Thursday, July 24, 2008

'Children and War' Books

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. ~~African proverb

Children and war? Surely not?! Sadly, yes! When we think of war, we want to think of ‘over there’, men and machines, not children and certainly not our children. But the reality is just the opposite. Children are war’s first and most devastated victims. They are used as barter, soldiers, and human bombs. They are tortured, raped, killed, and left homeless, orphaned, and dead. Children are the greatest sufferers when adults ‘play’ war.

What can we do? Many things certainly, but most of them are beyond the scope of this blog article. Here I would just like to point out some excellent books I have recently run across which deal very sensitively and poignantly with the subject of children and war. By reading these books ourselves and to our children, we can raise the level of awareness of the destructiveness of war—what it does to individuals, families, communities and nations. We can educate our children about the seriousness and the reality of war. Wars are not just somewhere else, happening to people we don’t care about and will never meet. When people kill each other, it affects all of us. When whole cities are burned down and great works of art destroyed, all of humanity suffers the loss.

Also I would like to put out a call for others to let me know when they find other books about children dealing with the effects of war by posting comments here.

I will be listing the four books I have selected in age appropriate order.

The first book is The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. In this book – suitable for even the youngest child –a very enterprising librarian saved most of her city’s books from utter destruction when the invasion of Iraq reached Basra on April 6, 2003. This is a very gentle introduction to the realities of a current war which can be safely read to even toddlers without too much fear of nightmares. (Parental discretion still advised!) The pictures are bright and colorful and there is usually no more than a sentence or two per page. It teaches the lesson about respect for personal property, something every two year old is very interested in.

Silent Music, A story of Baghdad by James Rumford doesn’t seem at first glance to be a story about war and that may be the best approach to take in reading to our children about difficult subjects. In Silent Music, the little boy, Ali, who lives in Baghdad, loves to write his letters. He seems to love to write as much as yours truly likes to read. Perhaps my readers have some personal passion they can relate to? Ali describes the feel and beauty he experiences when he draws his Arabic script; sometimes the letters are flowing easily, other times they are stiff and awkward. But always, he has the sense that he is making ‘silent music’ with his letters. Then one night he uses his writing to get himself through the bombing of his city. He notes how easy it is to write the word ‘war’ and how difficult to write the word ‘peace’, shalom. How ironic.

The third book I chose, Aram’s Choice is a book for older children, due to its length and text; it is twelve chapters and sixty-nine pages. It deals with the aftermath of the World War I. Aram and his grandmother are the sole survivors from his family of the Armenian genocide by the Turks. The story begins in Corfu, Greece in 1923 and Aram is twelve; he and his grandmother have already fled Anatolia, Turkey and taken shelter here. Now Aram has been offered the opportunity for a new life in Canada, but he doesn’t want to leave his grandmother to go so far away. The book is about beginning again, but not forgetting, learning to let go, but to treasure what was good and is now good. It's a beautiful story—both in the text and the illustrations. Not many books that I'm familiar with have dealt with this first atrocity of the twentieth century and certainly there are few for children. Most highly recommended!

And now for my favorite! Even though I enjoyed the other three books very much, this last one touched me most deeply. Perhaps it is because it is set in my own country, I do not know. It could be that, but I think it is the book itself and the author’s mystical writing style. For one thing, the text is written as if it were verse, which gives it an almost poetical feel. You will see what I mean when you open the cover. And then there is Kek, himself, the little Sudanese refugee who has come to America on the ‘flying boat’ but finds living here ‘hard work’ due to cold ‘like claws on skin’, sun that ‘burns your eyes’, dead trees, and no cows. Poor Kek is a fish out of water in our technological civilization. He is used to green, warmth, livestock and free movement; he has come to white, cold, metal and confinement. But Kek is known as a boy who ‘finds sun when the sky is dark’ and indeed he does find and make his way in this strange new world. As the story progresses you see the beauty and perfection in Applegate’s title, Home of the Brave.

