Angela Amman


letter to Dylan

smiling for his last photo as a 7 year old

Dear Dylan,

You turned eight this weekend. We try to bring the fanfare to your special day, even though we’re all still recovering from the fun of Christmas and the unnamed, lazy days between then and New Year’s. Your requests for gifts falter, found under the Christmas tree or mostly forgotten in the happy haze of gratitude for what you did receive.

This year, you loved your Nintendo Switch, your fascination with video games both endearing and unnerving. It’s new for us, the stories about Minecraft, though there’s something comforting about the familiar sound of the part of the game that plays the old Super Mario Brothers music.

At eight you always default to laughter, telling jokes and laughing at your own punchlines as much as you like to listen to our jokes and laugh at the punchlines you don’t know. You still let Abbey take the lead, though we’re seeing signs of resistance crop up more often than they have in the past.

You know more about Star Wars than all of us combined and build LEGO creations with a focused singularity I wish I could replicate on, well, almost anything.

You love reading and snuggling under blankets, and I relish seeing you with a book in your hands, even though I would never choose the titles myself: Notebook of Doom and Dogman and countless Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles. I always thought my concept of letting kids read what they wanted would be challenged by taboo subjects, but I didn’t expect those to be in the form of fart jokes.

Eight years into parenting you, and I’m still learning what it means to do that.

You love chocolate and hate most vegetables, though you’ll devour Brussels sprouts and broccoli — and eat the carrots in your lunch box, possibly because you’re always hungry, and they’re the last thing left for you to eat.

When we walk to school, you kiss me goodbye — a little reluctantly — and run ahead to your line on the side of the school without looking back to wave. That fills and breaks my heart at the same time. Your sister wanted me to walk with her for longer, and I thought I had more time to hold your hand for a few last moments before our days diverged.

I don’t want to run out of time.

So maybe I’ll hug you a few too many times or kiss you goodnight just-once-more on my way to bed. I’ll ignore that you’ve been sleeping for hours in a bed filled with books, stuffed animals, and a plastic light saber — Kylo Ren’s, because you think it’s the coolest looking, even though you think he’s made some pretty bad choices. And in the morning, when you can’t find socks for the forty-second day in a row, I’ll hug you again and kiss you again, and I’ll hold your hand and hope you’ll still let me hold it when you’re nine.

Love always,


letter to my son

my wish for you is that you always laugh with your whole heart -xoxo-

American Stranger – A review

American Stranger review I read American Stranger by David Plante mostly during the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Cold weather, perhaps unexpectedly so, even for Michigan, meant we stayed inside more. Time stopped, at least for a few days.

After finishing the novel, the timing of its reading felt right.

Suspension feels like the heart of American Stranger to me. Suspension of identity and searching for something that might never actually come to be for Nancy Green.

Readers meet Nancy as a young adult splitting time between graduate school in Boston and her parents’ home in Manhattan. Jewish by heritage, if not religious observation, Nancy floats between loneliness and forwardness, sometimes using forced extroversion to throw friends and acquaintances a bit off balance.

Nancy’s sense of self centers on her relationships, first with a Hassidic Jew searching for his own answers in a monastery, then with Yvon, a Catholic undergraduate bound to his own heritage and mother in a way that makes it impossible for he and Nancy to find happiness. Hurt and unmoored by a tragedy in Yvon’s life, Nancy escapes to London with a Jewish husband, a widow with social aspirations Nancy only vaguely understands.

Her marriage ends, like so many do, in an abyss of unmet expectations. While she finds a familiar comfort at home with her parents, she once again seeks something more, this time resolving to reconnect with Yvon, the passionate love invading her thoughts and consciousness.

Religion and identity tangle together throughout American Stranger, underlying each of Nancy’s relationships and making her question where — and with whom — she fits. Her exhaustion plays a prominent role in her coping skills. Many times she finds herself seeking a place to sleep, to rest, where she can be still and removed from chaos.

In the end, many of Nancy’s questions remain unanswered. Readers have the chance to draw their own conclusions about how we form our sense of self, and how we need to adjust it when our relationships can’t offer the stability we seek.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of American Stranger in consideration for review. All opinions are my own. 

