Book Review: Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah



Quick facts: published in 2006, one of her personal favorites that she’s written

Genre: psychological fiction

Quick Plot:

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates, escaping from a very public, professional failure, returns to her hometown, where she is confronted with a wild, mute child appearing out of the forest. Working with the young girl, Julia is challenged more than ever before not only in her career, but in her personal life, to confront her wounds as she helps Alice heal from her own past.


* * * * * compelling plot

* * * * * engaging and likable characters

* * * * realistic factor

* * * * clean factor – very little objectionable language, several mentions of affairs

What I liked:

Hannah switches between several point of view characters, including a young, frightened, abused girl who hasn’t quite learned language. I imagine this was a difficult task to capture Alice’s POV, but Hannah manages to very believably show Alice’s thoughts and interpretations and confusion of the new world around her in ingenious ways. The relationship that develops between Dr. Julia Cates and Alice and the issues and people threatening it, were heartbreaking, heartwarming, impossible to ignore, and impossible to reconcile. I couldn’t stop reading.

What I thought didn’t work:

One, I found Julia’s sister’s storyline a little extraneous and lackluster. Two, I know that Hannah was working with the constraints of creating a lively story so I don’t begrudge her this, but the success with which Dr. Cates manages to draw Alice out and teach her to speak would not be so quick and easy in real life. I studied linguistics and know someone who suffered from selective mutism. Alice’s progress probably wouldn’t have been this tidy in real life. (But it would have made for a much less exciting–and longer–story, so, good decision, Kristin.)


I discovered this book because I was looking for anything having to do with feral children, for my own research, and a friend happened to recommend it. This is my first Kristin Hannah book and it won’t be my last. A very pleasant surprise. I highly recommend Magic Hour.

How Many Stars Are There?

The words infinite and finite should sound a lot more alike than they do.  Language fail.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these two words lately.  Infinite: without end, an impossible amount.  Finite: limited, restricted.

Our brains operate in finite equations.  Infinity is literally impossible for us to fully grasp. 

Despite that, my emotions and my language trend infinite.  “It took forever.”  “I’ll never catch up.”  

I realized something this week. (Not a major epiphany, but still helpful.)

All of my problems are finite.  And when I panic, it’s usually because I’ve assigned infinity to my problem.  

long exposure photography of stars

Photo by kendall hoopes on

My mundane trials: I am intimidated by what I don’t know.  I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do.  There are too many words in the foreign language I’m learning.  I’m never going to get my book published with the amount of authors and books already out there.  

In all my little issues, I’ve put this thought of infinity versus finite into the mix this week. There is a finite amount of knowledge.  There is a finite mess in my house.  There is a finite number of books in the world.  Even the number of stars is a precise, nameable number.  It’s an unknown and huge number, but it’s limited.

It might be just me, but this thought frees me.  There is a limit to all these things.  It is possible to control what’s limited.  Not that I can, personally, or will.  But there is a limit.

Only God is truly infinite.  And God is love.  God is right and true and good.  Everything else has a limit and an end.    


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Let’s Do Thanksgiving Expat-Style


Muskat pumpkin

I have blogged extensively on getting through Thanksgiving as an expat (well, extensive by my standards – here and I thought there was one on nutmeg but I can’t find it. Rethinking my use of the word extensive.) Don’t ask my why I feel the need to keep ranting about it every year, but here I am again.

Even though it’s only September I am starting this week getting ready for Thanksgiving.  My pumpkin is cooking in the oven right now.  Not because I’m an overachieving, pre-planning, over-organized addict, but because the stores have pumpkins now.  That’s about how my life works.  Which leads us to step one of HOW TO MAKE A PUMPKIN PIE IN EUROPE:

1. Buy any big orange squash you can find as soon as they appear in the store. DO NOT wait until Thanksgiving. Rookie mistake is to not buy something until you need it. IT WILL NOT BE THERE.  Side note: except do not use the big jack-o-lantern pumpkin.  Most people know that, but I actually tried to make pumpkin pie with these for my first few (ahem. let’s round down to seven) years in Czech Republic. I thought they were stringy and watery because was doing something wrong. I’m so sweet and innocent.  For those of you out there like me, just ignore your friends’ incredulous “You’re an idiot” look when they find out you tried making pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin.  That’s what we get for trying to be logical.

