Bluebell Bliss

Last Thursday, I took the day off work so I could go see the bluebells at Bull Run Regional Park on a week day, when it wouldn’t be too crowded.

I first heard about the bluebells at Bull Run in 2008, when I had only been working for Fairfax County Public Library a few months. They mentioned them in the county employee daily news email. I’d made some half-hearted efforts to go see the cherry blossoms in DC, but I don’t do crowds, so that wasn’t working out. But these were even close to where I lived. I went to see them and was astonished by the sheer quantity of flowers growing wild in the woods. Ever since, I have tried to go every year.

A couple times, I went to a different park where I was told they have bluebells. And last year, Bull Run Regional Park was closed to cars for the pandemic, so I found a different park where the hiking trails are close to the gate so I could walk in. Those other parks are nice, and have thousands of bluebells, but Bull Run Regional Park has millions of bluebells. (And I’m a math person. I understand the magnitude of that claim!) The sheer astonishing quantity of bluebells growing wild in the woods can’t be beat.

Years ago, I visited Keukenhof Gardens in Holland at tulip time, and I think that’s the most beautiful place in the world. But what I love about the Bluebell Trail is that these aren’t weeded and pruned. These don’t grow in careful rows and every wilting blossom isn’t pulled off. The bluebells were planted by God, and they bring an amazing month of beauty each year. They aren’t perfect and planned, but they are exuberant and joyful.

The first few years I walked among the bluebells, I was sad my then-estranged husband wasn’t with me. We’d done a lot of hiking together in beautiful places in Europe. But I eventually I realized that, with no one walking with me, I could take pictures to my heart’s content, and no one would get tired of waiting for me.

This is the first time I’ve been to the Bluebell Trail at Bull Run Regional Park since I bought my new camera in the summer of 2019. So, okay, I went a little crazy snapping pictures. I finally checked the number when I got home and had taken three more pictures and laughed when I saw 702.

I’d like to say something profound about walking among the bluebells. But when I go and start taking pictures, other thoughts go out of my head. It becomes about catching each beautiful cluster of blossoms I see, and getting the big sweep of purple flowers as far as the eye can see through the trees, and experiencing breezes through the still bare trees with blue sky and sunshine on the bright green leaves, and hearing the river by the trail and birds singing in the trees.

In fact, I think taking pictures gets me out of my head and into the moment. It’s not exactly mindfulness, because I can suddenly discover I have a headache after a couple hours of snapping pictures in the sunshine. But it brings me out of myself, into a moment of beauty.

I’ve found that I love taking close-ups, zooming in on the beauty of individual clusters. They get overlooked in the big picture, yet they are so exquisite.

But the big picture, the sweeping panorama of small purple flowers as far as the eye can see through the woods, on both sides of the river, that is part of the incredible beauty of the place. Trying to capture that is even more difficult, because I can’t put in the gentle breezes or the sound of birds singing.

Somewhere in between, pictures close but not zooming in show the joyful profusion of blooms, the sheer exuberance of the flowers.

So I’m not sure I hit anything profound. And maybe if I were less trapped in performance mode, I wouldn’t need to take pictures to focus in and experience beauty. But I had an amazing time among the bluebells enjoying the beauty God has made. And now I’m attempting to share some of that beauty with others. Let me show you a relative few of the pictures I took, wandering among the bluebells on a beautiful day.


On Sunday, I received a wonderful gift.

I’d had kind of a grumpy week. I was scheduled to work six days in a row. (I’ll get a 3-day weekend this coming week.) I ended up taking one day off because of a light headache I just couldn’t shake. Every day at the library, I asked numerous people to please wear their masks, and I was starting to get angry about it. That persistent headache wasn’t helping, even if I knew it was just a migraine and I didn’t have a fever. On Saturday, I was person-in-charge and two people in a row displayed some aberrant behavior, though I was relieved that they did leave the library soon after.

All that to say, it was a stressful week.

Sunday was my day off. I hadn’t taken a walk by my lake in a week, so this was my opportunity, before online church. The week before I hadn’t even bothered to bring my camera, because I felt like I was taking pictures of the same flowers each time. But sometimes on Sunday mornings, I’d seen deer, so I brought my camera that day.

And my friend the great blue heron was there! Though the heron is a regular, I hadn’t seen much of him since the shelter-in-place order happened. Perhaps it didn’t like how many people walked by the lake.

But today the water was very still, and the bird was very still, and I got a whole sequence of cool mirrored pictures.

It even flew to the nearer side of the lake and I got the picture at the top of this post.

Then walking on. I spotted a butterfly whose wings were different on the inside and the outside. Patiently waiting, I got shots of both.

