Decade Retrospective: Things That Happened, Good and Bad

We’ve reached the tail end of 2019, which also marks the close of a decade. That means instead of getting a year-in-review retrospective, you’re getting a decade in review, minus the boring bits.

All things considered, the past ten years have been a mixed bag. Witness the following accomplishments and events from the last decade, both good and bad.

Between 2010 and 2019

  • launched a writing career, publishing six books, four plays, and four sacred scripts, all while amassing an avalanche of rejections
  • started running, progressing from that first exciting 2-miler to 5k to 8k to 10k to half marathon to Ragnar Relay to this year’s full marathon (completed only after a short stint lying on my back crying at the top of a bridge)
  • lost several toenails (see above)
  • reunited with my best friend from middle school
  • sneezed my gum out of my mouth
  • survived multiple Atlantic hurricanes
  • broke a tooth
  • tried internet dating (I almost said “tried and failed” but if you’ve ever internet dated, you know surviving the experience is a win)
  • snake fell on my head
  • visited the American Southwest
  • called 911 while on a run because I thought someone was being assaulted but it was just two little kids play/scream-fighting in a hot tub
  • bee flew into my mouth
  • slowed down significantly on overseas travel, but sneaked in some visits to old haunts and new favorites: Israel, England, Scotland, France, New Zealand, Haiti, Korea
  • broke my ankle falling off a bucket (and leveraged the experience for the plot of my debut novel)
  • started wearing reading glasses
  • first international showing for one of my plays (Enter Macbeth, Dubai)
  • made the switch to half-caff coffee
  • dropped my entire dinner-on-the-grounds contribution in the church parking lot one Sunday before even getting out of the car
  • earned a master’s degree in theological studies
  • lost friends and connections to old age and sudden death
  • attended funerals
  • wrote and performed original music with a friend from church
  • woke up with half a spider stuck to my neck and the other half under the fingernails of my right hand
  • said “Okay, I love you, BYE!” at the end of a Skype lecture to a high school class
  • frog jumped on my head
  • audiobook I’d loaded on my phone started playing at full volume in the middle of church (not a sacred text)
  • intermittently treated for chronic pain, neuropathy, and inflammation
  • surprise medical tests, contemplated my own mortality
  • read nearly 2,000 books (official count started in 2011 – 1,712 as of today)
  • developed a long list of historical boyfriends (see above)
  • touched an alligator
  • stopped working with the church youth group and started teaching adult women
  • opened an umbrella in the car directly into my own face (twice)
  • finally joined Spotify (please welcome me to the twenty-first century)

2019 finds me in a place that 2010 Ruth would never have imagined. To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful for the successes but am ever mindful of the disappointments, struggles, and pain. Life is a beautiful, ridiculous, and messy mystery.

God’s grace keeps me steady.


What’s your decade been like? What items would you include on your list?

Comment below or shoot me a message on social media. I’d love to hear points of comparison and departure in our experiences.


Coming Soon

2020: A Year of Books

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Each month during the next year, I’ll be sending a recommended set of titles for you to check out. No forced discussions, no homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible Christian theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Join us for 2020: A Year of Books!


I’ll be back next week to post my 2019 reading retrospective.

Until then, I hope you savor the last few days of 2019 and enjoy a wonderful holiday week with your family, friends, and loved ones.

Merry Christmas from me to you!

Whales, Umbrellas, and the Power of Language: Vignettes from Korea

I recently wrote about my trip to Korea and how everyone kept asking why I would vacation there.

As promised, I’m back with a few vignettes from the trip.


My friend Pricilla and I arrived at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport after nearly 24-hours of uninterrupted travel. After a bit of bumbling around the airport, we managed to find the correct counter to purchase a bus ticket for the 1.5-hour ride to Namsan.

We were two of only four passengers on board the clean, air-conditioned bus. Our flight had landed late in the afternoon; and as we bumped along, the sun slowly setting in the hazy sky, I struggled to keep my eyes open. My one goal was to stay awake long enough to find my friend Robby, take a shower, and maybe eat a little supper before falling asleep.

