which as Ellis translates is Southern Lady Code for “comfortable.”) and 2. Was addictive.

In the tub over the next few evenings, I quickly binged this collection like you binge your new favorite Netflix series. A few sittings. A few “episodes.” You look forward to it. It’s over too soon.

Ellis’ series of thoughts, anecdotes and insights made me feel like I was hanging out with a witty and self-aware friend that shared distinctly Southern family background quirks. I wondered, “Does she actually have my Mammaw’s church cookbook at home?” and “I thought it was just my mom that taught me the power of ‘no thank you.'”

I was surprised that, in the essay on good manners in extreme situations, she left out that Southern Lady’s must leave the house tidy when leaving it …in case of death (because, you know, you wouldn’t want people to remember you as a slob). These are the sort of family secrets she seemed to know and share in this collection.

This insanely readable book of essays will definitely appeal to you if you are a “Southern lady,” or even if you aren’t. Read it if you are craving a cozy girl’s night in. Read it if you need a laugh. Maybe this essay collection is not for not for everyone, but you can see yourself being friends with the fictional likes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Lorelai Gilmore, you can be definitely literary friends with the non-fictional Helen Ellis.

I think I’ll go buy her other essay collections.


by Kathryn Gustafson

There were two voices:

One falling down 

Into a long, dark 


The other echoing back

To white, empty 


Then I realized: it was not two voices after all. 

Just one. Just mine, 

With nowhere to go, 

But up and down

the deep well 

inside of me.

Rebel in Bloom

by Kathryn Gustafson

There are things that might seem plain
About the box you think I’m in
Because of how I speak quietly
With a softness that could sound like timidity
And the way my questions form, sometimes,
Falling childlike at
the end of lines.

I don’t weigh the measure of my time

Against the world’s rigidities,

But it’s not because I have no fire.
In fact, I have my mother’s complicated ire,
Balanced by
My father’s chess games, admonitions,
And the words of a thousand books
That make a world within my head.

I’ve lived through my childhood horrors,
Met death inside the eyes of others’,
Held hands of people that I love, as they left this life forever.

I fight each day against a mind
That’s knotted as a tangled line
With a heart which has been shattered,
A resilience that is tested, battered.

It’s exhausting to admit:
How much loving people hurts.

(How many times do I remind myself what love is worth?)

So I watch and weigh the fire and the words.
To find the phrases that would win
the wars,
And lose the love.

Power to win.
Or chance to bloom?
A choice that no one would assume,
Is difficult.

But the gentle rebel in me knows.
That where things are burning,
Nothing can grow.

Thoughts on Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I’m new to this whole celebrity bio genre, so I don’t really know how to define my expectations for this book: life of a celebrity who has done crazy things, cowboy gone Hollywood lifestyle? What do I know about Matthew, really? Abs? Rom coms? Interstellar (that was a good movie…) It’s not something I’d normally pick up, but I was surprised to hear it so highly recommended by several people whose opinions I respect. Then we decided to read it in my book club, so I dove in.

I decided to listen to the audiobook, and as soon as Matthew started diving into his rollicking childhood in this unexpected-Texan-poet-of-all-honesty way, I was hooked.

What is this book? I don’t know. Like the main “character,” it doesn’t really fit into any boxes you’d expect. It’s a collection of stories from a very interesting life. It’s a lesson, shown via stories, about being objective, and getting relative, keeping yourself going when life is hard–and (most interestingly) keeping yourself grounded when it’s a little too smooth. It’s about the need to pursue, balanced with the need to restore.

In tone, it’s honest, not preachy. It’s poetic, a little mystical, and laugh-out-loud funny.

I came away with a few takeaways, and as I talked with other people about the book, I thought it was interesting to see how different pieces of insights and observations stuck to and hit us differently. There are simply so many of what Matthew calls “bumper stickers,” in this book–tidbits of things he’s learned and wants to remember.

And here’s the thing. I may not 100% agree with every single one of Matthew’s bumper stickers. There are some people out there who don’t and won’t like this one because of that. However, I’d argue that the point is that I don’t have to agree with every thought to appreciate the whole. This is the author’s story, and he’s not telling anyone else how to live theirs. In fact, I think that’s one reason that this book works so well, and why it’s so clever in a year where everyone is eager to tear each other apart over different opinions. He’s simply a living character, telling his story.

The interest and the connection isn’t grown from a perfect leading man, but from from a complex and likeable one, with an interesting journey to share.

In the journey of this book, we experience and reflect on how life can have its greenlights, yellow lights, and red lights. We see and understand– along with a reflective Matthew– how each of these presents different opportunities. It might also leave you (as it did me) with a desire to document things more, so that one day you can look back on it and see what you couldn’t in the (then) present moment.

Just as in works of fictional literature that I love, I find – in Greenlights – a compelling non-fictional character, pieces to connect with, and eye-opening perspectives. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good time and a little down-to-earth whiskey wisdom.