My walk takes me by the lake, then in a meadowy part with big bushes, then beside some woods. Then I turn around and come back. I hoped to see deer in the woods as I had the week before, but nothing this time. Instead, when I got back to the meadow, there was another butterfly, and this one was posed with the sun shining on its wings. When its wings were together, the sun didn’t shine through, but when it opened its wings, they lit up spectacularly as they were now thin enough to be transparent.

The butterfly was, however, a bit stubborn. I’d wait and wait for it to open it wings, and it wouldn’t do so until I lowered the camera. So catching a few times with the lighting felt like a triumph.

As I walked back toward the lake, in a place where the path is constrained by bushes on one side and the lake on the other — there in the bushes, right next to the path, two fawns were sitting and eating leaves.

What could I do? I stood and took pictures, of course. Eventually a jogger came by and joined me. When she decided to go on, that got one of the fawns to get up and walk out of the bushes.

After that, I was wondering if the heron was still there, lurking behind the tall grasses where I couldn’t see it. As I checked, I heard an enormous splash and saw a bird rising up from the water. It turned out that an osprey was fishing in the lake and continued circling — in a way that tantalized me into trying to get its picture.

By that time, I felt simply overwhelmed with blessings.

Last time I blogged here, I talked about God giving good gifts to His children. This felt like gifts given with good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. My cup overflowed!

I hadn’t done anything to deserve such blessings. I’d been grumpy! But that got swept aside.

Then in the online church service, my pastor Barbara Miner talked about how Jesus notices us. The text was from the story where Jesus is going to heal a synagogue ruler’s daughter who has died, and a woman in the crowd touches the hem of his robe and is healed. Jesus, on an urgent mission, stops and turns and notices the woman. She must have been mortified! She wasn’t trying to be noticed! But Jesus calls her “Daughter.”

Pastor Barbara reminded us that Jesus notices us and challenged us to notice others.

And that got me thinking of my walks by the lake. When I don’t bring my camera, I don’t notice things as small as butterflies. (Okay, I would have noticed those fawns! And probably the great blue heron, too.) I would have marveled at the osprey and then kept walking. But wanting to get pictures made me really look, really notice.

Last year, I got a better camera, with a stronger zoom, and my pictures got dramatically better. Even before that, I noticed that little flowers by the path have a whole new look when you zoom in. Butterflies are just a speck until you zoom in and notice their beauty. And it might take some waiting before they light up for you.

Isn’t that like people? I was reminded of Pastor Tom Berlin’s sermon months ago, where he talked about using Mr. Rogers as an example of paying attention to people.

If I can zoom in and focus on people, it’s so much easier to notice their beauty.

As a kind of icing on the cake, the next morning I worked the late shift and got another walk in, and got to see yet another species, a great egret.

Now, my lofty goal was to start zooming in on people and noticing the beauty of their souls. So far at the library, I confess that most of the zooming in I’m doing is on Nosers who aren’t wearing their masks properly.

But I’m writing this whole post as a reminder to Notice.

When I Notice God’s gifts, I end up feeling overwhelmed with blessings.

And how amazing that Jesus notices me. And I’m going to say He noticed that some blessings would lift my spirits right about now.

And maybe I can pass that on and practice noticing others.

2018 Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my Friends!

What has 2018 been about for me? Newbery, Newbery, Newbery!

That’s right! I’m on the 2019 Newbery Medal Selection Committee, and it seems like everything I’ve done this year was about that. Our job is to choose the most distinguished American children’s book published in 2018, and in quest of that I’ve read more than 100,000 pages from about 600 picture books and 300 longer children’s and young adult books. Publishers have mailed almost 700 books to my house – and basically, I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing books! And I love it!

Here I am reading on my balcony

With that in mind, my main trips this year were to American Library Association conferences – Denver in February, where I got to see my brother Randy and his wife Vickey, and New Orleans in June. I’m looking forward to making our decision in Seattle at the end of January. Once the decision is made, I’ll rent a car and go visit my kids in Portland, as well as some siblings and little nieces.

I’m still Youth Services Manager at the City of Fairfax Regional Library. I started a Newbery Book Club at the library, and have also visited some local schools to talk about the award process. I’ve used this year on the Newbery to catch up on my website – I have almost finished posting all the reviews I wrote in 2016 and 2017 on Never mind that I’ll be behind again after our winners are announced. I’ve read some fantastic books – it will be great to be allowed to talk about them.

Zephyr is the name my transgender daughter is using now, and she hopes to soon make the name change legal. She’s still living in a house with my brother Peter and four other transgender women. Zephyr tells me that most of those women came to Portland after being rejected by their families for being transgender. So I want to make very clear that not only do I believe Zephyr that living as a woman more truthfully reflects who she is – I am proud of her for living authentically. I’m also proud that this year their home served as a refuge for people who needed one when right-wing extremist groups demonstrated in Portland.

