Christmas Letter 2023

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays to you!

When it comes to Christmas letters, I love the tradition of looking back on my year and reflecting on its joys. I also love the tradition of using that to connect and reconnect with friends. Now that I post the result electronically, it’s become a meditative tradition added to my Christmas celebrations — and we’re talking Christmas in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” sense. So I hereby declare this isn’t late, since the twelve days of Christmas aren’t finished. You’ll have more time to read it after the 25th anyway, right? I certainly have more time to write it.

Another result of posting electronically is that I’m no longer confined to one page. I’ll still try to keep my text short, but I’m going to fill the post with some of my favorite pictures I took in 2023.

As I look back on 2023, it feels like the year I didn’t quite have time for all the things I wanted to do. Just slightly overdoing it. And what that was all about was totally worth it: Serving on the 2024 Morris Award Committee! The William C. Morris Award honors the best Young Adult Debut book of the year, with the year defined as November 1st to October 31st. So we are done with our reading, have chosen our Finalists, and are scheduled to choose our winner on New Year’s Day and announce on January 22nd.

So, yes, I was reading young adult debut books all year long. When I was on the Newbery committee in 2018, I cut back drastically on any other commitments. But I didn’t do that so much this time, which is why the crunch. And while I had a joyful and busy year, I’m ready for a break now and happily reading adult books. Well, as soon as I finish chairing the groups choosing the Cybils Awards for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category and facilitating discussion for the Birth to Five group of Capitol Choices and reading the remaining books for the 2024 Mathical Book Prize. The truth is, I didn’t even give up other award committee participation this time. (But I love it all so much!) And yes, I’ve been trying to keep up with posting reviews on Sonderbooks as well. (If you’re ever wondering what to read, do take a look!)

I was telling a friend about all of this and she asked, “But what do you do for fun?” Make no mistake about it, reading is what I do for fun, and that award committee participation is not work but volunteer joy. And I love it, though I may need to take a break from any more year-long committees for at least, say, a year.

Though yes, my job is very much related and also my idea of incredible fun. I am in my second year as Youth Materials Selector for my public library system where I’d worked as a youth services manager since 2008. I get to select the books and other materials for kids from birth through teens for all twenty-two branches. And I still believe it’s the absolutely perfect job for me. It’s not necessarily the perfect job for too many other people, but it’s completely suited to me. I love working with spreadsheets and budgets, and I also love keeping up with what’s being published and the best books for children and teens (see all that award committee fun).

But that’s not all I do! Once a week, I get to play online Dominion with my kids Zephyr and Tim, who are adults living on the other side of the country. And we Skype while we play, so I get to talk with my kids at least an hour a week, and I love that. (My kids are doing great, but I won’t post too many details publicly – ask me privately if you want to hear what they’re up to lately.) I also continue to attend the Sunday gaming group that my friend brought me to almost ten years ago on our second date. We didn’t keep dating long, but we’re still friends, and I still say that ten years of that gaming group is a great big win for online dating.

And that’s not all! I’ve been attending Floris United Methodist Church for over four years now and singing in the choir adds joy to my life every week. For a year and a half now, I’ve also been co-leading a Monday night ladies’ virtual small group, which is another lovely way to connect with people. At the start of the year, we went through my unpublished book, Praying with the Psalmists. I was able to polish it up, and I think it’s ready to be published — but finding an agent or publisher was where I dropped the ball this year. I’m planning to continue pursuing that in the new year. (You can follow the Praying with the Psalmists category on this blog to get a small taste of what it’s about.)

Now, besides all those great things, 2023 was the year of two major leaks happening in my condo — the first into my master bathroom and bedroom closet from the condo above and the second from the windows in my bedroom and office. I ended up with a nice newly-painted bathroom, slightly less cluttered closet, and brand new windows – but come to think of it, all that was a big part of why I felt behind this year. (I’ve almost finished cleaning up all the stuff I moved in response to those leaks.) Those windows still frame an awesome view.

But 2023 also held two big trips that brought lots of joy. In May, my youngest sister Melanie got married in Oregon. I flew out and spent a few days with family in Portland (sisters and brothers and nieces and a nephew), then took my two kids and spent a beautiful, peaceful week at the Oregon coast, then drove back to Portland for even more family time at my sister’s wedding, now with aunts and uncles and cousins, too.

