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Posts Tagged ‘Magic Dog Press’


patcoopshenickSo, things have gotten a little bit busy at our house. Several months ago a young man (we’ll call him Boy 2) came to stay with us for a bit. It turned out to be a happy arrangement so we formalized things–he has a room. The Boy has something he’s always wanted–a brother. I also have something I’ve always wanted–a second son. The two big boys take care of the house and laundry. We all share the cooking. The boys hang out and play video games when The Boy isn’t frantically studying to finish off his college classes (he’s finishing his AS and will be within two quarters of his BS at the end of this term). All three of us are big chatters, and love to take our journals to the coffee shop, sit, drink coffee-like beverages, and write. It’s very good.

So that’s been several months now. Then in December we grew again. This particular growth spurt was a long time coming. To really understand this we have to go way, way back to when I was in junior high, so a long, long time ago. One of my oldest sisters’ friends had a couple kids–a toddler and a four-month-old. What with one thing and another, the little ones spent a lot of time at our house. We watched them grow up. We did our best, but sometimes we let them down. And then we lost contact. I always felt bad about that.

Fast forward almost forty years, and that four-month-old baby had turned into a man, and that man called me one day. He wanted to introduce his fiance to me. They came up. We had coffee. I had a chance to apologize for my part in the “letting them down” end of things. Brent (we’ll call him that because that’s not his name) brushed my apology off. I still felt bad, but he was so very gracious about it. It was nice. It was healing. It was re-establishing an old, old connection that had meant a lot to me.

Fast forward to about five years ago. I reconnected with a friend of mine. She has a son who, what with one thing and another, didn’t have many friends his own age. The Boy and I decided that we could help with that. My friend’s son started coming over. We made it a point to invite some of The Boy’s friends (who are good, kind, and inclusive people) over. For five years now, our living room has been filling up with boys-now-young-men, playing games, shouting, and laughing. My part is buying pizza or making chili and fresh bread and cinnamon rolls. My friend’s son has friends his own age now.

Fast forward again to last December. I got another call. Brent now had a toddler and a tiny baby of his own, and he and his wife really wanted to go out for New Year’s Eve. And so we came full circle. He and his wife showed up at my door with their two little ones, a couple diaper bags, and a list of instructions. And then they left for the evening, leaving their children with us.

I was awed and terrified that they were entrusting their children to us (after all, we had let Brent down when he was little). Also, I was terrified because, hey, high-energy toddler and newborn baby. Let’s just say that those lovable little guys put us through our paces. The Big Little Boy loved the Big Boys and they loved him. They played video games, and catch, and all sorts of toddler-delighting games. They fed him. They got him ready for bed. Then all three of them slept in the living room (big boys on the couches, big little boy curled up on our enormous plush bean bag chair).

While this wild and rowdy lovefest was going on in the living room, the baby and I were trying to figure things out. It turned out that his mom had been breast-feeding him (Yay, Mom!), something I am no longer equipped for. We struggled with the bottle. I struggled with the finer points of diapering. Eventually we all went to bed, at which time I discovered that that tiny baby had apparently been warehousing pee since birth. That little guy peed through eight blankets that night. And then, in the morning, as I was exhaustedly giving him his breakfast bottle, he suddenly opened his eyes and looked at me. I looked at him. He drank his bottle. And I remembered what it was that I loved about being a mom–it’s that silent, loving, curious, powerful bond.

His parents slept in, picked up the little boys, and drove home. I changed my bed (that little guy could really pee), and then all three of us big people went to bed and slept all afternoon.

A couple weeks ago the little guys came for another visit. If our first visit had a steep learning curve, it all paid off. The Big Little Guy and the Big Boys knew the moves. That little high-energy toddler was a lot more comfortable. More listening happened. The Boy pretty much managed things–he kept the Big Little Guy entertained and fed. By 7:30 the Big Little Boy was asleep.

The baby and I got along great. I remembered how to put a diaper on. The baby had switched from boob to bottle. He’d graduated to sleeping in four-hour shifts, starting at about 6:30pm. He’s a peaceful baby, so when he woke up I could give him a bottle, burp and change him and tuck him back in before he ever really woke up. I had the moves back. The baby appreciated that–he smiled, laughed and kicked when morning came. When Brent and his wife showed up this time they brought a spare bag of diapers. That’s a good sign.

