Book Review: “Where the Woods Grow Wild” by Nate Philbrick

It doesn’t surprise me that Nate Philbrick is a fan of Lloyd Alexander. I noticed similarities to The Book of Three as soon as I started reading Where the Woods Grow Wild. But the pig keepers and runaway barnyard animals in Philbrick’s tale carried me into another forest for a new adventure I was glad to take.

Nate Philbrick’s YA fantasy novel is the story of Martin and Elodie’s adventure in the dark and fantastic wood that grows across the river from their village. A dangerous wood that most villagers keep at a safe distance. But a terrible accident draws Martin and Elodie closer to its borders until eventually, they find themselves lost in the dark, wild wood.

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Three reasons I loved this book.

First, the characters. There were so many fun and quirky characters that just made me smile. I love having what I call “gentle” reads to help me wind down at night, and even though there were some high energy scenes in this story, the characters made it warm enough to qualify for my night read category. Along with fun and quirky, the story also had some steady, mature characters who elevated the flow of the story with their wisdom.

Second, setting. Philbrick has a great ability to paint a scene, and with a book that takes place in such a fantastic world, it was especially fun to be drawn deep into the forest while the author’s pen hemmed me in with trees.

Third, and most important, themes. I loved how Philbrick’s story included a character with a physical handicap, and how he showed the character’s struggles to cope with the everyday hardships that came along with it. The story talked about supporting one another through suffering, overcoming trials, and honesty in relationships.

I highly suggest scooting over to his website to check out his novels, as well as his fantastic artwork (he designed the cover of his novel himself!). He’s also pretty fun to follow on Twitter.

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It’s Autumn Again

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Autumn is the seasonal gala, when nature adorns herself in a flash of warm color before falling asleep under a blanket of winter.

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Ellie and I were both asleep last Autumn. She was too young to see the sunset of falling leaves, and I was too ill to go outside and revel in my favorite season.

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We take walks most days. We see turkey and deer and chipmunks. She points and grunts behind her binkie.

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She loves to be outside, to unearth the acorns half-buried in the driveway. She grabs sticks with leaves attached and shakes them like a wand covered in ribbons and bells.

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I pick up leaves from the cool pavement and dewed grass. I show her the varied colors and shapes. I hand her newts and caterpillars.

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I’m not entirely accustomed to the rural feel of life out here, but I begin to see the draw when I’m standing beneath a canopy of mottled leaves, or marveling at the color and texture in one patch of moss.

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It’s breathtaking.

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all photographs © Rachel Svendsen 2018

A Quick Catch-up and the Coming Revamp

I know I’ve been absentee around here. It’s been super hard to get back into the flow of things while balancing life as a mother.

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She is 13 months old now, walking, and beyond precious. She loves books, and we spend a lot of our day together reading. She also loves to eat, play in the rain, and collect sticks while she’s running barefoot outside.

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I love her tremendously, and though I usually end my days physically and emotionally exhausted, I am so thankful to be watching her grow and learn and smile.

I’ve had little time to devote to writing, hence my lack of posts, but I’ve had plenty of time to keep up with my reading. I’m hoping to sit down in the coming weeks and whip out a bunch of book reviews.

Another thing I’ve been spending time on is planning a total revamp of my blog here. I’m looking for ways to make things more organized and professional.

I want to post more book reviews and possibly find some authors who are willing to let me interview them about their stories and the writing process. I think it would be so much fun to have more connections with other writers, especially since I’ve left school and feel cut off from the writing community. I have some people already in mind, and am really excited for anyone who is willing to join me in this.

So, hopefully, in January I will have everything around here all neat and tidy with a bunch of fun, new content to post.