Stayed with my sister Marcy’s family for a bit.
Incredible view from our vacation condo.
So good to be with my kids!
It took a week to play through all 50 missions of the cooperative card game The Crew.
I dragged them on a strenuous and gorgeous hike.
The happy couple
With Tim and Zephyr

And in late September, family came to me! My sister Wendy and her husband Jim were visiting his family in Connecticut, so we split the difference and met up for a day at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, for a lovely day together.

Then in October, I flew to California with my friend-since-3rd-grade Darlene to celebrate our friend-since-7th-grade Ruth’s 60th birthday. Ruth has early-onset Alzheimer’s. So it was painful to see the difficulties she’s having, but beautiful to see her as well as her adorable grandbabies. She is surrounded by family and surrounded by love, and she’s still my incredible friend who always has something to smile about. Darlene and I also connected with some more school friends, which was such a joy.

With Ruth and Darlene
With Darlene and Abby
With Darlene and Daphne

So that was my 2023: Lots of reading, writing, singing, playing games, and enjoying people. Oh, and taking pictures of the great blue heron that visits the lake outside my window. Yes, I’m still taking walks by my lake, and I still am not tired of those beautiful birds.

Wishing you abundant joys in 2024!

— Sondy

Christmas Letter 2022

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! This “Christmas” Letter has turned into a New Year’s Letter — But may every holiday you celebrate be filled with moments of joy!

It’s time for my annual reflection on my year. I try to get it written by Christmas, but allow myself grace if it doesn’t happen. This year — I had the letter written by Christmas, but decided to look through all the pictures I took in 2022, so now it’s the New Year. One thing that’s always true is how much my life is enriched by the people I’ve gotten to spend time with along the way — so do know that I am thinking about you during this holiday season and wishing you blessings and joy.

2022 was a fabulous year for me. A turning point came one morning in March. I was sitting on an interview panel, thinking how much more fun interview panels are when you’re one of the people asking the questions instead of the person answering the questions. I thought to myself, “I’m so glad I love my job and will never have to interview ever again!”

Then we broke for lunch and a Youth Services Managers’ meeting at 1:00. At the meeting, the Youth Materials Selector for our entire system of 22 branches announced that she was going to be moving to Utah. It was less than half a second after she said that before I knew that I would be applying for that position and that I wanted it with all my heart.

And, yes, I applied. They were mercifully quick about opening the position up for applications and getting the interviews done. (I say mercifully, because nine years before, the same position had been open, and what with one thing and another, it went unfilled for a year and a half.) The interview was virtual and somehow that was a lot less scary for me than in person, and I’d practiced, and it went really well. Since June, I have been working as Youth Materials Selector! And yes, I love the job as much as I’ve always known I would. Yes, I loved working in the branches, but this feels like the right job for me at the right time, and I’m still tremendously happy about going to my job every day — or teleworking and doing my job at home.

I’ve always been obsessed with new children’s books — and now that’s my job! It also feels a little bit like a game figuring out how many of which items to order and still stay within the various budgets. I spend over $20,000 each week, so I get to use my math skills as well. It’s perfect!

The rest of my life is full and happy, too. Also in March, I took a trip to the amazing Highlights Foundation Center for a writing retreat. (They feed you! Wonderful farm-fresh food.) My pandemic project was writing a book about Psalms, and now I’ve got the book where I’m ready to submit it to agents and/or publishers. I am really hoping to have more to report about that next year.

Now that I telework twice a week, I manage to get in more walks by my lake (working later if I take a long break) and still can’t resist taking pictures of the flowers, autumn leaves, and especially the great blue heron.

I still play board games, with an in-person Sunday afternoon group still going strong, and a weekly Tuesday evening virtual game time and Skype call with both my kids, Zephyr and Tim, who live in Oregon. I consider that weekly time with them the Great Gift of the Pandemic, because that’s what made me aware of the site — featuring a game I’d played with Tim all through their years in high school and college.