Frost Flowers – Part Twelve

Frost FlowersContinued from Part Eleven or start at the beginning

Joni picked at the skin surrounding her thumbnails and waited for Grady to bring her shoes to the car. After a few minutes had passed, she took a deep breath and pulled down the car’s visor, wiping the mascara from her face then sitting on her hands. With each moment breathing cool sense against her skin, she felt calmer and more than a little chastised. The only person putting pressure on her had been, as usual, her. Regret, it turned out, felt worse than indignation.

She’d left her phone in Grady’s cupholder, and she pulled it into the cradle of her hands, scrolling through the pictures she’d sent to Gil as she experimented with just the right look for the flowers. The thought of bringing other brides’ floral visions to life terrified and elated her, and she wondered if she’d completely ruined the opportunity to try.

A knock at the window shook her from her own head, and she startled when she saw Ginny smiling at her through the glass. Grady stood just over his mother’s shoulder, and he shrugged a little smile at her when she caught his eye. Unsure what to do, she opened the door to where Ginny held out her shoes in one hand and coat in the other. A fluffy bundle of dark fur wrapped her in its cocoon against the cold.

“I brought your things for you,” Ginny said. “Grady found me and quietly let me know you felt a little overwhelmed. I wanted to come out myself to talk with you.”

“Not much stops my mother,” Grady said, raising his eyebrows just enough that Joni felt an urge to laugh at the absurdity of the entire situation.

“It didn’t occur to me until this very moment that if you felt overwhelmed inside, my hustling out here to talk to you just might make things worse,” Ginny said. Still, her gentle smile stayed on her face, and she didn’t make any motion to leave.

Sliding her plaid heels onto her feet felt even more awkward with the door to the car open, everyone waiting for her. Joni held out the once-cozy slipper, cringing a little. “I’m afraid I ruined these.”

“Oh, don’t worry for a second about that,” Ginny said. “I’ve got so many pairs of those you could take three, and I’d never notice. Those shoes of yours would have been ruined in the snow and salt, too. Completely impractical, if I do say, which was the first sign you’ll fit right in with us.”

Joni blinked. Grady’s mother spoke as though she wasn’t slinking away from the party before it had even started.

Ginny nodded before continuing. “Yes, in a house with six women, none of us ever figured out how to purchase practical shoes. Why do that, when there are so many gorgeous, impractical ones just waiting for you to wear until they hurt your feet and make you so glad to have a pair of slippers to come home to?”

Joni blinked again. Ginny still held her coat.

“I might not always have exactly the right thing to wear,” Joni admitted, thinking of the work smock and the countless cozy leggings lining her drawers, “but I do adore an impractical pair of shoes.”

Ginny smiled wider, as though that changed anything — or everything — at all.

“Of course you do, dear. And impractical hair, though I must admit I would love to try a shocking pink myself one of these days. There’s something exciting about impracticality when you’re always doing the safe thing.”

“Do you know what frost flowers are?” Ginny asked.

Joni’s brow furrowed at the unexpected question, and she shook her head. “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Sometimes, the weather gets cold before the plants expect it,” Ginny said. “And ice forms from within the heart of the plant, making its way into the open air. The ice curls and winds into beautiful furls. They look like flowers, beautiful flowers forming when you’d least expect it, before the plants were ready for ice.”

Joni searched Ginny’s face for a deeper meaning, but her smile stayed exactly the same.

“We’d love for you to come back inside, you know,” Ginny said. “I can practically guarantee no one’s even noticed you disappeared. My grandchildren offer quite a distraction, as does Grace, who’s shocking my poor husband by pretending she’s going to defer her admittance to Brown in order to backpack the world.”

Joni held onto her smile for just another breath, scared to look toward Grady and see he didn’t second his mother’s invitation. She needn’t have worried. He raised his hands in submission.

“I told you, not much stops my mother,” he said.

“I’ll see you inside,” Ginny said, stepping away from the car with a satisfied nod. “I’ll just hang onto this coat for you so you can’t decide to change your mind before you get there.”