Please do check out these books. In the war for the safety of our children, these are winners. I owe thanks for finding all these marvelous books to my favorite librarian friend from goodreads, Krista the Krazy Kataloguer! Thanks a million, Krista—keep those recommendations coming!
P.S. It only just dawned on me that this might be taken as a 'political statement' rather than as a blog post offering excellent books which gently introduce and teach our children about a difficult and yet very important subject. I am not trying to say or even imply that wars are never necessary; I served in the United States Air Force from 1979-1991 achieving the rank of major before I took an early retirement to stay home with my children. I know the value of our military forces and that wars can be just, valid and essential to world stability and overall peace. But as a mother, I'm also mindful of what happens to children during wartime.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Better even than a “Reading Mother” is a “Praying Mother”

I've always loved the poem, “The Reading Mother”. Although I don’t have any little boys, I’ve shared it with several mothers who do. As a booklady, obviously, I think reading is very important. But there are a few things more important than reading to our children and one of them is praying for and with our children.

Today my oldest daughter got her driver’s license. From my perspective, getting a license is a rite of passage; a momentous occasion. It means changes, such as: my daughter no longer needs me to get her places. I also won’t be there to ensure her safety.

But really, how often have I had to let her go already in her short sixteen year life? Plenty of times. From her birth, her life has been a constant process of letting go and moving on. It’s natural and right. I know it in my mind and heart. I’ve watched her crawl away, walk away, run away, ride her bike away and now drive away. Motherhood is constant surrender. We surrender our children back to Him and trust to His loving care.

While she was out on her first solo drive—after I said my rosary—I reread “The Reading Mother” and then I wrote this little poem which I call, “The Praying Mother”. It’s not as good as the original by Gillilan but it comes full from the heart and I dedicate with all my love to Meggie and to my own dear mother.

Here’s . . .

“THE READING MOTHER” by Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Celert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such.

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.

And here’s . . .

“THE PRAYING MOTHER” by booklady

You have a mother who’s prayed for you
Since long before she laid eyes on you;
Prayed for your health and happiness too;
Prayed she’d know what a mother’s to do.

You had a mother who prayed for your birth
And welcomed the gift of your life on this earth.
Swaddled in blankets so helpless and dear,
She resolved to pray, rather than fear.

You had a mother who prayed most days;
Struggling to learn to ‘pray always’.
Prayers for your safety, your sanctity too,
But mostly just praying God’s Will for you.

You had a mother who prayed as you grew,
Loving you more than she thought she could do.
Watching you blossom from year to year,
Slowly her prayers for you have grown clear.

You have a mother who is praying still;
Stubborn, selfish, and with a strong will,
Yet this mother’s heart and mother’s touch
The years of prayer have softened so much.

Dearest one, ahead may be joys or sorrow
Despite the prayers, we cannot know tomorrow.
Praying is the richest gift though it be free
I, too, have a mother who prays for me.

All my love and prayers, your bookmom

Monday, July 14, 2008

bragging time

My daughters hate when I brag about their accomplishments and I can understand their reticence to have worldly or academic achievements given more credence than is their due. But what about what is their due?

This year was their first year in a public school environment, only their second year of formal schooling in their lives and it was a very successful year overall. They both maintained a 4.0 average in all their subjects for the entire year. They also took First Place awards in a combined total of eight out of their eighteen subjects; Meg earned five firsts and Michelle three.

Meg took one Advanced Placement course and received her results today. She got 5 out of 5 for her score which is the highest rating you can get and means she earned six full college credits of "A" in that class, European History. Most colleges will accept a score of 3; the better colleges require a 4. No one will contest a 5, or rather, everyone will accept a 5, even Ivy League schools. Before school even started Meg had to take extremely difficult tests to get credit for the hard work she had already done in 9th grade. Many kids would have complained about the tests. According to the testing staff, few kids pass the tests. Meg earned credit for English 1, Algebra 1, Physical Science and American History.

Besides school, the girls also did extremely well in their recital this year, something much more difficult for them to accomplish given their limited practice time. They even performed in several duets both with other students and each other.

But overall, I don't think it was the academics nor the extra curricular activities, nor even all the wonderful people we've met that made this such a good year. It was just the right decision for us at the right time. Thank you Lord for leading us and giving us the Grace to follow. They have been very happy at Carl Albert High School this past year and we hope and pray for another good year.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

a classic 'classic'

When most readers hear the word 'classic' they are quick to stifle or hide a yawn.

Fortunately I never knew this.