As of September, I’ve begun co-leading a ladies’ virtual small group with my church. Going virtual has been a good way to make friends and connect with a group without taking yet another evening out and about, because Wednesday nights, I’m singing with the church choir and still getting great joy out of that.

This Christmas felt hectic — because on Thanksgiving I took a trip to Maui for my sister Wendy’s wedding! Yes, the trip was wonderful, but it wasn’t quite what I expected, since I got a tiny sore throat three days after I got there — and the next day had a full-fledged cold — and tested positive for Covid.

The good news is that Wendy didn’t catch it and the friend I was staying with didn’t catch it and my other visiting family members didn’t catch it. I ended up doing a lot of reading and relaxing on the balcony of my friend’s house and ate all my meals outdoors. And the wedding was on the beach, with a strong wind, on Day 6 of Covid, so I was able to attend and enjoy Wendy’s wonderful windy wedding.

When I got back, I had my second negative Covid test (48 hours apart) exactly on time to rehearse for our choir’s Christmas cantata one day and perform the next. After the performances, I fell asleep for four hours! But it was a great joy to get to sing.

Yet another thing keeping me busy and happy is Book Award Committees. I took a reading retreat in October to New River Gorge National Park to read for the first round of the Cybils Awards, in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category. This year, I’m category chair as well. We met virtually to choose our Finalists the day after Christmas, so of course I was still finishing up the reading through Christmas. After that, I have some books to read for the Mathical Book Prize, by January 10th (but those are mostly shorter). And after that, I want to cram in some more books for Capitol Choices — a local group of librarians that chooses 100 best children’s and young adult books of the year each year.

And just this week I got the good news that I have been appointed to the 2024 Morris Award committee! This group chooses the best young adult book of 2023 by a debut author. So I will need to get busy reading for that award as soon as I finish all that reading for 2023 awards.

Remember what I told you about being obsessed with new children’s books? Both my new job and these committees feed that obsession and bring me lots of joy. I’m probably a little bit overcommitted, but I’m definitely having fun.

And if you’re interested in which books I loved most from 2022, watch my Sonderbooks site for the 2022 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. I like to post them on New Year’s Day, but a bad tooth had other ideas. I hope it will be soon, though!

So that’s what I’ve been up to in 2022. How about you? I always love this chance to reconnect with friends. Drop me an email if you get the chance!

And here’s wishing you all a joyous holiday season!

— Sondy

Christmas Letter 2021

It’s time to write my annual Christmas letter summing up my year. It has evolved from a printed letter to a blog post. And this way I can write it during my time off for Christmas! It does come with wishes for each of you reading it to be blessed with Joys, big and small, this season.

I love this section from a Richard Rohr devotional email I received last week:

In the first 1200 years of Christianity, the most prominent feast was Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Around 1200, Francis of Assisi entered the scene, and he felt we didn’t need to wait for God to love us through the cross and resurrection. He believed God loved us from the very beginning and showed this love by becoming incarnate in Jesus. He popularized what we take for granted today, the great Christian feast of Christmas. But Christmas only started being popular in the 13th century.

The main point I want to make is the switch in theological emphasis that took place. The Franciscans realized that if God had become flesh and taken on materiality, physicality, and humanity, then the problem of our unworthiness was solved from the very beginning! God “saved” us by becoming one of us!

The ornament above was given to me by a friend from my gaming group who is also a pharmacist. It perfectly represents 2021. That’s an empty Moderna vaccine vial, with red caps from more vials. Also included are a plague cube and other game pieces from Pandemic Legacy Season 2, which we finally got to finish in person. We lost the final game, which we hope doesn’t mean the world is doomed. Anyway, it makes a fun ornament!

As I got vaccinated, and later boostered, many things went back to in-person. The library opened up even more hours than before the pandemic, and we started some in-person programs again. Church and choir went back to in-person, wearing masks, and it does my heart good to sing and worship with others again.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on my big pandemic project — writing a book about Psalms. It’s about using the examples in Psalms to write your own prayers, and it’s become a memoir as well, talking about parts of my life along with the different types of Psalms. The whole project is taking me longer than I thought it would. Hmmm. Since I began it when the pandemic started, maybe if I finally finish it the pandemic will end? It’s worth a try! But it’s turning out that writing it is wonderfully therapeutic for me. I hope to finish it in 2022 and then take up the challenge of finding an audience.

