Annie’s Firehouse Cookies

I started developing my favorite cookie recipe when I was twelve, baking cookies to sell for 25 cents. I tweaked the recipe around until I got it pretty much perfect, but I never wrote it down. It’s just ratios and measurements, mix and bake.

A couple years ago I baked a batch for my department. I ran out of vanilla so swapped it out for rum extract and accidentally made a superb cookie.

Recently my sister-in-law and I found vanilla bean paste in the grocery store so when I baked this most recent batch I used vanilla bean paste as well as the rum extract, and it was just amazing.

So, by popular request, here’s the recipe for what I am now calling firehouse cookies. They’re soft and a little chewy in the middle with a thin caramelized crust. A good dark chocolate and a little extra sea salt just layers the flavors together nicely.

Photo: Annie Louise Twitchell

Recipe: Annie’s Firehouse Cookies

1 cup softened butter
1 cup dark brown sugar OR maple sugar
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup neutral oil (avocado, vegetable, etc)
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon rum extract

2 large eggs

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sea salt

2 cups chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add in oil, vanilla, and rum extract and beat until combined, then add eggs and beat until light and fluffy.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt; stir to combine. Add chocolate chips and mix until just blended.

Scoop into desired sizes and place on baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden, 10-12 minutes depending on size.

Saving Santa

Saving Santa

Annie Louise Twitchell

Can you believe that no one knew what to do, the night Santa got stuck in the chimney flue?

It was the last town on his route, that cold Christmas Eve. Santa Claus had already flown all around the globe but now he landed in Winterville. One last town to go. 

He double checked his list. Winterville was small, with only a few hundred people there. There were one hundred and nineteen children to deliver presents to, and then he could go home. 

Home. 

Santa steered the sleigh towards Winterville. It would be good to go home, to the glowing fireplace and a huge mug of hot chocolate and some good cheese and crackers. Mrs. Claus would have his slippers all warmed and ready for him to slip on and relax. 

In the little gray house on Maple Street, all the windows were dark and all the lights turned off when Santa Claus arrived. Inside, everyone should be sound asleep: Mom, Dad, Lucy, and even the big old dog, Milo. 

Santa guided his reindeer and sleigh down onto the roof, then picked up his bag of presents and tip-toed across to the chimney. He put the bag down first and climbed in afterwards. He thought about the presents and made sure he had everything: a rocking horse for Lucy, a big bone for Milo, a new blanket for Mom, and socks for Dad. Dad always got socks.

The little gray house, he thought, then the blue house, then a white house a little further down the street. Santa’s nose was cold and his fingers were beginning to ache from the frosty air. He did love Christmas Eve, but it would be so nice to get home to Mrs. Claus and take some time off on Christmas Day. 

Distracted by the anticipation of a steaming mug of hot chocolate piled high with marshmallows, Santa forgot to pay attention to the chimney. Halfway down, the big red bag slipped and the rocking horse tipped and wedged itself sideways in the chimney. 

Santa nudged it with his foot, but the bag was well and truly stuck. He tried to climb back up the chimney but the cord tied around the bag was caught on his boot and he couldn’t get free, not in the tight space of the flue. 

How many hundreds of years had he done this? He’d never gotten stuck before, but now, tonight, he was well and truly stuck. 

Tucked in her bed, with Milo close by, little Lucy had only just fallen asleep. She was supposed to be asleep hours ago, after Mom had kissed her good night and turned out the lights, but Lucy had laid awake, watching the snow fall outside her window, waiting and listening for Santa Claus. 

“Help!” Someone called in a muffled voice. “Help! I’m stuck!”

Milo got up, and Lucy did too. They snuck to the door and peered out into the hall. Mom and Dad’s door was shut, and everything was quiet, but then Lucy heard the voice again. 

“Help!”

Milo went down the stairs with Lucy close behind. In the living room sat the tree, all decorated and beautiful. In the fireplace was a package with the paper all torn. 

