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Review: “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner”

It probably comes as no surprise that Winnie-the-Pooh was my favorite as a child. The paraphernalia I’ve retained is not even a quarter of the Winnie-the-Pooh dolls, clothes, and accessories that filled my toddler room. (My mom even stenciled bears holding balloons on my walls. I came by my obsession honestly.) In my first ever trip to the movie theater, my mom and I watched The Tigger Movie. Even now, I’ve saved every Winnie the Pooh movie on Disney Plus so I can watch it on days I feel low. However, my childhood fangirling surrounded the Disney-fied interpretations of A. A. Milne’s classics. So, how do the original Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner stack up in terms of children’s literature?

I First Read Winnie-the-Pooh

While I read all the Disney picture books ever published in the early 2000s as a child, I didn’t obtain a copy of the original A. A. Milne tales until the past year or so. In a panic to avoid the stress of wedding planning and office managing, I grabbed Winnie-the-Pooh and plopped on the couch to read. I proceeded to laugh so hard and so often that my dad had to look up from his solitaire game every few minutes. As much as I love every Disney adaptation of Winnie-the-Pooh (minus that My Friends Tigger and Pooh show… they screwed up that one,) A. A. Milne’s books captivated me just as completely.

The characters in Milne’s books are just so charmingly real, despite being animals. I laugh hysterically at misspelled words and hidden moments of arrogance because I recognize the misunderstandings from my daily life. While the books perfectly capture the imagination of a child, they also reflect our reality as adults. And don’t get me started on the series’ ending! I think The House at Pooh Corner even beats out The Great Gatsby as the best last line of all time!

What About Faith?

Well, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner definitely aren’t expressly Christian. There are no stories paralleling Biblical events. Yet, the books feel pure. Childhood innocence oozes from the pages. The stories teach problem solving, friendship, and how to tell a good story. Yet, I think Milne’s most powerful message is that of compassion. The animals are accepted as they are in childlike love. Even those who frequently carry disdain in their back pocket (ahem… Rabbit) quickly forgive inconveniences and learn to embrace the qualities that make each character unique. Concern for others trumps selfishness every time. The interactions between the characters lead everyone to grow into more caring and generous members of the Hundred Acre Wood.

I believe we all can agree that these behaviors are worth learning and sharing. Jesus certainly exemplifies these traits perfected. So, despite Christopher Robin not waving a magic Bible in the air every time a problem arises, the books reflect Christian concepts. I feel no shame in continuing to claim Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner as a pinnacle of children’s literature.

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Review: At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

I wanted to start this Friday’s review of Christian Fiction with first book in Jan Karon’s Mitford series, At Home in Mitford. The series is one of my favorites, as I mentioned in last week’s blog post. This week, we’re talking about what makes At Home in Mitford great.

The Characters

  • Father Tim: The main character of the Mitford series is Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest with a heart of gold and a stomach for a few too many sweets. He’s well rounded in more ways than one; he has a heart of gold that comes off as gruff under stress, and his affinity for sweets and concern for his parishioners’ feelings often leads him to neglect his own health. He is lovable and flawed. For someone in their sixties, Father Tim has a lot of growing left to do, and that makes for a fascinating book.
  • Cynthia: She draws cats and moles for her children’s books. She forgets to take the pink curlers out of her hair. She sits on the Gospel side of the Episcopalian church. Father Tim’s new neighbor is as interesting as she is a mess. Cynthia provides a lovely catalyst for Father Tim’s character development, but she also works through several deep issues of her own like divorce and barrenness.
  • Dooley: With whom do you foil a highly educated, very reserved, proper priest? You foil him with a red-haired, freckle-faced mountain boy with a penchant for fighting. Dooley is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. He has a deeply broken past for one so young, but he also runs around as an energetic promise of hope for the future. His story is a big part of my interest in adoption. Props to Mrs. Karon for discussing a complex topic in such a loving way.
  • Barnabus: A dog who responds to Scripture… can you get any more unique than that? (Side note: I tried this on my parents’ dog Teddy. I got mixed results. Chalk it up to little dog syndrome?) Any author who can so clearly articulate a dog’s personality should get major quality points, in my opinion.

The Setting

  • Mitford: Mrs. Karon created a town that might as well be a character in and of itself. The shops reflect their owners’ complex personalities with vivid, specific details. Consequently, it looks like a capsule of a perfect town, but its edges teem with the realities of life that often get swept under the rug. Thanks to Father Tim’s relationships with his parishioners, the readers get to see both the perfection and what it hides.

The Style

  • Humor: First, I love the ironic, sarcastic humor around Father Tim. Then, there’s Dooley’s hilarious childhood antics. Barnabus instigates some of the most outlandish predicaments that every dog owner will recognize as possible. All in all, this homey humor appeals to my desire to laugh at the ridiculousness of life and the characters we are all surrounded by.
  • Dialect: Despite hailing from Mississippi, Father Tim speaks with, and thus narrates with, a measured, educated dialect. In contrast, we meet Dooley, whose impoverished mountain relatives exacerbate his youthful grammar mistakes. The town residents’ individual dialects reflect their personal histories, which imparts a ton of information to the reader before the characters expressly discuss their backgrounds. I admire Mrs. Karon’s ability to dissect the tiniest differences in dialect. In addition, the text reads effortlessly.

