Sunday, July 16, 2017

My People
My people are scattered. Jonathan is in Canada for the whole month of July. He is WAY north. He’s working at a summer camp for the first time and is having a blast. He is in touch often, (thanks to unlimited international phone plans), he’s having all kinds of adventures and is managing to have a good attitude even though he sprained his ankle and has to wear a brace for a couple of weeks. He’s eating different food, which I haven’t gotten him to do in 18 years and he tells me that everything I’ve heard about the Canadians is true…”they are the nicest people I have ever met”.  He has gone on and on about the kindness of the people. I’m afraid my boy may move to Canada.

Lindsay is now in Uganda. She left a few days ago. We drove to Charlotte on Thursday, stayed with my parents, and she flew out around 7:30 am Friday. By herself. She is overwhelmed often by all the adulting she has to do but I am just plain proud of her. She met up with her team in Orlando then flew to Dubai. The pictures she sent from there were incredible! She spent the night in Dubai, had her own hotel room, which I thought was fabulous, and then made the final flight to Uganda. When she arrived she was greeted by Julius, the older of the two  Ugandan boys who stayed with us last year. I won’t hear from her quite as much in the next 12 days but I know she is in good hands.

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I got to see my brother while we were in Charlotte and I can’t tell you how much better he looked than the last time I saw him. He has put on about 35 much needed pounds and is eating like a champ. I am so relieved to see him progressing physically. There are other mountains before him but I’m thankful for every victory he can get.

Caleb is, well, hanging with us. Poor guy. He is plenty busy with work and hanging with his girl, Jenna, but she goes out of town in a few days. He will be house/pet sitting for her family. He just created a new youtube channel called Socially Inept People. I think he wants to just review movies and talk movie geek stuff. Feel free to check it out! We will  try to feed him good and watch all his favorite movies with him while it is just the three of us. And out of the three kids, he is the one most willing to just hang with us and watch stuff anyway. So, he’s good.

My Books
I’m still reading Emma for Austen in August. I’m a little frustrated because the whispersync feature is not working on this one. Normally, if I am listening to a book on my kindle, the whispersync feature holds my place and then when I crawl in bed at night and want to read with my eyes, my place is already marked and I can just pick up where the audio left off. But in this case, for some reason the audio and the book are not connected so not only do I have to make adjustments with where I am in the book, but the chapters are not even laid out the same. In the audio, the book is divided into parts, and chapters within the parts. And that’s how my physical copy of the book is. On my ebook though, it’s just continual chapters. So I might be in Chapter 8 of part two on the audio, then I have to do math and figure out what chapter that is in the ebook. Ugh. I’m calling Kindle support to see if that can be rectified. I don’t wanna do math.

I’m also reading Death and The Penguin by Ukranian author Andrey Kurkov, for book club. Not sure how I feel about it yet, but I know that for book club there’s going to be borscht. And I’m sure you’ll be seeing that here or on instagram.

My Food
I had some fabulous wings last weekend when Mike and I whisked Lindsay away for a quick beach weekend before she left the country. I’m not even a big wing eater, in general, but looking at Brian’s pictures of wings on instagram gave me an appetite for some and I mean to tell you, I hit the jackpot.  I’m finally getting my fill of tomatoes and basil this summer. Blueberries too. Gonna make another blueberry crisp today or tomorrow. (my third). I’ve made one quiche that was pretty average. It was the mushrooms. I waited too long to use them. I made pimento cheese a couple of weeks ago that also wasn’t my best.
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That’s it for now. I’ve had more down time this summer than I thought I would so I am trying to enjoy it to the fullest. Hope yours is going great too!

Thoughts on Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

It’s high time I talk a little more about books around here. But before I get to that, here is a quick update of life as I have known it for the past month or so.

My three kiddos graduated.
Lindsay received her Associates degree and is now looking to move forward with her Bachelors. We all thought she’d stop at this point. SHE thought she would stop at this point, but alas, she has decided to keep on trucking.
Jonathan and Caleb both graduated from high school. Jonathan was part of a Classical Conversations community. CC is a home school community that meets once a week, guided by tutors who cover all of their subjects in seminars throughout the day. The students do all of  their assignments at home and then come together weekly to read their papers, have debates, present projects and memory work and such. It is, as the name suggests, based on the classical method of education and is pretty rigorous. It was a perfect fit for him.
Caleb finished his last year of high school at the community college. He did very well and now has a year of college under his belt. Our long home school journey has now come to an end and even though for the last couple of years I have not actually been “teaching” them as much as I have been managing their education, I still feel like I just graduated too.