Lucy picked it up. “Socks? I didn’t ask for socks, Santa.”

“Those are for your father, young lady,” a voice said from overhead. “Can you please go get him?”

Lucy looked up the chimney. All she could see was a red velvet bag and some gold cord. “Santa?”

Santa sighed. “That’s right. You should be asleep, young lady.”

“You woke me up,” she said. “Me and Milo both.” 

Santa wasn’t usually claustrophobic but it was starting to feel a bit cramped in that chimney. “I am sorry for waking you. But can you please go get your parents? I find myself in need of assistance.”

“Okay, Santa,” Lucy said, and she scampered off upstairs. “Santa is stuck in our chimney!” She yelled, throwing open Mom and Dad’s door. “He says he needs an assistant.”

Dad sat up straight. “What?” He said, rubbing his eyes. “What’s going on?”

“Santa came! But he’s stuck in our chimney and he needs help!”

Downstairs went Dad and Mom and Lucy and Milo. 

“What’s going on?” Dad asked, poking his head up the chimney to see. 

“I’m stuck,” Santa said. “I seem to be in need of some assistance.”

Dad got to work. He pushed and he pulled, he prodded and poked, but no matter what he did, Santa couldn’t budge. 

Finally Mom said, “I think we need to call someone.”

“Who?” Dad asked. 

“The fire department,” Mom said. “They’ll know what to do.”

All around town, the firefighters were asleep too. Kate expected to be woken by Christmas music and jingle bells but instead she was woken up by her pager blaring out a tone and a dispatch. “Winterville Volunteer Fire, please respond to 15 Maple Street for a report of a man stuck in the chimney.”

Kate jumped out of bed and pulled on her pants and snow boots. She hurried out to the garage and got in her truck, and drove across town to the fire station. 

Jimmy and Pete and Greg and Levi were all coming, too. At the fire station Kate kicked off her snow boots and jumped into her bunker pants and boots, pulled on her hood and jacket, and went to start up the engine.  

The big red ladder truck and the big red engine pulled up outside the gray house on Maple Street. Levi took a walk around the house and Kate went inside to talk with Mom and Dad, while Jimmy and Pete and Greg got the ladder set up. 

“Santa is stuck in our chimney,” Lucy told Kate. 

Kate smiled at the little girl. “We’ll get him out. Don’t you worry.” 

“Just don’t break the toys,” Santa said, his voice echoing in the chimney. 

“We’ll try not to,” Kate promised. 

Levi came inside and peered up the chimney with his flashlight. “I think I see the problem,” he said. “Something in the bag is wedged up against a brick that sticks out. If we can budge it a little bit, I think we’ll be okay. But we better get the big man himself out of there first.”

“I can’t get out,” Santa called down. “The cord is caught on my boot and I can’t climb back up.”

Kate hummed thoughtfully and looked up the chimney again. “I wonder if we could get the cord loose. I can see it from here.”

Levi stepped back to give her some space, and started talking on the radio with Greg. Greg thought they could get a rope down the chimney for Santa to climb up, as long as he could get free from the cord. 

“Miss Lucy,” Kate said, turning to the little girl. “Do you have a broom anywhere?”

“Yeah!” Lucy dashed off to the kitchen. Something crashed, and Lucy called, “I’m okay!” then came running back with a broom and dustpan. 

“Thank you!” Kate took the broom and poked it up the chimney. She tried to catch a loop of the cord but instead she found she could move whatever was in the bag and stuck on the brick. 

“I can move the bag,” she told Levi. 

Levi got back on the radio. “We can move the obstruction but we need that rope first. I don’t want Santa Claus falling down the chimney and crunching Kate.”

“I don’t want to do that either,” Santa said. 

It took just a couple minutes more but Greg got a rope down the chimney to Santa, and Levi got a hook instead of the broom handle, and Kate got soot on her nose. Then it was a couple quick tugs before Santa’s big red bag dropped down into Kate’s arms. She hauled it out of the fireplace and set it by the tree as Greg carefully lowered Santa the rest of the way down the chimney. 