I leaned my head against the window and gazed across the Han River. The Seoul skyline slowly flickered to life against the darkening sky.

Suddenly, from the middle of the river right next to our bus, a whale breached, setting off a chain reaction of foamy waves. What an amazing sight! Water sloshed across the highway and misted the bus window.

Wow! We had only been in Korea a few hours, and already we were seeing amazing sights! I knew this trip would be unforgettable, but I had no idea something like this would happen.

I turned to make sure Pricilla had seen the whale and jerked myself awake. There was no whale; nor was I even sitting against the window. I was slumped over in my seat, gently drooling, backpack clutched to my chest and hoodie draped over my torso like a blanket. It was now totally dark outside, and I’d been dreaming.

Because of course.

There are no whales in the Han River.

At least, not that I personally witnessed.


We’d left Florida one day after a close brush with Hurricane Dorian and arrived in Seoul just in time for a sideswipe from Typhoon Lingling.

Hence our first full day in Korea, we were met with strong bursts of blustery wind, periodic rain bands, swaying tree branches, and pelting clumps of wet leaves. Classic “stay at home” conditions, which of course we were not going to do. We hadn’t flown halfway across the world to sit in Robby’s apartment while it rained.

But we weren’t totally insane. We switched up our original plan for the day and decided to spend it mostly indoors at the Seoul Museum of History.

“Don’t worry,” Robby said. “I have plenty of umbrellas.”

Maybe he didn’t say that exactly. But he did seem to have plenty of umbrellas because he had enough for himself, Pricilla, and I to take one each as we headed out to catch the bus.

All went well enough until we hopped off in front of the museum. The wind, which had been nominal to that point, suddenly picked up, accompanied by bursts of needle-sharp rain. We fumbled with our umbrellas as we hustled toward the entrance.

Robby and Pricilla snapped theirs open and ducked underneath like the normal people they are. I, however, began the first of what turned out to be multiple Korea-based, umbrella-related debacles.

It had all started so normally. I’d gripped the umbrella handle with one hand and used the other to push the round plastic runner up toward the spring at the top. That’s where things went awry. The wind got under the umbrella, flipped it inside out, and then by sheer force, snapped the canopy away from the shaft completely. I snatched at it, attempting vainly to reattach it before anyone noticed, but both hopes were in vain.

Pricilla and Robby were already wheezing from under the comfort of their properly opened umbrellas while I flailed about in the rain in my soggy, slapstick attempts to piece the umbrella back together.

I’d been in the country fewer than twenty-four hours, and I’d already broken something.

At least it wasn’t a bone.


Later in the day, before parting ways with us, Robby handed off his functioning umbrella. He wouldn’t let me pay for the broken one.

“It’s fine,” he said. “I have plenty of umbrellas.”

Which did seem to be the case.

Once again with a 1:1 umbrella-to-person ratio, Pricilla and I set out to check a few more sights off our to-do list before making an early evening of it and escaping the foul weather.

“It’s actually not that far to walk from here,” I said in a fit of enormous stupidity. “Why don’t we walk down, and if the weather gets bad again, we can always take the bus back.”

We had only made it a few blocks before the wind and rain kicked back up. People around us scurried into nearby shops to wait out the worst of it. Not us. We were made of sterner stuff. Plus, we had come prepared.

“Umbrellas up!” I crowed to Pricilla.

I wasn’t going to let history repeat itself. I took a firm grip on the handle at the bottom and fitted my hand around the plastic runner, pushing it gently but firmly toward the top of the canopy.

In that moment, the wind got under more than just the umbrella. It also got under my shirt. As I stumbled forward, wrestling the umbrella into submission, the hem of my shirt blew up and plastered itself directly against my collar bones. Desperate not to break a second umbrella in as many hours, I refused to release my death-grip.

“Help!” I crowed foolishly, inadvertently ensuring that the maximum number of people left on the sidewalks would turn to gawk.

They were joined by the line of onlookers who had ducked inside a nearby glass-fronted bookshop to escape the rain, gazing wide-eyed at the hapless foreigner twirling nearly topless down the sidewalk beneath a flapping umbrella.