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If you read my previous post, then you are aware that my brother has had a very difficult time for the last nine months. He is still having a tough time in general, but he has been eating more frequently and adding more variety to his diet and he is at a much healthier weight. I still am in awe of the miracle that has occurred in his life. The ability to talk and to swallow food is such a gift for someone who has endured what he has endured. God has been good to him. He still has a ways to go but things are definitely improving for him physically.

On to the books:
I recently finished reading The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.
I’m pretty sure that later I am going to do a whole post on The Prince of Tides. I just have too many thoughts and feelings about it to keep it condensed right here. I listened to it on audible when I was on the go and read it while I was stationary. The audible narration was outstanding and there is even a moment before the narration begins that Pat Conroy speaks to the listener and goes on and on about how pleased he is with the audible and how he felt like the narrator just made his book into a new piece of art. (Or something like that.) He was right, Frank Muller was fantastic. Actually, I feel like I hit the jackpot with the last two audio books I “read“.  Tides and Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn was narrated by Elijah Wood and I just can’t say enough about it. If you’re on the fence about whether you like audios or not, listen to this Huck Finn. I was so incredibly entertained by it.

I also read Ordinary Grace for book club. This one started out with a Stand by Me sort of vibe. The book was pretty fast paced and the chapters were short, (a plus for me), but I really didn’t care much about it until about half way through. The author does a good job setting up the story, and there were two people I liked but really, I felt no attachment to any of it until a certain death occurs and then the rest of the novel is about the grief and pursuit of answers involved in that death. There is a mystery to it and I was uncertain of “who done it” until about 75% in and then after reading one scene I began to figure it out. There are rave reviews about this one on goodreads and  Mr. Krueger seems to be a well loved author. We had more discussion at book club than I anticipated. There are elements of story that are only touched on in the book that provided a great deal of thoughtful discussion. There was even one character, which wasn’t particularly likable, that I found myself relating to. Whoa. Overall it was a good book, with a few irritations for me as I’m never comfortable with abusing God’s name, but it’s often hard to find good literature that doesn’t.

A favorite passage:
Context: Frank, 13, wants Gus to dig a grave but Gus is in jail so Frank wants to spring him. The officer suggests another gravedigger…

“There’s something important Gus needs to do.”
“It’ll have to wait til Monday, son.”
“It can’t wait. He has to do it now.”

…….”Gus was digging __________’s grave. He didn’t finish it.”
“That’s important,” Officer Blake allowed. “Tell you what, boys, I’ll call Lloyd Arvin. He’s in charge of the cemetery. I’m sure he’ll get someone over there to finish the job.”
“I don’t want someone else, sir. I want Gus.”
………”Look boys, I can’t help you out here,” Officer Blake said. “I’m sorry.”
“But sir, this is really, really important.”
“So’s the law, son. I told you Lloyd Arvin’ll get someone else, and whoever that is will do a fine job, I’m sure.
“No, please,” it has to be Gus.”
Doyle put his coke down. “Why Gus?”
I wished that Doyle weren’t there and wished that I was older and bigger and could have finished the job Gus had started on him. I didn’t even want to acknowledge him let alone actually talk to him. But I was desperate.
I said, “Because he comes from a long line of gravediggers, and he won’t just dig a hole.”
“But son, that’s what a grave is,” Officer Blake said. “Just a hole.”
“No, sir, it’s not. When it’s done well, it’s a box carved into the earth that will hold something precious. I don’t want just anyone carving _______’s box.”

(I’m withholding the deceased’s name so as not to spoil if you decide to read it.)

I’m now on to reading and listening to Emma by Jane Austen for Austen in August. I’m also reading Forever with You by Robin Jones Gunn and a tea appreciation book by her as well. All kinds of girly reading for now.

Do drop in for a spot of tea and lively conversation, won’t you?

 

 

 

On Sorrow and Celebration

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but it has not been the right time. In fact, I don’t even have time now but I’m writing it anyway determined to piece it together in whatever snatches of time I can grasp. I want to write about my life over the past six months and my reaction to other lives that are close to me.

One day last October I was on the phone with my mother lamenting the aches and pains I was having from adjusting to a new job working with preschoolers. Ya’ll, that is hard work. They are mostly precious and it’s mostly fun, but it is hard on this 48 year old girl’s frame. When I finished all my jabbering, my mother proceeded to tell me that my brother, who is 19 months older than me, had been diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma on his tongue. You can look up the diagnosis. It’s bad. The prognosis isn’t fantastic either. I was stunned and alarmed but I didn’t know anything about the illness at that time.