I encountered Jane Eyre before I even knew what a 'classic' was. It was the summer before I was going into high school and my conscientious mother marched over to my new high school and asked the administrative staff for a summer reading list for me. In those long ago days, they might have been surprised by the request, but being the good school that they were, they recovered quickly and pulled together a quick list of suitable reading material for a young Catholic woman of the early 1970's. They didn't distinguish between classic or contemporary, young adult or youth, feminist or traditional. Books probably had labels even in those days, but I wasn't burdened with them.

To me they were just books. All I cared about was if I'd like them.

One I enjoyed above all the rest: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë.

It was set in 'olden times' (my term in those days). Nowadays it would be labeled as Gothic if it weren't already saddled with the more lugubrious epitaph, classic.

But to me, anything that happened back in 'olden times' had a magical, mystical quality. Ladies wore long skirts and swished when they walked. People lived in dark, musty tower-like buildings and talked in hushed whispers. Children, of course, were hopelessly misunderstood then as now. And low and behold! I discovered I was right! Jane was my kindred spirit. (I learned that term from Anne of Green Gables who was also kindred to both of us!) Jane was hopelessly misunderstood too!

Ah! It was a match made by a book! And in those long ago days of my delusional youth, it was the closest I came to heaven-on-earth.

From Jane's tortured girlhood, she moved into an unattractive and poverty-stricken womanhood. Well, I say, from that perspective, who wants looks and money after all anyway? Anyone can have those. Better suffering and drama, right? It's so much more, well, literary, right?! Ah! Books! If only real life were books.

And then there are the mysterious goings on in Thornfield Hall! Oh there is so much more I would say about Jane, her life, and her book, but I might spoil the story for those who have never had the first time pleasure.

So instead, I offer you this delicious invitation. Go back in time--both yours and the story's--to a simpler time when life moved at a slower pace. Enjoy the feel of those long ago days of innocence, wonder and swishing long-skirted women.

Monday, July 7, 2008

In Cold Blood

It’s chilling.

The cover. The title. The story. And worst of all its true.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s 1965 book about the murder of a Kansas family reads like a novel. Well, at least it does in some places. At other times, it seems more like an enigmatic theological puzzle: are there actually human beings completely devoid of conscience? Well there are human beings born without physical body parts, so I suppose it is possible we can be conceived without whole psyches.

When my daughter told me she was reading this for her high school English 3 class, I was surprised. In Cold Blood? It seemed a strange choice for a literature class; it’s not even a work of fiction. Even so it is a masterpiece.

Capote constructs the story deliberately to build and hold the reader’s attention from beginning to end. I remember first reading the book as a teenager myself—although I’m sure it wasn’t a school assignment. Back then, I couldn’t read the book after dark and didn’t like being alone for weeks after reading it.

This read was quite different, however. I was more detached from the crime this time—knowing what it was, how it was performed and who did it. Therefore, I could read the book from the perspective of an amateur sociologist/psychologist and armchair theologian. Oh, and I also read it from a literary vantage as well.

It’s from each of these hilltops, I’ll offer the view. I must state at this point though, my writing will contain spoilers from now on; so if you have NOT read the book, I highly recommend you stop and read the book instead!


It does seem silly to put a spoiler alert in a work of non-fiction, but that is to Capote’s credit in the construction of this book. He begins with the time period leading up to the day of the crime—both for the victims and their assassins. Then he abruptly cuts to the aftermath and the discovery of the crime and the beginning of its investigation. By using this technique, our author manages to create and maintain a heightened sense of suspense and uncertainty. What happened? How exactly did it happen? Who did what? When? How do they know this? Questions were buzzing around my head like annoying flies as I struggled along with the frustrated investigators in the unsettled weeks after the murders. I knew they would eventually solve the riddles, so I had that much more admiration for Capote’s incredible outline of events.

From the socio-psychological perspective, I sat in amazement of the description’s of the killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith. I have a Bachelor of Science in Administration of Justice and a M.E. in Human Relations. Where do “people” like this fit in? Are they “people”? In fact, I found the personality descriptions of the killers almost more chilling than the crimes themselves. They rob, torture, kill and have no remorse. They don’t even see why they should feel sympathy for their victims. In some ways. And yet in another separate area, one of the killers, concerns himself with making the victims comfortable. Comfortable? Huh? It is as if the separate parts of their brains aren’t connected.