Santa climbed out of the fireplace, his rosy red cheeks and bright red suit all covered in soot. He took a big deep breath and looked around at the firefighters, Mom, Dad, Lucy, and Milo, and then he smiled. “Thank you all,” he said. “Now, it’s nearly dawn, and I have to finish my deliveries.”

“How many stops do you have left?” Kate asked. 

“There are one hundred and eighteen children, although only sixty-one houses.” Santa sighed. “I best be on my way. But first… presents.” 

He picked up his big red velvet bag and took out the wrapped presents, tucking them carefully around the Christmas tree. Lucy crept over and touched the largest package, which looked suspiciously like a rocking horse, and Santa shook his head at her. “It’s not time quite yet, little one.” 

Kate laughed. “Sorry, kiddo. But I have an idea. Santa, you’re running out of time.”

Santa nodded and picked up his bag. “That is true, my dear.”

“We can help. This is our town, we know where everyone lives. You just tell us which packages go where and we can get them delivered.”

Santa thought about this, looking outside at the snow and then at Lucy’s tree. He stroked his beard and rubbed his nose and finally said, “Are you sure?”

Kate and Levi both nodded. “Yes sir,” Levi said. “We’re here to help.”

“It’s not an emergency,” Santa pointed out. 

Levi shrugged. “We’re all awake now. If there is an emergency we’ll have to go, of course, but we can help for a while anyway.”

“I want to help!” Lucy yelled, then added, “Please?”

All the adults looked at each other, then Mom nodded. “Go find your snowsuit.”

Lucy dashed off to the hall to find her snowsuit and boots, and Kate turned to Santa. “Hey, Santa,” she said. “Do you remember that firefighter helmet you gave me when I was a kid? It was black with a pink shield?”

Santa nodded, his eyes twinkling. He gave the red velvet bag a good hard shake and then opened the bag and held it out to Kate. She reached in and pulled out a black helmet with a pink shield on the front, just the right size for Lucy. The front of the shield read “Lucy” on the top and “Winterville Christmas Fire Department” on the bottom. 

Lucy came back, all dressed up for the cold, and held her mittens out to Kate. “Help?”

Kate knelt down and helped pull her mittens on, tucking them into the coat sleeves so no snow could get through, then she gently set the helmet on Lucy’s head. “Now you’re ready to help.”

Then they all went outside. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer were still up on the roof of the little gray house, and Greg was scratching the reindeers’ ears. 

“Jimmy, can you take Santa up the ladder to his sleigh? We’re going to get that down here and help him finish his deliveries,” Levi said.

Jimmy helped Santa up the ladder. “I always wanted to see this,” he said, running his hand over the sleigh. 

“Do you want a ride down?” Santa asked. 

Jimmy nodded eagerly and hopped in beside Santa, who then clicked his tongue to the reindeer. They took off from the roof and soared overhead before turning in a circle and coming back to the yard beside the fire trucks. 

“We’ll take the south side of town,” Levi said. “Kate, you and Lucy and Santa can do the north side. We should be done pretty quick.”

Santa gave his bag a good hard shake, then handed out the presents. Now each package had a street address, instead of just a name. 

Levi and Pete helped Kate and Santa sort out all the packages and tuck them away with the tools and equipment on the trucks. Mom and Dad helped too, and Lucy just watched. Was this really Christmas, or was she just dreaming?

“What do reindeer like to eat?” Mom asked Santa. “Our neighbor has horses and I could borrow a bale of hay.”

“Hay would be good,” Santa said. “I know they’ll be getting hungry before we head home.”

Dad and Greg stayed home to feed the reindeer. Mom and Kate and Santa and Lucy all rode in the ladder truck with the funny backwards seats, and Levi, Jimmy, and Pete took the engine. 