2. Get it home and scour the internet to see what kind of squash/pumpkin you’ve bought. (muskat and hokkaido are the two I have now.)  I read that these two are fine for pies but my own verdict is still out. Although, my opinion really doesn’t matter.  I will still have to take what I can get.  My verdict just helps me decide how much to complain about it.  Here are some links to finding out about what you may have bought.  Muscat, hokkaido, list of pumpkin varieties that wasn’t helpful without pictures.


Hokkaido pumpkin in the oven

3. Discern that it’s edible.

4. Cook and puree it. (I used method one to cook my pumpkin.)  If you found cheesecloth, strain it. If not, prepare for something that looks nothing like canned pumpkin. You know what, on second thought, prepare for that in any case.

5. Make the pie. You really want to focus on making a stellar crust to deflect from the fact that who knows what the pumpkinish puree is doing to the pie.

6. Feed it only to people who have never had pumpkin pie before.  Desperate Americans who have been overseas for more than two years can fall under this category as well.


Very-Obviously Home-made Pumpkin Pie

OR, alternate version, buy (and they ship to you) canned pumpkin from the Candy Store in Brno.  And ruin the illusion of what pumpkin pie is for all the people who are eating my “At Least the Crust was Tasty” pies.

What Have I Done?

A couple months ago (apparently, time flies) I posted about my dreams of achieving craft and gardening Success.  I’d like to check in on me and see how I’ve done.   And what I’ve learned.

For starters, lavender doesn’t grow.  It’s a myth.  Who knows what’s in all the things that are labeled “lavender.”  Because lavender seeds you plant will just turn into more dirt, as if it never happened.

On the craft front: My friends have come over for craft day.

I served them iced mint tea.

I bought some material for pillows and other crafts, so every once in awhile I get it out and gaze at it while they labor away at their sewing and wool animals.  Although yes, I finally got three pictures painted for the girls’ room.  Not Etsy-worthy but definitely “My-Mom-Made-This-For-Us-Isn’t-She-An-Affectionate-Dork” Little Girls’ Room worthy. IMG_0715IMG_0706

Obviously not to scale.  Paint AND use my brain?  Don’t be ridiculous.

Still no dollhouse (I still have six months to procrastinate on that Christmas gift), still no terrarium (but I told someone about my idea – does that count?), and still no sewing projects (That’s a winter sport.)

Before you think I have totally reneged on all my ambitions, let me turn your attention to my garden.

I can grow some things really well.  Like periwinkle.  I spent two weeks digging up someone else’s Bad Idea to rearrange my hardscaping.  Two weeks, people.  And it is still sprouting cheerfully.  So, yeah.  I can grow periwinkle really well.  Without even trying.  I can almost hear it saying, as those glossy new leaves poke up out of the dirt, over and over, “Well!  We’re back!  Whew, dark down there!  But we’re young and invincible.  Happy to see us?”

And spinach.  We have harvested bowlful after bowlful of it.  Send me your spinach recipes!  I was so proud of it.  My first shining sign of success.  Then the neighbor came over and said, “Your peas are coming along nicely. I think something’s eating your spinach, though.”  “Oh, yeah, that was us.”  (Then I ran in to look up how to harvest spinach.  And yes neighbor, we can pick some leaves and leave the rest to keep growing.  So I’m not feeling embarrassed anymore.)  One day of sun later, and I go check it.  It’s suddenly tall and the leaves are a different shape.  So now I can tell you all about bolting.  At least I won’t need to buy spinach seeds for next year.

You have to water mint plants in a pot like, daily.  They are so Needy.  They are on “real person” level with the kind of attention they require.  The good news is that they revive from severe cases of the Wilts fairly easily.  Also, fun fact that I learned from my friend years ago (“So you can recognize it by the roadside!”) is that mint plants have square stems.  Next fact: stinging nettle also has something like a square stem.  You only make that mistake once.  Then you belatedly realize that despite similar stems, stinging nettle definitely has a sinister look about it that mint lacks.  It also grows really really well in our soil.  Some stalks, if left unchecked for six months while the owner goes overseas, have been known to reach heights of five feet. (Speaking from personal experience is not all it’s cracked up to be.) That’s deadly.  Also edible, but we aren’t that desperate yet.

One more thing I can grow really well is some kind of bush/tree.  I have two of them and have no idea what they are but they are taking over the clothesline and the sidewalk.  I go out and whack away at them every other week and they just keep growing, as if they relish bad haircuts.  Maybe I should braid the limbs.

Here it is when we moved in.