I still haven’t done any air travel since the pandemic started. (It doesn’t help that the last time I flew — just before the pandemic — I got very sick.) But I did two personal retreats that were both lovely. The first was in May, renting a cottage on the Eastern Shore. The second was in October at the Highlights Foundation Center. They’ve got a retreat center, and when the center isn’t all booked for workshops, you can do a personal retreat with meals included, and the farm-to-table food is incredibly good. I made good progress on my book at the retreat and also gave my website a major revision to make it more readable on mobile devices.

I did a virtual Jane Austen Summer Program in June, as well as two virtual ALA conferences. Here I am with a turban as was popular in Jane Austen’s day. It was a lot of fun!

And I’m on three book award committees! Capitol Choices is not a new group for me — DC-area librarians who meet monthly and choose 100 of the best books for kids and teens each year. I’m also doing the Cybils Awards again — this time on the second-round panel for Young Adult Speculative Fiction. So beginning January 1st, I will need to read seven finalists and help choose one winner.

But the new committee I’m super excited about is for the Mathical Book Prize — honoring books for children’s and teens that have a mathematical element in them. I’ve wanted to be part of this ever since I heard the prize existed, and this year I finally made the right connection. We’ll decide our winners in late January and make an announcement soon afterward.

Another momentous thing about 2021 was that for a third of the year, I was dating a kind and thoughtful man who lives in Harrisonburg, two hours away. Ultimately, I decided that this time in my life isn’t a great time for a long-distance relationship, but he got me out of my house more than I had since the pandemic began.

My kids are doing well, still in the Portland area. Zephyr’s been doing internet transcribing and making a fantasy baseball website. Tim’s working from home as a programmer, and once a week we Skype and play Dominion online, which makes me happy to have that connection.

As I write this, none of it sounds very exciting, but I’ve got a happy and busy life. I get lots of fulfillment out of my work, my church, and all those projects I always have going. When I need a dose of nature, I still enjoy my condo by the lake, as you can tell by the pictures I’ve put with this letter.

Here’s wishing you, my friends, much joy in the upcoming year!

Christmas Letter 2020

I was going to write my annual Christmas Letter on Christmas Day — but then I was still reading for the Cybils, so I decided to write it on New Year’s Day. Then I thought I’d look over all the pictures I took in 2020 and choose highlights to put in the letter — and ended up spending two hours just getting through May. (I was working from home. I took a lot of pictures.) So if I want to make this a New Year’s letter, I need to revise my plans and settle for the idea that I might not pick the very best pictures. My Highlights folder already has 380 pictures in it, just going through May, anyway!

First, let me say that I understand that many, many people had a much worse 2020 than I did. If you’re not in a place where you want to read about someone having a good year, I get it. Please feel free to stop right here with my wishes for a much better 2021.

Though for me, it was the start of 2020 that was hard. I flew to California for my mother’s funeral — which reminded me how much I missed my dad, whose funeral was two months before. We had no idea that it was a privilege to get to hold in-person funerals! Though we did know that it was a blessing to get to gather and mourn together.

[This picture is only 11 of us siblings and my niece. Here’s a fun game for those who think they know my family: Can you identify who is who, sort us by age, and figure out which two siblings are missing?]

My dear friend Ruth and her husband John picked me up at the airport on New Year’s Eve and whisked me off to their home in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead. And I got to see more snow on the ground on New Year’s Day than in the rest of the year combined.

Then I got some time with my siblings celebrating a belated Christmas together — and then my mother’s memorial service on January 4th.

Approximately three hours after the service and reception, I was sitting talking with some siblings and my cousin Kristi — and I started to feel my ears get congested, and within a half-hour, I was so dizzy, I had to go lie down. That night, I almost passed out when I got up to use the restroom, and even lying down, to move my head made the room spin. I was lucky it happened at my family’s house, because my siblings took care of me — that first day, I was too sick to even get myself food — and a couple days later, I got to see my brother’s doctor who okayed me to fly home and gave me some medicine that helped make that possible.