Tim has been working as a contractor for Intel for a couple years now, and just got a permanent job as a Quality Assurance Engineer for a tech company called Arris. He’ll start early in 2019. He came out and visited me (okay, and other Virginia friends) this summer – it was great to see him.

I still live in my lovely condo-by-the-lake and take lots of pictures of the great blue heron that likes to fish in the lake. I’ve enjoyed this Year of Reading tremendously! Be sure to check back after January 28 to find out which books we honored!

Much love,

Last year’s Top Ten list still applies!

10. My employers are even bragging that they’ve got a librarian on the Newbery. Wow!
9. I get to be in the Room Where It Happens.
8. Reinforces that I made a good decision becoming a children’s librarian.
7. My library system is funding my four trips to ALA conferences for my committee service.
6. I get to discuss children’s books with experts who love them as much as I do.
5. Publishers have mailed me piles of new children’s books.
4. This turned my Empty Nest into an asset instead of something to mope about.
3. Forever, the shiny sticker on our winner will remind me of this wonderful experience.
2. A fantastic connection for talking with kids about the Newbery Medal and great books.
1. Books, books, books!
I’ve gotten to spend all my spare time this year reading – without guilt!

Project 52 – Week 38 – Friends, Family, Travels

It’s time for Project 52, Week 38!

2002_06 20 Friends

38 weeks ago, on my 52nd birthday, I began Project 52. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, each week I’m taking one year of my life and blogging about it. This week, I’m covering the year I was 38 — June 14, 2002, to June 14, 2003. Once again, the challenge is summarizing, not posting all the wonderful pictures, and trying to get it down to one post.

Last time, I mentioned that on my 38th birthday, we were in Chicago, where Jade (then called Josh) was competing in the National MathCounts competition.

Now, the two previous years when Josh had done very well in MathCounts but hadn’t quite made the national DoDDS team (6th when they needed to be 4th), those years the team had gone to Washington, DC, to compete. So my heart had gotten set on the year that Josh made the team we’d go to DC. And then when Josh did make the team — the competition was in Chicago!

So — we decided to make a trip to DC on the way home from Chicago. Steve had to get back to work, but Josh, Timmy, and I made a stop in Virginia to see my dear friends Kathe and Darlene.

We stayed at Kathe’s house. Kathe now had two kids, Tim and Ben. They are the same distance apart as Jade and my Tim — only my Tim is the youngest and Kathe’s Tim is the oldest. (First Timothy and Second Timothy. Back then, my Tim was Timmy and Kathe’s Tim was Tim. Who knew they’d ever live near each other?) Here are Kathe and Ben.

2002_06 1 Kathe and Ben

And we spent a day in DC.

2002_06 2 Tims Smithsonian

2002_06 3 Tims

2002_06 4 Tims

2002_06 5 DC

2002_06 6 DC

2002_06 7 DC

Oh look! Darlene’s oldest, Ryan, was born by then, and was with us in DC.

2002_06 8 Ryan

2002_06 9 DC

2002_06 10 Smithsonian

Here’s an extra cute one of Kathe and Ben.

2002_06 11 Kathe and Ben

This was another day in DC. We wanted to go to Ford’s Theater (because of Tim’s project on Lincoln), but it was closed. We did see the room where Lincoln died.

2002_06 12 DC

(Kathe was such a nice hostess, taking us all around!)

Finally a picture with Josh! Later, Kathe took us to Shenandoah Caverns. Next to the caverns, there’s a parade float museum. We explored it for awhile.

2002_06 14 Shenandoah

2002_06 15 Float

2002_06 16 Shenandoah

Back at Darlene’s house, little Ryan was at an adorable age!

2002_06 17 Ryan

2002_06 18 LeVaults

Our friends the Ciufos (from Germany and Illinois) were now stationed in DC, so they came to see us at Darlene’s house and all the kids played together.

2002_06 19 Ciufos

2002_06 20 Ciufos

It wasn’t quite the 4th of July, but we set off fireworks while we were in America.

2002_06 21 Fireworks

And that was the second time I got to visit Gateway Community Church, then meeting at Rachel Carson Middle School!

2002_06 23 Friends

2002_06 24 Barsottis

Josh enjoyed Kathe’s dogs.

2002_06 25 Dogs

A Group Picture before we went back home.

2002_06 26 Group

Back home, Germany was doing well in the World Cup! This picture was taken out our window.

2002_07 1 Deutschland

We’d spent our money on the trip to America, so we did shorter trips that summer. Here’s Schloss Dhaun.