Learning to balance my free time has been a challenge. I don’t want to miss out on her. My own childhood was so incredibly lonely, and I would hate to give her a similar experience. I do miss writing and blogging, but I know it will come back, it’s her childhood that I can’t put on hold. I won’t believe it was wrong to give her my full attention this past year. I want so badly to be the kind of Mother she needs. ❤

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I wanted to write a song for you…

I wanted to write a song for you
but you are a mystery I’ve watched from a distance
You are the first whispers of sunrise
with all its promise of warmth and constancy

I wanted to write a song for you
but when I closed my eyes I heard
the vow of forever gliding down wet smiling cheeks
the gentle thrum of entwined fingers and private smiles
two melodies tangled into fugue in the chill of winter
a fugue that built into bold unison on midsummer’s eve

I wanted to write a song for you
but you wrote your own
and the sound of it rivaled the splendor of sunrise

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Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Svendsen ❤

Book Review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

The more I read them, the more I love old myths and legends. They’re more than stories, more than magic and gods and the fantastic, they’re part of the history of a people group. They give insight into what mattered to a culture, what a people believed about themselves and life.

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My husband is half Norwegian. His father’s parents emigrated to the United States after their first child was born. They are all very proud of their heritage, which shows itself in recipes, jokes, and heirlooms and even a regularly repeated rumor of lineage to Odin. *wrinkles nose dubiously* So when one of my favorite authors announced that he was releasing a book of Norse Myths, I was extra excited to read it.

I often describe Neil Gaiman’s writing voice as beautiful to the point of dangerous. His tone is fluid, poetic, and enchanting. Once he begins to tell a story, I don’t want to stop listening, and if my 9 month old baby wasn’t trying to nibble the book every time it appeared, I would easily have finished this book in two days. In the end, it took me two weeks and the dust jacket, which frequently sacrificed itself as bate to her grabby, curious hands, barely escaped with its life.

The myths inside are not written as a bare timeline of incidents the way I remember Hamilton’s Mythology, (which, while informative, I will always refer to as “the cure for insomnia”). Norse Mythology read like a novel, each episode one step closer to the inevitable doomsday of the gods, Ragnarök. The cast of characters includes fiendish dwarves, clever giants, and many flawed, yet powerful gods. Gaiman tells each tale with his usual flourish and touch of humor. It was perfectly executed.

Basically this book is beautiful and everyone should read it.

Home Again, Home Again

They wheeled me down to pre-op around 4pm on Thursday. I was so nervous that my pulse jumped from 97 to 123 while they were taking my vitals. I cried quite a bit, and hated myself for it, especially since the tears were visible on my cheeks during transport. I was also trembling, because I tend to shiver after a panic attacks.

As soon as I was prepped, my surgeon came out to see me.

“What kind of music do you like?” he asked.

“Classical.”

“Like, classic rock?”

“No, orchestral. Though if I’m going to be asleep you should probably pick your poison.”

He squeezed my foot. “Oh don’t worry. As soon as you’re out we’re going to turn it to gangster rap.”

At 5:40 pm, I handed off my glasses, got a nice deep kiss from Tim, and they wheeled me away.

They’d already given me an IV push of what the anesthesiologist called “happy juice,” so my lights were dimming as they positioned me beneath the operating room floodlights.I could hear Brahms. Someone asked me about my baby.

I woke to chatter and intense pain in my upper right quadrant. I remember whining about my pain and asking for Tim. The nurse gave me a push of something, but the pain was still so bad I warned her I might vomit. She gave me a push of something for that, then sent for Tim.

I was in and out for a while. At some point, I became aware that I was babbling. I heard myself say…

“…then Fenris wolf is going to eat the sun and the moon. The sky will tear with children’s screams.” A message to “shut up” began to slog its way from my brain to my mouth. “The wolf eats Odin.”

“Yeah,” said Tim.

“They were so mean to him. And Thor kills the snake but the snake kills him too.”

“Is this a movie?” The nurse asked my husband.

“Ragnarök,” I mumbled.

“It’s a book she just read,” Tim said.

I blinked fast and sat up a little. “I’m awake.”

The nurse asked me my name, where I was, and what had just happened to me. I answered her, then felt myself falling back into Norse Mythology.

I rolled in and out for a bit until they transferred me back to my room. A few naps and embarrassingly long burps later, I was discharged. We pulled into the driveway close to midnight.