3 Things You Can Do When Holidays Are Hard

It’s Christmas week, and I realized the other day that this is the first Christmas since my mom passed away that things have felt — different. While there are still many times when the absence of her screams in my chest – her soft hugs, radiant smile, and all the little things she did she made the season so special- this year I find myself enjoying the season in a way that hasn’t felt this authentic in a long time.

Over the last few years, I’ve made an effort to carry on some of my mother’s traditions as a mom, myself, with a bittersweet undercurrent. I’ve also made many new traditions with my husband and daughter, so that now there’s a kind of changed vision/expectation of what Christmas is. There’s a “new normal” in a way (although maybe 2020 has ruined us on this phrase). I always enjoy and go through the motions of Christmas, but this year is the first year when my grief hasn’t swooped in for brutal surprise attacks.

That said, the absence of my mom is still very much a part of the Christmas season. It’s just that, at this point in my life, new things have bloomed over the roots of memories that will always be there. I don’t think our growth comes at a point when “it doesn’t hurt” anymore. As one of my favorite authors, John Green, once wrote: “It’s going to hurt because it matters.” I think our growth comes as we accept what is there and keep living, keep moving forward, keep learning new things and loving people (even though, when you’re hurting or grieving, loving others is probably one of the hardest things you can do. I think it’s also the most important thing we can do.)

While I find myself in a more festive state of mind this year, I wanted to share some things have helped me over the years when the holidays have been particularly hard (and which I still do try to remember). If you are struggling this year, as many people do, I also want to say that I know my grief is not your grief. Perhaps you’re struggling with the loss of a person, a job, a lifestyle, a traditional Christmas vacation.

Maybe you’re not grieving anything specific at all, but the holidays trigger anxiety, or in an inexplicable ache that no one else “gets.” The visions and expectations of a perfect Christmas can stir up emotional storms in a more people than we probably realize, and I think that’s probably more common this year than in recent years past. Maybe our experiences and hurts are totally different, but even so: you’re not alone. Here are 3 things that have helped me, and I hope that they help you too.

1. Don’t Try to Make it Something It’s Not

Pretending to be in non-stop jolly-mode during the holidays when you’re struggling inside can be a dangerous game, especially if you aren’t being real with your closest family and friends. And especially if you aren’t being real with yourself. I’m not saying that you should dwell obsessively on your hurt (which can be dangerous too), but more that you should admit it’s there to yourself, and start to recognize the things that trigger it.

The second important part of this? Don’t pretend to the people who care about you the most. Let them in on what’s going on. This comes more naturally for some people, and less naturally for others. If it’s hard for you, it doesn’t have to be a big “sit down and talk.” You can let others in through smaller avenues.

One of the small things that has helped me cope with my mom’s absence (and grandparents’ absence, too) over the last few years has been simply to talk very openly about memories with them from previous holidays. Like, I’d tell my husband about how my mom and I always went to see The Nutcracker, or talk about the time that my Papaw snuck into the kitchen and ate almost the entire coconut cake by himself.

During the first couple of years, especially, talking about these good memories hurt more than they made me happy. They showed my pain, and my husband didn’t quite know what to do with me telling him things that seemed to make me cry. Talking about feelings – especially painful ones – is perhaps not his default, but he loves me. He’s learned that it’s something that helps me, and that sharing the memories which trigger an ache inside me helps me to feel less alone.

Because he loves me, he listens, and that makes me feel like I don’t carry those heavy things all by myself. If you are hurting, I hope you’ll think about at least one or two people that you know would want to help. And no, they probably can’t fix your pain, but not being alone will make it easier to carry.

2. Figure Out What You Need and Ask The People Who Care

Honestly, this one goes hand in hand with the last point. If you’ve found a person in your life that you are comfortable trusting with your holiday struggles, then it’s going to help you both if you can figure out what kind of support you need.

Some people are naturally gifted at just knowing what words you need to hear (or if it’s not a good time for words). However, since we all have different ways of processing and coping with grief, depression and anxiety, it’s more likely that your friends or family members will want to help, but be a little flummoxed as to the how.

And sometimes when people want to help but don’t know how, it can add hurt where, by all good intentions, help ought to be. Your friends and family love you. They don’t want to hurt you with the wrong words or actions. And, as funny as it may seem, you are sometimes the only one who can help them help you.

This involves digging yourself out of your hole a little bit so that you can give a few specific suggestions. I think that the process of gaining that insight into what will actually help is a little bit helpful, on its own. Consider about things like:

Do I need someone to just listen, or do I want to have a conversation about this? Would _______ pray with me? Do I just need someone to understand what I’m going through and then hang out with me and do something normal?

If you’re reading this because you’re struggling, I get that it’s hard for you to know what you need right now. But anything you can give your friends/family in this area will help them to be there for you in the way that I’m sure they want to be.

3. Assess What is Actually Self-Care

Because it’s been such a trying year, there are a lot of jokes about what self-care means these days. “Mommy needs wine,” has been a popular one (and I’d be completely lying if I claimed to never have said it.) However, let’s take a reality check moment to remember what self-care actually means. It’s taking care of your needs: emotional and physical. Not your immediate wants (AKA locking yourself in a closet with a bottle of wine and junk food is not actually self-care, even if it seems like what you want to do).