If you are interested in reading At Home in Mitford, you can find the book for purchase here. I also purchased this audio version by using an Audible credit, and the narration reflected Father Tim’s essence well.

What do you think of these home-style reads? Do you prefer something fast-paced and hard-hitting? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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Location Provides Identity

InductionI have a particular identity at home as my parents’ daughter. I am the peacemaker, the one who needs protecting. At school, I was the planning one, the one who made good grades. At work, I am the well-recommended one, the one for whom teal seems an appropriate color. Growing up in church, I was my mother’s daughter, the one who stood next to her mom on stage every week in choir. When the church began to change (or perhaps it was me changing,) I lost my home church and big chunk of my identity with it.

I don’t believe I am the only one who has aspects of her identity caught up in the places she lives and frequents. There is something about the protection of a building, or the vastness of an ocean, or the heights of a mountain, that provide stability to our souls.

When I started writing my book, I focused heavily on a hospital as the setting and identity-creator for my main characters. In fact, the hospital became a character who influenced their relationship as much as any other human in the story. As the story progressed, I added home as a change of scenery. However, as I reflect on how my identity is wrapped up in the places I inhabit, I see how important home is to the couple in the story. Home is just as much a character influencing their relationship as the hospital. The couple works together and lives together, but they possess very different identities.

Old HouseI think my brother substantiates my same-place, different-identities theory. We grew up in the same home and went to the same schools. Where I sought my family’s peace, my brother never feared to bring problems into the open. Where I was studious at school, he was the class clown who made good grades without trying. Where I was my mother’s daughter at church, he was the witty teenager who spent his free time teaching kindergarteners. To have always inhabited the same spaces, my brother and I are very different people.

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Thoughts upon finishing Stygo by Laurie Hendrie

  • Depending on chapter, it mixes 3rd person and 1st person narrators. The 3rd person sections, especially, have noticeable “you”s that stand out because of the seeming inconsistency of the perspective. However, the “you”s work colloquially to boost the voice of the town.
  • The language throughout the book is very colloquial, particularly in the metaphors people use. For instance, the narrator says, “you couldn’t get there if you didn’t own wheels,” rather than if you didn’t own a car (Hendrie 3).
  • Trouble is on every page. The first page of the book has, “it seemed to Lizzy that, with the exception of the rattler scare, the first year of her marriage to Jake Loper was passing just as smoothly as every other year of her life had,” (Hendrie 3).
  • The story sucks you in with the language and quirky characters.
  • Each chapter ends with nothing much seeming to have happened, yet the characters have clearly changed. One event in the story changes the speaker or lets out the events of the past. (Ex. Frank and Willa Moon)
  • The narrators are unreliable. (Ex. Billy claims he is not grieving the death of his twin brother, yet that is exactly what he does the whole story.)
  • There is a full picture of the town when the book is finished. Readers see everyone wanting to leave the town and everyone staying put in the end.
  • The employment record at the end of the book listing all the characters was helpful for explaining who’s who and where everyone ended up. It perhaps could have gone at the beginning for clarity (particularly for the ages, as many have characteristics that separate the tone of voice from the actual age of the speaker,) but Lizzy’s introduction of everyone in the first chapter sets up the discomfort that Frank resolves in the last chapter, as well as the conflict and characters for all of the stories in between.
  • There is a theme of danger tied to trying to get out of the town. There is also a motif of things being coated (by sugar dust, bugs, etc.)
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Outside Reader 1

Feedback from a peer, and brainstorming how to fix it

  • She was confused on Dawson’s job. She thought he was a doctor at first.
  • She agreed the ending was rushed. More time, such as a day, could pass for Charlie to think about what Cadence said before Darlene returns.
  • She liked the descriptions of Darlene’s lipstick and the ice cream. She also thought the motif of cleaning worked well.
  • She was confused by Cadence’s age due to the descriptions of her joints popping. She identified with feeling worn out due to labor intensive work, but the joints might be too much.
  • Since Dawson’s parents both died when he was young, he would get a check for survivor benefits and financial aid for college. If he just lost these benefits, or if these benefits changed, that could affect their financial situation. If nothing else, college could have taken all of their money.
  • Check on the requirements for an Associate’s degree as to whether they would push graduates on to a four year college. Also, check that cleaning up vomit does not require a CNA.
  • Ideas for losing money: car crash, hospitalization
  • Cadence’s past jobs: Perhaps there is a family business? Did her dad want her to take it over but she wants to do something else? So she runs off, perhaps with added conflict between her dad and Dawson? If her family ran a B&B, that could be where Cadence got good at chores and cleaning.
  • Charlie being old money would make becoming poor much harder.
  • Illnesses that could land Charlie in the hospital for a long time: severe fracture, untreated infection, preexisting condition (such as diabetes leading to diabetic ketoacidosis), a ruptured appendix or septic appendicitis, gall stones, asthma and lungs filling up with fluid (if he fell in the river and half drowned, or previously had pneumonia), organ problems (not failure because that would need a transplant), ulcers (caused from stress and not using up the added adrenaline).
    • Organ rupture or diabetes could have affected his relationship with his wife and pushed him to leave. When he moves to the streets and forgets his medicine, it could explode and land him in the hospital.
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Country Music and Running Away