2002_07 2 Schloss Dhaun

2002_07 3 Schloss Dhaun

2002_07 4 Dhaun

2002_07 5 Dhaun

2002_07 6 Dhaun

It’s always fun to fill a doorway! (Or window?)

2002_07 7 Timmy Window

2002_07 8 Dhaun

We did an overnight trip to go to LEGOLAND Deutschland, which was quite new.

2002_07 9 Legoland

2002_07 10 Legoland Lion

2002_07 11 Legoland

2002_07 12 Legoland

Now that I think about it: Josh is probably missing from the LEGOLAND photos because that was when they were in Ireland! Josh again went to the Ireland Centre for Talented Youth program at Dublin City University. This time we put Josh on the plane and didn’t get to take an Irish vacation ourselves. So it seemed like a good idea to do something special with Timmy. (My 2002 calendar is missing is why I had to remember that.)

Timmy turned 8 years old at the end of July.

2002_07 14 Timmy's Birthday

2002_07 15 Timmy's Birthday

Josh was back. They did not like getting their picture taken and had painted their fingernails in Ireland. (Perhaps there were some clues about their true gender? It was soon after that they grew their hair out.)

2002_07 16 Jade

We also took a trip to Detmold in northern Germany when my sister Marcy toured there with the Continental Singers.

2002_07 13 Detmold

2002_08 1 Detmold

Detmold had some amazing rock formations. And now Josh is the one letting me take their picture.

2002_08 2 Detmold

2002_08 3 Detmold

2002_08 4 Detmold

We visited Hameln on that trip.

2002_08 5 Hameln

That Fall, Timmy started 3rd grade and Josh started high school!

2002_09 2 Timmy 3rd grade

2002_09 Josh 9th grade

In October, my cousin Jani came to visit! We took her to stay with her former college roommate from Switzerland, traveling through the Black Forest.

2002_10 1 Jani

The Swiss family was charming, and fed us Raklete. We liked it so much, I bought Steve our own Raklete grill for his birthday that year.

And one of my favorite translation stories happened there. Jani’s friend was married, with an adorable two-year-old son. I mentioned how adorable the boy was. The father got out his dictionary and said, “Yes, he’s cute, but he gets this… raving madness.”

I laughed so hard, because I knew exactly what he meant! But I’d never before heard a child’s temper tantrums called raving madness. The perils of dictionary translation!

After dropping off Jani, we went back home by way of “Heidi’s Alp.” So beautiful!

2002_10 2 Switzerland

2002_10 3 Heidi's Alp

2002_10 4 Heidi's Alp

2002_10 5 Heidi's Alp

2002_10 6 Heidi's Alp

2002_10 7 Heidi's Alp

2002_10 8 Heidi's Alp

We drove through Liechtenstein on the way home, simply to say we’d been in another country.

2002_10 9 Liechtenstein

Jani came back to us before going back to America. Steve was on a trip, but I took her to Heidelberg.

2002_10 10 Heidelberg

2002_10 11 Heidelberg

2002_10 12 Heidelberg

2002_10 13 Jani

And another favorite, Burg Rheinfels:

2002_10 14 Rheinfels

2002_10 15 Rheinfels

2002_10 16 Rheinfels

Here’s the Raklete grill we got for Steve’s birthday. It’s a party and a meal both! You grill at the table. Put meats and veggies on top, and melt Raklete cheese underneath. Also boil some small potatoes to serve with it. So yummy! And it’s a lot of fun as each person cooks their own. (It’s making me hungry just thinking about it. Steve got to keep the grill when we left Germany.)

2002_11 1 Raklete

And in January 2003, we moved to Sembach Village. This was our fourth and final home during our 10 years in Germany. We’d never been crazy about the Alsenborn house. The Sembach house was no Gundersweiler and had no view, but it was very large with five bedrooms, a storage room, a living room, a huge den, and two kitchens. (For awhile, it had been rented as two apartments.) And we could still walk to great hiking.

2003_01 1 Moving

2003_01 2 Moving

2003 did not start well. I purposely planned to take two weeks to move, thinking that would take off the pressure — but it just prolonged the pressure. And on the day when we had rented a truck to move the big stuff — It snowed six inches.

We had a fiasco with trying to get our ID cards renewed — multiple trips to Ramstein. We all caught the flu that year and were each sick for at least a week. I got a sinus infection that stayed with me for weeks more. And lots and lots of headaches to go with that.

And then my Mom had a heart attack, at 61 years old. That took me by surprise. Her grandmothers were both long-lived. I hadn’t realized that one of her grandfathers died of a heart attack. Fortunately, it didn’t kill her, though she had bypass surgery, and we later came to think that surgery may have caused her Alzheimer’s to start sooner.