No matter our plans for each day, Pricilla and I got in the habit of stopping somewhere for afternoon coffee.

Often we chose a Starbucks since they were familiar and also ubiquitous in Seoul; but we also tried a few local chains, one being Angel-in-Us. There, the staff members all wore jaunty brown fedoras with gold bands; and with a mix of English and Korean, we managed to order items more-or-less in line with what we thought we were ordering.

We were in the Sincheon-dong district of Seoul that day. The coffee shop was packed, and the people-watching excellent. Young couples had scooted their seats close together and were sharing Airpods. Clusters of upscale-looking housewives and middle-aged intellectuals engaged in lively discussions. Next to us, a dad and his miniature daughter FaceTimed the grandparents.

It was a whole scene.

In the midst of all this commotion, an oasis of silence.

A twenty-something young man sat at a small table all by himself, one leg crossed neatly over the other, bent studiously over a white-covered hardback novel. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen someone reading with such obvious deliberation. No matter how the sound swelled around him, he never raised his head, never broke his focus.

He also never turned the page.

I leaned forward and squinted.

Oh, yes. That makes more sense.

He’s totally asleep.


For months leading up to our trip, Pricilla and I worked to learn Korean.

Since we only planned to be in the country for ten days, we didn’t have any illusions of making friends or having meaningful conversations, but we did want to avoid being completely helpless. We wanted to ask for directions, make purchases, and understand a bit of what was happening around us.

Our efforts proved successful.

One day, while buying water near Bukchon Hanok Village, I tried out my meager Korean on a store clerk.

Assuming (rightly) that I’m a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, he started out by nodding at my water bottle and ringing it up. I planned to pay for Pricilla’s water as well and decided now would be the best time to put my language studies to good use.

The rest of this conversation took place in Korean.

Me: Two of them.

Him: (surprised) wahhh!

Me: Please.

Him: [You] speak Korean!

Me: No. Very little.

Him: Very good!

Me: [I’m a] Korean person.

Him: wahhh!

Me: No, [I’m an] American person, LOL.

Him: LOL!


I found that speaking even the tiniest bit of Korean to wait staff, shop keepers, and people on the street seemed to bring out something personable and kinder in each of them. I mean, I guess it makes sense. But it always touched me to see people warm to even our most awkward attempts.

One day, when Pricilla and I stopped for lunch at a sukiyaki restaurant, the woman serving us seemed stand-offish (even a bit surly) until I spoke a few words in Korean. Then her face softened, she looked us directly in the eyes, and she came over to mix my sukiyaki for me as if I were a helpless infant.

Which, by that jet-lagged portion of the afternoon, I actually sort of was.

When we left, she had to chase me down to give me my phone (which I’d left on the table), and we were down the stairs and out on the street before I remembered I’d also left my umbrella in the umbrella stand.

Because for whatever reason, umbrellas in Korea were never not a problem for me.


There’s so much more I could write.

I came home with pages and pages of notes, scribbled furiously in my travel journal at the end of each long day. I love re-reading them. They remind me of what a fun, relaxing, and truly restful holiday this trip to Korea turned out to be.

Umbrellas or no umbrellas.


Guys, somehow it’s mid-November already.

You know what that means.

You get a new book from me in less than a week!

Head Back to School with Rachel Cooper (4)

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration releases November 20, 2019.

I can’t wait for you guys to read this one. It was a treat to write, start to finish, and I loved revisiting these beloved characters–especially with Ann in charge.

If you pre-order the e-book today, you will be among the first to clamp your beady little eyes on it when it releases next Wednesday!

Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying a productive and happy fall.

May your hearts be warm, your coffees hot, and (if you’re in Florida, at least), your air conditioners ice cold.

 

 

Florida Summer Is Your Winter

The evidence is undeniable.

Holing Up Indoors

Those who spend winter huddling under a pile of blankets truly appreciate the arrival of the summer sun. As one of my Midwestern friends is fond of saying, “Sun’s out, guns out!” (She’s referring to her arms. She lifts. She’s crazy strong and enjoys sporting tank tops.)