In fact, self-care often means doing the things we don’t want to do when we’re down: talking to a friend, going outside on a walk, doing something creative, drinking more water, cooking a nutritious meal. Take care of yourself like you’d look after someone you love, and you’re getting closer to what I think “self-care” is intended to mean.

Especially, if you are finding yourself drawn more and more regularly towards self-isolation (not the quarantine kind, the emotional kind) and unhealthy habits, it might be time to step back and assess what taking care of yourself should actually look like. You can start small. Drink more water. Listen to music that you love. Go outside. Call a friend. Take care of you.

I know that these are general tips, but I hope that they help you if your holiday season has been a difficult one. I also just want to say that it’s okay- more than okay- to be complicated. Christmas (the Christmas that I believe in) is about the salvation of humanity. And humanity is complex, damaged, and beautiful. And God loves us anyway. That is the gift. So I can be jolly and melancholy in turns throughout this season of big feelings, and I don’t have ignore or be ashamed of that. . .and neither do you.

20 Atmospheric Autumn Reads

…(An Alliterative Appellation)

…(Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)

Hello fellow readers, and happy October! Something about Autumn, I think, is especially appealing to literary folk. C’mon: some adventurous novels, blue skies, chilly air?


Dark, rainy nights, pumpkin spice candles, and a glass of Merlot served alongside mysterious and chilling tales?

You guys know what I’m talking about.

‘Tis the reading season.

Awhile back, I comprised a list of autumn reads for kids/ teens for Hip Homeschool moms. (You can read that one on their Website, here.)

When I shared the list with a friend, she asked me what my autumn book list would be for adults. Not like “for adults,” but more like the, “unedited version.”

While all of the classics from my teen list would remain (because let’s be honest, most of us can still enjoy kid and YA fiction), there are also some fall-ish novels that I love but wouldn’t feel comfortable openly recommending for YA (and under) readers.  Below, you’ll find a mix of all of the above making up my top 20 autumnal reads.


Autumn Classics (These are for Pretty Much Everyone.)

1.Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- a unique heroine,  a mansion with a dark secret, the test of love between two passionate souls, and a touch of magical realism that seems unique to the setting of North England. Jane Eyre is of my favorites anytime, but especially in fall and winter.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– Those Bronte sisters really knew how to weave together the feelings of a conflicted heart alongside the mystery of the English moors.  Oh, Heathcliff—in high school I loved you, and as an adult I love to hate you. I still read about you and Cathy every year, though; your tortured and unhealthy relationship is undeniably haunting.

3.  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier–  Again with that Cornish setting. But can anyone argue that the misty moors and the roar of the cold English ocean is just plain exciting and mysterious and lends itself so completely to thrilling and slightly spooky stories like Du Maurier’s Rebecca?  Okay, no arguments? Good. (Sidenote: I can’t wait for the Netflix film version coming out later this month…just another reason you need to read this book this October!)

4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith- An uber cozy 1930s account of an English girl who aspires to be a writer and chronicles the eccentric characters and happenings around her. Yes, I know–another British one. *Anglophile alert*

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Hey, it’s an actual American novel (Arguably one of THE American novels.) Gatsby is another favorite novel of mine anytime of the year, and it’s arguably a perfect summer OR autumn read. The thrilling roar of summertime and its dreams takes up most of the book’s premise, but the momentum leads to the fateful first fall of the leaves…the end of summer and its illusions (and delusions).

Autumn YA Novels that Adults Will Enjoy Too

(Because Adults Actually Read Just as Many YA Novels As Teens Do)

6. Shiver (and Wolves of Mercy Falls Series) by Maggie Stiefvater –Not just another paranormal werewolf romance story. This New York Times Bestselling Author totally gets the raw emotions of first love. It’s a sweet and beautifully melancholy tale.

7. The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare- You know that metallic, green book you’ve seen at Target with the washboard bare torso of a young guy on the cover? Yes, I’m actually putting that book (and the rest of the series) on my list as  guilty pleasure-reads for autumn (but hey, I’m listing them all as “one” book. ) I’m not sure who was in charge of marketing/cover layouts, but The Mortal Instruments is only slightly about dudes with abs. It’s a fun supernatural series with lots of action and witty banter: a fun series for some bathtub reading on a chilly day.

8. Wintersong by S. Jae. Jones- Labyrinth meets Phantom of the Opera! I actually reviewed this one here. It’s a dark fairy-tale that fantasy lovers will gobble up.

9. The Diviners by Libba Bray- I’m actually reading this one right now: 1920s Manhattan, mysterious murders, a plucky flapper heroine, supernatural bumps in the night. Libba Bray is a great writer, and this book is actually pretty darn creepy for a YA novel. The characters are very teenager-ly…but the story is pretty adult (kind of like her Gemma Doyle series).

10. Warm Bodies by Issac Marion- Just your typical little post-apocalyptic  love story/comedy/commentary on human nature (narrated by a Zombie.) Whatever.

11. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R King – While not technically written for a Young Adult audience, this story is definitely appealing/appropriate for teens or adults. It’s a super cozy and engaging introduction to King’s Beekeeper series, which follows a retired Sherlock Holmes and the bright, young woman who becomes his assistant.

12. THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J. K. Rowling- If you haven’t read Harry Potter then you should. It’s okay to re-read it whenever you want, especially in fall. That’s all I have to say about that.

Not Your Kiddo’s Halloween Booklist (I think the category speaks for itself)

13. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon- Sweeping and kind of steamy historical/romance/adventure/quasi-fantasy that you’ve all probably heard of (because, you know, Starz). Because there’s some rough stuff in it, I don’t recommend Outlander to everyone, even though I personally have enjoyed what I’ve read of the series. The first books starts out with Clare stepping through standing stones in the Highlands during the feast of Samhain (Gaelic Halloween), which is one of the things that makes the first novel of this series a great October read.

14. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman– A profound, weird, creepy, adult collection of fantastical short stories. A dash of spooky and a dollop of thoughtfulness.

15. Dead Before Dawn (A Sookie Stackhouse novel) Charlaine Harris- A Cajun-infused chick-lit romance/ blood-and-gore/ mystery/ vampire novel. A little bit of a guilty pleasure but super fun (and amazingly successful given the amount of genre crossover).

16. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice- Arguably the most iconic vampire novel since Dracula. It’s fascinating and dark and compelling.

17. Dracula by Bram Stoker- This year was actually my first year reading Dracula (with my bookclub!) It was a slow-starter, but once I was hooked I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It felt much more “mystery” to me than horror. Teen kids would be okay reading this one, actually.

18.- 19.  Rules of Magic/ Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman! I wrote a whole post about this series already! Read it here. 

20. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman-the prequel to the last two books I mentioned! It’s currently next up on my nightstand, and I can’t wait.

There are so many books springing to mind now that I’m calling this list “done.” However, 20 seems like a good place for me to stop…for now. How about you? What are some books that scream autumnal, Halloweenish mystery to you?

I look forward to hearing about them!


Alice Hoffman’s Most Magical Novels

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.” 
― Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

practical magic

The Owens women from Practical Magic  (film version) were a little formative for me as a teen and young adult. Being a Christian, it may seem a little weird to some of my friends that I found a film about witchcraft to be so influential, but there it is.

(BTW: If you have never seen this film, Halloween season is the best time to watch it.)

Practical Magic is a wonderfully 90s (I love the clothes) fantasy/drama is about two sisters whom  rely on one another and ultimately set themselves free from a centuries-old curse. The curse? Any man they fall in love with will die. (There’s also a really evil boyfriend who gets killed, necromanced, and then killed for good.)

I fell in love with facets of the film: eccentric, maiden aunts in a Victorian house,  chocolate cake for breakfast (and midnight margaritas) , a garden by the sea full of lavender and rosemary,  the strong bond of sisterhood,  potions in the form of lotion and shampoo (before EOs were cool), and notion of cursed love.

For me, these elements wove a spell of mischief, whimsy and melancholy that my young INFP heart found undeniable appeal in. Despite the B-rating Rotten Tomatoes gives this movie, I don’t think I was alone in this. I know so many people who still love this film today, and I’d argue that it is possibly even a cult classic.

So, when I finally started reading Alice Hoffman’s book Practical Magic (the inspiration for the film) a few years ago, I was initially a little disappointed. Sally and Gillian, the sisters, did engage me in the way that I expected.  I actually preferred the film characters to their literary counterparts, which is an extremely unusual occurrence for me.


But by the time I finished reading Practical Magic, I decided that I actually loved the book. I just loved it in a different way than I expected.

“Writing itself was a magical act in which imagination altered reality and gave form to power.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

 Hoffman often writes in the genre of magical realism, and she nails it.  She blends together the real world and elements of magic so completely that, as a reader, the whole thing becomes seamless.

It is all real. It is all magic. 

Something that definitely helps with this is her ability to craft a vivid setting for the worlds in her books. In the case of Practical Magic (and the prequel, The Rules of Magic), much of this hinges on the Owen’s family home: an old house, on an ordinary street, where even the dust motes seem brimming with magic.

Even more so,  Hoffman excels at crafting the world of her story around a theme.  The way she does this, especially in conjunction with the genre of magical realism, gives the adult reader a special gift: a novel that speaks to the heart in a way that only a true fairy tale can–revealing truths dark and deep, bright and sparkling. As someone who devours fiction, this is what I love.

rules of magic

So when The Rules of Magic, long-awaited prequel to Practical Magic, came out a couple of years ago, I had already pre-ordered it.

Almost as soon as I Rules of Magic, I was hooked. I loved many of the same things about it as Practical Magic: the world-building, the  omens, raw bits of wisdom, the whimsical tone.

But there were new things that immediately drew me in, too. The setting of 1960s New York was fascinating, and I found myself much more engaged with the characters (younger versions of the aunts in Practical Magic, and their brother, Vincent.)