In 2003, though, I did sign up for a writing course with Gotham Writer’s Workshop. I ended up starting my second children’s novel, which I eventually did finish. It was nice having a course to work on — kept me doing it.

We didn’t do anything for our anniversary that year, since we were moving. But with Josh old enough to babysit, we went on dates more often. Steve started taking me to the opera in Kaiserslautern. The first one we saw was MacBeth by Verdi. It was an interesting experience to see an opera based on a play written in English, sung in Italian, with a German translation flashed on a screen above the stage. I could read German well enough to follow along what was happening.

In March, we started traveling again. We went to the Mathimatikum, “The World’s First and Only Math Museum” in Giessen.

2003_03_01 Mathematikum

2002_03_01 2 Mathematikum

2002_03_01 Mathematikum

2003_03_01 4 Mathematikum

2003_03_01 5 Mathematikum

2003_03_01 6 Mathematikum

2003_03_01 7 Mathematikum

Josh turned 15 on March 19.

2003_03_19 1 Josh's Birthday

2003_03_19 2 Josh's Birthday

But sadly, right around Josh’s birthday, the war in Iraq started. Which meant that all field trips for DoDDS schools were cancelled. Which meant that the big Brain Bowl competition, which Josh had been working toward for months — was cancelled. I did get to see Josh play against the faculty, and they were awesome. Each Brain Bowl team has to have one student from each grade (as well as I think two alternates who can be any grade). That year they had an outstanding team because the Senior who had been on the team four years was super good — and Josh, the Freshman, was super good. But alas! They didn’t get to prove their prowess that year. And the next year, they didn’t have Seniors who were quite as strong.

We were planning to send Josh to Ireland the next summer, and this time we were paying, so we didn’t do a big trip for Spring Break, either. We did some day trips.

We went back to Rheinfels — but this time Josh wrote a script and filmed a movie there — the Monster of Doctor Flugenstein. It was tremendous fun, and I enjoyed seeing the kids be once again enthusiastic about visiting a castle!

2003_04_09 1 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 2 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 3 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 4 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 5 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 6 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 7 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 8 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 9 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 10 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 11 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 12 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 13 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 14 Rheinfels

2003_04_09 15 Rheinfels

On April 13, we drove out to Verdun.

2003_04_13 1 Verdun

We touched Castle #136, the medieval Porte Chausée.

2003_04_13 2 Porte Chausee

Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

Sunday we drove two hours out to Verdun. It was another glorious day. We got a snack at the lovely Meuse waterfront and touched Castle #136 — The medieval Porte Chausée. Then we went to the Underground Citadel and did the ride that takes you through a re-creation of war time in the citadel. Finally, we drove out to the now nonexistent village of Fleury to the Battle of Verdun Memorial and Museum.

We learned about the horror of World War I. It’s no wonder the French are not in a hurry to go to war again!

Our new home had lovely Spring flowers.

2003_04 1 Tulips

2003_04 2 Crocuses

2003_04 3 Bubbles

Then when June rolled around, Steve’s parents came June 4-11. One of our trips with them was to the Rose Garden in Zweibrücken. We had a wonderful lunch featuring fresh Spargel (asparagus) there.

2003_06_07 Eklunds

2003_06_07 Gram E

2003_06_07 Roses

2003_06_07 1 Roses

2003_06_07 2 Roses

2003_06_07 3 Steve and Gram E

2003_06_07 4 Roses

2003_06_07 5 Roses

The next day we went to a Medieval Fest at Castle #139, Burg Satzvey.

2003_06_08 1 Burg Satzvey

2003_06_08 2 Burg Satzvey

2003_06_08 3 Burg Satzvey

2003_06_08 4 Burg Satzvey

2003_06_08 5 Burg Satzvey

They even had a jousting demonstration.

2003_06_08 6 Jousting

2003_06_08 7 Jousting

For my 39th Birthday, we had to go to a castle. I chose Neckarsteinach on the Neckar River, a town with four castles, the “Vier Burgen” above it. There was a hiking trail to all four castles. So we visited Castle #140, Hinterburg, Castle #141, Mittelburg, Castle #142, Vorderburg, and Castle #143, Burg Schadeck.