Santa didn’t go down the chimneys, this time. It was dawn, and the pink and gold sunlight was peeking out from under the snow clouds. Santa walked up to the front doors and knocked, and when someone answered the door, he handed out the presents. 

Lucy and Kate and Mom helped him carry presents, and they went pretty quick. Soon there was only one house left. 

In this house lived Naomi, a little girl who was very sick. She was in Lucy’s class in school but Lucy hadn’t seen her in a long time. 

“We have to be quiet,” Kate said to Santa. “We don’t want to scare her or get her too excited when she sees you.”

“I know just what to do,” Santa said. “Little Lucy, come here.”

Lucy trotted over. “You can be Santa Claus today,” he said. “Can you do that?”

She nodded, feeling very solemn and serious.  Santa took his big red scarf off and wrapped it around her, and Mom handed her the present for Naomi while Kate took the present for her mom, Beth. 

Kate knocked on the door, and Beth came to answer. 

“Merry Christmas,” Lucy said, trying to sound like Santa. “This is for Naomi.”

Beth looked like she wanted to cry. “Oh, come in,” she said, holding the door open wide. 

Lucy stepped inside with Kate. There wasn’t a Christmas tree or stockings anywhere to be seen, but Naomi’s hospital bed in the living room was surrounded by pretty Christmas lights, and she had a cozy red blanket wrapped around her.

“Merry Christmas, Naomi,” Lucy said, and handed her the present. “I hope you feel better.”

Naomi smiled, and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Lucy.”

“We won’t stay long,” Kate said to Beth, handing over the package. “We had a special guest today and we just wanted to make sure you both had something for the holiday.”

Beth hugged Kate, and hugged Lucy too, then Kate took Lucy’s hand and walked outside, back to the fire truck. 

Lucy was quiet as she walked beside Kate. She climbed up into the ladder truck beside Santa and sat down. 

“Well?” Santa asked softly. 

“Santa,” Lucy said, “Can you change my present? Can  you make Naomi better?”

He sighed a little, and his jolly face turned sad. “I cannot. I’m sorry. I can only give gifts and fix broken toys, not sick people. But I can tell you a secret.”

“Yeah?” Lucy looked up. 

“There are other people who can help Naomi. When Naomi had to go to the hospital, Firefighter Kate helped get her there. The doctors and nurses at the hospital helped, and so did the ladies at church who made meals for Naomi and her family so they would have something to eat even though they were so busy taking care of Naomi. The man at the bank who helped pay for Naomi’s hospital bills helped, too. And you, too, young lady; by giving her a present today, you helped too.”

“Oh.” Lucy sat and thought, while Kate drove the ladder truck back home. As Kate pulled into the driveway and parked, Lucy looked up at Santa again. “When I grow up, I’m going to be a helper,” she said. 

“I think you already are,” Santa said. “I am very proud of you, you know.”

Kate came to the door and helped Lucy out of the truck. “Thanks for helping, kiddo,” she said, and Lucy gave her a hug, saying, “Thank you, too.”

Dad was waiting, with hot coffee and hot cocoa and cookies. Santa took a thermos for the trip home, but he was eager to get back to the North Pole. 

Lucy stood on the front step and watched as Santa flew off. “Merry Christmas to all,” he called from the sky. “Thank you!”

Lucy realized just then that he had forgotten his scarf, still wrapped warmly around her. She ran inside. “Mom, Santa forgot his scarf!”

Mom and Dad were sitting around the Christmas tree with all the firefighters, with Milo snoozing by the tree. “I don’t think he forgot, Lucy. I think he meant for you to have it.”

“I think so, too,” Kate said. “Merry Christmas, Lucy.”

“Merry Christmas,” Lucy said. “I think this is the best Christmas ever.”

A couple of notes: 

This is, obviously, a fictional story. The characters are not intended to represent any specific individuals, alive or dead, and the story may not represent best practice because “Santa Claus stuck in a chimney” isn’t really in the protocol books. 