This past week, I found radio stations that played the country songs popular on the radio in my childhood. The first day I listened to the 90’s and early-2000’s favorites, I estimated that at least 65%, if not up to 85%, of the songs alluded to running away in some form or fashion, usually for love. Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s in Love with the Boy,” Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket,” and more taught me that running away to get married was all part of falling in love. They gave me the idea that being with the one you loved was all that mattered. If you didn’t run away with the one you love, you could end up like Jo Dee Messina in “I’m Alright”–alone and trying to pretend your life was a little better than it actually was.

I’m sure that this music would influence the characters in my story, too. I love country music, but they never connected the running-away-songs with the leaving-and-being-left-ones. I bet Dawson and Cadence, too, will struggle with understanding that not all running-away-songs have perfect endings when the guitar quits strumming.

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Interview with a Nurse

1). What has been your most memorable experience working in a hospital? 
(Feel free to include more than one.)

When I delivered a baby in the elevator at [a local hospital]. I hadn’t even graduated nursing school yet (I had a year to go). That was terrifying.
Working the ER at [a local hospital] and being the first shift to call in a Lifeforce air medical for a critical transport. I still get chill bumps when a helo lands or launches. There’s always tragedy on board, yet a little bit of hope too.

2). What is the interaction like between nurses and environmental services, dietary, or transport workers? 
Do the different groups mingle, or do the jobs keep everyone relatively separated? 
In the cases where workers do interact, does everyone usually get along?
Nurses respect everyone; they can’t work without a symbiotic relationship. However, they will ‘cut you’ if you’re not doing your job.

3). What is the most unique aspect of working in a hospital?
It never, ever stops. Constant activity, like a bee hive. The level of crazy has constantly increased over the past 30 years. 

4). Do people usually have a sense of pride in their work as they help others, or does that tend to vary from person to person?
In general, yes. Burnout in the first 5 years is widespread. People are ‘Called’ into healthcare, much like ministers are. The problem comes when they answer the call for money, rather than edification.
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Spewing Words

Today’s work day was shockingly productive! I got the next five pages of my story done in an hour and a half. I also feel like the plot is starting to go somewhere, and I’m getting a better feel for all of the characters involved. In short, I feel good about these pages! Obviously they will need a lot of work. The more I write, the more they will need, I’m sure. But it was an encouraging start!

It is very difficult to write about something that makes me gag to just think about. I’m very squeamish, and I’m assuming several people in my audience will be, too, so trying to write around a topic and still make it feel real is challenging. I’m sure that section will need to be reworked as time goes on.

I do think it’s funny that my rush of words on the page today rather parallels the homeless patient’s digestive plight within the story. To keep the metaphor going, I imagine they both will need a lot of cleaning up. Now that it happened, though, we can figure out what the problem and solution are. So I guess spewing is a good place to start.

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I’m not really sure what to write for the blog. I have been overwhelmed with other things, like papers and and strep throat and rapidly approaching Valentine’s Day, that have kept me rather distracted. I think I have an idea for at least the next two pages of my story, though; I’ll include a section from the homeless patient’s point of view. I’m not sure how much he’ll tell the audience about his backstory, but maybe he can at least hint at it. It seems like a good place to get the ball rolling on the actual plot of the story. So far I have a bunch of characterization.

Oh yes, and it’s probably a good time to pray about my story again. If nothing else, this blog always reminds me to do that.

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Three Pages

I accomplished a rough three pages of my project yesterday. I need to keep up/ increase the praying about my piece, because it’s definitely helping. (Not to say that these words are directly from God, but surely He’s doing something when unexpected answers show up while I write.) I had written down a rough two pages when I thought the piece was set in 1983 and Dawson was a security guard, so I basically rewrote the whole thing. Now it’s 2008 and Dawson works as a transporter. The pages are still definitely a rough draft, but I like them much better now.

The most surprising thing that came up yesterday  was a man in Room 103. I didn’t think about giving the homeless patient a foil for this story, but once Cadence looked at the door, it made sense. I’m not sure if Mr. 103 will be running from anything or if not running from anything would be more effective. I’ll have to keep working on that. I think his wife still has her job, but he lost his, and they have five kids to take care of. And now he has pneumonia.

Why do we have to be so mean to people when we write?? I guess this is, or at least could be, a microcosm of how God feels about us. I know that Mr. 103 is going to help the homeless patient, but poor Mr. 103 only knows that he’s horribly sick and can’t provide for his family. As much as I want to skip to the end and solve all of his family’s problems, life doesn’t work that way. He has a couple jobs to do before then.

I agree with Ashley Abramson: writing really is a spiritual discipline.