Favorite Fairy Tale Retellings

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Recently I picked up The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steven Brust. It’s one that’s probably been hanging out on my bookshelf for at least five years, waiting for me to dive into its pages. At just 210 pages, I don’t know why I’ve never read it. To-be-read-shelf-shock, I suppose.

I’ve always liked fairy tales, from the Disney movies to Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. (THE BEST!) In college, Mr. V and I took our only class together (since otherwise he ONLY took Math, Science, and Computer Science courses): Children’s Literature. It was taught by one of my favorite professors and is a highlight of college for me. Not only was Mr. V in there, but also three of our other good friends. We sat in a corner and were perhaps a little bit of trouble. Oh, and four of us were English majors who didn’t need the class at all.

We read Little Women, Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are, The Snowy Day, and other wonderful children’s classics. A study on pictures in books using this Molly Bang book is really memorable, too. But I think my favorite section of the course was when we studied fairy tales. We looked at the originals: Perrault, Grimm, Andersen, Madame D’Aulnoy. Some of these tales are truly horrific compared to the mild, Disney-fied versions we see today. It was simply fascinating.


I love reading fairy tale adaptations, too, and maybe someday I’ll actually write that children’s book from the viewpoint of the pumpkin in Cinderella. Here are some of my very favorite ones. (The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars does not fall into this category. It was OK, but not awesome.)

tamlinTam Lin by Pamela Dean – Maybe around the same time as that Children’s Lit class, my roommate Erin gave me a copy of Tam Lin to read. Now I don’t know the fairy tale of Tam Lin at all – and maybe the ending of the book would make better sense if I did. But the story of Janet, a bona fide English major nerd in college in the 70s, is a wonderful read, especially for any fellow bibliophiles. She and her friends are so smart they probably couldn’t exist, but I am sure those people are somewhere, right? The ending, again, is weird. But I think it ties in with the actual fairy tale.

The Lunar Chronicles Series – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, and (to come) Winter – I think I only gave this series a try because it was based on fairy tales; I am not a sci-fi reader. But the combination of a fun future setting, the fairy-tale elements, romance, adventure, and some brainy heroines makes this series killer. I didn’t love Fairest, but the other ones are phenomenal and I can’t wait to read Winter in November.

briarroseBriar Rose by Jane Yolen – I love that Jane Yolen writes stuff like How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and also this, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in the Holocaust. It’s been quite a few years since I read it, but I remember really loving the tale.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire – What would this list be without Wicked? Unlike the musical, Maguire’s book is heavily laced with Oz-ian politics and animal/Animal rights. It is long, dense, and fascinating. I’ve also read Maguire’s Mirror Mirror and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. They were good, but not great in my memory.

monstroudbeauty - EditedI guess Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama is kind of a Little Mermaid retelling. I’ll admit I know nothing about The Little Mermaid except the Disney movie. It is an amazing book with mermaids and other fantasy elements and I adored it (and read it in one sitting).

This site seems to have a pretty extensive list of fairy tale retellings, although I don’t agree with all the mini-reviews. It does make me feel like I am not the only person who loves these adaptations.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale or retelling?

Part Two: Having Grace for Myself.

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See Part 1.


No-more-loser-on-the-forehead; now prom queen. 

Dear Jessie,

Hi, it’s me. The part of you that sees you covered by God’s grace instead of your own nitpicking emotions.

Because, you see, somewhere deep inside you know what’s in the past has past. Dealing with it is not easy; it took many years past high school for those hurts to dissipate. Sometimes, yes, you still dwell on them, what you see as your mistakes, and feel. But why? Why, when you know that God’s offered forgiveness and banished your sins? Because human memory. Because sometimes you keep on doing what you don’t want to do.

Jessie, you are Right. Not because of anything you’ve done, even though surely there are many positive things in your life. But simply because Jesus covers you in Right. He wraps that big white blanket around your shoulders, those shoulders that feel heavy with the weight of all the Wrongs. He brushes off those heavy Wrongs and trades you for the lightness of Him. Remember how His burden is light? It’s because He shares all the load. He is a gentle Master.

Oh girl, how I long for you to know you are living in His presence every minute of every day. Embracing His truth instead of clinging to what a handful of people implied was wrong about you. How vividly you tell you daughter to delight in what God says about her instead of what one little girl tells her others might have said (which said child is probably making up, anyway).

Talk to yourself like you do to a child. Treat yourself like a child. Nourish with good foods. Sing Scriptures. Encourage the spirit. Get lots of rest. Always forgive. Wake up the next day with fresh views and a fresh start.

You are beloved of God, and loved much by family and friends.