Later that day, my family of five hopped in my car to travel to Raleigh to see Switchfoot in concert for my husband’s 50th birthday. I didn’t say anything about my brother’s cancer to my family because I wanted to talk privately with Mike first so I held on to the news and waited for a time to talk to Mike alone. It’s about a 45 minute drive to Raleigh and when we had been on the highway for about 20 minutes, at about 3 in the afternoon, a deer ran from the other side of the highway and collided with us, totaling my car. Thankfully, no one was injured; including anyone else on the highway, traveling at 70+ miles per hour.

A new season of life was opening before me and I have been feeling the weight of it ever since.

A team of doctors collaborated and Jamie’s surgery was scheduled for two weeks away. For those two weeks, while I worked my new job and my family traded turns with the remaining cars, I grieved. I knew that my brother had two weeks of the rest of his life to speak normally. I began to assemble a group of friends to pray. I know it sounds strange to some but I just couldn’t pray. I was in shock and full of sorrow and so tired and I just couldn’t do it but I knew that my friends and my church would fill that gap for me. And they did.  I was so very thankful. We planned an early Thanksgiving so we could all eat together and arrived at the hospital the next morning at 5 am.

The plan was to remove the majority of his tongue, hoping to retain as much as they could, and replace it with a prosthetic tongue created from tissue in his thigh. This replacement tongue is called a flap. The risks of surgery were many including the possibility that he may never speak again or eat again. Even with a successful surgery we knew that a major, devastating life change was ahead for him.

My brother, machine that he is, came through 11 hours of surgery with flying colors. There were other procedures and incisions that were included in the entire process and he had not one single complication. The next day he was breathing on his own and within two weeks his trach was out.

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Me and Jamie, the night before his surgery.

I called my parents one day to ask my dad about how to get a smell out of my new to me car and in the background Jamie, who used to detail cars for a living, starts telling me what to do.
“Wait,” I say to my mother, who was also on the phone, “He’s talking??? When did he start talking???” She says, “Honey, he’s been talking for two days.”
I was absolutely giddy with thankfulness.

Then the 11 weeks of radiation began and the pain and depression set in. It’s been a pretty low ordeal ever since. Weight loss and low blood pressure and weakness became the norm for a few months until he finally needed a hospital stay. That hospital visit turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For it was then, 6 months after surgery, that he finally began to take in some pureed food through his mouth. Until then, it was strictly tube feeding. This was a game-changer in his disposition.

He has a long road ahead of him but his resiliency is incredible. I wish that I could change things for him. I wish I had all the money to meet his needs and the ability to ease his burden. I wish I could plan out every hour of his day and insure his healthy decision-making behavior but we all know life’s not like that.

And even when things are crumbling around us, life still goes on.

I remember one morning at breakfast, just talking to my husband and eating a bowl of Raisin Bran. I was exhausted and I just started crying, realizing that my boys were going to graduate from high school in just a few short months.  The excitement, joy, stress, busyness and expense of ALL THAT has been ever before me.  I have been determined to enjoy it regardless of what else is going on though because I am not going to get these days back.

At this writing, two of my three have had their graduations. Lindsay earned her Associates Degree on May 12 and Jonathan graduated from his Classical Conversations group on May 20. There is one graduation ceremony left where Caleb and Jonathan will both graduate with our local home school group. We will laugh and cry and celebrate like we should. If you follow me on instagram or facebook, you’ll be seeing all the pictures. You may or may not see my brother, depending on what his life is like on those days. He wants to come. He is so proud of my life and my family and I want him to come if he can. I want him to have joy filled days and things to look forward to in life as he walks in his new normal.

It has been a strange combination these past months walking in sorrow and pain and joy and celebration. Some days I do it well, some days I don’t. But it’s a balance I guess we all have to learn at some point in life. I have been graciously spared a lot of grief in my life and that makes me a little nervous about the days to come but I know that all my days were written in His book before one of them came to be. I’m in good hands. Psalm 139:16

Sunday Salon – Christmas Edition

Wow! I’m looking at the date of my last blog post, and it has been three and a half months. I’m hoping I remember how to do this.

I have been reading….some. I just finished my goodreads goal of 30 books this year. I thought that was shooting low and that I would actually read more than that but it turns out it was a Christmas miracle that I completed that many. (And two of them were story books.)

