Sooo Good

She sat in the back corner of the classroom, eyes focused toward the front of the room, ready to listen to what I was about to read.

I stood at the front. Excited to share my recently-finished novel. Nervous that she would be among that group of students who would be the first to experience it.

Amy knew good literature. Her mother, who had a master’s in literature education, read with the family frequently. She had been exposed to some of the greats. And I was an unknown author reading my first novel to a group of third and fourth graders.

As I looked up, my eyes naturally went to Amy’s corner of the room. I was reassured seeing her facial expressions match the emotion of the book–and even more reassured when I overheard her whisper to a classmate, “It’s sooo good!”

Then there was Wyndham. I don’t remember what his face looked like as I was reading. I wasn’t sure how much the boys would appreciate a book where two girls were the main characters. But what I do remember was that every time he saw me thereafter, he would stop me and, eyes wide with excitement, ask if I had published my book yet. My answer was no, but he never gave up. For years, he continued asking me the same question.

Sometimes I wonder if he believed in me more than I believed in myself.

It’s been nearly a decade now. I’ve had stops and starts. Periods of encouragement, and periods of discouragement. Book agents who expressed interest in my novel then politely declined to represent me. Years where I’ve put the books aside, and years where I dusted it off to try again.

And all this time, it has been these children’s reactions to my book that have kept bringing me back to my dream of getting it published.

“Is it just me?” I wonder when I see my e-book go for months without a sale. “Am I the only one who thinks this book is any good?”

And then I think about Amy and Wyndham and that classroom of students. That was who the book was written for. They thought it was good. Kids will love my book. I know it. I just need to find adults who can help me get the book into their hands.

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Who is Margo?

Today, I did a live reading of chapter 2 from Margo’s Fire.

As I read of  Margo and Alisha tossing skittles to the boys during lunch, I couldn’t help think about my best friend from sixth grade, Alphretta.

Alphretta, my double-jointed friend who could comfortably sit with her legs behind her neck, loved to laugh as much as I did. Lunch time was always an adventure with Alphretta. Sometimes she had tang powder, which we would place in the front part of our mouths then blow out like a puff of smoke. Sometimes, she would bring wafers, which we would tear apart and rebuild so they had double the cream in the middle. And sometimes she brought cheese puffs. Those were the funnest days of all, as the boys in our class loved to catch them in their mouths. I loved being the center of attention when she handed me some cheese puffs to throw at the boys. Though most of my sixth grade was spent wondering if any of the boys would ever notice me, during these fantastic moments, I was noticed and appreciated—if only for the cheese puffs I was tossing their way.

So is that who Margo is? My friend Alphretta? Well, yes…and no. Margo is a fictional character. So she is no one—and she is a conglomerate of many friends who have impacted my life and helped mold me into who I am today.

There’s Debbie, my best friend from fifth grade. Debbie and I would practice “flying” (i.e. jumping from the highest rungs on the jungle gym during recess. We would see how long we could balance on the bar that the teeter-totters rested on. And one time, when the sprinklers were running, we challenged ourselves to see if we could touch the sprinkler without getting wet. (Our teacher wasn’t thrilled when we returned from recess dripping wet.)

Debbie was also my first close-up experience with a serious illness. I remember returning from a piano lesson to see her big sister running while carrying Debbie’s limp body through the hall with a scared expression on her face. Debbie had fainted during P.E., and no one knew why. I remember listening to my parents discuss if I should be allowed to visit her in the hospital. “She’s her best friend, we have to let her visit.” And I remember sitting by her hospital bed as she told me about the chalky substance she had to swallow as hospital staff put her through a series of tests that eventually led to the discovery of juvenile diabetes.

Then there’s the character’s namesake. Margo, with her long red hair, didn’t fit into any of the clicks in high school, nor did she intend to. She was deeply intellectual, getting a kick out of watching political debates with me, both on television and on the campus where my father was a professor. Together, we worded a question that little high school me posed to a guest debater at an exclusive luncheon my father had been able to get us into. Our question got the room buzzing.

But she was also a free spirit. Going to the mall was our default Saturday night activity (when there wasn’t a debate or trivia party to crash at the college). Once, we found some nearly matching strapless dresses that we just had to have. After making the purchase, we headed to her house for a spontaneous photo shoot. My mother quickly bought me a little jacket to make my dress modest enough to wear in public, but on the day those photos got passed around at school, I noticed a little extra smile on some of the guys’ faces—validation that I’d be able to get their attention in other ways besides throwing cheese balls.