What I loved the most, though, was the way Rules of Magic took the web of themes that we find in Practical Magic and went deepersimultaneously dissecting  and expanding upon them. 

There are many kinds of love explored in this work and – at the center of it all – heartbreak and startling truth. Two truths, especially, spoke to me in both of these books.

  1. Love is a curse.
  2. The only way to survive the curse of love is to love more.

If you’ve lost someone that you love, you’ll recognize this “curse” and the way it plays out for the Owens sisters within their fantastical setting.  You know what it is to lie awake at night and fear the inevitable: that this curse of love is one that you will meet again and again.

There is nothing you can do to escape it. It is a fearful, heavy thought—more than sadness: horror. It does feel like a curse. It’s something that not everyone understands–until they experience a major loss for themselves. At some point, we all realize that it’s a curse we will have to live with.

“I’m fated to lose everyone I ever love,” April said. “I already know that.” “Of course you are,” Jet responded in her calm, measured tone. “That’s what it means to be alive.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

It is tempting to reach the same conclusion that the characters in Practical Magic/The Rules of Magic do at various times in the the narrative: don’t love at all, and the curse will be irrelevant.

However, as Hoffman explores in this duo of grown-up fairy tales: to attempt to resist love totally is to truly fall under the power of the curse. Yes, the curse of love is real, but the only way to break free of the curse it to continue to choose love, over and over again.

“Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

It’s a hard lesson to explain, one of those things you don’t get until you feel it. One of the reasons I love fiction is that it allows us to feel and understand things as though we’ve experienced them. It creates empathy with others and helps us to understand ourselves more deeply, too.

Don’t take my word for it though. Read it. I’d say read them both, but if you have to pick one, I’d go with The Rules of Magic.

Furthermore, read them now, because Alice Hoffman’s newest addition to this collection, Magic Lessons is coming out on October 6th!
(I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m a little excited about it.)
“Love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

Midnight Sun: A Case for Bella.

“You don’t see yourself very clearly, you know.”

These words, uttered from the (“perfect”) lips of sparkly vampire, Edward Cullen, to the disbelieving ( and presumably very normal) ears of a clumsy, teenage girl named Bella, made an entire generation of fiction-devouring adolescent girls swoon.

I know this, because I was there. Okay, fine.

I was one of them.

Navy Gold Elegant Photo Moon Prom Ticket-page-001

You have to understand, that Twilight (because of course, I’m referring to Stephanie Meyer’s outrageously popular, Twilight Saga) was the first of the many YA supernatural love stories of its kind. Despite the fact that it essentially gave birth to a whole new sub-genre, aspects of Twilight’s formula were very old and almost (like Edward himself) antiquated. 

It’s apparent (via numerous literary references within the Twilight saga) that part of the intent of the series was to re-imagine the kind of love-at-first sight/ forbidden love story that one finds in classic tales like Romeo and Juliet, or the more gothic– Wuthuring Heights. It had that whole instantaneous, “you are my soul mate” kind of love  + the whole “We can’t be together. It would never work” thing.

“I love you. It is torture to be with you.”

“I’m like, literally dying to be with you.”

You get it: Good, old-fashioned, love angst, set in modern times.

Plus the stakes were higher than ever, because – in Edward and Bella’s case- they truly could not be together. I mean, Edward is literally torn between his desire to protect Bella or eat her. (It kind of takes the “all consuming love” thing to the next level.)

And maybe this antiquated, almost parodic level of love angst is the reason that.

  1. Teen girls were immediately obsessed with Twilight.
  2. Just a few years (and an awkward film series later) people whole-heartedly scoff at Twilight. The super intense love of two teens (one who is actually 107) comes off as a bit…errr…creepy.  “What modern girl would let herself fall into such an unhealthy, all-consuming relationship?” asks the once-obsessed teen girls who are now in their twenties.

Let’s explore that, shall we?

Enter Midnight Sun

Over a decade later (actually more like 15 years) Midnight Sun follows the exact same plot as Twilight, only this time, it’s from Edward’s perspective.

My initial thoughts when I found out that this long-rumored re-imagination (which was temporarily shelved when it got leaked about 10 years ago) was finally making it’s appearance, I thought it was pretty brilliant.

Honestly? 2020 is a great year for the release of Midnight Sun.

We could all use a little nostalgia + escapism, and this “return to Twilight,”  novel presents itself as just that. 

So I read it. There was definitely some nostalgia. There were also some dramatic eyerolls. Ultimately, however, there was a big surprise in Midnight Sun, too, as I realized that it took me back to my younger self in  unexpected ways that turned out to be surprisingly important. 

Firstly, let me say that the book is advertised as “Twilight from Edward’s perspective,” it is pretty much exactly that, plot-wise. There are a few minor detours from the familiar story because we are traveling through this book with a different character, but nothing that really changes the story. 

At times I got annoyed because much of the dialogue was exactly the same. Come on, we can be a little more creative, can’t we?