Secondly, did you know that an estimated 65% of firefighters in the United States are volunteer firefighters? (NFPA, 2020.) Volunteers may be paid per call or may work without any compensation, depending on how the service is set up. They typically work full-time in other positions and fields, and they respond to emergency calls when they have the opportunity and availability to do so. In my county, for example, currently we have one department that is staffed 24/7, and the rest are a mix of per-diem (staffed for specific days/shifts, but not 24/7) and on-call/volunteer. When someone calls for help, they go. Sometimes they’re leaving their families in the middle of Christmas dinner or waking up in the middle of the night for a chimney fire. 

Thirdly, one of the reasons I wanted to share this little story today is because I’m just a few days away from bringing home Orion, my black lab puppy who is going to be trained for a first responder therapy dog. I know first hand from my own experiences how much a dog can help with the stresses of the job and I’m excited to work with Orion with the goal of offering that support as a resource to our local first responders. It will be at least 18 months before we can begin working, and I have all of the essential items for his first few months. However, I am still coordinating for some of the supplies, training, and courses he and I will both need. I usually share some links when I share a short story, in case folks want to help support my writing, but for this month anything that folks contribute will go towards the puppy fund and making sure Orion has what he needs. You can check out the following links if you’re interested; if not, please enjoy the story, hug your family, and remember to breathe. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I love you. 

-A 

AnnieLouiseTwitchell.com 

BuyMeACoffee.com/AnnieTwitchell

Patreon.com/AnnieLouiseTwitchell

From the Files: Newspaper Obituaries

Newspaper Obituaries

In memory,
With love,
We have peacefully passed away
Or maybe not so peaceful
At home
In hospital
Alone or with others

But now at rest

We were born
To parents
Maybe siblings

Family

We learned
At school
At college
Art school
A trade
From Father
Mother

But we learned something

We loved
Person
People?
Place
Job
Thing

Most of all we loved

We grew older
Like trees spreading branches
Leaves brushing against others
Touching lives
Lives touching ours

Too soon, a solar eclipse at noon
Or
Deep into sunset years
Moonlight drifting across the path

We left them behind
And went on to see others
Parents and siblings
Sons and daughters
Grandchildren
Lovers and friends

We’ve gone on
We each know where

Now a snapshot of our lives
Etched out in news print
A lingering breath

A note card tucked in the end pages

We lived
We learned
We loved
We grew

We want you to, too.



Annie Louise Twitchell
March 12, 2023

For my day job I end up handling and posting the obituaries for most of Franklin County and the surrounding communities. I make a point of reading through each one and studying their story. I will never know many of the people I read about but in the minutes I take to read about them, there is a story to learn and to remember.

From the Files: Two Hours

October 19, 2021. I’ve hesitated on sharing this story publicly for months now but I’ve shared it with enough people who found it valuable in their own journey that I’m going to give it a shot.

May, 2020

It was almost 8 p.m. when David stopped to ask if I was okay. I was still on the phone with my therapist, parked outside the library in a torrential downpour, and I told him I was okay. I guess he didn’t believe me; I was kind of in the middle of crying. He went up around the block and parked at the bank across the street, and just stuck around for a while.

Eventually my therapist had to hang up. I was going to go home, but my brain was spiraling down the street drain like the rainwater outside, and I was pretty sure if I started driving home I would just drive right past the house and keep going to Rangeley, but I’d run out of gas before I got there and I would be stranded.

I couldn’t figure out what to do, but that police cruiser was still there.

I drove over to the bank and went over to the cruiser. I was terrified to talk to him but I didn’t know what else to do and he was right there. He got out and asked me, again, if I was okay. I said I thought I needed help, and he got me settled into the passenger seat and turned the heat on so I could stop shivering, and we just talked for a few minutes. He had a bunch of questions and asked a couple times if I needed to go to the hospital, but then he just let me talk. I was panicky and stuck in a year-old memory and all I wanted was to go home and see my mom, but my mom has a traumatic brain injury and I have post traumatic stress, and sometimes—through no one’s fault—we rub against each other like sandpaper.