And of course there was Shauna, my friend who would stick close by my side as we made the transition to adulthood. Thoughtful and considerate, she would pause before speaking, never uttering a word that might cause distress. We met in line for senior portraits. Both of us were short with young-looking faces. I was a new student, and so she assumed I was a lost freshman. I assumed the same of her, but neither of us said anything. It wasn’t until we got up to the photographer and both had our pictures taken without question that I realized I had possibly met a soul sister—someone who knew the inner pain of not appearing to be the age we were. It was a few weeks later at a Bible conference that someone said, “I bet the two of you have been best friends forever!” We looked at each other, smiled, and nodded. Nearly 30 years later, she’s certainly earned the title of forever friend!

But the inspiration for this book wasn’t one of my peers. It was a little girl named Ellia that was diagnosed with cancer when she was barely old enough to read. A boy at school had punched her in the arm right where the cancer was located. Her swelling arm alerted her family and medical professionals that something was wrong. Her cancer was caught early. I remember when the chemo started. Her energy was drained out of her. She would watch kids playing. Her eyes said she longed to play with them, but she didn’t have the energy to do anything more than snuggle up with her mother and watch.

Today, Ellia is a high school student who laughs and enjoys the company of her friends much as I did growing up.

Ellia is Margo. Shauna is Margo. Margo is Margo. Debbie is Margo. Alphretta is Margo. And perhaps you are Margo too. For Margo is a character resembling anyone who has been strong, faced adversity, and found the joy in life despite it all.

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Little Good

My maiden name is of french origin: Pettibone, or literally “Little Good”. My dad has always emphasized that it really means little AND good. Yet, despite my family heritage, I have not changed my profile picture to include the French flag.

It is not because I’m indifferent to what happened on Friday. My heart is very heavy, and I’ve even made the comment that this could have a bigger impact than 9/11.

But I am hesitant to join the rally. For a rally of “us” can quickly become a mob against “them.” And who is “them?” Terrorists, yes. ISIS, probably. But for many people, “them” will broaden to include all Muslims.

We quickly forget that Muslims are also children of Abraham. They worship the God of Abraham as they best understand how. And we, too, worship the God of Abraham as we best understand how.

A careful study of Daniel 11 (see the video series found at, seems to indicate that both Muslims and Christians will be a part of the remnant that is left standing when Christ returns. But this will be a small group—those who are truly seeking to worship that same God who has been most clearly described as Love.

But there will be a bigger group, a group that chooses instead to worship the god of Hate. Some will see this as two groups, one carrying the label “Muslims” and one carrying the label “Christians.” But these will not be worshipers of the God of Love.

Hate is hate whether it’s directed at an over-secularized Frenchman or a Sharia-promoting Syrian. And hate can literally do Pettibone (little good–without the and).

As the world chooses sides for a conflict that seems to be at our doorsteps, I choose not the side of the French or the Syrians. I choose that little team that has refused to bow to the god of Hate. I choose love. This team may be little but it is full of goodness—just as my dad defines Pettibone.

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How Facebook Almost Killed a Friendship

There was one person I dreaded seeing at my 25-year high school reunion. Ironically, a quarter century earlier he had been one of my close friends. With an intellectual sense of humor and easy-going personality,  Collin* was a natural completion to the trio of friends that also included Tanya* (an opinionated bookworm) and me (a verbose aspiring journalist).

If Collin disagreed with me on my political views, I wasn’t aware of it. Though I wouldn’t have been surprised. In the conservative South, Tanya and I seemed to be the only kids in school who leaned toward liberal viewpoints.

“Are you a Democrat?” a fellow student asked after my second political editorial ran in the school newspaper.

“No!” I responded. “I’m an Independent. Please don’t label me again!” True, I was thinking for myself and hadn’t aligned with any particular party (I would be a few months too young to vote come election day), but my publicly expressed opinions were already starting to place me on the left side of the aisle.

Two decades later when Collin and I reunited on Facebook, I had become more sure of my political leanings—and Collin had become more verbose about his.

At first I was shocked. Certainly he must be misunderstanding the issues? Then I was hurt. Couldn’t he see how I would be harmed if he got his way politically? Eventually, I became angry. I couldn’t see a notification from him without my stomach tightening and my heart pounding. I let my anger affect my responses and said things I would regret.

