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.

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

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







4 Ways “Mary Poppins Returns” Gets it Right

Mary Poppins: the icon responsible with so many things that we now associate with British culture, nannies, and childhood in general. She is both no-nonsense (perhaps just as “keep calm and carry on,” as the Queen herself) and whimsical (she’s got Elizabeth II beat on that one). She floats calmly into a family, shakes the foundations down to a crumble, and begins the necessary task of building it back again…making herself unnecessary in the process. Her tools are a mixture of musical numbers, sensibility, life lessons, and instruction in magical (if seemingly random) skills such as jumping into chalk portraits and chimney sweeping in the clouds.

(Because, you know, it’s a jolly holiday with Mary.)

The Banks children aside, this woman was an important figure in the childhood of millions. So when Disney decided to make a sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, I think  a lot of us felt afraid.  Personally, I wanted to love it because I wanted more Mary Poppins in my life. But, remaking a classic? That is very tricky, especially when you are messing with an icon like Mary.

Play it too safe, and you risk the result feeling like a boring parody of the original. Go too far outside of the box- either with the character, the tone, or the plot-and you are going to make a lot of dedicated fans very grumpy.

Still, I wanted to see it, and I  *finally* did a few days ago.  Despite the fact that several people have called this film, “practically perfect,” I was a little skeptical and tried to go into it with few expectations.  However, I was shocked by how quickly this film won me over.  Having given it a little consideration, here are 4 ways I think Mary Poppins Returns completely gets it right.


1.Emily Blunt IS Mary Poppins, but she is not  Julie Andrew’s Mary Poppins. 

Personally, my biggest fear about this film was that it would be pretty much impossible to do a believable Mary Poppins character that didn’t feel like a lackluster Julie Andrew’s impersonation. How do you even separate Julie Andrews and Mary Poppins?  Fortunately, Emily Blunt owns this character in a way that is completely outside of a Julie-shaped box.

All of the Mary Poppin’s character qualities are there (kind but extremely firm, always in control of the game, full of magical surprises, rosy cheeks etc.) but her mannerisms are different.  One of the first ways this comes through immediately is in Blunt’s more aristocratic-sounding British accent and some jazzier singing moments (which also reflects the film’s time period of the 1930s).  Stylistic choices like these helped me immediately separate Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins from Julie Andrew’s, which allowed me to get into the film more quickly and easily.

 2.  The Plot Follows the Original Formula 

Saying that a movie is “formulaic,” is rarely a compliment. However, certain movie genres can get away with it, and children’s films are one of them. Mary Poppins Returns uses heavy-handed formula in its favor. Keeping things spoiler-free, let’s just say it like this: if you were to take Mary Poppins  and Mary Poppins Returns and break them both down into a timeline categorized into “events, reactions, and musical numbers,” you would have two identical timelines. Identical. Therefore, while many things about the sequel are different from the original, the experience of watching Mary Poppins Returns is extremely familiar.

Surprisingly, this doesn’t translate badly. Instead, is clear that the structure is intentional, and it reminded me of the way that children’s book series often keep the same formula while mixing up the details. Since Mary Poppins springs from the children’s book series by P.L. Travers, this seems appropriate.  More importantly, the familiar effect is grounding.

3. Balance in the details

Of course, Mary Poppins Returns would be a really boring movie if it had an identical plot formula AND the same events, issues, characters, etc. Instead, there are new experiences to enjoy in this film, ones which are relevant to the particular needs of the main characters in MP Returns.  Often, these build on something familiar to the original film and take it in an unexpectedly delightful new direction, such as when the children
“pop into” a pottery piece in their nursery:  a callback that provides viewers with a particularly  amazing bit of new animation  while also teaching us something about the children and moving the particulars of the plot forward.

I also thought it was important that the father (grown-up Michael Banks) in this story has a very different relationship with his children than George Banks did in the original. This, in turn affects the lessons that the children need to learn.  Still, there are very nostalgic and appropriately-placed ties to the original that are thoughtfully and powerfully utilized. (Tiny spoilers: these include, but are not limited to, a certain green kite and an appearance by Dick van Dyke.)

4.  The Music

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in music or musicals.  That said, here are some of my most important criteria for “a good musical:”

  1. Does the music take me on an emotional journey that mirrors the plot? Does it have me grinning like an idiot, crying, and toe-tapping within the span of 2-3 hours?
  2. Do the songs get lodged in my brain AND (see 3.)
  3. Do I continue to listen to the soundtrack despite the fact that the songs have already been in my head on loop for days? (?!)