You. Are. Enough. Live it.



Feeling Like Loser Is Stamped on My Forehead.

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(Bonus points if you know what movie this is from.)

It might not even be the first time I felt really rejected by a crush, but it is the first time I remember vividly. I was a chubby fifth-grader infatuated with a blond boy. I’m not sure if I had yet fully realized how my permed bangs, buck teeth, and Children’s Place leggings covering short legs truly made me appear (thank God). But I knew I was not an It Girl.

And I heard the other boys in the hallway singing, “Sherry, Sherry Baby,” to him. Sherry was not just a song on the oldies station; Sherry was a different girl in the fifth grade. She was thin and blonde and unassuming. She had the mysterious aura of a girl who walked to school. And I felt my first swift blow of rejection.

No, he didn’t reject me directly. But I knew I could never compete with her. Even as an eleven-year-old, I knew I was Wrong and she was Right.

The times of rejection came swiftly once middle school arrived. Not being asked to dance while wading among the girls at the gender-segregated gym fetes. Pining for a friend’s boyfriend and making a fool out of myself when they broke up. (And then got back together … and probably had a good laugh about it.) The good friend who became too much and never enough.

Not answering emails about school dances once email came around in high school. (Yes, I am THAT OLD.) The humiliation of not being asked on a second date when I thought it wasn’t so bad for my first real date. Always overreacting. Always being Wrong. Clinging to the one who seemed to actually like me, even if maybe it wasn’t me he liked but some trying-to-be-Right version of me I created.

Pining for ones not worth pining for. Spending all these years letting arrow after arrow pierce my young heart.

I am pretty sure it’s not normal, remembering all these times of being cut. I can re and re and relive all the times I’ve said the Absolute Wrong Thing in my head, and what I probably should have said instead.

I found the right person in college. He thought, and still thinks, that I am Right Enough. I’ve spent the last thirteen years going back and forth between trying to believe him and trying to convince him he’s wrong. What would make me Right? Maybe if I lost weight. Kept a clean enough home. Parented our kids into tiny angels. But I can’t ever seem to do those things, so I feel Wrong. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Most days I feel the only thing I do Right is bake a good cake and be Wrong.

To be continued …

Black Dog Syndrome

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I have a history with big, black dogs.

When I was just a toddler, my parents had a dog, Buttons. It was a pinscher-mix-type mutt, their “before kids” kid. And it hadn’t ever shown aggression to anyone.


The story goes that my parents were feeding the dog Cheez-Its. I crawled up, and they gave me a Cheez-It, too. And then the dog attacked me, nearly ripping my little ear off. They loved me more than the dog, so they got rid of it (or put him down – I don’t remember).

So I spent a few weeks looking like this. I have no memory of any of this at all, but I’ve never liked big dogs.


Then, when I was in eighth grade, it snowed. It snowed enough for us to be out of school for three weeks. My mom had pretty recently gone back to work, at least part-time, and after all these snow days in a row – we had a TON of snow for central Virginia – she needed to work. I was plenty old to take care of my sister, who was in fifth grade.

But I was tired of playing in the snow. One day my sister went outside with our next-door neighbor. She tried to pet their dog, a black Lab who was chained behind their house. And the dog attacked my sister, tearing a gash into her arm.

What I remember is calling my mom at work, hysterical. Our neighbor taking us to the hospital in his work van. How Ashley’s coat wasn’t torn even though her arm was. But somewhere in there, apparently I tightly wrapped the wound and elevated her arm, they say. My babysitter brain kicked in even though I have no memory of it doing so.

So see, I am kind of biased against big, black dogs. (And by the way, you are BIASED. You have a BIAS. There’s your grammar lesson for today.)

And then God saw to it to put us on a campus full of them. When we moved here, we lived next door to a man with an elderly black lab called Bio. Bio was absolutely the sweetest, most gentle dog I’ve ever met. When we moved to another dorm, Bio and his owner moved with us. And in the apartment on the floor between our two apartments lived two MORE big black dogs.

Is the universe trying to tell me something?

My boys love dogs. Their exposure has been mostly to these big old ebony-furred friends. Little by little, my defenses against such animals is wearing down. Maybe someday I’ll be able to approach a black Lab without any fear at all.


{Apparently Black Dog Syndrome is an actual thing, according to Wikipedia. Who knew? My prejudice does come from real life and not TV and movies.}

Why We Don’t See into the Future

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If you had told me on our wedding day, ten years ago this very July 31st, that we would live on a high-school campus with three small children, I think my head would have exploded.