Finally, I got smart and decided Facebook wasn’t the best place for debates. I sent Collin (and a few other “argumentative” friends) a message apologizing for my actions, promising not to post messages of disagreement, and asking them to do the same for me.

Peace had been made—sort of. But I felt that our friendship had been ruined. So I didn’t know how I would greet him at the reunion. A cool hello? Look the other way? A big fake smile followed by nothing to say?

I didn’t have to wonder for long. While we were waiting for our class picture to be taken, Collin approached me, not with any of the above reactions, but with a friendly hug. “I miss you,” he said.

“There are some things we agree on,” I offered weakly, glad to see the friendship appearing reparable. He quickly brought up one of those subjects that we were in agreement on.

This is good, I thought. As long as we stay on topics of mutual agreement, we can get along like old times. 

But I was wrong. Later that afternoon, we had dived right into one of the subjects that had led to our most volatile Facebook conversations. But this conversation wasn’t anything like our online dialog. I could sense he was understanding my point of view, and I was starting to get a clearer picture of where he was coming from. He got excited about some of the information I shared, and he shared some ideas that inspired me.

I wasn’t shocked, or hurt, or angry. I was energized.

What was the difference? All I can offer is that in-person conversations simply have more depth. When you can look into a person’s eyes, hear the tone in their voice, and see their body language, you get a better idea of what they are communicating. And it’s easier to remember that the person you are talking to isn’t just a storehouse for ideas and opinions. They are, indeed, human—full of history and heart and hope.

Back at home, I messaged Collin. “After this weekend, I’ve come to the conclusion that important things should be discussed in person,” I told him.

“Any time you need me to come down and hash things out, call me,” he responded.

Yup, that’s the Collin I know.

*names have been changed

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I Hate Telemarketing!

My first experience with telemarketing was when I was 17. My mother was working as a floor salesperson for a company that sold memberships to a discount club. People would come in for tours, and she would show them all the wonderful things they could purchase at deep discount if they were to join. To get the people to come in, a bank of telemarketers spent the days calling random people. “Congratulations!” we would tell them, “You’ve won…” 

I hated that line. True, they would get a prize at the end of the tour, but they hadn’t really won anything. The prize was just a ploy to get them to come in, and I knew they knew that. I’m guessing they knew that I knew they knew that, because after weeks of phone calls, I didn’t have a single positive response. Every day, a big zero stood by my name on the telemarketing success board that everyone watched.

The closest thing to a positive response was the one guy who sounded genuinely excited about winning (most people hung up or just said “sorry, not interested”). I was so excited that I almost forgot to ask him the qualifying questions. When I did, we were both disappointed, his family didn’t earn enough for him to claim his “prize.” The one person who could have really used the free whatever-it-was, and I couldn’t give it to him. My heart broke for him and for myself.

Meanwhile, I had surpassed the number of days a telemarketer was supposed to go without meeting quota before they were fired. Although I clearly wasn’t succeeding, my mother was one of their best floor salespeople and so they didn’t want to upset her by firing me. Finally they talked to her and she talked to me, and we all agreed that everyone would be happier if I hung up the phone for good.

So why, 26 years later, have I been spending hours over the last few days making phone call after phone call in hopes of selling our services? The answer is love. 

I love my husband, and I want to see his business (one he’s dreamed about for years) succeed. I know that his fear of the phone is even greater than mine. And so, I calmed down the butterflies in my stomach and started calling.

The good news is, this experience has been much different from my first one. Yes, it’s still difficult, and I have to psyche myself up before every phone call, but this time I believe in the service I’m offering, and when I tell a school that we offer free graduation photography services, I can have a clear conscience knowing that what I’m telling them is exactly the truth. Not everyone believes me (and who can blame them with all the scams out there), but by facing my fear I’ve gotten more leads than I had at first dared to hope for.

I still hate telemarketing, and I can’t wait until this is over. But I do love my husband, and I love helping his business succeed!

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My White Flag

On February 3, after we had eaten up all the bread that had come pre-wrapped, we started our countdown for 30 days without bread wrappers. Then last night, we stopped again. This time for good. I knew it was time to quit when I noticed my dear husband had put the last remains of our homemade monkey bread in a disposable zip-lock storage bag and the first words that came out of my mouth were, “I hate this blog project!”