This movie definitely ticks those boxes for me, from the tear-inducing ballad, “Where the Lost Things Go,” to the bouncy, joyful “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.”  I’ve been singing, listening, dancing to, and feeling emotional about the songs since seeing the film. I also appreciated the way that lyricist, Scott Wittman, translated the tone and plot of the story so seamlessly into music while the composer, Marc Shaiman, channeled the feeling of the original Mary Poppins’ music into a fresh new score.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that there was very little argument in my brain against this movie while watching it. My heart was definitely NOT screaming (as I’d feared): “You are not Mary! I feel wrong about this!”  Instead, I found myself completely delighted by the music, the acting, the story, the sets, and the special effects  More amazing to me was the fact that everything about Mary Poppins Returns struck a balance that made it fun to watch as a new experience but also easy to feel sentimental about, as if it had been there all along.  Like Mary Poppins herself, I think that Mary Poppins Returns ultimately succeeds by doling out just the proper proportions of sensibility and magic.







Sappy Christmas Movie Challenge

white people kissing

“Pic for Attention”?

Well sort of, but also sort of relevant! Dane and I were goofing off with this one, which we jokingly call the “White People Almost Kissing Photo.” We started calling it that when we realized that the cover of pretty much every single Nicholas Sparks book or film has a “White People Almost Kissing” image on the front. (The “almost,” part is important; people in the act of actually kissing tend to have unattractively squished noses.)

And you know what else usually has a cover with people *almost* kissing and follows some pretty consistent formulas? Sappy Christmas Movies. In particular, I’m talking about the uber romantic ones you might find on the Hallmark Channel or, over the last couple of years, on Netflix.

These are the movies that swallow up your suspensions of disbelief and recompense them with warm fuzzies. They’re getting married even though they met last week? Sure. He was able to dodge airport security because he loves her? Of course! The millennial barista makes enough money to afford THAT apartment? Why not?

Whether you love them or make fun of them (or both), the Sappy Christmas Movie is a staple of December. It’s safe enough to have on with the kids in the room, mindless enough to not get confused by the plot  if you are watching it while doing some holiday baking or wrapping, and -well-sappy enough to give a cozy feeling that we all especially enjoy this time of year.

From what I can tell, there are a few rules to the Sappy Christmas Movie  formula:

  • Usually there are a few standard character types to choose from for the male/female characters.
  • Also, the story line will STRONGLY remind you of two or three well-known movies without  being an exact copy of any of them.
  • Obviously, despite some standard obstacles, the two main characters fall in love.
  • This MUST happen at Christmas, preferably in a small town.  If you don’t like small towns, New York City is also acceptable. Or the North Pole. Or a tiny European country that kind of  rhymes with “Genovia.” You get the gist.

In honor of this much-beloved seasonal staple, I wanted to create a challenge/game for those of us who love (and love to make fun of) the Sappy Christmas Movie.  I’m going to give you some categories and suggestions/ideas to get you started, and there are a few funny (okay, not standard) options in there, just to keep in interesting. After you come up with something for each category (use my ideas or not), go ahead and write a short (paragraph-ish) summary of your Sappy Christmas Movie!  I’d love to read yours…so post it in a comment! The sillier, the better.

Merry Christmas!

Sappy Christmas Movie Formula

2 Overused Character Types/ Unlikely Match + 2 Other Movie Plots Smushed Together +Christmas+ Idyllic Setting= SCM SUCCESS


2-3 Standard Character Types


  • The lonely single mom/dad
  • The party girl/guy
  • The workaholic
  • The former workaholic who has recently lost it all and having an identity crisis
  • The person who has forgotten their family and friends
  • A combination of any of the last three (basically Scrooge)
  • The Manic Pixie Dream girl of Christmas
  • Charming Smalltown Shop Owner
  • Charming Smalltown Farm Owner
  • Charming Smalltown enthusiast of any kind
  • Big City writer/reporter
  • Charming Big City business owner
  • Santa’s child/grandchild
  • An unhappy princess/prince
  • A lawyer having a moral crisis

1-2 Scenic Location (s)–There is an option for 2 locations in case one person has to chase after a romantic interest halfway through story


  • A Farm (the deep south, the midwest, the pacific northwest)
  • A Christmas-loving town in Anywhere, USA
  • Manhattan
  • Paris
  • London
  • Some small, European country that is undefinable but where everyone speaks English
  • The Jungle
  • A Resort/Amusement Park

2 Hit Movies  “Borrow” Plot Devices From

Ideas: Usually these are romantic comedies, but I’m also gonna throw some randoms and beg you to make them work! 🙂

  • The Holiday
  • 500 Days of Summer
  • The Wedding Planner
  • A Roman Holiday
  • The Princess Diaries
  • The Prince and Me
  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • Jurassic Park
  • James Bond
  • Mary Poppins
  • Kate and Leopold
  • Diehard
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Twilight
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • The Fifth Element
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Prince and the Pauper

1 “Unexpected” Roadblocks to Romance


  • Emotional walls refuse to budge because of a breakup/ loss of loved one
  • One character’s DARK SECRET is revealed (AKA they were a jerk until this point in time, they are lying about their career/identity,  they are secretly writing a story about the love interest, or they actually have super powers)
  • One person has to move far away because of an opportunity that has been a lifelong dream.