Down here, however, we have a different summer motto. “Flee the sun lest it boil your face.” While November through March are nearly idyllic, drawing visitors from around the globe, April through October cause us to question why anyone ever settled here. 

Most of us prefer to spend summer inside huddled under air conditioning vents.

Extreme Storms

For most of you, winter is the time to brace yourself. You dress for extreme cold and fortify your homes and vehicles against major storms. For us, the opposite is true. Extreme temperatures and damaging storms arrive during summer.

In addition to soaring temperatures, Florida summer heralds the arrival of rainy season.

These aren’t just cute little rain showers, either. They’re tropical deluges. Towering thunderheads build quickly, unleashing torrential downpours accompanied by electrical storms. Personally, during summer I plan to run errands in the morning or evening to avoid getting caught in them.

In addition to near-daily storms, summer heralds the threat of named tropical storms and full-blown hurricanes

Is it any wonder our seasonal residents abandon ship every spring?

Complaining on Social Media

Northern friends spend the winter posting pictures of the snowfall accumulating on their back porches and Tweeting low temps. They bemoan the wind, decry a lack of sunlight, and wish for winter to end.

Meanwhile, during Florida summer, we post that it’s still 90 degrees after sunset (seriously, how??) and complain that we broke into a sweat while walking toward the gym at 6:00am.

Conclusion

I’m not trying to turn this into a contest about whose seasonal issues are worse.

I think we can all agree Siberia has us beat.

All places have ups and downs. All things considered, Florida’s pretty great. Once winter rolls around, I’m sure plenty of you would be happy to trade places. 

Bear in mind, however, that we do have other problems.

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Note: An early version of this post appeared in June of 2016 on my former blogging site. With record highs hitting the northeastern United States this weekend, it seemed like an opportune moment to dust it off and trot it back out. Keep cool, check on your neighbors, and take care of each other!

Publication Announcement

New Book

You asked. I listened.

Coming in December 2019 from Pelican Book Group:

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration

Ann Cooper does not panic. From her demanding job training horses to her family role of keeping tabs on her high-maintenance sister, Ann remains cool, calm, and collected at all times. This holiday season, however, Ann’s fortitude will be tested like never before. Not only is she pondering a potential shift in an important relationship, but she’s also facing the prospect of riding out an unseasonable hurricane with the doubtful help of her sister Rachel. This December, Ann’s patience and faith will both be stretched. Will the risks involved in taking a leap of faith outweigh the possible rewards?

Fans of the Collapsible trilogy can look forward to meeting plenty of old friends in these pages, as well as some fresh faces; but since this is a straight-up spin-off, new readers will have no trouble quickly orienting themselves in Ann’s world. (Ann’s world is extremely oriented.)

This book was an absolute treat to write, and I can’t wait to get it in front of your beady little eyes.

More info when I have it!

(Tip: Subscribers always know first.)


You’ve all been very patient as my blogging frequency dropped during the first half of 2019. Now that you know why I trust you’ll forgive me.

Because NEW BOOK!

I look forward to posting some reflections from my recent trip to Montgomery and a short series before the summer is over.

Happy Friday, everybody! Until we meet again, may your A/C be cool, your coffee hot, and your hearts warm.

 

Florida Summer: The Ultimate Bummer (A Poem by Me)

When thunderclouds rise in the deep Western skies

And the air is as heavy as lead –

When fat Bufo toads squat right there by our toes

And the snakes topple down on our heads –

When we feel ourselves frown as the sweat trickles down

From our necks to the smalls of our backs –

Then we know without doubt that our luck has run out

And the summer’s arrived right on track.

Oh, this Florida summer–it’s really a bummer.

The sunshine’s so bright we go blind!

It’s hot and it’s muggy, and outside it’s buggy.

That heat index? Simply unkind.

The gators are gloating, the fire ants floating,

The snowbirds have all fled up North.

On the Fourth of July, we’ll sit inside and cry

As the A/C once more proves its worth.

By fall, you may find that we’ve all lost our minds.

But there’s a good reason, remember.

(The number one reason is Hurricane Season,

Which stretches from June to November.)

So let’s hang down our heads for the season we dread –

It’s summer down here in SoFlo.