However, that’s not to say that the story itself didn’t change. In fact, what struck me about Midnight Sun was how much it changed because our point of view (and therefore perception) of the characters is changed…and also, perhaps, because how much us- the core audience – has changed.

First, let’s talk about Edward. I re-read Twilight a few years ago, and as a late- twenty-something, the constant references to, “Edward’s perfect lips,” had me in stitches. What kind of unbelieveable leading man is this? I thought. How did I ever fall for this level of flat-ness?

But in Midnight Sun, Edward is very deliberately not a perfect character.

For starters, he’s controlling, perfectionist and has obvious anger issues. Plus, he actually does want to eat his girlfriend (sometimes).  Told from Edward’s perspective, this truly becomes more of a “Beauty and the Beast” story, wherein we care a lot less that  the Beast is attractive and a lot more about the fact that he’s recovering cannibal.

Think Kiefer Sutherland Batman, but from 1917. And sparkly. Touch of Hannibal. That’s about right.

While we already had hints of the other personality traits in Twilight (we just ignored them, because “hotness.”) Edward’s also surprisingly insecure. He’s anxious and probably OCD, and we see how the sort of arrogant façade that we got from Twilight is a direct response to those underlying insecurities. 

Essentially, in Midnight Sun, Edward is actually better, more complicated character.  I think this gets a lot closer to the original Heathcliff mark that Meyer was probably aiming for with Twilight.

We also finally see, from this perspective, how Bella changes him from the inside out. I don’t know about you, but I never found that part of this sparkly vampire saga to be believable. 😉 

Essentially, Midnight Sun is much more fascinating, from a character development standpoint, than it’s companion novel, and I found that it made the love story more understandable, too.

And a big reason the love story becomes more believable is that we finally see and understand Bella’s value through Edward’s eyes, which brings me to the most important thing I got from reading Midnight Sun.

Bella really didn’t see herself clearly, and – as a generation of young, female Twi-hard readers- neither did we. 

For years now, there’s been this joke about Bella being the “flat” character that was relatable to all teen girls. The theory goes that she is so bland that any reader can slide into her perspective easily, which is why the book was so instantly popular, (and maybe why it’s popularity didn’t hold up as well over time.)

For a long time, I believed this too. However, after reading Midnight Sun, I realize that (at least after a period of reflection on the author’s part) Bella isn’t an “anyone” character.

She’ s just quiet.  She’s not cardboard; she’s simply a wallflower. From Edward’s perspective in Midnight Sun, I think we get a clearer image of the character envisioned by the author: we see her as shy, selfless, stubborn, smart, family-oriented, bookish, responsible and a bit insecure. She’s sort of a Season One Rory (for the Gilmore Girls fans). 


She’s not every girl.

However, I do think she represents a certain set of teenage girl.

The girls who would have picked up a gothic-inspired love story in Books-A-Million in the early 2000s. The good girls. The bookish girls. The girls who absorbed classic novels on the beach and observed everything that happened in the local coffee shop. The girls who hadn’t quite figured out who they were yet, but who wanted to be seen for the strong, quiet potential that they had. These are the girls who would have become instant Twi-hards. These are the girls whom Bella was designed to represent (and I was definitely one of those girls, in case you are wondering). 

From this angle, I come to see finally that I was wrong, all those years ago, thinking that boring Bella doesn’t deserve “perfect” Edward.

Bella was simply unformed, surfacing. The Bella we meet in Midnight Sun could have been or done anything in future years, and I came away from this novel feeling kind of sad that she never got a chance to realize her value, just as she was.

All of these thoughts lead me to the final conclusion that, maybe as a generation of bookish teenage girls reading Twilight, we fell into that same pattern that Edward rightly accused Bella of:

Maybe we didn’t see ourselves clearly. We didn’t see our worth, or that the processes we were going through had value in helping to develop our adult selves.

And maybe these traits and insecurities were part of the reason we even became Twi-hards in the first place, drawn to a story where that sort of quiet value was desirable and powerful to an inhumanly “perfect” leading man.

You might say that I’m going too far with this, or digging too deep.

Maybe I am, but I really don’t think so. Partially this is because Stephanie Meyer’s introduction to Midnight Sun specifically addresses the target audience as readers who were teens when Twilight came out, but whom are now adults living (hopefully full) lives.

As time passes, we all find things that we left hanging, that we wish we could go back and say, or that we wish we’d realized at the time.

For Meyer, I have to think that perhaps she wanted to use this reboot as an opportunity to  address complaints about her characters–to show that Edward was never too perfect or that Bella was never an “anygirl.”

For me, seeing these iconic characters differently gave me a chance to think about things that I hadn’t realized were left hanging, instilling a new respect for the quiet, bookish girl who didn’t think she was good enough. Reading it, I glimpsed my own seventeen year old self through a different lens. 

Is Midnight Sun a great book? Not especially.  Ultimately, I’d only recommend it to the audience to whom it was dedicated—those who read Twilight in years past. However, I think if you did read and enjoy Twilight at any point, reading Midnight Sun is both nostalgic and interesting as a character development experiment and as a vessel of self-reflection.