2003_06_14 0a Zu den Burgen

2003_06_14 1 Castle

2003_06_14 2 Castle

2003_06_14 3 Castle

2003_06_14 4 Castle

2003_06_14 5 Castle

2003_06_14 6 Castle

2003_06_14 7 Castle

2003_06_14 8 Castle

2003_06_14 9 Hiking

2003_06_14 10 Neckar

2003_06_14 11 Castle

2003_06_14 12 Castle

2003_06_14 13 Castle

Looking back on that year, I remember a lot more tension with Steve than I was willing to admit at that time. My journals still go on about how wonderful my husband is and how much I loved him. But I may have been convincing myself that everything was fine. When he does show up in photos, he’s just not as thoroughly enjoying himself. He went along, but his heart’s not in it like it used to be. Which makes me sad, looking back.

But — our kids were getting older, we were still traveling, I still loved my job, and I still loved living in Germany. We were now very close to the base, which added many levels of convenience. The bus stop situation was better, so I believe Josh was able to watch Timmy after school again. I was writing my second book, and this was the year I converted Sonderbooks, my e-mail newsletter of book reviews, into a website of book reviews.

Life was good! Next up was our vacation to Scotland the summer I was 39!

Christmas Letter 2016

Merry Christmas, and Joy to you this holiday season!

This year was about making the Nest feel like Home, even as the last fledgling took flight.


My daughter Jade and my son Tim are now both in the Portland area, and I have a new favorite place to visit. Tim moved in August and now has a contractor job with Intel. My four youngest siblings still live in the area there, and now so do my four youngest nieces. They are adorable!

My turning point of the year came in July when I had an opportunity to interview for a Youth Services Manager position at Eugene Public Library in Oregon. I didn’t get the job, but the experience of thinking through who I am and what I do best gave me new excitement about my life and calling here. And I had a fabulous vacation while figuring that out.


At the end of July, the Hatch family gathered in California for my niece Megan’s wedding, so I saw California family, too. My Mom, with her Alzheimer’s, is doing worse each time I see her, but she still perked up when she saw her baby granddaughter Zoe being happy and sweet. My Dad continues to model faithful, devoted love as he cares for her.


I am enjoying my job as Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library more and more all the time. We are trying out some creative STEM programming (like a Star Wars Escape Room program last week), as well as increasing story times, and I get to talk about good books!

I’m especially excited that this year I’m on the ballot to be on the 2019 Newbery Committee and help choose the most distinguished American children’s book of the year written in 2018. Voting for committee membership is in March, and you can be sure it will be the major topic of next year’s Christmas letter if I am elected.

Meanwhile, I’m practicing by being a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) in the category of Young Adult Speculative Fiction, as well as continuing to take part in Capitol Choices – a DC-area group that meets monthly to discuss new children’s books and select 100 of the best books of the year. I took a personal reading retreat in October to Chincoteague Island, which was so wonderful, I’m going to look for more reasons to do this in the future.


Gateway Community Church is still the core of why I love living here. We’re building our Community Resource Center, to open in August 2017. I’m still hosting a small group in my home every Sunday after church, and we’ve been talking about Joy this last quarter. I’m helping collect books for the church’s new preschool and after-Kindergarten programs, so I’m glad to serve with my particular skills.

Wishing you a blessed holiday season,

Sondy Eklund

10. Walking in deep snow after a BLIZZARD! (The one we had this year was awesome!)
9. Walking by my lake any time of year.
8. Taking pictures of birds and flowers and autumn leaves.
7. Reading to small children while doing my awesome job.
6. Being asked, “What should I read next?”
5. Attending Capitol Choices and discussing new children’s books with my people.
4. Showing DC to visitors (like my sister Becky!).
3. Playing Eurogames like Dominion every week with friends.
2. Hosting my church small group at my house.
1. Being surrounded and loved and encouraged by a crowd of wonderful friends.










Stones of Help, Stones of Fire

Today is my 52nd Birthday.

Because 52 is such a cool number, and because there are 52 weeks in a year, I’m embarking on Project 52 — reflecting each week on one year of my life.

I’ve also been thinking very much about Healing today.

Ten years ago this summer was when I left Germany, utterly brokenhearted, and moved to Virginia.

Now I am settling in — and I feel Healed. And that’s a wonderful thing.

And I was thinking about I Samuel 7:12, where Samuel sets up a stone as a monument to God’s help. He names it “Ebenezer,” which means “Stone of Help,” and says, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped.”

Today I planned to go to Great Falls, which I did, and pick up a stone to remind me of God’s help. I have some other stones. This one (actually I picked up two) is going to represent Healing.

Here are the stones I chose along with some souvenir playing cards from places I loved. (I played some solitaire tonight using 52 cards at a time. It’s appropriate!)


But, rather more amazing — this morning I checked my doorstep (I’d forgotten to check last night), and there was a birthday package! It contained a gift from my generous friend Lauri Ann of beautiful opal earrings.