Our little house is full, sometimes bulging. It’s a happy house, a house where people can put their feet up, where we can find room for everybody. When The Boy was little he worried a lot that, since we didn’t have a dad in the house, we weren’t a real family. He doesn’t worry about that anymore. Our family–the family we’ve built, is as real as it gets.

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Stardew-Valley

Okay. So. Several months ago I bought a farm in Stardew Valley. I moved in at the urging of The Boy, who had been farming successfully there for quite some time and had heard of a multi-player upgrade coming soon. He lured me in with intimations that it might be a game we could actually play together without me going into a snit at losing badly, or a slightly different snit at being lifted up, carried around, and thrown at whatever element I needed to manipulate with a stern injunction: “Push that!” “Pull that!” “Throw me up there!” “Mo-o-o-m….” (I’m looking at you, Tak and the Legend of Juju.)

When I arrived in Stardew Valley I found that I had a fixer-upper house (one room, a bed, an ugly stove, an ugly chair, an ugly table), and that was pretty much it except for a few tools: a hoe, a pickaxe, a watering can, and an ax. Everything was small and dull. Still, though, it was The Boy asking, and there were no enormous monsters waiting to kill me or dudes in bizarre armor shooting at me with space-age weapons, or hacking at me with medieval swords. So that was good.

I hoed a little garden, bought a few seeds…and fainted right in my freshly tilled soil before I could plant anything. It turns out I was a weak, delicate little farmer who needed afternoon naps by 2 pm, Stardew Valley time. Still, though, I persevered. When I woke up I finished planting my garden, watered it, and went to bed, even though it was only 10 am and I still had a little life left. No sense in pushing things.

Things got better, of course. My little farmer developed muscles and endurance (can you say calves like cantaloupes?), and soon could stay out working until 2am, which in Stardew Valley is Curfew. If you’re not home and in bed, you simply faint where you are, and people from the Big Box store go around and pick you up, take you home, tuck you in bed, and then dip into your savings account to pay for this unrequested service–it’s sort of like the phone company.

townhall

This is the Town Hall. I had to catch, grow, and steal all sorts of stuff to repair it. The aquarium required me to beg the boy sweetly to catch me many, many fish. I suck at Stardew Valley fishing everywhere except the Ancient Forest pond, where I can reliably catch carp.

My little farmer got her feet under her, built a chicken coop and a barn, and remodeled her house. Then things started to get complicated. It turned out she was supposed to do more than just cultivate, fertilize, plant crops, and then harvest the crops successfully; remodel the community center in town; toil in the mines for gold, coal, jewels, stone, bug guts, and bat wings; try to learn to fish; and tend to an ever-increasing pool of livestock.

cowsSpeaking of which, Stardew Valley livestock all has to be named. After running through all my friends’ names and The Boy’s friends’ names I did the smart thing and simply let the game or The Boy name my animals. So Zack, Zach, and Zach P., Dakota, Jakob, Adam, Woosers, Fija, and Meris live in the chicken/duck coop with Voldimort; and Sally Ann, Bessie, and Ferni live in the barn with Emma, Jeremy, and the King of Rock. All animals are female and apparently parthenogenic in Stardew Valley, since births happen as long as the animals are fed, happy, and there’s barn space. But I digress.

So what with all that my days in Stardew Valley were busy, busy, busy. I fell into bed at 1:50am each morning and slept dreamlessly–at least that’s what I think the black screen meant. Sometimes I had prophetic visions in the black screen, and occasionally my dead grandfather, to whom there is a shrine in the corner behind the greenhouse showed up, but mostly it was just lights out.  And then one morning I got mail. There was a town event! I was invited! There were games! I went to the event, and did very much what I do in real life: I walked around, talked briefly to random people, and tried to figure out how soon I could go home and get back to farming–I had just figured out how to make cheese and was elated at what it was doing for my Stardew Valley bank account.

barn

This is my barn. Note all the goats and the cows. (The brown cow is The King of Rock. I can’t tell the others apart). Note also all the cheese. This is one of the reasons I’ve been making a lot of pizza lately; it’s all I can do with all that cheese. Pro tip: Goat cheese (the square ones) does not make pizza; only cow cheese (the triangular ones) do that.