And here it is two years after my lax discipline.

IMG_9186I clearly am not in control of the situation.

In about two more years, I will need someone to come hack through the stinging nettle, periwinkle, and hair bush to rescue me from the house.  Just like Aurora.  See?  Overgrown weeds are like a fairy tale.  And I at least have three pictures and some spinach to show for all my work.


Book Review Number 1

I’m writing my first official book review.  Just so you know what you’re getting into, in case the title didn’t make it clear.

Whenever I finish a good book, I feel so lost and think, “Where now?”  Since I’m not one of those resourceful people who always have information at their fingertips (How do they do that, even?), I rely on other people’s recommendations to find my next good book.  It’s time to give back to the world.

My mom introduced me to The Love Dare, by Stephen and Alex Kendrick.  The book is set up to be a forty-day commitment to make defined, daily progress in how you love.  (Specifically a spouse, but I think it can apply to any relationship.) Each chapter even gives a space to write out your choices and responses to each day’s dare/challenge.  

Honestly, I haven’t done this as a dare. (I have commitment-to-causes issues.)  I don’t even read the day’s selection every day. (I also have consistency issues.) And I don’t write in my book.  Here’s why: I could spend a year on the first chapter alone.  You’ll understand just how pathetic this is when I tell you that each chapter is no more than two pages.  And that the first chapter is titled: “Day 1: Love is Patient.”  Stop nodding, family.

The first great thing about The Love Dare is that it is teaching me very specific things about how to love.  Many great books I’ve read about love have been helpful but this one somehow pinpoints the root of the problem.  The root of MY problem, at least.  Day Six (Love is Not Irritable), for example, outlines two reasons why people get irritable and what we can do to prevent that.  Knowing why I’m acting irritable is the easiest path to finding a way to change that.  (Just, you know, if I ever got irritable, hypothetically speaking.)

Maybe it’s just me, but a fourth of my problem in life (these are rough fraction break-downs, keep in mind) is remembering.  I read a lot of good, helpful books that I totally agree with and intend to follow the advice of, but something happens when I sleep and focus on keeping a family running that makes thoughts kind of dissolve in my head.  Unless I actively concentrate on what I am supposed to be doing, I fall into this kind of automation trance where I’m responding to life but not being life.  So I find it really helpful to start my day with a quick run-through of parts of this book.  It reminds me how to love.  It keeps me on track.

Another problem of mine is a tendency to think I’m always right.  Or if not right, at least justified in what I did.  (Just being honest here.  Which is easy since I always AM right.) (Just kidding.)  This book is one big glaring sign of how many ways I’m not right.  It focuses me on what I need to do, not on what everyone else is doing wrong.  am responsible to love.  To be unselfish.  To be thoughtful.  To be kind.  To cherish.  To let go.  To encourage.  To be there.

There are even chapters dedicated to aspects of love that I’ve never even considered, or at least not given much thought to as a way to love.  Day Nine: Love Makes Good Impressions.  Day 26: Love is Responsible.  Day 34: Love Celebrates Godliness.  My love is fuller and wider when I keep these things in mind.

Full and wide love reminds me of that old childhood Sunday School song.  Deep and Wide.  Of course, the better we love, the better we understand God’s love for us.  After going through The Love Dare, I am able to dig a little deeper into my understanding of God’s love, which is so deep it never changes and so wide that it includes every aspect of my life.

I am officially recommending The Love Dare.  For as many days as you are willing to open it’s pages and read, it will open your life to loving better.

The New Adrenaline Rush

Spend any time on the internet and you’ll get a splattering of all sorts of creative ideas, jokes, news, and pictures. But even a cursory scroll through the internet, or a peek at top blog posts around, and you’ll see one trendy category out there: what I call the “Fire Me Up” posts.

These are the articles (and comments) designed to get people angry.  Upset about a cause, mad at an injustice, or critical of an idea.

I am all for making a strong stand.  For stating what you believe, for entering into solid, thought-provoking debate.  But is that what we’re doing?  Is it possible to have life-changing, belief-strengthening conversations in situations where there is no relationship or face-to-face contact?  Is it even our goal to debate like this?

Of course at some point, for some people, the answer is yes. But I fear that for a lot of us, it’s only for the adrenaline of being riled up.

Anger.  The New Adrenaline Rush.