A lot has happened lately and I really want to talk about it here, I do. And I may soon but I think today, instead, I’ll share an article that is so much better than what I have to say. It’s about six years old and it’s just what I need to hear in the midst of all the merry making and stress during this most wonderful time of the year. Maybe it’s just what you need to hear too.

(Full disclosure: I don’t hate Christmas, I love it, but it still kicks my butt every year and fills my stress level to the max. I just yelled at my husband and almost lost my ever loving mind because my chocolate didn’t melt right for my peanut butter balls….so…..yeah…stress.)

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Christmas Is for Those Who Hate It Most

December 15, 2010

We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ehem—problems with this season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It’s been a story very hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want “home” but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray. Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.

 

 

September Mourn (vol.2)

I’m feeling melancholy these days. It’s not my normal personality but like anyone, I am not immune to it. The world’s not ending, but my summer is and other things are changing too.

1.) Fall was my favorite season for many years. I loved the weather, the decorations, the football games and back to school. I LOVED going to school. Not for the virtuous reason of loving to learn, but because that’s where my people were. But for the last several years summer has become my favorite time of year. It is the only time that my heart and mind are fully at rest. Being a homeschool parent to high school kids has changed the fall from being a time of excitement and anticipation to a time of fear and stress. (I am not speaking for other homeschoolers here, the majority that I know are nailing it with all kinds of peace of mind and success.) I am aware of my boys’ work load at all times and feel a level of pressure for them to succeed that is probably more than I should feel. But the summer time? The summer is the beach, being invited to the pool with friends, time to do lots of experimental cooking, wearing lighter, shorter clothes, cookouts, long days and NOT having to worry about if someone got their paper done or how well it is done.

2.) My kitty Gandalf is gone. Last Saturday, one week after we celebrated his first birthday, he just disappeared. He has always been indoor/outdoor and I let him out when he pleases. He always sticks around, he’s neutered, and happily comes back in to eat. I let him out last week at about 4 in the afternoon, (a little earlier than his routine time of around supper time), and I never saw him again. I am heartbroken about this. I miss him terribly. He could be out catting around, he could have been picked up by someone, he could be trapped, hurt or worse. I have no idea. I just miss having him around. All my neighbors are on the look-out, I’ve posted signs, checked with vets and with the animal shelter. I’ve prayed. I don’t know what else to do but just wait and hope that he shows back up. And if he does, he will have sown his wild oats for the first and last time as he will be inside forever.

3.) I’ve got to get a job. It’s just that time. College is coming up for my guys and our college fund is the “Darlene Goes Back to Work” fund. I’ve done several short-term jobs here and there to make a little extra cash, mainly for me to play with, and I have a couple of child care jobs that have been very helpful with school expenses, but the financial needs are expanding. We have more drivers in the house than we have cars and this has put us in scheduling straights. We are going through tons of gas. I really don’t hate the idea of working but the thought of being gone full time when I still have one kid in his senior year whom I am pretty involved with school-wise makes me a little sad. We are in the homestretch with the kids’ education and I want to finish strong. I NEED to be able to balance that with working and that is intimidating to me. But I am encouraged. I have seen many homeschool moms do it.

So, this song,  September Morn, is one I think about every year when this month rolls around. The music captures my mood perfectly, even though lyrically it doesn’t fit. It’s also nostalgic because it reminds me of my younger years when it was playing at the skating rink on a Saturday night and I was hoping to couple skate with Martin or Daniel. (hee hee)

To everything there is a season…Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

With all the enthusiasm welcoming the fall, anyone else sorry to see summer go? 

September Mourn vol.1.

Sophie’s Choice

Ok, I’m doing this “review” because Bryan from Still Unfinished encouraged me to take my thoughts to the blog. I had mentioned to him that I had finished Sophie’s Choice and I was conflicted because I wanted so much to distance myself from it when it was over but I also felt so compelled to talk about it. I guess that’s why I have a blog in the first place. So, here we go…

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Sophie’s Choice by William Styron – Published 1979 – National Book Award 1980.
This was a tough one. Really. I’m feeling a bit wounded from it. That’s not to say it’s not a compelling story from a gifted writer, but it’s painful, and obscene. And I don’t feel one bit hyperbolistic, (is that a word?), about calling it obscene because even someone who played one of the characters in the movie described part of the book as obscene. Now in general, I’m a somewhat conservative person, so you shouldn’t be surprised by my opinion, but when someone in Hollywood says something is obscene, then you can probably bank on it.