I discovered that if I talked to the mayor he’d start the Participation part of the festival. I talked. I played, turning in a pretty lackluster performance, again, much like real life. And I discovered myself dumped back on my doorstep, in the dark, with a terse little note informing me that the festival was over, back to work for me. Stardew Valley folks definitely aren’t much for nightlife.

Then things took a definite turn. I got another letter, informing me that I had to “make friends” with everyone in the valley. To do this I had to seek them out every day, speak to them (chest-bumping them usually provoked these conversations), and, wait for it, I had to give them gifts.

What gifts? I wondered? All I had were seashells, jewels, and vegetables. The boy informed me that he’d put in some wine bottles and had won people over by getting them likkered up. That, in fact, was how he had courted and won his bride. He got her drunk and then proposed.

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Gus the Barkeep. Gus has no romance in his soul. All he thinks about is his bar profits.

As a Romantically Challenged Person, I felt my heart sink a bit at the idea that I was supposed to successfully court someone. I decided to hedge my bets. I picked four characters that seemed to be as romantically challenged as I was: Gus the barkeep, Clint the blacksmith, Leroy the homeless guy (his name wasn’t really Leroy, but he looked like our House Leroy, who had been homeless when he came to stay with us, so the homeless dude in Stardew Valley’s name had to be changed for the purposes of my game), and Fabio, a young writer with long flowing locks who lived in a shack on the beach (Fabio wasn’t his name, either, but I got started calling him that and the name stuck). None of these men were ideal perhaps, but they all seemed like they might be desperate enough to accept the overtures of a nice, hardworking, farmer/miner/fisher lady without too much fuss.

 

And so it began. I put in wine barrels of my own, but quickly discovered that I couldn’t both keep my romantic prospects likkered up and keep my bottom line happy, so I began to experiment with other gifts: diamonds, emeralds, bat wings, horse radishes, and bug guts from the mine (they didn’t care much for the bat wings, horse radishes, or bug guts, and let me know it), random fruits and vegetables from my garden, and occasionally berries, fossils, and mushrooms that I’d scavenged. I tried a stone and a piece of lumber once. My Stardew Valley Romantic Prospects just about gave up on me altogether at that point. Clearly, if I wanted to find True Love, I was going to have to make some financial sacrifices. I gave up on Gus the barkeep about halfway through our romance because every time I chest-bumped him he would only tell me I should come to his bar and have a drink. I soon learned that of all my other prospects, Leroy was the easiest to please. He was tickled pink with just about everything except the bug guts and the rock–even he questioned those.

leroy

Leroy in my game. Something else in yours. Doesn’t he look like somebody who would be attracted by a nice, strong farmer with frequent, healthy crops?

I watched the progress of my romances closely, giving gifts and then quickly clicking into my “love” menu to see if my prospects were developing Feelings for me. They were! Leroy the homeless guy, Fabio from the beach, and Clint the blacksmith all were liking me better and better. On the day my “love” meters for all three had been filled up I had a surprise visit from the grocer, who told me that he had stocked bouquets. I was to buy a bouquet and present it to the person with whom I wished to move from friendship to courtship.

Because my IRL courting skills are non-existent, I decided to hedge my bets again. I went to the store and purchased not one but three bouquets. And then I took my heart in my hand and trotted first up to Leroy’s tent, just outside the mines. After all, Leroy had lived with us IRL for eight years–I had hopes that his little Stardew Valley lookalike might feel a little residual affection. Also, he’d been dropping hints about how people misunderstood him for going through their trash, and living in a tent. Since this was Dating all bets were off, but I honestly thought if I had a chance with any of them, the homeless guy would probably be the hungriest, and I had that great garden…

So I ran up to Leroy, grabbed a bouquet of flowers out of my pack, and chest-bumped him. He looked at my flowers, stepped back, said “I don’t want those,” coldly, then turned and went into his tent. I was stunned. I had just been rejected by a dude who lived in a tent and dumpster-dived for his dinners. And this is where things got really, really strange. I ran back to my farm and buried myself in my work, which is pretty much how I respond to such situations IRL. But then the next Stardew Valley day I had finished my chores and, when I would normally go to the mine to stock up on copper and bug guts, discovered that I was too embarrassed go to that corner of the game. That was where Leroy lived, and he had spurned me.