So that leads to the theological side of things.

What is the moral responsibility of such men? Are they even morally responsible? Can we hold them accountable for their actions? And if not, what do we do with them—which leads back into the social arena again. Maybe I shouldn’t even attempt to separate out all these sub-areas with arbitrary designations and classifications.

In this sad case, our society solved its problem on the gallows. In effect we said, “Look what a horrible thing they did—killing innocent people. But these men certainly aren’t innocent! They are going to pay for their crime and we’re going to show them by sending them back where they came from.” So we did.

Guess we showed them.

If you haven’t read In Cold Blood in awhile, you need to. No rating, but the highest recommendation.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Book Blowout

Hey want to do something really fun this month? Try this! Check out Blue Archipelago's July Book Blowout. Get your own button like mine at her website.


The rules are really simple. Just read as many books as you can between July 1 and 31 and then by August 7 post a list of all of the books you read on your blog. She isn't even requiring reviews to take part! Here's a complete list of the rules:

How do I join in the fun?
1. You can sign up any time between today and July 14!
2. To join you need to post about the Book Blowout on your blog - and set yourself a target number of books you will try to read - go on challenge yourself! (Please note: If you do not have a blog Mrs. S is perfectly happy for you to post your target in her comments - and then the list of books in the wrap-up post in August)
3. Use the Mr Linky here to link to that post so we can all see how many books you’re taking on in the Blowout
4. Post a list of the books you managed to read by the deadline of August 7 to complete the challenge

What rules do I need to know?
1. Only books read between July 1 and July 31 count towards the challenge
2. You can include re-reads - as long as they are read within the month of July
3. Books you abandon will only count as half a book
4. If you read to your children you can include all books which have more than 100 pages
5. You can include up to two graphic novels
6. You can include up to two audio books - (if you have a visual impairment that prevents you from reading then you can use just audio books for the challenge)
7. Books you read for other challenges are eligible - use this as an opportunity to catch up!
8. If you start a book before July 1 and then finish it during the month of July then you can count is as half a book

As for the booklady, her target goal is eight books this month. And if that doesn't sound like many, that's true! I wish it were more. But I won't be counting the children's books I read.

Enjoy fellow booklovers!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Nectar in a Sieve

by Kamala Markandaya

At its heart, Nectar in a Sieve is a story about suffering and our response to it. The protagonist is an aging Indian woman looking back over her long life and reflecting on her fate as well as her choices. Much that happened to her, she had no say in. She was a child bride of an arranged marriage. In some respects, Providence was kind to her; in many others cruel.

But it would spoil the book to tell Rukmani’s tale before you read it. You need to experience it through her own sparse prose narrative. If you get this particular edition of the book do not read the introduction by Indira Ganesan until after you’ve finished the book. Although excellent, it contains many spoilers. Instead check out the historical context in the study guide here which will give you sufficient background to proceed well.

Like all people who live off the land, it is a journey of ups and downs, joys and woes. Very soon into the book, what becomes obvious is that it doesn’t matter so much what happens to Rukmani or her family. What counts is to endure.

Near the end of the book when an Englishman who has helped Rukmani time and again chastises her for refusing to cry out in pain, hear her thoughts:

‘Well, and what if we gave in to our troubles at every step! We would be pitiable creatures indeed to be so weak, for is not man’s spirit given to him to rise above his misfortunes? As for our wants, they are many and unfilled, for who is so rich or compassionate to supply them? Want is our companion from birth to death, familiar as the seasons of the earth, varying only in degree. What profit to bewail that which has always been and cannot change?’

Rukmani was a survivor; she knew the secret of life was to endure—patiently, quietly, lovingly.

Nectar in a Sieve is a haunting story of the sweetness of life running out as quickly as its title.


dedicated to my partner in reading this, Melissa

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"A Mile in My Flip-Flops" by Melody Carlson

It is July FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and her book:

A Mile in My Flip-Flops

WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)


In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss her latest teen fiction, Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2).

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1400073146

ISBN-13: 978-1400073146


I’m not the kind of girl who wants anyone to feel sorry for her.