I ended up being sick for three months — though after the first awful week, the dizziness was only occasional and I thought I was getting better. Even when it went into my chest, I was pretty sure I wasn’t contagious, since I’d had it so long. Then we started hearing about this virus…. They never checked me for it, because I hadn’t traveled to China, though I did get a chest x-ray that was clear, so they called it bronchitis. (In the summer, I got an antibody test done, which was negative, so it was probably not Covid. I probably just got hit with a bug when vulnerable because of flying and grieving.)

The funny part was that when the library closed to the public in mid-March — I finally took it easy, got lots of sleep, and finally started feeling better. So just when things were awful for most of the world was when my year finally started going better.

There had been some other hard things in January — my little 3-year-old niece Meredith was diagnosed with leukemia. Let me skip to the end of the year and tell you that she’s gone through the standard treatment and is now in maintenance mode and on track for a complete recovery — but that was a hard moment for all of us, and especially for her parents, my brother Robert and his wife Laura (who also had a 3-month-old baby at the time of diagnosis who’s now an active toddler).

But mostly, I enjoyed the closing of the library a little too much! We had a couple weeks where we didn’t know what was going to happen — and then we all got approved to telework. During the teleworking time, I made a video series about prime factorization and numerical bases, which I really got a kick out of doing.

I enjoyed working from home so much, I still miss it! Besides not having commute time, it dawned on me after a month or so that the biggest plus was I could go for a walk by my lake on my lunch break. The skies were extra blue this Spring — we were convinced it was from fewer cars on the road — and that’s why I took thousands of pictures this year.

My evening activities changed. No more Silent Book Club, since it just didn’t make sense to sit in a small room with other people to read, as much fun as that is. But my weeknights quickly filled up with Zoom activities.

My church switched to online services. I joined Floris United Methodist Church in 2019, and I’m happier and happier to be a part of this church. I appreciated that they were careful about spreading the virus and that they have a strong ministry reaching out to those in need. They also offered some thoughtful and insightful programs about issues of the day.

The choir managed to still meet in small groups, spaced ten feet apart for a while. Then even that was deemed to be risky, so we met outside, spread apart, and wore masks to sing a few songs for the Christmas cantata. But through the time, the connection with the choir was a big plus. I’m so glad to be a part of it and glad to get to take part in the worship services, even when it’s pre-recorded.

I also took part in a virtual alumni choir of the Biola Chorale, singing “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” — the arrangement written by the director, Loren Wiebe, and which we would sing to start every concert. We had a grand Zoom gathering to show it to him on his 80th birthday, and I was blessed to pieces to be part of that.

Since I wasn’t working Thursday nights any more, I could join the small group my friends at church were running especially for LGBTQ allies, now meeting on Zoom. I’ve made some new friends who are already dear to me. The first study we went through looked at the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and why Christians should be loving and accepting toward all, as Jesus did.

My Sunday gaming group moved online. And after they showed me and what a great interface it is for my favorite game, Dominion — I also started playing once a week with Tim, my youngest. So my favorite result of the pandemic is now I hang out regularly with my kid!

And yet another Zoom gathering I joined is a weekly Christian writers’ group. This was perfect timing for me, as I’ve started working on a book about the Psalms, and using the types of Psalms as a pattern for your own prayers. This group is wonderful for helping me actually keep writing.

So you may have noticed that maybe I’m overdoing the number of weekly activities. It was easier when I was still working from home, but in mid-July, we opened the library back up for “Express Services.” It’s sad that we can’t encourage people to linger, but at least we can offer books and online programs. And I am definitely not cooped up at home. So far, no one working at my branch has gotten sick with Covid, and here’s hoping it will stay that way. But that’s a good sign that our precautions are working.

I canceled a trip I’d planned in the Spring, but in the Autumn, I booked a place only a few hours away that included a kitchen, so I didn’t have to be around other people. I had a lovely reading-and-hiking retreat at Shenandoah National Park. It was beautiful! And I was again a panelist for the first round of the Cybils Awards, so that helped me get a headstart on all the reading I needed to do.

So despite a difficult beginning, 2020 was a surprisingly peaceful year for me. I’ve got lots of meaningful activities (probably too many!) and had lots of time to reflect. I do see people, since now I go to work and at least I don’t have to drive to my activities.