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Fabio to me. Elliot to you. Do not be lured in by the long flowing locks. He spends all his time slouching by the refrigerator or hanging out in his old beach shack. He doesn’t help with the farming except on rare occasions, when he feeds the cows. And then he wants a whole song and dance about how he was so wonderful to do that. Nor does he help with the children. I’m hoping for a divorce court in the next upgrade.

Because I’m not completely gaga I knew this was stupid, so I dropped a bouquet on Clint the blacksmith, who also rejected me, and immediately informed me that he was pining for some blue-haired chick who didn’t even know he was alive. He clearly had no sense of irony. That left Fabio, with his flowing locks and his writerlyness. I chest-bumped him shyly handed him a bouquet. And he accepted! He invited me on a romantic row around the harbor! He began to praise my beautiful farm (I had no illusions about this–as a writer who lived in a beach shack the lure of regular meals was a big part of my charm for him), and even started asking me leading questions about Forever. Fortunately I didn’t need to answer, because I’ve never been good at those kinds of conversations.

And then one night a Mysterious Stranger showed up on the beach and gave me a pendant, which he instructed me should be used like an Engagement Ring IRL. Since my choices had narrowed to one (my other Romantic Options still lived at home with their parents, or in one case, his grandparents), I took a chance and planted the pendant on Fabio, who was riding high because he’d just published his first book (I missed the signing at the library because I forgot and went to the mine and dug coal instead).

And so it was that Fabio and I were married. I think it was a mistake. These days, Fabio occasionally says something lovely to me, but mostly he just slouches in front of the refrigerator, or goes back to his shack on the beach, where he says he “writes,” but since that first book he published before our wedding I’ve seen no evidence of it. Certainly no royalties are showing up in our bank account. When he occasionally helps on the farm he always makes a huge deal out of it, and all he does is feed the animals, who are all on self-feeders, anyway. So, all is not good there.

However, we now have two children, so things are complicated. I suspect my oldest child is “challenged.” When he was a baby he mostly just sat on the floor and rocked. When he got a bit older I’d sometimes discover him outside of the house, running around on the black space above the roof. Once he ran through the wall of the study and disappeared off-screen, doing god knows what. He seems to love me according to the “love” screen, but other than throwing a heart my way the first time he sees me in the morning, there’s nothing. Fabio says he once heard him say “dada,” but I have my doubts. Also, when my son appears on The Boy’s screen he has changed ethnicity. On my screen my child is swarthy, with dark, curly hair, much like me. On The Boy’s screen he’s pasty white with wild red hair. I have no idea what’s up with that.

My second child–a girl (The Boy named her Patrick Senior because he “thought it would be funny” even though my Stardew Valley son is already is already Patrick, as is one of my hens) also does not speak. She doesn’t even walk reliably, even though she’s now seven years old. Unfortunately there are no child therapists in Stardew Valley, and Fabio, who is buried in his busy schedule of slouching by the refrigerator and hanging in his beach shack, is no help at all.

So I did the best thing I could do–I built myself a she-shed down by the fishpond. It’s beautiful (Fabio keeps redecorating our house, and his taste sucks). It’s peaceful. I considered moving down there to get some more Fabio-free space in my kitchen, but then I thought, “The children! I can’t leave the children!” Also, I don’t seem to be able to renovate my she-shed into a babe-barn or portly-palace.

Meanwhile, things with Fabio are deteriorating. When The Boy works on my farm he sometimes gets caught short by 2am, and I return home to discover he’s already in bed with Fabio. I do what I must–I push into bed, too, before I faint on the floor. Fabio is very forbearing; still, though what kind of a husband accepts that without a word? There’s something wrong. I know it.