Opals are special to me because one of my favorite books as a kid was a book written by missionary Isobel Kuhn called Stones of Fire. In it, she compares a Lisu tribeswoman to a fire opal. She talks about how the colors of the opal come from pressure and brokenness.

I love that thought. As I’m thinking about Healing — I declare that my healed broken heart is part of what makes me beautiful.

So my Stones of Fire are also my Stones of Help. They speak to how far God has brought me — and that He has not only Healed me, He used those awful times to make me beautiful.

Three years ago when I went to Great Falls on my birthday, the many great blue herons I saw represented Great Blue Herons of Happiness.

This year, they were back!


So the walk in great falls was about Healing and Happiness both.


We got amazing views of many, many herons.


And here I am modeling my Stones of Fire that represent Healing, with a Great Blue Heron of Happiness behind me.


Hitherto hath the Lord helped!

Blizzards and Contentment and Trust


We had a blizzard last week. I live in the DC area — you might have heard.

I find with a blizzard, people tend to either love it or hate it. I LOVED it!

We had plenty of warning — so my workplace at the library was closed on Friday just in time for me to get home just as the flakes were beginning to fall. Then they continued to fall — extremely thickly — for the next more than 30 hours.

The area isn’t prepared for such a rare event. With 30 hours of heavily falling snow and more than 2 feet of snow on the ground, this did break records. So besides the weekend, when I hadn’t been scheduled to work (but all activities were cancelled), I got Monday and Tuesday off work.

Snow days are gifts of time. Plans get cancelled, and you get to take time out of your routine. This time, for the first time in four years on a snow day, I had my son (newly graduated from college) home with me, so I wasn’t all alone.

After the blizzard ended, on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I went for a walk through the snow. It was incredible! I love to walk around my lake on a sunny day, but this was a whole new adventure and each day was different.


Mind you, each excursion was so much work, I’d then wipe out my afternoon by taking a nap to recover. There was a part of me that thought I should “use” the time. But it was so worth it.

And I’ve felt good! All my life, I’ve been plagued by headaches — until recently and “the change” — and I haven’t had a headache all month! Not even going out in the cold and snow! Not even with major weather fronts coming through! This all still feels miraculous and wonderful.

And I got time to work on my website and add cool math stuff, and I have a manuscript being considered by an editor, and I’m doing things at work (when we’re open) that make me happy, and life is just very good. And did I mention I got to walk in the snow this week?!!! (And it was so cool!!!)


All this boils down to — I have been Happy lately. Very Happy and Content.

So I’ve been thinking about Contentment in the context of trust. And, yes, in the context of singleness.

One of those prayer requests I mentioned in my post last month? I’d like to find a new life partner.

But this past week, I’ve been happy and content in the here and now — and I think that helps me to trust.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul tells us present our requests to God with thanksgiving — and the result will be peace.

I’ve found this week that it helps me trust that God will bring me good in the future if I focus on how much good God has given me in the present.

I do realize there’s a balance. You want to be content — but you don’t want to be complacent. You want to be thankful for the present, but you don’t want to fail to grow as a person.

For example, I had a wonderful time in the snow. I have a garage and only one car, and I live in a condo which hires a company to clear snow — so I didn’t have to do any shoveling. I was happy about that, maybe too happy — I didn’t help my neighbors much. (In my defense, I’m not really supposed to carry heavy loads since my vertebral artery dissection and stroke four years ago. But that wasn’t really my motivation.)

In the example of looking for a new life partner, it’s good to be content — but how much should I be putting myself out there, looking online or going to meetups? If I happily become a hermit, is my trust in God expecting Him to do a miracle and bring someone into my shell? I do think there’s a balance.

I’ve had a small personal breakthrough in the past few years. I feel like I’ve come a long way in forgiving my ex-husband, and I have friends again who are men — from a variety of settings. I admit, I had generalized some of my anger and was leaning toward the “Men are skunks” view. (It was interesting recently. Something came up that had me shaking my head about “men” — and I was able to trace it back to a specific incident where I was still angry with my ex-husband. Once I took that out and looked at it and did some forgiveness work — it also took out the generalized anger.) And it’s so nice to get past that, and men add something to my life. (Mind you, my girlfriends have ALWAYS been there for me and are the ones who helped me even survive my divorce. But there was a gap in my life.)

There’s a balance in that, too. All these men I’m friends with are either married or for some other reason not an appropriate life partner for me. And it’s easy, in a low moment, to get discouraged by that fact. To jump to the conclusion that it will be impossible to find a nice single Christian man appropriate for me and even God can’t pull it off and start feeling sorry for myself.

But choosing contentment — I can see how those friendships enrich my life and even add male companionship (in a friendly way), which I was missing and does me good. And instead of stressing about the fact that these men aren’t ever going to marry me, I can find a whole lot of joy in what they do bring to my life.