It’s amazing what you can get out of a familiar story by simply finding a new perspective.


In Memoriam of Maxine Felder: Steel Magnolia and Beautiful Soul

The week before she passed away, my grandmother (Mimi) asked me to speak at her funeral, and she also asked my cousin, Claire, to sing. We were both honored to be voices that helped others reflect on her and her life.  I wanted to post what I shared about my Mimi here for those that were at the service, as well as for those who couldn’t make it on the day.  


I consider Maxine to be one of the most influential and admirable women I’ve ever known.   And I don’t just feel this way because she was a wonderful grandmother, though she was.

As a grandmother (or “Mimi” as her grandchildren know her), she was loving and involved. She asked good questions and really listened to the answers. She remembered details of your life that you, yourself, may have forgotten.  She gave wise counsel.

She also had more than a little mischief and impishness to her; she always had something fun tucked up her sleeve.

And she was really fun to laugh with. She was the kind of person who would get so tickled by something that she just couldn’t stop laughing. Pretty soon, she’d be wheezing so hard that you’d get tickled, too (sometimes to the point of tears).


So yes, she was a wonderful grandmother.

However, as I’ve gotten to spend more time with her over the last few years and to know her better as an adult, I’ve learned things about Maxine that I couldn’t have put words to as a child.

I want to share some of those things with you all today: the things that made Maxine the beautiful, strong and faithful woman that she was.

A Life of Beauty

Maxine was beautiful: inside and out.

I’ll mention Maxine to someone who has met her, and they will usually reply: “Oh, she’s such a beautiful lady.”

The comment is strikingly inevitable.

It doesn’t matter if they knew her when she was young or when she was 88 years old. It doesn’t matter if they knew her when she was sick or well, or in times of happiness or grief.

Even as recently as last weekend, near her final hours, her nurses commented on what a beautiful lady she was. And when they commented on it, they almost found themselves puzzled at the fact that they were saying the words aloud–it’s surely an unusual thing to be able to say about about someone at that point in life.

When I think about the frequency of such comments about Maxine’s beauty,  I have to come to the conclusion that they have much to do with the incredible grace and poise that Maxine possessed throughout her life.

Don’t get me wrong, Mimi was always a very pretty lady, but there was so much more to her beauty than that. She had this glamorous, regal way about her. She was always polished and put together.

64259538_419923058853917_4878990338955411456_nShe had great elegance in the way she carried herself and interacted others.

She was kind, honest, and gracious, but she was also no push-over: to know her was to respect her. You wouldn’t want to mess with Maxine!

She was, simply put, a very classy lady–the kind that you don’t meet often, and that you remember long afterwards. Beautiful—inside and out.

She also created beautiful things.

Many of you know what a wonderful artist Maxine was. Some of you may even have some of her watercolor paintings in your home. In addition to being a painter in a variety of mediums, she also wrote poetry.


Maxine, and her daughter (my mother—who was also an artist) were the first people to teach me that our desire to create beautiful things is a direct reflection of our Creator.

When God made us in His image, he placed in us His own desire to create beautiful and amazing things: not for any kind of survival purpose, but just for the pure joy of it.

Therefore, in fulfilling our God-given desire to create, we come to understand the heart of God just a little bit better. Maxine helped me to understand that.

I see the desire to create as an important facet of my grandmother’s life, and I see it’s in the lives of all of her children and grandchildren, too. When I started thinking about this family – Maxine’s family – I realized that all of us are drawn to art in various forms. I’m grateful for Maxine’s creativity, for the way that she shared it with her family, and for the way that she helped show me the value of being a creative Christian.

 Maxine was also an appreciator of beauty. She admired God’s handiwork in its many forms.

She loved art and reading, and appreciated anything interesting or lovely, which certainly extended to a study of people as well. She loved to people watch and try and understand people’s actions and motives.

She also loved to travel and see different parts of the world, especially with my Papaw, Gene. They went on so many trips throughout the years, sometimes just the two of them and several times with church friends as well.  I know that getting to travel and appreciate God’s handiwork was a special experience for both of them.

More locally, they also enjoyed just getting in the car and going on rides to find interesting things in the Hattiesburg community. When I’d visit them, it was not uncommon for them to ask me to hop in the car and they’d take me to look at something interesting: an unfinished community, a beautiful part of USM, a field of flowers.  I loved this about them as a couple. They both had such adventurous and playful spirits.

More recently, within the last few months, I took Mimi on drives when we got together.  Between her breathing difficulties, and my three year old, it was an easy way to spend time together. She’d direct me (I had no idea where I was going), and then she’d tell me about places while we rode around: the history of a church, a gorgeous and secluded neighborhood, a place where my mom spent time when she was a student at USM. It was so special getting to do that with her. I loved the perspective she had about her community.


A Life of Strength

But while Maxine’s life was full of beauty, it was also full of many hardships. It would be a disservice to her character to honor her beautiful spirit without acknowledging the incredible strength behind it.

Maxine wasn’t just a Southern Belle, she was a genuine Steel Magnolia.