So far, though, divorce hasn’t come to Stardew Valley, though The Boy’s example has taught me that I, too, can climb into other people’s beds for the night if 2am comes too far from home, and I know them well enough to have been granted access to their bedrooms. So I’ve been sleeping around, but I still go home every morning to greet the children and push Fabio away from the refrigerator long enough to make pizza, which is what my crops are up to these days.

Anyhow, that’s Stardew Valley. I have no idea how it’s going to come out. I just doubled the size of my winery (cool), and have been trying to make friends with the wizard because I need his help to bomb a mine tunnel. I don’t know what’s down the tunnel, but it’s blocked, and I must bomb it. Also, I’m trying to figure out how to win the friendship of the bouncer out at the desert bar, which is behind a store where I buy all my star fruit seeds. So far I’ve only gotten a cool ‘hi’ from him. Maybe I’ll try getting him likkered up and giving him a bouquet…

 

 

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wiseasserpentsAnybody who visits my Facebook page knows that I tend to lean toward progressive ideals. For those who ask me why (as opposed to those who just tell me I’m unrealistic and walk away), here’s the reason: I tend to lean progressive because, as Stephen Colbert once put it, “…reality has a well-known liberal bias.

For a long time I subscribed to the easy, common canard that “all politicians are dirty,” and that “you can’t get into high office without having made too many compromises to be able to do anything good.” I couched my apathy as a principled stand. Really it was laziness. It took 9/11 to shock me out of that.

Like everybody, I was terrified. But as the days went on I started listening to what people were saying–the anger, the hatred, the racism, and the religious bigotry being expressed in the name of patriotism. And inside me, something woke up. “This is as dangerous as those hijacked planes,” it said. I watched liberties being eroded in the name of national security. I watched politicians posturing about protecting America when what they were actually advocating seemed to be something that would not keep us safer. And that little part of me got a shot of espresso and started yelling.

And then came the 2008 election, and everybody was talking about “narratives.” Which candidate had the better story? John McCain was a war hero and a prisoner of war who had undergone torture for principles he held dear. Sarah Palin was a no-nonsense soccer mom/governer from a part of America that seems remote and unknowable to many of us. She had a special needs son. She had “stood up to Big Oil.” There was talk of her knowing how to shoot and field dress a deer. There was Joe Biden, who had lost his young family years before, who came from a working-class family, and who was prone to speaking his mind at inconvenient moments. And then there was Barack Obama.

Suddenly stories were everywhere. He was born in Hawaii. He was born in Kenya. He was a Muslim. He went to a Christian church. He was a secret addict. He disrespected the flag. He was talking not about the ugliness of politics, but about hope, and about how, if we all worked together, we could change the things that plagued us.

I don’t remember how I first happened across his campaign website. What I do remember is seeing the “fact-checker” tab. I clicked, and a scan of a Hawaiian birth certificate opened up. I think that was the moment I first considered registering to vote. I had found a candidate who not only trusted me with a narrative as his team presented them, but with the documents from which I could write his narrative for myself.

Of course, I realized that a “fact-checker” associated with a campaign website was far from an unbiased source–if nothing else, “facts” obtained that way needed to be verified. So I started digging, and I discovered a whole world of information-verification sites. The ones I returned to time and again were the sites that not only discussed facts and “proved” or “disproved” them, but the sites that showed their work–the ones that linked back to original documents and clips. I started clicking. And clicking. And clicking.

I started listening to political events, news, and commentary with my critic’s ear. I learned to evaluate what I was hearing based on the information I had gleaned. What I found was that, while all politicians occasionally gave out false information, some tended to hew far more closely to facts than others. I could look at the source documents, discover the truth. I could even chart it if I wanted.  It was–and is–possible to distinguish fact from spin.

I ended up voting not for a party, but for the candidate who had changed the way I saw politics–who had challenged me to not just dismiss the whole process, but to do the hard, important work of digging for facts. I voted for him because through following his campaign I had become a better, more informed person.

What I learned in that election was discernment–the skill of listening with an open mind, then seeking out information from a wide variety of sources–and then evaluating that information based on original information. I listened. I researched. And then I wrote my own narrative. I became a more discerning, active citizen. I also became someone with whom many in my family felt acutely uncomfortable.