Just yesterday, my sister posted an amazing poem that reaffirmed this idea for me.

We may always love, but we may not always serve.

This also applies to my ex-husband. I had to come to the place where I can love him — yet release him and go on with my life, not wanting to be married to him again. To remember the good, but accept that this is past. If I’ve truly forgiven him, I can still love him and wish him well. But I have had to accept that there is no longer any way I can serve him. (In the past, when I would try to do something nice for him, he definitely didn’t take it in the spirit it was offered.)

I had to see that wanting to serve someone has a selfish side. Can I be happy that so many of my men friends have beautiful relationships with their wives — exactly the sort of relationship I’d like to have with someone?

Well, the answer is that — when I’m content, I can.

And when I’m content, it’s easier to trust that God is going to take care of the future.

And when I’m content, it’s even easier to brush up that online profile and do a little looking. But also not be too horribly disappointed when that man with the interesting profile never answers my message.

It’s all a dance.

I was talking with my son today about being a rule-follower (which I am). He says he likes it when there are clear processes. (Looking for a job after college is not a clear process!)

I think the path of trust is also like that. Not a clear process. A place that needs balance. You want to be content but not complacent.

And then, every now and then, you get a wonderful gift of a Blizzard!



Thanksgiving Letter

I decided to send a Thanksgiving Letter this year, rather than a Christmas letter. I have much to be thankful for!

The big thing that stands out for the year is my new home! With my Dad’s help, I purchased a condo in South Riding, less than 10 minutes from my church. After another place fell through, at just the right time for me, this home came open — with a beautiful view of a lake! I feel so blessed living here.

I’m thankful for church friends who made me feel so cared for and helped me through the moving process.

I’m thankful that my sons are doing well. Tim is a Sophomore at the College of William & Mary and enjoying it. He’s declared his major — English and Computer Science. His Dad lives near Williamsburg, so they see each other during the school year, and I get Tim for his vacations. He recently heard about some exciting Study Abroad possibilities for next year. Of course I would have to go visit!

Josh is still living in Portland, Oregon, and now has a salaried job as a computer programmer, which he’s enjoying very much. I’m so happy for him!

I’m thankful for a place to walk. With my lake to hike around, I’ve been much more regular about exercising than ever before, and I’m treated to beautiful scenery, including a great blue heron.

I’m thankful for my job. I’m still working at City of Fairfax Regional Library as Youth Services Manager and still love my job. I’m also going to be a Cybils judge (Kid Lit Blogger awards) again this year. And, yes, I’m on my 13th year of writing Sonderbooks book reviews and still love it.

What else am I doing? Plenty of mathematical knitting, like this prime factorization blanket for my niece, and regular board games with a group that meets Saturdays close to the library. Life is full, and life is good, and I’m so thankful for what this year has brought me!

May you have a blessed holiday season!

Sondy Eklund

Two Herons at the Lake

Thursday is my late day to work. I hadn’t been feeling good, but I wanted to go for a slow walk to try to get back into the groove. When I got to the lake, I saw not just the great blue heron, but a great white heron, both on the wall. I decided it would be a good day to substitute a photo shoot for my usual walk. I went back for my camera.

The great white heron didn’t tolerate my snapping for long:

And soon he was so good as to pose by the rainbow in the fountains on a sunny day.

I love the way the wildflowers blooming by the lake change every week. This is one of my favorites, because it reminds me of a flower we had in Gundersweiler, Germany.

I love the bunnies I see every day on my walk. It’s getting where they aren’t scared of me, which feels a little pathetic.

And more flowers and lake.

Next, it posed by the gazebo.

I love the way the great white heron and its reflection shine in the sunshine.

I should mention that the weather was also fabulous. Bright and sunny, but cool and breezy. Even though I wasn’t feeling good, that time at the lake started off a great day.

Hiking at Great Falls

When I go on a beautiful hike and take more than a hundred photos, I like to try to challenge myself to choose the top ten. And then if I stop at 19, well, that’s okay, too.

Friday was my birthday, and the weather was wonderful, and I went for a lovely walk along the River Trail at Great Falls National Park. Here are 19 of my photos.

There were lots of great blue herons flying around and also sitting and posing. I’ve already posted about the Great Blue Heron of Happiness.

These first several are from the Overlooks at the start of the River Trail.

The parts that weren’t looking at the amazing river were wonderful for being a peaceful walk in the woods.

Though mostly, it was both: Peaceful woods overlooking a majestic river.

I could *not* resist retouching this photo a tiny bit:

And I finished up back at the Overlooks:

Simply a beautiful day!