Of course, it’s been way too long since I’ve seen my kids. Zephyr didn’t end up getting married this year, which was hard on her. She and Tim are both still living in the area of Portland, Oregon. But I’ve talked with both of them more this year, and I have to say that’s been a positive side of the pandemic.

I did laugh when I looked over the goals I made for 2020. But I ended up having a lot more reflection time than I’d expected. And this introvert isn’t complaining!

Though I do look forward to the day I can read stories to preschoolers again and encourage them to touch their head, shoulders, knees, and toes — as well as eyes and ears and mouth and nose!

I did hit some hard anniversaries, especially in November, 10 years after my divorce, when my father-in-law passed away. But as every year, what got me through were the friends surrounding me, even though their way of surrounding me took new forms in 2020.

Here’s wishing all of you health and happiness — and hugs — in 2021!

Christmas Letter 2019

Emmanuel — “God with us” — that’s what I’m clinging to this Christmas season, along with other tidings of comfort and joy.

I’ve decided that 2019 was an overdramatic teenager of a year — very big good things and very big bad things. Maybe 2020 will calm down!

I’ll go in opposite chronological order, to cover the bad news first, so I can finish with the good news.

On November 30, my mother passed away after more than ten years with Alzheimer’s. She’d been on hospice for two years, and this was not unexpected. The lovely part was that the day after Thanksgiving, my family in California came together to celebrate, as is our custom. My mother’s sister, Aunt Linda, came to watch Mom and she brought her violin. Mom’s sister and her children stood by her bedside, playing and singing hymns. Believe it or not, when they finished, a rainbow came out. The next morning, Mom went to heaven.

That was expected and really should be thought of as a blessing at last — but it was made harder because my father, who had been tenderly caring for her for years, passed away unexpectedly on September 25th, in the hospital from a blood clot two days after minor surgery.

So it feels like a wallop for my twelve siblings and me. The gathering of family at Dad’s memorial service was beautiful. But when my mother passed away, too, this time I didn’t have the luxury of the Denial stage of grief, and it hit hard right from the beginning. We did want my Dad to have a nice rest after all his work caring for Mom — and he has gotten that rest. Rather than seeing Mom off, he got to welcome her into heaven.

Another tough thing that happened this year was that the church I’d been attending since I moved to Virginia, full of people who love me and support me and got me through my divorce, that church officially adopted a policy that essentially says LGBTQ people are sinning. I strongly disagree with the policy, believing it is neither biblical nor kind.

The good side of that was that I joined Floris United Methodist Church, just fifteen minutes down the road. I heard the pastor making some of the same biblical arguments I’d been making about how Christians need to be inclusive. And to my delight, it turns out this church has an outstanding choir — and I hadn’t even realized how much I’d missed singing in a choir, joining the voices of others singing praise to God. Singing in the amazing Christmas cantata brought light to an otherwise dark December.

And that brings me to good news! I actually got the news of my father’s passing when I was on one of the best vacations of my life, traveling in Prince Edward Island with Darlene and Ruth, two of my childhood friends. There are two weeks of the year in late September and early October when we are all the same age, and we spent a week in PEI to celebrate being 55. We saw the L. M. Montgomery sites and beautiful scenery from all over the island. And we enjoyed spending time together. I wrote about the whole trip, with pictures, on this Sonderjourneys blog.

And the year started off with the amazing and wonderful experience of meeting with the 2019 Newbery Committee and deliberating in a locked room in Seattle to choose the most distinguished American children’s book of 2018. Our winner was Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina. One of the things the main character deals with in the book is her grandfather developing dementia, so that hit home.

After choosing the winner in Seattle, I got to visit my kids and my siblings and little nieces in Portland, Oregon. It was lovely to see them! Tim had started a new job, still doing computer work, and I saw his new apartment. Zephyr announced that she’s planning to marry Lily Dear in December 2020, and I got to meet Lily and welcome her into the family! Speaking of welcoming into the family, as of November 2, I will have to talk about nieces and a nephew in Oregon, because Robert and Laura had their third child, little Martin.