Sure, we know how to deal, just don’t ask how we feel

Unless you–in fact–want to know.


Despite the tone of the poem above, I’m actually doing pretty well today, both mentally and physically. After nearly two years of almost strictly running, I’ve rejoined a gym. My arms are remembering what weights feel like. It’s a whole scene. So that’s how things are going here.

It’s true I’ve been slacking on the blogging front. There are reasons. I hope you’ll accept this little post to tide you over until my next personal essay is ready.

Speaking of which, I am planning a short series this summer that’s going to blow everybody’s hair back – including, probably, mine. Actually, if you wouldn’t mind praying for me as I prepare it, I’d appreciate that. It’s sort of a doozy and a has proven a stretch for me to write. But I can’t not write it. It’s basically boiling a hole in my brain!

In the comments below, be sure to check in and let me know how you are. Critique the poem if you like, and feel free to write a few lines about summer in your own hometown! I’d love that.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

May your coffee be hot, your A/C cool, and your hearts warm with joy!

5 Original Poems for Literary Lonely-Hearts

We’re creeping up on Valentine’s Day 2019, and I’m celebrating by posting some original poetry. It’s mostly satirical and based on literary spoilers, so manage your expectations accordingly.


Read Between the Lines:

A Love Song for Literary Lonely-Hearts

Scrooge is in his counting house, counting all his money;

Pooh is down at Rabbit’s place, eating all the honey;

Pippa’s singing her sweet song, tripping through the dew;

While I’m still sitting lonely here thinking, dear, of you.

Catherine’s up to her old tricks, wandering ‘cross the moors;

Aragorn’s at the Black Gate, kicking down the doors;

The Mariner still tells his tale of bird and ship and sea;

While I’m still pining, dear, for you. Can’t you pine for me?

Atticus is in the road, sighting down the barrel;

Mary’s Apple Cart Upset left her with Yellow Peril;

Beowulf foams ‘cross the waves, plowing the whale-road;

While I’m still sending signals, dear, in hopes that you’ll decode.

Poirot strokes his long mustaches, chasing a loose end;

Viola’s dressed like a boy, but it’s just pretend;

Fred and George go out in style, kicking up a fuss

While here we be, still you and me. When will we be us?


Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening:

A Frost/Millay Mashup

Whose lips I’ve kissed, I think you know.

My husband’s still home sleeping, though.

He will not see me stopping here,

Recalling long-forgotten beaux.

My heart throbs quietly with pain,

Rememb’ring those brave lads again.

Now they’ve all vanished, one by one:

Like flitting birds, they’ve come and gone.

Where once their summer sang through me,

Now stand I here, a frost-stripped tree.

These woods are lonely, dark and deep,

And I have promises to keep

To my new bridegroom, home asleep.

To my new bridegroom, home asleep.


The Doomed Romance of Fiction

Rochester proposed to Jane

With his wife upstairs.

Rapunzel’s storied love led her

To sacrifice her hair.

Macbeth’s sweet spouse seduced him

Into grisly, blood-soaked killing.

Dimmesdale didn’t merit love,

But Hester Prynne proved willing.

Alas, for luckless Oedepus,

Who gouged out his own eyes

Upon the revelation

That his wife’s his mom.

(Surprise!)

Oh, single friends and married friends

And those midway ‘tween labels,

Enlist in this, my festal song.

(Please harmonize, if able.)

Lift loud and long in lusty praise

And highly-stylized diction

In thanks that we, at least,

Don’t bear the doomed romance of fiction.


Ladies, Best Stay Single:

An Ironic Love Song Based on Literary Spoilers

Sir Percy’s vows to Margurite

Were based on a deception.

Darcy and Elizabeth

Embodied misconception.

While Rochester wooed gentle Jane,

He hid a wife upstairs.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, ladies, say your prayers.

Poor loving Desdomona

Was strangled by her mate.

Petruchio retained the right

To boss and roughhouse Kate.

When Juliet wed Romeo,

It ended in her death.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, girls, don’t hold your breath.

Alex/Angel (pick a name!)

Ruined Tess’s life.

Claudio shamed Hero

‘Stead of taking her to wife.