So after my fiancé jilted me less than four weeks before our wedding date, and since the invitations had already been sent, my only recourse was to lie low and wait for everyone to simply forget.

Consequently, I became a recluse. If I wasn’t at work, teaching a delightful class of five-year-olds, who couldn’t care less about my shattered love life, I could be found holed up in my apartment, escaping all unnecessary interaction with “sympathetic” friends.

And that is how I became addicted to HGTV and ice cream. Okay, that probably calls for some explanation. HGTV stands for Home and Garden TV, a network that runs 24/7 and is what I consider the highest form of comfort TV. It is habit forming, albeit slightly mind numbing. And ice cream obviously needs no explanation.

Other than the fact that my dad, bless his heart, had seven quart-sized cartons of Ben & Jerry’s delivered to my apartment the day after Collin dumped me. Appropriately enough, dear old Dad (who knows me better than anyone on the planet) selected a flavor called Chocolate Therapy, a product worthy of its name and just as addictive as HGTV.

But now, eighteen months and twenty-two pounds later, I seem to be in a rut. And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“Come on, Gretchen,” urges my best friend, Holly, from her end of the phone line. “Just come with us–please!”

“Right…,” I mutter as I lick my spoon and dip it back into a freshly opened carton of Chunky Monkey–also appropriately named, but let’s not go there. Anyway, not only had I moved on to new ice cream flavors, but I also had given up using bowls. “Like I want to tag along with the newlyweds. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Like I keep telling you, we’re not newlyweds anymore,” she insists. “We’ve been married three months now.”


“And it’s Cinco de Mayo,” she persists, using that little girl voice that I first heard when we became best friends back in third grade. “We always go together.”

I consider this. I want to point out that Holly and I used to always go to the Cinco de Mayo celebration together–as in past tense. And despite her pity for me, or perhaps it’s just some sort of misplaced guilt because she’s married and I am not, I think the days of hanging with my best friend are pretty much over now. The image of Holly and Justin, both good looking enough to be models, strolling around holding hands with frumpy, dumpy me tagging along behind them like their poor, single, reject friend just doesn’t work for me.

“Thanks anyway,” I tell her. “But I’m kind of busy today.”

“So what are you doing then?” I hear the challenge in her voice, like she thinks I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday.

I slump back into the sofa and look over to the muted TV, which is tuned, of course, to HGTV, where my favorite show, House Flippers, is about to begin, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. “I’m, uh…I’ve got lesson plans to do,” I say quickly. This is actually true, although I don’t usually do them until Sunday evening.

She snickers. “Yeah, that’s a good one, Gretch. I’ll bet you’re vegging out in front of HGTV with a carton of Chocolate Fudge Brownie.”

“Wrong.” Okay, Holly is only partially wrong. Fortunately, I haven’t told her about my latest flavor.

“Come on,” she tries again. “It’ll be fun. You can bring Riley along. He’d probably like to stretch his legs.”

I glance over to where my usually hyper, chocolate Lab mixed breed is snoozing on his LL Bean doggy bed with a chewed-up and slightly soggy Cole Haan loafer tucked under his muzzle. “Riley’s napping,” I say. “He doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Like he wouldn’t want to go out and get some fresh air and sunshine?”

“We already had our walk today."

Holly laughs. “You mean that little shuffle you do over to the itty bitty park across the street from your apartment complex? What’s that take? Like seven and a half minutes for the whole round trip? That’s not enough exercise for a growing dog like Riley.”

“I threw a ball for him to chase.”

“So there’s nothing I can do or say to change your mind?” House Flippers is just starting. “Nope,” I say, trying to end this conversation. “But thanks for thinking of me.”

“Want me to bring you back an empanada?”

“Sure,” I say quickly. “You guys have fun!” Then I hang up and, taking the TV off mute, I lean back into the soft chenille sofa and lose myself while watching a hapless couple from Florida renovate a seriously run-down split-level into something they hope to sell for a profit. Unfortunately, neither of them is terribly clever when it comes to remodeling basics. And their taste in interior design is sadly lacking too. The woman’s favorite color is rose, which she uses liberally throughout the house, and she actually thinks that buyers will appreciate the dated brown tiles and bathroom fixtures in the powder room. By the time the show ends, not only is the house still on the market despite the reduced price and open house, but the couple’s marriage seems to be in real trouble as well.