In June, we got to celebrate with the Newbery winners at ALA Annual Conference in DC, which ended up being a great big celebration to cap off all our hard work.

And the other amazing thing that happened at ALA Annual Conference was that I was given the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award from the Public Library Association! This award is given “for extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books and distinguished ability to share that knowledge.” Who even knew such an award existed? I was blown away to be nominated by my own library system, and then winning it felt like serious validation that I made the right choice switching careers when I was in my forties.

So, those are just the big things of the year — but they were very big things!

2020 will start with my mother’s memorial service on January 4th and finish with my daughter’s wedding on December 21st. I’m hoping in between will be plenty of love and joy.

To those reading this, thank you for your love and friendship! All that 2019 held was enhanced by the many dear friends rejoicing and weeping with me.

May this Christmas season bring you the comfort and joy of the knowledge that God is with us.

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!

Christmas Letter 2017

Merry Christmas, Friends!

Here’s wishing you joyful holidays in every way!

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…” (Psalm 107:2)

A big part of 2017 was telling my story.  As the year began, I was in the middle of Project 52 – during each week of the year I was 52, I wrote about one year of my life on my Sonderjourneys blog. Just before I got to the divorce years, I gave my testimony in church – and then writing about those years helped me clearly see how much good God had brought me despite and through the pain. In many ways, I felt like Project 52 put a capstone on my healing journey.

And now a new journey is beginning! On April 12, I learned that I was elected to the 2019 Newbery Medal Selection Committee! What this means is that I will be reading as many American children’s books published in 2018 as I possibly can. My 14 other committee members and I will be meeting in Seattle in January 2019 to make our decision. I am thrilled about this, and it’s going to keep me busy all next year.

I again took some memorable trips this year. In August, I visited my friend Marilynn, who had just moved to South Carolina, and saw the total solar eclipse.

In October, I went to Portland, Oregon, and visited my kids, Jade (who is now going by Amber) and Tim, saw siblings Melanie, Marcy, Robert, Peter, and Becky (who was also visiting) – and saw my FIVE little nieces! Marcy & John had their third little girl, Kara, joining Alyssa and Zoe, and Robert & Laura have Arianna and Meredith. It did my heart so much good to see all of them!

For my second year in a row, this Fall I did a reading retreat in Chincoteague, Virginia, and saw some ponies. Since I’ll need to do so much reading next year, this may keep happening.

My church, Gateway Community Church, completed our beautiful new building. It’s lovely to no longer meet in a middle school. The church is growing rapidly in the new space. I’ve gone back to working in the nursery and still meet with a small group and post on the church blog. We’re trying to use our space during the week, and I started a weekly group – a Silent Book Club, for reading, of course!

I’m still Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library, and keep loving my job more all the time. I still spend lots of time writing and posting And most weeks I get together with a great bunch of friends and play Eurogames.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas,
Sondy Eklund

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 going to fund my four trips to ALA conferences during my committee service.
6. I get to discuss children’s books with people who love them as much as I do.
5. Publishers are going to mail me piles of new children’s books.
4. This turned my Empty Nest into an asset instead of something to mope about.
3. Forever after, the shiny sticker on the book we choose will remind me of this wonderful experience.
2. This gives me a new platform for talking with kids about children’s books and the Newbery Medal.
1. Books, books, books!
I get to spend all my spare time for the next year reading – without guilt!

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.










Christmas Letter 2015

Merry Christmas, my Friends!


The holiday season is such a good time to look back on the year with thanks.

The theme of 2015 for me was Change and Transition. I’m not sure that’s what I wanted, but that’s what I got!


The first and biggest change is that my adult son Josh is transitioning to become my daughter Jade. Though this is quite an adjustment, I believe Jade that this change more truly expresses who she is. I was blessed to have a chance to spend time with Jade and her partner Sunny in Portland, Oregon, in July and in November. I am more convinced than ever that I have an amazing and wonderful kid!


The other huge transition is that my son Tim is graduating from William & Mary this month! He will earn a degree in both Computer Science and English. He plans to join Jade in Portland. This is a big transition, and I’ve been moaning over my Empty Nest all year long. But I am also so proud of the person Tim has grown to be.