Grady looked less sure of himself than Ginny had as he held out his hand to Joni. She reached for him, wondering how to convey how much she appreciated the unconditional welcoming of his family. He closed the car door behind her, and she let herself rest in the circle of his arms.

“I overreacted,” she said.

“Probably,” Grady agreed. “But I misjudged the situation. I thought you’d be excited about the opportunity.”

“I am,” Joni said, her words tumbling in a rush before she could stop them. “I just needed time to realize it.”

He smiled, dimples deepening, and she thought she could stay in the cold forever if she had that smile to fall into.

“Perfect. Now you just need to act surprised when Gabby brings it up,” he said. “After all, it will make her ecstatic to take some of the attention away from Grace.”

Joni shook her head, thinking of how her own family dynamics paled in comparison to the house they’d be walking into in just a minute, drama and sisters and running toddlers tumbling together in a way that made her outburst feel almost normal. Almost.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized.

“You said that,” he said.

“No, I admitted overreacting,” she said. “I want you to know I’m sorry about it.”

“There’s a distinct possibility you won’t be the only person to cry tonight,” Grady said, pulling her closer to him. “My oldest niece has brought more than one of us to tears.”

“I’ll steer clear, then. I don’t plan on any more tears tonight,” Joni said.

He lowered his face to hers, lips warm and welcoming against the cold. “That’s the spirit. After all, if you think this is overwhelming, just wait until you come to Christmas Eve.”

He pulled her toward the house before she could figure out if he were joking. Joni let herself follow him, let herself laugh at the possibility of spending Christmas with Grady instead of alone in her apartment. Knowing another pair of slippers waited for her inside made her feel, just a little, like she was coming home.

The End

Frost Flowers – Part Eleven

Frost FlowersContinued from Part Ten or start at the beginning


She ignored him, walking briskly along the sidewalk. Her toes hurt, and she knew she’d have to go back eventually, because they were miles from her apartment.

“Joni,” he repeated. He didn’t have to yell this time. He’d thought to put on actual shoes, and jogged to her within seconds. Her heart hurt when she realized how quickly he’d rushed out of his family home to follow her. She pushed it down.

“Come back inside,” Grady said. “I’ll intercept Gabby before she can make some sort of grandiose announcement. You can talk to her about it a different time.”

“I just can’t do this,” Joni said. The cliche stuck in her throat, caught between hope and tears.

“Do what? Spend time with people who want to get to know you better?” Grady asked. “Maybe think about moving on to a job that lets you focus on one of your talents?”

“Yes. No,” she said. Her voice hitched, and she knew her mascara was freezing on her cheeks. “You don’t understand, because you’ve got this whole family that just surrounds you and accepts everything you are. I can’t pretend to be someone who fits in with your picturesque holiday.”

She saw immediately that her words wounded him. She could see the slump in his shoulders, the air leave his lungs. The blood rushing in her ears kept time with her heart, counting the seconds until she felt she needed to speak again.

“I can’t pretend to be something I’m not.”

He reached out for just a moment, and she could almost feel his hand circle hers. At the last second he drew back, leaving her gloveless fingers aching in the wind.

“I understand that,” he said. “More than you know, maybe. What I don’t understand is why you’re trying so damn hard not to be something you are.” His spine straightened. Joni cast her eyes downward. She didn’t want to know if any hope lingered there. She’d done enough damage for the night already. She imagined the cracks in the sidewalk as a chasm between them, one he might have crossed for her if she could have been someone else, just for one night.

Instead, he pulled his keys out of his pocket and gestured toward the driveway.

“I’ll take you home if that’s what you want,” he said.

She couldn’t answer. Lying would hurt too much, but she couldn’t let herself explain how much she wanted to stay. She didn’t have the words to express how terrified she was to let him down in any number of ways that loomed on the horizon of her life. He took her silence as agreement.

“I’ll grab your coat and shoes,” he said.

Joni didn’t ask how he would explain her absence to all of the people still smiling and laughing inside the house.

She walked just a step ahead of him, and she heard the lock click open so she could sink into the passenger seat. She let herself be grateful she’d learned to cry silently, though she didn’t stop them from falling into cracks that felt so much emptier than she had imagined they could.

…to be continued

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