The surgery itself went incredibly well. On average, it takes an hour and half to perform, but mine was under an hour. I have minimal pain, except the pressure and fullness from the still dissipating CO2 they pumped into my abdomen to assist the surgery (hence the massive burps I mentioned in the paragraph above). The hardest things are that I need Tim’s help to sit or stand, and Ellie keeps begging me to pick her up, which I can’t do for the next two weeks. I spent most of yesterday resting in a recliner at Nana’s house, napping and watching cooking shows.

I’m thankful to be home, thankful it’s over, and very thankful to everyone who prayed for me. I carried every one of you with me when I went into to the operating room, and felt safer because I knew, whatever the outcome, I was swaddled with your prayers and cradled by Abba.

Thank you. I love you all. ❤

What’s Going Down and Coming Out

I’d been so careful about everything I ingested. Anal even. I checked the nutrition facts carefully so that no meal I consumed went over 6 grams of fat. My staples for months have been rice, beans, and boiled carrots. In a moment of madness I had the audacity to add lean ground turkey to my diet. Around 10pm Tuesday, my abdomen tightened, and every deep breath made me wince.

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Gallbladder attack.

The first ones I had postpartum were like contractions, waves of pain that had me literally writhing on the floor. This one wasn’t so bad, just enough to keep me awake. I can wait this out.

Two hours later, I started to wonder if I should be worried. Seven hours later, I dialed 911 for the first time. Shortly thereafter, I took my first ever ambulance ride!

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So many firsts.

The ER doctor told me he’d contacted the surgeon on call and they were going to start preoperative testing. Emergency surgery. Obviously not what I wanted, but more disconcerting than this was the name of the surgeon on call. A name that I’d gotten from a nurse who worked in his circles.

She’d called him a butcher.

Now, there are many words you can use to describe a surgeon whose work you’re not particularly fond of, but BUTCHER makes him sound like he rifles through his mildewed garage and chucks a few rusty pipe saw blades into his trunk before trundling off to surgery. As soon as I felt my attack subsiding, I hesitantly told a nurse that “someone I knew” had had a “bad experience” with him. I was stabilized, discharged, and told to follow up with my surgeon.

By the time we reached my in-laws house my attack had started up again. I called my surgeon. An hour later Timothy and I were back in the car headed to a different Emergency Room.

The new plan was to have me admitted through the ER and put onto the surgical add-on list. Sometime today I will be put into a medically induced coma while a team of strangers poke, probe, cut and sew me.

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Can you tell I’m nervous?

Gallbladder surgery is one of the most commonly performed medical procedures in the United States. My labs are showing no inflammation, and other than my thyroid issue, I have no medical history. I’m not at risk for complications. Still, I hugged my daughter a little tighter than usual, and want to stop the clock every time my husband kisses me.

Why am I so…

Some weird things I’ve learned through this process:

  1. My guilt complex is so tremendous that I spent much of yesterday apologizing. I even apologized for not being in active pain, as though nothing but agony could justify my presence at the hospital, or the concessions being made for me with the staff and facilities.
  2. I say, “this is the worst” a lot. My husband reminded me a few TITW’s in that this wasn’t ACTUALLY the worst. It’s true! It’s not the worst that I’m in an ambulance. It’s not the worst that I’m in the hospital or will be having unplanned surgery. The worst would more likely be, I dunno, finding my husband in the arms of his lover just as I was delivering the news of the imminent impact of forty-two nuclear warheads at various locations across the continent of North America…
    …or a head cold. Those are THE worst.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly, people look at you funny when you’re being transported on a hospital bed. They avert their eyes with shame for staring at you and your flimsy backless gown, presumably because they are glad they’re currently ambulatory. I could see the scrolling text behind their eyes, I wonder what’s wrong with her. They shuffle to the side with a little shrug that looks like they’re trying to tuck themselves into their own pockets. I hope it’s not contagious. Or cancer. Half glance in your direction. I wonder if she’ll ever leave this place…alive.

On a non-sarcastic note, can I just end this post with a reminder that my husband is the kindest, gentlest, and most selfless man who ever lived. He slept on the floor beside me in the hospital, despite my insistence that he go home and get some proper sleep. He is endlessly encouraging and seemingly excited at the prospect of waiting on me hand and foot for my week or two of recovery.

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I love him.