(def) Steel Magnolia: a woman who exemplifies both traditional femininity and an uncommon fortitude.

In my life alone, Maxine suffered through difficulties that are unfathomable, including:

  • two heart surgeries
  • a battle with breast cancer
  • the loss of her oldest son
  • the loss of her only daughter
  • the loss of the love of her life, Gene

I cannot imagine losing one child before their time, let alone two. It has to be the worst kind of pain there is.  And just two years after her daughter died, Maxine lost Gene: the love of her life.

They were married for almost sixty-five years, and they loved each other fiercely.

young mimi and papaw in love.jpg


I was heartbroken when my Papaw, Gene, passed away. He was was a wonderful, warm man, and I loved him greatly. But my heart broke all the more for Maxine, knowing that the bride he’d always loved so well would have to go on without him. It did not seem possible for them to be separated. (Now, with her passing, there is peace, not heartache,  in the belief that they are together once again.)

Despite the many losses she faced in her life, Maxine kept going.

The great writer, Ernest Hemmingway, once said that, “courage is grace under pressure,” and that makes me think of the way Maxine continued to persevere throughout her many hardships. She kept the same grace that she had always exhibited in her life, and it was evident in the way that she continued to love people.

It takes so much courage and strength to love someone, lose them, and continue to love again with the same beating heart. Yet Maxine did this–again and again and again.

She was a very brave and strong woman, and I think it is important to acknowledge that as we remember her.

A Life of Faithfulness

Maxine probably wouldn’t have called herself brave, but I can easily imagine her response to me calling her so. She would tell me that the endurance I’ve described to you wasn’t simply about bravery, but more about faith.

Romans 3: 3 – 5  tells us to: rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Maxine’s faith in God’s Word gave her the strength to persevere, to hope, and to trust in an eternal life beyond the sufferings of this one.

Her faith showed her how to love well,  and gave her the strength to continue to do it, despite her many personal losses.

She was also faithful to the people in her life.

She and my Papaw were married for almost sixty-five years, and in love for almost seventy. Neither of them was ever shy about telling us that it was pretty much love at first sight for both of them (they first met when he was seventeen and she was fifteen).

They may have clicked because of chemistry, but the reason they had so many years in a happy marriage together had everything to do with faithfulness. They were both faithful to being in a devoted relationship with one another, and they showed this faithfulness daily: cooking meals, earning a living, listening, traveling, having one another’s back, praying together. If you knew them, you know how wonderful they were together.  The legacy of their sweet marriage will continue to inspire our family for years to come.

Maxine also showed her faithfulness to every member of our family, many times over. No matter the mistake that was made, no matter the disagreement, no matter the distance, she stayed faithful to loving each and every one of us.

More recently, and especially since her time in the hospital, I’ve seen her faithfulness grow even more. Maxine was always a bit of a worrier, but in recent days I saw her begin to let go of much of that worry as she prepared her heart for its journey to Heaven.

In the face of her final days here on earth, her focus stayed on the topic of love—loving God and loving others.

Starting about two weeks ago, she began to get very tired and started sleeping a lot more. I noticed that every time she woke up, she’d share something sweet with me: a memory, a word of encouragement, an expression of her excitement about Heaven, about what was to come for her. Every single thing she shared was so uplifting and full of hope.

One of the last things she ever said to me was: “I’ll never understand why there is so much hate in the world. God made you to love. You are made to love.”

At the end of her life, Maxine’s beautiful soul, her incredible strength, and her unwavering faith, were more visible than ever.

The experience of witnessing her joy in being called to her eternal Home has been such a testimony to us, her family.

Though I—though we all—will miss her greatly, we honestly and openly rejoice in knowing that she has found her eternal home in Heaven with her savior, that the hope that sustained her for so long has been realized, and that she is reunited with the many members of her family who went before her, and with her savior, Jesus Christ.

We will love her forever, and we find peace in the knowledge that her sufferings are over and that all is joy for her now.

young mimi in color







Like Water: A Poem for International Women’s Day



Like Water

We put out fires

And forge the unexpected paths

Through the oldest mountains.

Do you ever stop to think about

How we overcome changes of space and time

Like a magic trick

That no one sees,

Or that everyone expects?

We take on new forms constantly,

And make it look like serenity itself

Like the most natural thing in the world.


Thank you to all the women who carry the health of an entire family on your back, sometimes with no acknowledgment for the way you have sacrificed your status, your body, the dreams of a younger self. Thank you, also, to those women who flaunt their intelligence and expertise in the workplace, who are not afraid to be called “bossy,” because they know they are simply leaders.  These paths are seen as oppositions to one another, but they are not. They are both brave. Neither is understood fully by society. We choose one, the other, or some combination of both. There is rarely a situation wherein everyone understands our choices. We make them anyway.

Thank you for those who do things differently, to the warriors who never felt supported.  Thank you to those who appear so very delicate on the outside, but who love more strongly than anyone else in the world.

Thank you to the mothers and the daughters and the friends who know exactly what words are needed to heal a broken heart. Thank you, friends, for the way you have taught and inspired all of us.