It wasn’t all bad, especially not in terms of the story. That is the part, after all, that kept me hanging on. (That, and my determination to read something that is considered to be great literature even if it holds me hostage in my non-comfort zone, because I want so much to see the beauty of the whole piece of work at the end.) I know, it’s sad. I wish I could just read for pleasure….but the story, as depressing as it is, is worth telling and knowing and sharing.

Sophie’s Choice takes place post WWll, in Brooklyn, NY. Stingo, an aspiring novelist, takes up at a boarding house where he meets Sophie, a polish immigrant, fresh out of Auschwitz, and her Jewish lover, Nathan. You would think that “Jewish” would not need to be specified here but trust me, nationality and race and origin all mean a lot in this tale. The three of them become the best of friends living it up in the summer of 1940-something until the past and the current state of someone’s mental health unravels them all. It’s intense ya’ll. I had to stop in the middle of it, and put it down for a few months because I just couldn’t…

Anyway, I learned a couple of things from Sophie’s Choice and I’ll tell you about them, as long as you don’t make me feel stupid because you already knew them.

1.) I did not know that back in the 40’s era, that Polish people, in general, were anti-semitic. I guess I should have. One can’t assume that all the hatred in the world for Jewish people originated with Hitler. But he gets the “fame” for it since he had no problem assassinating 6 million of them. But there were others that hated them too, apparently, and the Poles were some of them. (I know, there are always exceptions, but I’m speaking in general.) In Sophie’s Choice, there are Jewish sympathizers in Poland, as well as Nazi sympathizers.

2.) I DID know that Hitler desired to have a pure Ayran race, but I did NOT know that he actually implemented a program by which he was BREEDING this race!! Where he would take little blonde haired, blue eyed children and join them with Nazi people, and…I just can’t even finish that sentence. There was a name for it, the Lebensborn program. You can look it up. {{shudder}}

As uncomfortable as the book is, I do think it tells an important story. And I did learn some truth from this fictional account. It’s literary, it’s historic, it’s emotional, sad and yes, it’s abusive and obscene. And truthfully, after watching an interview with the author online, I can see why it was like it was, especially in terms of some of the sexual content. SOME. But some was just downright not necessary and frankly, made me feel sorry for men, for what goes through their minds. (Sorry guys). And I know, I’ve been told by a male friend, you guys don’t think it’s so bad. Believe me, I’ve got two 18 year old boys in this house, I’m not naive to what their brains are capable of. I speak frankly on this subject with them, whether they like it or not.

Sophie’s Choice has been on my radar for a long time. I remember my 11th grade US History teacher, Mr. Weart, talking to us about the movie in class one day. (circa 1985). I can’t remember the details of what he said but I apparently remember enough for it to stick with me that long and cause me to want to read it. When I first got my Kindle about five years ago, I downloaded the book for next to nothing.  I am glad I finally read it, but I’m also glad to be done with it.

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I’ve also read Darkness Visible by William Styron. This is a memoir that recounts the time when he was in a deep, deep mental depression. I was encouraged reading that one because at the time, someone very close to me was also depressed, and I was hopeful that she would recover because he tells the story of how he did.

So, it’s typical of me to read things that made their impact years ago. Have any of you readers ever read or watched Sophie’s Choice? What did you think? I’ve watched scenes on Youtube and Meryl Streep is, of course, phenomenal. I think she got an Oscar for her role. Duh.

 

Beach Reading Survey 2016

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It’s that time of year again! The time when I grab my beach towel, hat, sunglasses and chair and I plop myself right in the sand, close to the water’s edge. I take a look up and down the beach and I wonder…what’s everybody reading? And THEN, I do the thing my family has come to expect from me. I get up, start walking and start talking to the people who are reading about what they are reading. It’s become one of my favorite things to do on our beach vacation.

This is the third year of conducting my survey. The results of the first one were reported on my facebook page with no pictures. Last year I talked to a lot more people and you can read that post and see those photos here.

So without further ado, here is what the people were reading last week at North Myrtle Beach, SC.

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This may be my favorite. I call her the Gangsta Reader.

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This adorable couple was from West Virginia. Their one month old baby girl was sleeping back in the room. Mom’s not reading here but told me she is a big Emily Giffin fan.

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The beach was covered in readers this year and I’d like to thank them for being super cool and allowing me to post their photo on the world wide web. See ya next summer!!