1 Christmas Theme /Symbol/Trope


  • Redemption ala Scrooge or the Grinch
  • Realization of a Lifelong Dream (inspired by Christmas)
  • Snow as a Magical Entity
  • Tis Better to Give Than Receive
  • Christmas Eve is a time when Wishes Come True
  • At Christmas You Realize That You are Where You Are Supposed to Be
  • Help: I’m Stuck Reliving Christmas Day Multiple Times
  • Kissing a Stranger Under the Mistletoe



How Do You Like My Leaf?

One of the many things I loved and miss about my mom is how we used to make up silly songs together about ordinary situations. Usually, this would happen when we were walking or cleaning or driving somewhere. I used to love running errands with her, even when I was older. She was the kind of person who made mundane things in life a little extra special and fun.  When my dad would protest to the unrealistic nature of blockbuster musicals, we would point out to him that he kind of lived in a musical.

Though my mom and I both had a deep appreciation for good music, the songs we’d make up were classically terrible. Just really, really bad–but funny. Snort until (your pants are at risk) level of funny. Usually, the melody would either be stolen or very haphazard, and the lyrics would be morbid, purposely obtuse, or random observations.  Sometimes they wouldn’t make any sense to anyone but us. We could rarely remember them later.

HOWEVER, I do remember the very first song.

The very first song we ever made up together was when I was about three years old, and it was called, “How do you like my leaf?”

Mom and I were walking at Wilshire Trails park in Gainesville, Ga. It’s a beautiful park, with paths that wind through threes and over streams, an old, covered “Troll bridge,” and several large rocks on which to climb. It was autumn, and the ground was strewn with wet red, yellow and brown leaves stuck to the path. I picked one up gleefully and beamed up at my grown BFF.

“How do you like my leaf?” I singsonged.

Without missing a beat, mom sang back: “It’s very wonderful!”

“How do you like my leaf?”

“Very Very NICEEE!”

“How do you like my leaf?”

“I don’t want to sing this song!” (still singing of course)

“How do you like my leaf?”


This kept going. It escalated. The faux angst to my mom’s response lyrics got increasingly more panicked. You get the idea.

Whether we wanted to or not, we would remember, “How do you like my leaf?” forever after.  It can get stuck in your head permanently. Eventually, my mom, dad and I hated that song, but we loved it too.

Well, that silly little song has been in my head a lot this week, and I know it is because it is the week of my mom’s birthday.   Autumn was, in so many ways, her season. It was the time of the year when my small family made so many formative childhood memories. Autumn was when we’d head up to the Appalachian Mountains and camp as much as we possibly could. Autumn is when we’d meet my grandparents for a cozy vacation in Tennessee. Autumn was when we’d head to Jaemor Farms to buy all the apples and explore the corn maze. It was when my dad would light up the old fireplace for the first time in months, making our house by the lake smell like old stone and smoke and spices and woods.

All of these memories, and so many more, float through my head  constantly  this time of year. They are like memory-leaves scattering down, catching on light breezes as my heart jerks in response to them.

A few days ago, I was walking with Kora, my three year old daughter, and she found a bright orange leaf that she thought was amazing. She beamed at me with her billion watt smile.

“Look, mama! A Nana (banana) leaf!”

It was a perfect leaf, and a perfect memory, and a perfect moment to share a little bit of my mom with my daughter. So I taught Kora the infamous jingle. Of course, what with being the very bottom of the barrel it terms of sophistication, the song thrilled Kora’s little heart and provoked many giggles.

Yesterday, out of nowhere, she wanted to sing it with me again. It caught me in the gut, but made me smile, too.

My mom’s birthday is tomorrow (October 27), and it is the first year since she’s passed where I have a very full day that does not allow me much time to reflect. The last four years, I’ve purposefully tried not to schedule much, unless it was getting together with my dad and/or grandmother. It has kind of been a day for me to remember, to put flowers on my mom’s grave, to look at pictures. Tomorrow will not be that, though. I’ll be participating as a first-time vendor in a really whimsical local fall festival, selling  the apothecary products that I make.  When the opportunity first presented itself, I knew I wanted to do it immediately. However, when I found out it was on the 27th, I hesitated. Would it be wrong to be busy?

But the more I think about it all,  the more I feel good about it. My mom would have been so excited about me doing this, and I know it will be a fun new fall memory for me and my family.  So many little things this week keep pointing me back to the thought that I am able to go forward while smiling back at the beautiful memories behind me.  There is heartache to be felt, but sweetness to remember…And wonderful things that can only be built because of what has come before.