When I finally stopped crying, David asked me a question that has completely changed my entire approach to my mental health.

“What are you going to do for the rest of the night?”

He sat and waited until I worked out a plan for the rest of the night—I would go home, have a glass of milk and the huge cookie I’d bought at the Orange Cat earlier that day, and watch a movie with Hannah. Then it would be time for bed, and I hoped I would be able to go to sleep without much trouble.

He thought that sounded like a good plan, and he gave me his card and said if I needed anything for the rest of the night, I could call Dispatch, ask for him, and he would come help.

That idea—of having a plan for getting through the next few hours—has stuck with me ever since. I actually created a ‘mental health first aid kit’ with instructions for using it and on the really bad days when I can’t figure out what to do or where to begin, I pull that out. But even when it’s not that bad, I can pause, figure out a plan for the next hour or two, and give myself space to process what’s going on. I just need to get through two hours and then I can reevaluate where I’m at. It’s become automatic—a thought process on my way home from a difficult day at work, a hard story I had to cover, a rough call. It’s just there: “what am I going to do for the next couple hours?” It is a good thought to have in my head, a good response. I don’t have to be okay right now, I just have to make a cup of cocoa and put on a familiar show and snuggle my cats for a couple hours. I create a space where I am allowed to be not okay in a safe way, and that makes it easier to move forward.

I wish I could articulate how much that changed the game for me, but it’s hard to explain when I don’t entirely understand it. All I know is that that one sentence, that one question, has been a lifesaver.

Originally posted on Facebook on October 19, 2021.

From the Files: Does the Universe Paint Pictures?

I spent too long reading my lab results from the clinic this afternoon and found the names familiar. There is iron in my blood, and iron in the ground I walk on. I am made of the same stuff as the trees and my bones have calcium like the rocks on the mountain.

I am just one cell on Planet Earth but I am also a universe in this body.

I do believe in magic, and in grace, and in love, because my mother’s hands hold my genetic fingerprint. Because I could be a thousand different things but I’m not, I’m Annie. I could not exist without a million tiny miracles.

There is so much to feel and do and be. We are here for more than grocery lists and income taxes.

We are breathing — do you know what it takes to breathe? To fill your lungs with air and carry the oxygen through your bloodstream? To exhale and then, deep inhale? Who tells your lungs how to expand?

Who tells your heart how to love? How to break?

We are made of the same stuff as the trees but we laugh and cry and love. We paint pictures and tell stories.

I look at the sunset and I wonder if the universe paints pictures, too.

But then I look at you and I know it does.

Originally posted on Facebook on October 28, 2021

From the Files: Baking Bread

The world is heavy in my hands today.

Inside my ring of mountains and outside, there are things that I cannot change, problems I cannot solve.

The world is heavy in my hands today.

So, I take a breath. I wash my hands, scrub under my nails, and knead bread dough.

I place the dough in a bowl to rise.

I shape a round loaf and place it in a cast iron pan, slice a thin ribbon across the top, and let it rise again.

This is an old ritual, an old memory.

My grandmother’s grandmother did this in another world, at another time.

I did not have to be taught this skill. My bones have known this since before I remember.

This is how I remind myself of the infinite truth of humanity: we are who we are because we bake bread and we bandage wounds and we share blankets for warmth. We are human because of our paintings and poems and how we work together as a community to care for and love each other. We are human.

I choose to embrace our beauty.

I choose to hold the heaviness close and to feel it, and to pour my fatigue and hurt and rage into my muscles, turning and pushing and kneading the dough until it is smooth and I am at ease.

The world is heavy in my hands today, and I am baking bread.

Originally posted on Facebook on February 24, 2022.