“Too bad,” I say out loud as I mute the TV for commercials. Riley’s head jerks up, and he looks at me with expectant eyes.

“You just keep being a good boy,” I tell him in a soothing tone. Hopefully, he’ll stretch out this midday nap a bit longer. Because once Riley starts moving, my tiny apartment seems to shrink, first by inches and then by feet.

My hope for an elongated nap crumbles when his tail begins to beat rhythmically on the floor, almost like a warning–thump, thump, thump–and the next thing I know, he’s up and prowling around the cluttered living room. Riley isn’t even full grown yet, and he’s already way too much dog for my apartment. Holly warned me that his breed needed room to romp and play. She tried to talk me into a little dog, like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, but I had fallen for those liquid amber eyes…and did I mention that he’s part chocolate Lab? Since when have I been able to resist chocolate? Besides, he reminded me of a cuddly brown teddy bear. But I hardly considered the fact that he would get bigger.

After he climbed into my lap that day, licking my face and smelling of puppy breath and other things that I knew could be shampooed away, there was no way I could leave him behind at the Humane Society. I already knew that he’d been rejected as a Christmas present. Some dimwitted father had gotten him for toddler twins without consulting Mommy first. Even so, Holly tried to convince me that a good-looking puppy like that would quickly find another home.

But it was too late. I knew Riley was meant for me, and that was that. And I had grandiose ideas of taking him for long walks on the beach. “He’ll help me get in shape,” I assured Holly. She’d long since given up on me going to the fitness club with her, so I think she bought into the whole exercise theory. She also bought Riley his LL Bean deluxe doggy bed, which I could barely wedge into my already crowded apartment and now takes up most of the dining area, even though it’s partially tucked beneath a gorgeous craftsman-style Ethan Allen dining room set. Although it’s hard to tell that it’s gorgeous since it’s pushed up against a wall and covered with boxes of Pottery Barn kitchen items that won’t fit into my limited cabinet space.

“This place is way too small for us,” I say to Riley as I shove the half-full ice cream carton back into the freezer. As if to confirm this, his wagging tail whacks an oversized dried arrangement in a large bronze vase, sending seedpods, leaves, and twigs flying across the carpet and adding to the general atmosphere of chaos and confusion.

My decorating style? Contemporary clutter with a little eclectic disorder thrown in for special effect. Although, to be fair, that’s not the real me. I’m sure the real me could make a real place look like a million bucks. That is, if I had a real place…or a million bucks.

I let out a long sigh as I stand amid my clutter and survey my crowded apartment. It’s been like this for almost two years now.

Overly filled with all the stuff I purchased shortly after Collin proposed to me more than two years ago. Using my meager teacher’s salary and skimpy savings, I started planning the interior décor for our new home. I couldn’t wait to put it all together after the wedding.

“Have you ever heard of wedding presents?” Holly asked me when she first realized what I was doing.

“Of course,” I assured her. “But I can’t expect the guests to provide everything for our home. I figured I might as well get started myself. Look at this great set of espresso cups that I got at Crate & Barrel last weekend for thirty percent off.”

“Well, at least you have good taste,” she admitted as she stooped to admire a hand-tied wool area rug I’d just gotten on sale. Of course, she gasped when she saw the price tag still on it. “Expensive taste too!”

“It’ll last a lifetime,” I assured her, just like the Karastan salesman had assured me. Of course, as it turned out, my entire relationship with Collin didn’t even last two years. Now I’m stuck with a rug that’s too big to fit in this crummy little one-bedroom apartment–the same apartment I’d given Mr. Yamamoto notice on two months before my wedding. It was so humiliating to have to beg to keep it after the wedding was cancelled, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And now, a year and a half later, I’m still here. Stuck. It’s like everyone else has moved on with their lives except me. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had enough room to make myself at home or enough room for Riley to wag his tail without causing mass destruction…or enough room to simply breathe. Maybe I should rent a storage unit for all this stuff. Or maybe I should move myself into a storage unit since it would probably be bigger than this apartment.