It had started as a great idea. To try something new and different and blog about my experiences. I enjoy it when others do this and have appreciated the resulting books and documentaries, but the difference between them and me is that their projects become all-consuming endeavors. Their whole lives are affected by what they’re doing, and it’s their number one focus. I came up with the blog idea around the time my husband started a photography company–the blog was never going to be my number one focus. 

That isn’t to say that I plan to give up on reducing waste. We worked hard to create a system that allows us to use less bread wrappers, and we plan to stick with that system when it’s not an inconvenience. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that I could make all kinds of sacrifices trying to refrain from using bread wrappers, and it wouldn’t make a difference unless the idea caught on at a greater community level.

I came to this conclusion while visiting my mother-in-law over the holidays. She doesn’t have my same obsession for reducing waste as was evidenced by a conversation between her and my father-in-law I overheard one morning:

Dad: “Why is this pizza in the trash?”
Mom: “Because it’s been in the fridge FOREVER!”
Dad: “I put it in there last night!”

But my mother-in-law does have some very environmentally friendly habits that I’ve struggled to implement myself. They’ve been recycling for a lot longer than we have, and she always shops with re-usable grocery bags (something I’ve managed to remember to do a handful of times). Why? Because this is the expectation her community has set. The trash company insists they separate their recycling (we don’t even have a trash company in the area that will pick up recycling!), and the grocery stores where she shops charge extra for plastic bags. 

And so I’ve come to the conclusion that the place where change is going to come from isn’t from little-known blogs but from companies making decisions that encourage everyday people to make environmentally friendly decisions.

Therefore I will not bore you (or myself) any longer with all the details of how to get and store bread without using disposable plastic. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop blogging. I’ve noticed that my most popular blogs have been those that have been slightly off topic, those that were reflections on things I had experienced in my everyday life. To be honest, those were my favorite blogs too. That’s really the blogging style that fits me best.

So with my new focus, I’ll need a new blog name. At first, I figured I’d need a new name before making the transition, but then I thought about how many times I’ve written the story before writing the title. Sometimes you can’t really put a name to something until you know exactly what that something is going to be. 

As we step forward into this unknown adventure (I think I just found my new blog title!), I want to thank you for reading along on my environmental journey and encourage you to stick by as we see what unfolds in the future.

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A Confession

Dear Mother Nature,

I must confess. I have not once kept my promise of avoiding disposable bread wrappers. I am so, so sorry. Really I am.

Now, I knew it would be difficult over the holidays, especially when we were staying with family, but what I didn’t take into consideration was how difficult it would be before and after our trip. I also didn’t take into consideration how difficult it would be for my husband (who does most of the grocery shopping) to remember NOT to pick up store-bought bread.

The first time he came home with some, I got upset. “Oh we’ve started that?” he asked, ever so innocently.

“Yes, I mentioned that in my blog.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Um, I read the blog to you.”

So apparently that’s not enough. On take two of this experiment, we’re going to have to have some sort of ceremony to help him remember.

The second time he came home with store-bought bread I was both upset and relieved. After all, we were about to leave on our Christmas trip, and I wasn’t sure when I would have time to bake bread or how homemade bread would hold up on the trip. And if not bread, I wasn’t sure what we would eat on the road.

So we left for our trip with store-bought bread, ate all kinds of store-bought bread on the trip, and returned to (sigh) buy even more store-bought bread. I had to agree with my husband that with the kids scheduled to start school only a couple days after our return, and with those days being packed full of other obligations, store-bought bread only made sense.

The kicker, however, was that this month, even our homemade bread that we purchase from a friend came to us pre-wrapped. There really was no other way. See, my friend lives about an hour from us, but my dad and her parents both live in the same community (for now; her family is getting ready to move overseas). So often we meet up on a day when both of us are visiting our families, or she swings through my town on her way back from a family visit to do some shopping and drop of the bread. But this month was a challenge. We were out of town when she visited her parents, and because her car broke down, her visits were more infrequent than usual. Our only choice was for her to leave the bread in her parents’ freezer until I was in town and could pick up the loaves from them. Naturally, since they don’t have the bread freezing system that I spent six months figuring out for my own home, the bread had to be wrapped in disposable plastic bags.

Since we buy our bread for a month at a time, it looks like it will be February before I’m able to keep my promise to you, Mother Nature. Think of it as a Valentine’s gift. (I really do love you, you know!)

In the meantime, I’m going to have to see if any local bakeries will sell me unwrapped bread. After all, if I’ve learned anything this month, it’s that life can get in the way of the best of intentions.


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