I know I’m guilty of it; I see a link to something and can tell by the title and intro blurb that it’s going to rankle me.  I click on it and read it.  And sure enough, I’m annoyed, angry, or deeply bothered. Why would I do that?  The only reason I went to read it was because I knew it was going to produce that kind of reaction in me.

Why is this?

That’s what adrenaline does.  The more we have, the more we want and need.  The more anger we have, the more we like the feeling of it.  The importance of having something shocking to relate to our friends.  “You wouldn’t believe what I just read.  Did you know…”  The prickling sensation of horror and outrage.  The strong emotions that overcome life’s numbing from the mundane.

The adrenaline of anger.  I read somewhere a long time ago that it’s easier to share our sorrows than our joys – sorrows are universal but if you let someone see what really makes you happy, that is a lot more personal.  Are we so afraid of opening up that we can only share this collective anger?  Are we so addicted to pulsating negatives that we can’t focus on the good?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

How Not to Sew a Stuffed Animal

So my five-yeard old has been sweetly wondering when I am going to make her the stuffed animal that I rashly promised to make for each kid last year.  You can wince at my first attempt (for my son) here.

Does she want a cute owl?  No.  Does she want an easy doll?  No.  Does she want an internet-is-littered-with-patterns-and-directions teddy bear?  No.  She wants a stuffed cat.  Not cute, not easy, and no internet help to speak of.  Trust me, I scoured.  Goodbye free Thursday night.

So I decided to deduce what I could from pictures and free-hand it.  That’s why this post is called, “How Not to Sew a Stuffed Animal.”  One of the reasons why.

It took me several days to figure out that I needed an underpart and a head gasset or gusset or something like that.  I nearly just sewed the two sides of the head together and realized at the last second that this would result in a unicorn.  In which case I would have presented it to her anyways and told her that it was a type of cat she just hasn’t seen.  I don’t undo my work.

Well, the problem with free-handing (and, in general, with people who aren’t good visualizers), is proportions.  I’ll tell you (from experience with this…cat) that the only difference between a cat’s head and a donkey’s head is how large the ears are.  And the only difference between a donkey’s head and a lamb’s head is whether those massive ears are standing up or laying down.

So when I turned the material right-side out and saw that instead of a cat, I had a donkey/lamb, I considered reneging on my “I don’t undo my work” rule.  Then I figured out how to stuff half the massive ear inside itself and sew it in to make a smaller triangle.  Whew.

But the other proportion problem came at the end.  Have you seen those frogs that have been run over by a car?




It’s from an oversized underbelly.  Now you know how to achieve that effect.

Those are the things that I realized my mistakes on after the fact.  The other problems (why is it laying down instead of standing up?  Why doesn’t the tail go up?  Why is the neck so thin?) I have no idea how I would fix it for next time.  But it doesn’t matter.  There won’t be a next time.  No. More. Cats.

home-made stuffed catIMG_0619


I mentioned it to my friend as “my labor of love.”  Then I took another look at this article of fabric and decided not to link the word love with That Thing.  Talk about bad word associations…

Ambitions and Excuses

So my New Year’s resolution this year was to not be lazy.  I’m not lazy in the “just sit around all day” sense.  It’s just that in the last couple years, I’ve had this huge urge to make stuff, create stuff, learn stuff, and try stuff.  I don’t know if this is a product of my age (mid-life crisis, anyone?), poking around books and blogs, or a mature realization that I know nothing about anything.  Or an insane, unfounded security that I can just do whatever I put my mind to.  (Which is ridiculous.  I’m not a millennial.)

These project ideas have been flumping around in my head for quite awhile and the total resulting action on my part has been: nothing.

Ambition has never been my strong suit, but I think six months in America hearing the Home Depot commercials (“Let’s do this.”) really affected me.  I’m ready to get these things done.

Here is my list of things I’d love to try my hand at:
– Make raised beds and grow herbs and vegetables.  Edible ones, preferably, not the spindly, non-producing kind from my scattered past gardening experiences.

– Can the fruits and vegetables of my labor and sometimes make fruit leather, which will take me all day and be gone five minutes after the kids get home from school.

– Make a terrarium.  Despite the fact that I’m not precise and detailed with my hands, nor do I have ANY success with indoor plants.  At all.  It doesn’t have to last long, I just want to make it.

– Make a dollhouse for my girls.  Design it first, of course.  No, I don’t have a jig saw.  Those cost money.  Besides, if you knew me, you’d know that that is the least of my obstacles at this point.