From the Files: Dishes

My little brother tells me

he doesn’t understand romance stories

because it feels like something is missing.

He says, it feels fake.

He asks, what does love really look like?

I tell him I am not the best person to answer,

but I will try.

I tell him I want someone who

turns the porch light on for me when it’s dark.

Someone who

brings home supper on the long days.

Someone whose

socks I don’t mind washing over and over.

Someone who

wants to go for walks with me.

Someone who

will do the dishes with me

for the rest of our lives.

My little brother understands about

doing the dishes.

I tell him the extraordinary is important

but I need the everyday ordinary

or it’s a firework, burning out.

I do not know more than this.

I know I want someone to do the dishes

with me

forever.

From the Files: Sunshine and Snowbanks

My communities have seen too much tragedy this week. But there’s been little rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds.

This morning I needed to get out of the house. My options are limited (thanks COVID) but I decided to go to town, pick up breakfast, and run a few errands.

Before I could do that I needed to clear out the driveway. I can bumble through a foot of powder with the truck but I try to avoid barreling through the plow drift at the end of the driveway unless it’s an emergency. I decided I’d shovel out the plow drift, go to town, and then tackle the rest of the driveway when I got home.

The plow drift was such a fine specimen that I should have logged it for scientific purposes. It was about four feet deep, about two and a half feet tall, and almost entirely made of dense, compacted powder. I started carving it away, quickly slipping into a scoop-lift-throw rhythm.

One of my local guys drove by, backed up, and said he’d take a pass off the end of the drive. Three quick swipes and he’d cleared away the whole plow drift and cleared enough space at the end of the drive to get the truck out without any trouble.

I thanked him and he continued on his way.

I went back inside, called Missie, and began crying.

After this week, I needed that casual kindness. It made my whole day better.

People talk a lot about changing the world. Heroic acts. Daring deeds. There’s nothing wrong with that; the world desperately needs heroes.

But in a world that isn’t kind, being recklessly kind and unconditionally loving is a heroic act. Sometimes the best way to change the world as a whole is to change the world around you.

This week has been hard. But people keep bringing rays of sunshine through the clouds.

I’m so thankful for them.

Do me a favor? Hug your kids and tell them you love them.

Originally posted on Facebook on February 1, 2021.

The Story Keeper

reader notes + a mini review

Appalachia.

I live in the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains, deep in the midst of Maine’s highest peaks. I can trace my mountains like the thin lines that travel across my palms and as long as I can find the mountains I know that it’s all right.

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains, deep in Appalachia, in a world I have never lived but still somehow know. The people in this book are familiar and so are their stories.

This story is one I see every day. Rural life, struggling families, scratching a life deep in the woods and mountains of the Appalachians. It is beautiful, but harsh and unforgiving. I have always found that while the world here in the mountains may be harsh, there is always a great capacity for hope and for love.

I am glad to find that others see this, too.

The Story Keeper is a novel woven inside another novel. Sarra’s story first presents as a manuscript that mysteriously lands on the New York desk of editor Jen Gibbs, plunging Jen into a whirlwind rush back to the Blue Ridge Mountains where she was born, raised, and from which she ultimately escaped to pursue her dreams.

I first picked this one up on a whim. I have been listening through audiobooks lately, and after Frankenstein, opted for something a little more modern before I continue my way through the classics. There’s another Lisa Wingate novel I’ve had my eye on for a while but The Story Keeper was available for free with my Audible subscription so I started there to see how I felt about the writing before I spent the money on the other one.

(I will be picking up Before We Were Yours and starting that one soon, I can assure you.)

This story was compelling and mesmerizing and I stayed up late more nights than I should have in order to finish it. I would recommend it for readers 17 and up.

My favorite line is from the epilogue, and I will leave with this.

When we lose our stories, we lose ourselves.”

2023 Reads:

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

Which classic novel should I listen to next? Let me know in the comments or send me an email!