This month is ten years since my ex-husband moved out and five years since my divorce was final. And you know what? I have transitioned to a place where that no longer seems a tragedy in any sense of the word. Romans 8:28 is true – God can bring good out of anything. My life is meaningful and happy and full of joys. I’m excited about what’s coming next.


My church is facing a transition, about to break ground to build our own building. This should bring growth and exciting changes. I am enjoying living nearby, and my small group meets at my house. For all my nine years here, church friends have been the key to making me feel at home here in Virginia.


I still am Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library. This year, I’ve highlighted math-related programs and tech-related programs, as well as always pushing good books. I went to four book-related conferences this year (tacking vacation onto two of them) and always enjoy hanging out with book people.


And my mathematical knitting continues! I finished a prime factorization blanket for my new little niece Zoe, and this will not be the last baby blanket I need to make! I decided this needs a special page on my website, so you can now follow my mathematical knitting adventures at


10. You barely have to clean, and it’s only after yourself.
9. Groceries cost much less.
8. If you accidentally trap yourself in your shower, no one hears you call for help and comes to investigate. (This is a good thing.) You discover resources you didn’t know you had.
7. When you cook, the food lasts much longer.
6. You can change your plans on a whim. If you get a nice invitation to do something after work, you can just go.
5. You can go to conferences and don’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind.
4. You can make activities you love (like Eurogames) a regular part of your life.
3. You can play your music loud and sing your heart out.
2. You can look forward to visiting your kids in their own homes.
1. You can be ever so proud that you have launched some wonderful young adults into the world.

With my sister Becky at Torrey Pines in California
With my sister Becky at Torrey Pines in California
We finally toured the Civil War Barracks a block from my parents' house!
We finally toured the Civil War Barracks a block from my parents’ house!
Hanging out at English Country Dancing with my niece Arianna and sister Melanie
Hanging out at English Country Dancing with my niece Arianna and sister Melanie
A butterfly by my lake
A butterfly by my lake
My newest niece Zoe smiling at her Aunt Laura.
My newest niece Zoe smiling at her Aunt Laura.
My niece Alyssa is feeding her mama and me "busghetti"
My niece Alyssa is feeding her mama and me “busghetti”
Sunny and Jade (and their dog Pippi) are just so cute together!
Sunny and Jade (and their dog Pippi) are just so cute together!

Wishing you a blessed holiday season,

Sondy Eklund

Thankful for 2014

It’s Thanksgiving! Time to look back on my year and remember all I have to be thankful for!

And here’s my Christmas letter for my online friends:

First, here’s wishing you joyful holidays in every way!

Looking back, this was one of my happiest years in a long time. I’m still loving my home by the lake, still photographing the birds who live by it, and still enjoying being near my church.


I had three wonderful trips this year. First, my New Year’s trip to see my family in California. That included going with my high school friend Ruth to get my ears pierced. Better late than never!

Pierced Ears

When I got back home, I signed up for online dating! So far, I haven’t dated many different people, but I did make one very good friend, and because of him have enjoyed many Sunday afternoon games of Dominion with a whole new group of friends. All around, I think of it as a big win.

Tim got to spend the beginning of his summer studying in Prague. When he got back, he interned at my library in the Virginia Room. Then when he returned to William & Mary as a Junior, he was able to get a job in Special Collections at the campus library.

Josh and Tim

In August, we went to Oregon for the 75th annual Bates Family Reunion – begun the year my mother’s parents got married! It was good to see family I hadn’t seen in years – and also to see my older son Josh (still in Portland) and my parents and my five youngest siblings (the four youngest now live in Portland area as well) and my two toddler nieces, whom I fell completely in love with!


This was also the year I turned 50 – and in September, during the two weeks that all three of us were 50, my childhood friends Ruth and Darlene and I all got together and celebrated with a week of adventures.

Ruth and Dar

And for the rest? I’m still Youth Services Manager at the City of Fairfax Regional Library, still loving my job, and still writing book reviews in my spare time. I’m a judge again for the Cybils Awards. And be sure to google “prime factorization cardigan” (in quotes) to find out about my latest mathematical knitting!

Wishing you a blessed holiday season,

Sondy Eklund