As I pick up Riley’s newest mess, I decide the bottom line is that I need to make a decision. Get rid of some things–whether by storage, a yard sale, or charity–or else get more space. I vote for more space. Not that I can afford more space. I’m already strapped as it is.

Kindergarten teachers don’t make a whole lot. I feel like I’ve created a prison for myself. What used to be a convenient hideout now feels like a trap, and these thin walls seem to be closing in on me daily. Feeling hopeless, I flop back onto the couch and ponder my limited options. Then I consider forgetting the whole thing and escaping back into HGTV, which might call for some more ice cream.

But that’s when I look down and notice my thighs spreading out like two very large slabs of ham. Very pale ham, I might add as I tug at my snug shorts to help cover what I don’t want to see, but it’s not working. I stare at my flabby legs in horror. When did this happen?

I stand up now, trying to erase that frightening image of enormous, white thunder thighs. I pace around my apartment a bit before I finally go and stand in front of an oversized mirror that’s leaning against the wall near the front door. This is a beautiful mirror I got half price at World Market, but it belongs in a large home, possibly over a fireplace or in a lovely foyer. And it will probably be broken by Riley’s antics if it remains against this wall much longer.

But instead of admiring the heavy bronze frame of the mirror like I usually do, I actually look into the mirror and am slightly stunned at what I see. Who is that frumpy girl? And who let her into my apartment? I actually used to think I was sort of good looking. Not a babe, mind you, but okay. Today I see a faded girl with disappointed eyes.

Some people, probably encouraged by Holly, a long-legged dazzling brunette, used to say I resembled Nicole Kidman. Although they probably were thinking of when Nicole was heavier and I was lighter. Now it’s a pretty big stretch to see any similarities. To add insult to injury, Nicole has already hit the big “four o,” whereas I am only thirty-two. Her forties might be yesterday’s twenties, but my thirties look more like someone else’s fifties. And I used to take better care of myself. Okay, I was never thin, but I did eat right and got exercise from jogging and rollerblading. Compared to now, I was in great shape. And my long strawberry blond hair, which I thought was my best asset, was usually wavy and fresh looking, although you wouldn’t know that now. It’s unwashed and pulled tightly into a shabby-looking ponytail, which accentuates my pudgy face and pale skin. Even my freckles have faded. It doesn’t help matters that my worn T-shirt (with a peeling logo that proclaims “My Teacher Gets an A+”) is saggy and baggy, and my Old Navy khaki shorts, as I’ve just observed, are too tight, and my rubber flip-flops look like they belong on a homeless person–although I could easily be mistaken for one if I was pushing a shopping cart down the street.

Then, in the midst of this pathetic personal inventory, my focus shifts to all the junk that’s piled behind me–the boxes, the myriad of stuff lining the short, narrow hallway and even spilling into the open door of my tiny bedroom, which can barely contain the queensize bed and bronze bedframe still in the packing box behind it. If it wasn’t so depressing, it would almost be funny. I just shake my head. And then I notice Riley standing strangely still behind me and looking almost as confused as I feel. With his head slightly cocked to one side, he watches me curiously, as if he, too, is afraid to move. This is nuts. Totally certifiable. A girl, or even a dog, could seriously lose it living like this. Or maybe I already have. They say you’re always the last to know that you’ve lost your marbles.

“It’s time for a change,” I announce to Riley. He wags his tail happily now, as if he wholeheartedly agrees. Or maybe he simply thinks I’m offering to take him on a nice, long walk. “We need a real house,” I continue, gathering steam now. “And we need a real yard for you to run and play in.” Of course, this only excites him more.

And that’s when he begins to run about the apartment like a possessed thing, bumping into boxes and furnishings until I finally open the sliding door and send him out to the tiny deck to calm himself.

After he settles down, I go and join him. It’s pretty hot out here, and I notice that the seedling sunflower plants, ones we’d started in the classroom and I’d brought home to nurture along, are now hanging limp and lifeless, tortured by the hot afternoon sun that bakes this little patio. Just one more thing I hate about this place.

So much for my attempt at terrace gardening. I’d seen a show on HGTV that inspired me to turn this little square of cement deck into a real oasis. But in reality it’s simply a barren desert that will only get worse as the summer gets hotter. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears now. It’s hopeless.