Benedick and Beatrice

Let love and hate comingle.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, ladies, best stay single.


Love Song for a Very Specific Type of Nerd

Tesla was a little nuts;

Also, he is dead.

Faramir has passed to myth.

Captain Wentworth’s wed.

Chamberlain sleeps in the grave.

“M’sieur le maire” is fake.

If they were only here and now,

What valentines they’d make!

Ida Wells? A total boss.

Harriet Tubman? Same.

Alas! They’re gone – like Boudica,

One even Rome can’t tame.

Earhart’s vanished; Ella’s dead;

Farewell, Madame Curie.

If they were only here and now,

What valentines they’d be!

Marguerite St. Just, Nat Eaton,

Ned, Galadriel.

Aragorn of Arathorn,

Sayers, Sabriel.

Nathan Coulter, Frederick Douglass,

Flannery O’Connor.

If they were only here and now,

I’m sure we’d all be goners!


If you’ve followed me around blogging platforms over the years, you’ll no doubt recognize a few of these poems from Valentine’s Days past. This year, I thought it would be fun to pull them together into one place. Feel free to share them with fellow literary lonely hearts and add your own poems to the pile. Whether love songs or laments, they’re all welcome here!

In other news, this month Amazon selected my novel Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder as a featured Kindle Monthly Deal. The e-book will be discounted to $1.99 through February. It’s a good time to snag your copy or recommend the books to friends!

Who's ready for a trip to Florida_

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be hot, your tempers cool, and your toes snug in some fuzzy socks. For my Florida friends, enjoy this beautiful winter weather. For my Polar Vortex friends, please stay warm!

Or, you know, come see us.

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Christmas in a Minor Key

On Friday, I played the piano at a memorial service. The interior of the building was already decorated for the season, and we sang against a backdrop of velvet, garlands, and twinkle lights. The experience served as a reminder that while we delight in the gifts of the season, an undertow of sadness often pulls beneath the surface.

Any number of special situations might bar us from experiencing the sort of powdered-snow enchantment of greeting cards and Hallmark movies. While we’re aware deep down that spun-sugar holidays exist only in the realm of imagination, we can’t help but want them for ourselves. Such longings intensify when our pain runs counter to these expectations.

Last week, I wrote elsewhere about what Advent means for believers, and how the Christian discipline of meditating on Christ’s work can shift our approach to this season:

Amid all the festivities, it’s easy to forget that while Advent signaled hope for the human race, it also signaled the beginning of sorrows for our Savior. We suffer during the holidays when  the cultural celebrations hold stronger sway in our hearts than the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not come as Incarnate God to secure the fleeting comforts of the “holiday season.” He was born to suffer and die, rejected and alone, to secure eternal comfort for all saints.

For this reason, I’m thankful for Christian writers, musicians, and artists who create works acknowledging these realities. We follow a nail-scarred Savior through a life of tribulation along a narrow way. Works acknowledging sorrow, suffering, grief, and lament absolutely have a place in the life of the Christian–yes, even during Advent.


Goodness gravy, somehow it’s December already!

Two orders of business:

First, if you haven’t had a chance, be sure to sign up for my 2019 Year of Books!joanna-kosinska-470407-unsplashEach month during the coming year, I’ll be sending a recommended list of fiction and non-fiction titles for you to check out. There won’t be any discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh recommendations casually delivered to your inbox every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Second, as I was writing this post, I couldn’t help but think about my friend and colleague Stacey Weeks. If you’re the type who likes holiday romances but yearns for something with a bit more substance, Stacey’s new book might be right up your alley. Mistletoe Melody released over the weekend, and one thing I really appreciate is that the storyline acknowledges both physical and emotional pain. I was pleased to get my hands on a pre-publication review copy, and I’m glad this book is now available to everyone.

Finally, I’ve appreciated your patience as my blogging momentum has slowed way down during 2018. As the year draws to a close, I have a few more posts planned. Keep your eyes peeled for some Advent meditations as well as my year-in-review book post, which is currently in draft and spiraling out of control as usual. Because what would this time of year be without its fun traditions?

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be hot and your hearts warm.