The Secret Garden (AKA The Library)

The deep South has its fare share of gardens. In fact, here in south Mississippi, where I currently reside, a step outside in mid-to-late spring yields an instantaneous whiff of deep, sweet fragrant flowers—Honeysuckle, Magnolia, Gardenia. These are some of the most most heavenly, decadent blooms of all, to my mind. They are also some of the most short-lived. This is almost ominous, because if spring in the deep South is beautiful and lovely (and it is), it is equally short-lived.

Then we get summer. About five months of it.

And in some parts of the deep South, like south Mississippi, summer is a time that you don’t really want to be outside too much.


If you have to ask, then you clearly have never sat in a sauna with an non-breathable blanket over your head.

Then you have clearly never felt the need to change clothes after a short and exhausting walk to the mail box.

You have clearly never seared the bare-skin of your thighs on the seat of a car when attempting to run errands.

You have clearly never had your hairstyle or makeup melt, almost instantly, off your face the second you leave the house.

You have clearly never—

You getting the picture?

It’s not just hot here.  It’s a drowning kind of heat. And in a small town, like where I live, there’s not much you can do to escape it.

There’s not a mall here. There aren’t many restaurants. There are no indoor parks. My town doesn’t have a movie theater.  You can drive to other towns for some of  those things, if you feel like it. But, a lot of times, you don’t really feel like being out all day, because of the heat.  There’s one public swimming pool, but it’s pretty insane once the the heat picks up.

Mostly, people are inclined to visit each other: at their houses, at church, at work, at pools of friends and families of friends. If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, and that’s the vibe you are getting…it’s because it really IS like that. (If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird,  then I suggest you do so immediately).

There are definitely wonderful things about living in a small, Southern town. But summers can be hard. This is not true everywhere in the south, of course. I grew up in the south, a town in Northeast Georgia. But it was a bigger town than where I live now, and it was also close to the mountains, as well as a lake. There were plenty of ways to be outside and get cool. My husband grew up in Florida (which is not really the South, culturally speaking, though it’s plenty hot).  Still, he had the beach.

Because of this heat-issue, I struggled a little with making things fun for my (then) almost-2 year old, last summer. Now, even though it’s just the first of May, I’ve started thinking about ways to make this summer more memorable for her.  Summers are such a magic time, aren’t they? At least, I think they SHOULD be. Thanks to a certain HGTV show, the downtown area of our neighboring town has flourished, and we now have more things to go and do nearby. However, all of these things cost money,  which tends to add up if you are using them to escape the heat.

Then I remembered something. One of those simple, duh, moments. A memory from my own childhood.

The library, of course. We don’t have a bookstore here, but we DO have a library. The town right next to us has an even bigger library.

My own childhood is filled with memories of the library, especially in the summertime. We’d go every Friday–my mom, dad, and I.  Coming in from a sparklingly bright parking lot to the quiet, clean smell of dusted books and the cold, sharp AC elicited a feeling of excitement.  Reverent  tones. The flicking of pages. I can still feel the weight of the bags of new books we’d leave with–worlds waiting to be discovered.

So yesterday, I told my almost-three year old about the library.

That it was a place we would be going. A place where for her to listen to stories with other children and find new books to read. A place so special, a place of such awe, that you have to whisper when you go there.

And we went. And she loved it. She picked out three books and we have read them all about three times since yesterday.

In the perilous summers of the deep South, the library is its own haven.  Some say libraries are on their way out in the digital era, but all I can say is that I refuse to believe it. Libraries are a sanctuary, a secret garden. Many may have forgotten them, but those who remember the library love it truly and always. May we nurture it and share it’s beautiful secrets with others, so that we never forget what an oasis it can be.


AMWAP Book Review: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace


Book length: 192 pages

The following AMWAP book review: 192 words.

Disclaimer: It is hard to give a book review in  only 192 words.

AMWAP Review of Daniel Wallace’s

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

Big Fish is a humorously-told series of short, fantastical “myths” about Edward Bloom’s adventures in Alabama as a younger man. Contrasting with this are the more mundane, realistic narrations given by Edward’s son, William. While the stories of Edward’s life read like something from The Odyssey, it becomes clear that his son’s personal quest is to discover the true nature of his father before Edward dies.

Adults who want to understand their parents beyond the title of “mom and dad,” will likely find hidden gems in this book.  I think it also has merit for those who are trying to process the illness or death of a parent. As a twenty-something reader (and only child) who lost my mom to cancer, Big Fish hit home in a way that was a bit melancholy. However, the book is also funny and abstract enough to be more thoughtful than depressing.

Ultimately, Big Fish whimsically conveys some universal themes for anyone: a father’s desire to be remembered as a great man, a son’s desire to be closer to his fading father, and the looming question of what it means to truly be known and loved.