What to read in these uncertain times

I’m heartsick about what’s happening in the United States these days. Perhaps you feel some of the same bewilderment and anxiety?

I’ve put together a reading list for these uncertain times. I’ve read some before and want to revisit them. Others, my husband has read and recommended.


A mix of fiction and nonfiction, in no particular order, to read in these uncertain times

With a couple of notable exceptions in eighth grade and my freshman year of college, I had lousy history teachers and came out of school with only the most basic understanding of World War II and the Holocaust. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank introduced me to the horrors of that time period when I was in middle school.

As an adult, my reading of both fiction and nonfiction has filled some of my knowledge gaps and broken my heart over and over. Continue reading

A new (old) favorite

In last week’s post, I encouraged us (me included) to dwell on positive, lovely, beautiful, true things. The weekend brought new lows in political news and in terrible stories of a hurricane spreading devastation from Haiti to the Bahamas and up the southeast coast of the United States. It’s truer than ever, this need to turn toward what is good. And maybe fun, too.

While I was in North Carolina recently visiting family and friends, I managed to sneak in a few minutes with my mom to visit a new (old) favorite bookstore. It’s an old favorite because it’s the independent bookstore I’ve been going to for a couple of decades, and I was sad to learn last year that it would be changing locations. The new space is fantastic, though, and I wish I could have lingered even longer in this beautiful “new” favorite bookstore.


A view from the second floor

Walking in the front door, I was immediately transported into what feels both new and old, as if an old world bookstore or library had risen up with new polish and bold colors.

The ceilings soar, and a second floor—only a little larger than a balcony—takes up part of the space and draws your eyes upward.  Continue reading

So much gratitude

I’m relieved for the elections to be over, but I know there are those of you reading this today feeling sad and disheartened. Maybe even discouraged or scared about the future. I’ve seen anger and frustration vented on Facebook, and I know there’s despair simmering in others who don’t have Facebook as a place to vent, and so I want to ask all of you to stop for a moment today and focus on gratitude.

We’re two weeks away from Thanksgiving here in the United States, and a friend of mine Wendy Anderson Schulz posted a lovely idea on her blog this morning about how to make Facebook a kinder, more joy-filled place for the next few weeks. Her idea is simple: post one thing you’re grateful for each day and post only that one status update each day. She promises that limiting ourselves to just one thing each day will become more and more difficult, as we look around and see the abundance of blessings in our lives. How right she is.

You may recall that I hosted a gratitude challenge on my blog last Fall. As I was looking back through last Fall’s posts to prepare for today’s post, I was struck by the similarities in what I’m grateful for again right today. Continue reading

Guest post: The power of a good aunt’s pen

Today marks the second guest post for the Good Aunt series. I’d like to introduce you to my friend Tracey Finck and her gem of a book called Love Letters to a Child. She’ll encourage you to tap into your inner Jane Austen (an aunt who loved to write books but also wrote loving letters to her nieces and nephews).

Tracey Finck, photo by Beverly Johnson

To all you good aunts out there, this book makes a great gift for parents and grandparents, but pick up a copy for yourself, too. Finck’s suggestions and wisdom can translate to nieces and nephews and other important children in your life. You may even feel inspired – as I have – to keep a journal for adults who need to hear your “love letters” to them, too.

Just a reminder that the “Thank your good aunt” contest is still going on, and if you win, you could choose to receive Love Letters to a Child as your prize. So get those entries in that describe a wonderful woman in your life who deserves a letter of love from you. And now, here’s Tracey:


My friend Kathy vividly remembers a particular day – way back in junior high – when she was going through a miserable stage of life. It must have shown on her face, because a friendly teacher scribbled a little note and secretly handed it to her during class. The note simply said “Choose to smile.” Kathy glanced up at the teacher and saw sincere encouragement smiling back at her. Kathy did smile, and it actually helped her feel better. That small act of loving attention meant so much to her that Kathy has held on to that note – red pen on yellow paper – all these years.

The pen is mightier than the sword. It can change the world. And it can change the way a child or teenager thinks.

One way to be a good aunt and bless a child you love would be to write a note or a card or a letter. You might even keep a notebook or journal celebrating a special ongoing relationship with a niece or nephew. Continue reading

Inexplicable joy

Back when I was still working a regular desk job, one of my friends and I would skip lunch every now and then to go for a run together. Though we ran a similar pace, she always ran the downhills better than I did, while I could pass her on the uphills.

One of our coworkers was driving to lunch and saw us out running together, and she remarked, “There go Joy and Hope.” The other person in the car with her was incredulous, “You’re kidding, right?” To which our friend replied, “No. Those are my friends Hope and Joy.” I’ll pause for a moment for you to get all the punny little jokes out of your mind. … Joy and I are used to them. We even feel safe making fun of our own names with each other.

And that’s exactly what Joy did when our friend came back after lunch and told us the story. Joy said, “Yep. It was Joy on the downhills and Hope on the uphills.” Know what? I think she was more right in a deeper-meaning-kind-of-way than either of us realized at the time.

Whether it’s in running or any other aspect of life, the easy downhill parts can bring you great joy. And when you get to the tougher parts, the ones that require a different kind of strength to tackle, well, that’s where hope comes in.

There are plenty of times in our life when we expect joy: marriages, births, special celebrations, getting hired for our dream job, going on that long-anticipated vacation, snow days (well, here in the south, anyway). And, yes, even running down hills.

But I’ve found it’s the inexplicable moments of joy that are the loveliest. Continue reading