There’s a good reason we don’t know the future. We think that’s all we want: to know exactly what will unfold before us. So we can BE PREPARED, the motto of everyone holding trust tightly under closed fingers.

If you’d told me we would foreclose on a house, I would have called you a liar.

I can think of a whole laundry list of moves and injuries and scares from the last 10 years that I absolutely would have said could never happen. After all, I had it all mapped out. The PhD, the four kids, the move back close to Richmond. Ah, the ability to know it all as a 22-year-old bride.

Last night we took a walk around campus. We stopped on the golf course and the kids all ran around gleefully, Joshua included. They lay with backs in the grass and stared at the sky. They chased and discovered and ran into one another. Joshua brought me one yellow leaf, perfect circles dug into it by an insect.

At one point I tackled David and tickled him. And then I lay down on my own back, feeling grass down the length of my arms. Seeing the bright blue summer sky and hearing the peals of kids’ laughter around me.

I used to lay on an astroturf field behind a dorm at my college with my best friend. We waited til night, when lacrosse players were long gone. Together we looked at the stars, did cartwheels and handstands, shared secrets, sang, and dreamed.

I don’t think any dream for myself could have been as good as last night was. Three gorgeous, healthy children; a husband who loves me way beyond what I deserve; living rent-free in a great apartment, with friends all around and meals provided for; having miles of campus to roam and play without fear or critique.

I am so incredibly grateful that God dreamed this for me. So amazed that I can be living something pretty different from my 22-year-old vision but way better for us, our marriage, and our kids.

Thank you, Mr. V, for putting up with me for the last 10 years (and years before that!). For standing beside me and dreaming together and comforting me when it seemed like everything was crumbling. I love you and these crazy kids we’ve made together. Happy Anniversary!


The Big Story: Red Jacket Drive

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Jessie and Mr. V, 2006

Our younger selves

(See Part 1 and Part 2 of The Big Story.)

After I stopped working in daycare and actually started making a salary, Mr. V and I knew it was time to think about saving. We didn’t have a car payment, and my parents were paying back my student loans (Mr. V didn’t have any). Our apartment’s rent was reasonable, so other than tithing, utilities, and groceries we really didn’t have a lot of expenses. Our first year or two of marriage we didn’t even have cable, or our Internet was dial-up through NetZero. (Yep. That seems like forever ago!)

Most months we were able to squirrel away $600 – which is a fairly big chunk, I think, considering what we made together. We didn’t go out very much, didn’t travel, and buying clothes was a big treat. We had a lot of wonderful friends through our Sunday School class, and most social time was spent with them, at game nights, bluegrass clubs, or just having dinners together. It was a sweet time in our marriage and life together.

We weren’t quite sure whether we would try to buy a house or not, knowing that we would only be in Nashville for 5 years, the length of Mr. V’s time at Vanderbilt. After he graduated with his PhD, we hoped he’d be able to find a job at a university somewhere on the East Coast, closer to our parents. (By 2006, both sets of parents lived outside Philadelphia, despite the fact that neither of us grew up there!)

I remember many conversations where we talked about the house thing – debating staying in our comfortable apartment for 5 years versus buying a house after 2 years with the intention of at least breaking even. We had a great, large apartment with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. The dining room was tiny, and we used the linen closet and above the washer and dryer for grocery and appliance storage, but it suited all our needs.

I think the final straw, though, was the people who lived above us. The tenant’s alarm clock would start buzzing in the wee hours of the morning and go off for HOURS, and we could hear it perfectly. Then the tenant acquired a few more people living with her up there, and we could hear loud movies playing and a child’s heavy footsteps pounding back and forth all the time.

Oh, to live somewhere with no one above us! It would be bliss!

Also, I had just been hired as a copy editor at LifeWay, a step up from my current position, with a better salary. I was high on life, finally (after a whole 18 months!) escaping the world of customer service.

It didn’t hurt that we had friends through church connected to the real estate business – one was a mortgage broker and one had a realtor father. In the spring of 2006, we looked at a few houses, but decided to buy a new townhouse in a neighborhood where some friends had already bought just down the street.

Red Jacket kitchen

The place was smaller that our apartment in square footage, but we felt like the space was used wisely. We still had two bedrooms, two full baths, and a half-bath thrown in. It had a big kitchen, a real pantry, and a tiny gated patio. We were assured it would all be built and bought up by 2008, so we shouldn’t have trouble if we wanted to sell after that.

So, just before our second anniversary, we signed on the dotted lines promising payments and loans, 30 years seeming like a laughable number, knowing full well that we’d be wanting to sell our home in less than three years.

We moved into our beautiful townhouse on Red Jacket Drive, content in the path we were taking.