For reasons that will be obvious to anyone who knows us, Sarah Palin’s “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “commonsense,” rhetoric was very attractive to many of them. “She’s the real deal,” one sister told me excitedly. I had just finished reading a piece about the time she had spent in Wasilla city government. The piece raised some serious questions about her qualifications for me. “Are you sure?” I asked. My sister was sure. Gun-toting, smart-mouth, “my common sense is as good as your education,” boot-strapping Sarah Palin was “the real deal.”

And then came the interviews, and the news stories, and the revelation that no matter how “real” Ms. Palin might be, and how no matter how good she might be at dog-whistle politics, she was woefully unprepared to run a nation. Perhaps naively, I expected my family’s opinion about her to shift a bit. I was wrong.

And that was when I learned a new and terrifying thing–far too many people had adopted Sarah Palin’s attitude toward basing opinions on verifiable fact. Part of it, of course, was that Sarah Palin was very, very good at whipping up a crowd with a grievance–or who might, after listening to her for a bit, discover that they had a grievance. A whole new party sprang up–the Tea Party, who all too often regarded facts as not just unnecessary, but positively anti-American.

My family and I never really bounced back from that. The lure of believing that we all get what we deserve if we work hard enough for it was too powerful. For me, believing that was impossible not because I was somehow immune to the lure of that belief, but because I had bitten by the research bug. I simply could no longer take political spin at face value. There was simply too much evidence showing that the playing field in America was slanted in favor of the wealthy, white, and male–and had been for a very long time.

My family and I weren’t the only people who faced that conflict. Watching the Kavanaugh hearings and the GOP position on the impeachment provided proof, if any more was needed, that an entire political party seems to have decided that facts are indeed a liberal plot, and that the fewer of them we have to deal with the better off we will all be. Listening to President Trump declare himself “exonerated” when the Mueller report said no such thing was like Sarah Palin declaring herself “exonerated” when the investigation in Alaska regarding her improper use of influence resulted in no such finding.

Both Palin and Trump have had the distinction–if we can call it that–of being credited with Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” In the past eleven years (2009-2019), the honor has gone to the conservative, often-GOP end of the spectrum nine of eleven times, and to Donald Trump himself three times. We live in a world where demanding facts to back up assertions has come to be seen as a tool of the “liberal elite.” Being wrong about something–even disastrously wrong–has become irrelevant, if not an actual badge of honor. How did we get here? It’s not really hard to see.

There is a faction of America that, when faced with difficult questions, seeks not to dig for answers, but brushes those questions off with, “Well, I guess that’s just where faith comes in.” It’s a belief system that relies heavily on avoiding the responsibility of taking action by talking about “forgiving,” and “not judging,” and “turning the other cheek.”

Those are all real quotes. What’s missing from that philosophy, though, is a whole other set of quotes about the importance of discernment–the responsibility we have to do the hard work of equipping ourselves to make responsible, ethical, informed decisions. In the spirit of finding a starting point, I googled, “What does the Bible say about discernment?” and went to the open-source online Bible for a list of quotes.  Full disclosure here–I don’t believe that reading the Bible literally is always a great guide to behavior, but many people do. If you do, I’m speaking your language here.

The sheer number of quotes is impressive, but this is just a starting point. If you believe in the Bible as a guide to right action, it might be interesting to search out these references as well as those from other indexing sources,  look at each situation’s historical and social contexts, and then devote a little time to examining how discernment factors into your own life.

A bit back I referenced verses about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and accepting things on faith. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of such things. I would only suggest that those things only really have value in the light of discernment. Forgiveness only has meaning if we understand that a wrong has been done. Accepting things on faith only has meaning if we have taken the time to use our big, beautiful brains to push the boundaries of our knowledge to their limits. Discernment means that we never, ever, use forgiveness and love and faith as a substitute for doing the hard, necessary work of seeking out good information from reputable sources–and that we require the people making decisions on our behalf to provide us with the facts and information we need to do that.

We can’t fool Mother Nature. Reality doesn’t care what you believe. The only real question for each of us is, “How can I write the truest narrative?” In the end, the truth is what sets us free.

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