– Sew reusable shopping bags and fabric “ziploc” bags (like these).  No, I don’t have a sewing machine here.  My last sewing project was a hand-sewn stuffed animal for my son.  IMG_0615

Stop laughing.  I probably could have centered the nose if I’d wanted to.  I meant to do that.  Definitely.

– Paint pictures on canvas for the girls’ room.  Inspired by here.  I did try this already with my mom in America.  It may take a few more practice attempts. (“May” and “few” are underexaggerations.)

IMG_0616– Paint my almost-sanded coffee table and stain the homemade bookshelf.  In fact, I want to stain and paint lots of stuff but I need to find a super cheap place to get old wooden furniture.  And I need to learn how, too, but that’s not such a pressing need as getting the actual pieces.  IMG_0617

– Write a novel.  Even though my attention span is more on the lines of a short story.  Or just a one-liner joke.

You can start placing bets on how much of this I will ever actually do (or attempt).  One out of eight wouldn’t be bad.  It would at least be less lazy than last year.


Well, irony of ironies, I just saw on my main blog page “Far From Home” that I wrote the following:

And now I am free to crave.  Craving is good – it helps us appreciate things and people more.  I know what I miss and I can better savor life’s blessings.

If you read my last post, I said the exact opposite.  I remarked that craving is greed.
I am some kind of waffler, huh?  Despite the fact that there are probably three or more years between when I had these two thoughts, I still understand and agree with both of them.  How can that be?
I’d like to know your thoughts on this.  My initial conclusion is that while going without something we love can help us enjoy it more once we get it, we have to be very careful not to let that “missing” get in the way of us enjoying what we have right now.  Like seeing a crocus emerge from the melting snow.  I love that every year because I haven’t seen it for a  full year. But anticipating the crocus didn’t hamper my love for cozy winter evenings or leaves falling in October.  The seasons of life are for living NOW, not sitting and waiting for tomorrow.

Quail and Why It’s Bad

Last time I wrote (too long ago) we were on the verge of a six month trip to America.  That is over and done and I still have a lot of mental unpacking to do.  The current chunk of thought I am processing came from the Biblical story in Numbers 11.  The Israelites, sick of manna, started complaining that they wanted meat.   So God promised them that they would have meat “until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it.”  Of course they scoffed and of course God delivered because He can.  So much quail flew (or were blown?) in from the sea, flying so low that you could just reach up and grab one out of the air.  At least that’s how I read it as a kid.  Either way, lots of meat.  “But while the meat was still between their teeth” they were struck with a plague and some of them died.  So when they buried those people, they named the place “Kibroth Hattaavah.”  Graves of craving.

First of all, I’d like to make clear that America did not come out of my nostrils.  I don’t loathe it.  But the rest of the story speaks so clearly to my situation that I have been pondering it continuously for the last couple of weeks.  I spent a lot of time living in Europe craving certain things that America can provide.  Easier grocery shopping trips.  Cheaper clothes.  Babysitting from grandparents.  Mint Oreos.  English all around me.  Family.  Sunnier days.  The list goes on and on.  The thing about me and about the Israelites is that our craving for things we thought we wanted blinded us to the miracles God was already doing.  Manna!  What is that?!  A miracle of food delivered daily (except not on the Sabbath) to thousands of people.  The only way to not be satisfied with something so amazing is to be greedy for something else.

Craving is greed.  All those things I craved about America were an active dismissal of the things I already had, a glaring sign to God and those around me that I was not appreciating my daily manna, the miracles God was showering me with all the time.  I’m still trying to open my eyes to all these blessings – a testimony to how badly dissatisfaction blunted my sight.

All those things I craved, I had in abundance in America.  Six months of it.  While no plague hit me, thankfully, I wonder if there is a spiritual plague that comes with this.  When my cravings were finally gratified, they had no taste.  Because I had taught myself to be dissatisfied with what I have.  When we teach ourselves to complain, we will complain in any circumstances.  How could I enjoy quail when I wasn’t satisfied with the miracle of manna?  Graves of craving.  Craving kills satisfaction with anything.  And those graves of craving became a monument to me of my foolishness.

So my task now is to see the manna.  To desire knowing God, not to reject Him by craving for more than what He’s given me today.  To stop drooling over the thought of meat – because it won’t ever taste as good as the manna.  Today’s blessings will always top any granted wish.  Besides, it’s ridiculous of me to think I know what’s better for me than God does.