This is all wrong. On so many levels. This is not where I was supposed to be at this stage of the game. This is not the life I had planned. I feel like I’ve been robbed or tricked or like someone ripped the rug out from under me. And sometimes in moments like this, I even resent God and question my faith in him. I wonder why he allows things like this to happen. Why does he let innocent people get hurt by the selfishness of others? It just doesn’t make sense. And it’s not fair.

Oh, I’ve tried to convince myself I’m over the fact that my ex fiancé, Collin Fairfield, was a total jerk. And I try not to blame him for being swept away when his high school sweetheart decided, after fifteen years of being apart, that she was truly in love with him. I heard that the revelation came to Selena at the same time she received our engraved wedding invitation, which I did not send to her. She wasn’t even on my list.

And I actually believe that I’ve mostly forgiven Collin…and that sneaky Selena too. And I wish them well, although I didn’t attend their wedding last fall. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

But all that aside, this is still so wrong. I do not belong in this stuffy little apartment that’s cluttered with my pretty household goods. I belong in a real house. A house with a white picket fence and a lawn and fruit trees in the backyard. And being single shouldn’t mean that I don’t get to have that. There must be some way I can afford a home.

Of course, I’m fully aware that real estate isn’t cheap in El Ocaso. It’s on the news regularly. Our town’s prices certainly aren’t as outrageous as some of the suburbs around San Diego, but they’re not exactly affordable on a teacher’s salary. I try not to remember how much I had in my savings account back before I got engaged and got carried away with spending on my wedding and my home. That pretty much depleted what might’ve gone toward a small down payment on what probably would’ve been a very small house. But, hey, even a small house would be better than this prison-cell apartment.

And that’s when it hits me. And it’s so totally obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I will become a house flipper! Just like the people on my favorite HGTV show, I will figure out a way to secure a short-term loan, purchase a fixer-upper house, and do the repairs and decorating myself–with my dad’s expert help, of course!

And then, maybe as early as midsummer, I will sell this beautifully renovated house for enough profit to make a good-sized down payment on another house just for me…and Riley. Even if the secondhouse is a fixer-upper too, I can take my time with it, making it just the way I want it. And it’ll be so much better than where I live now.

I’m surprised I didn’t come up with this idea months ago. It’s so totally simple. Totally perfect. And totally me!

“We are going house hunting,” I announce to Riley as I shove open the sliding door and march back inside the apartment. His whole body is wagging with doggy joy as I quickly exchange my too-tight shorts for jeans and then reach for his leather leash and my Dolce & Gabbana knockoff bag–the one I bought to carry on my honeymoon, the honeymoon that never was. I avoid looking at my image in the big mirror as we make a hasty exit.

“Come on, boy,” I say as I hook the leash to his collar at the top of the stairs. “This is going to be fun!” And since this outing is in the spirit of fun, I even put down the top on my VW Bug, something I haven’t done in ages. Riley looks like he’s died and gone to doggy heaven as he rides joyfully in the backseat, his ears flapping in the breeze. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a house for sale on the beach.

Okay, it’d have to be a run-down, ramshackle sort of place that no one but me can see the hidden value in, but it could happen. And while I renovate my soon-to-be wonder house, Riley can be king of the beach. The possibilities seem limitless. And when I stop at the grocery store to pick up real-estate papers, I am impressed with how many listings there are. But I can’t read and drive, so I decide to focus on driving. And since I know this town like the back of my hand, this should be easy.

But thanks to the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the downtown area is crowded, so I start my search on the south end of town, trying to avoid traffic jams. I’m aware that this area is a little pricey for me, but you never know. First, I pull over into a parking lot and read the fliers. I read about several houses for sale, but the prices are staggering.

Even more than I imagined. Also, based on the descriptions and photos, these houses already seem to be in great shape. No fixer-uppers here. Then I notice some condo units for sale, and I can imagine finding a run-down unit in need of a little TLC, but it’s the same situation. According to the fliers, they’re in tiptop, turnkey shape–recently remodeled with granite counters and cherry hardwood floors and new carpeting and prices so high I can’t imagine doing anything that could push them a penny higher. My profit margin and spirits are steadily sinking. Maybe my idea to flip a house has already flopped. Just like the rest of my life.

Excerpted from A Mile in My Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.