Gift Ideas for Writers, 2017

Here comes gift-giving season. (There are definitely affiliate links in this post).

What to buy for the writer in your life? Speaking from experience, here are some awesome gifts to both receive and to give. Gifts that will encourage, support, and inspire.

Coffee Mugs

I love this one, with Jane Austen quotes

And this one, with Cheryl Strayed’s signature quote, “Write like a mother f*er.”



To quote their website, scrivener is

“For writing. And writing. And writing.

Scrivener is the go-to app for writers of all kinds, used every day by best-selling novelists, screenwriters, non-fiction writers, students, academics, lawyers, journalists, translators and more. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write—it simply provides everything you need to start writing and keep writing.”

I just started using Scrivener in November and wish I had started long ago. Instead of using paper index cards, spreading them all over my living room floor and sweating because the ceiling fan would destroy the meticulously arranged piles, I could have used the handy digital index card tool. Scrivener has so many other useful tools, I’m still figuring it all out.

A standard license costs $45.00



The Artist’s Way

“A course in discovering and recovering your creative self.”

I checked this out from my Kindle library, not realizing it is actually designed to be a course with tools and ideas to be implemented over time. Sadly, my checkout period ended far before I had time to finish, but I could already tell this is an incredibly useful tool and resource for inspiring creativity of all kinds.

Available, currently, for $13.29 from Amazon

A writing class

There are so many options for writing classes: in person, online, in small groups, in large communities.

For the writer you love, you could check out Gotham Writer’s Workshops, The Loft Literary Center, and Jeff Goins’ Tribe Writers, to name a few.

Prices vary widely

An afternoon or evening of free babysitting

For parents of small children, this communicates that you both enjoy their kids (hopefully!) and that you value their creative endeavors. A large chunk of time spent concentrating on the work can make a huge amount of difference, especially in the lives of longer projects or work that requires uninterrupted thinking and wrestling.

Small candy

I seem to concentrate better (and have fewer excuses to leave my desk) if I have either gum or pieces of small candy. I’ve heard this from other writers, too. These serve as rewards: finish three pages and eat a Swedish Fish. Or, they serve as mindless things to nibble while untangling a conundrum on the page. One at at time is the key for making this work and for not later rolling away from the desk instead of walking. Nerds, one by one, though? Not sure that would be as effective. I like hard candy or chewing, like Werthers, Starlite mints, Mike N’ Ikes, or gumdrops. And I will never acknowledge how many Swedish Fish I have eaten over the course of writing this book.

These make great stocking stuffers.


Bird by Bird

Writers need this book, by Anne Lamott, and they need to read it again and again.

On Writing

Same with this one, by Stephen King.

Walking on Water

And this book, by Madeline l’Engle

Writers, what do you love to give and receive for holidays or birthdays or at random, gifting moments?

Parenting and Risk, Outside the Camp

Quick link: I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

This is an article published by Christianity Today Women. (I hope fathers as well as mothers read it, or are thinking about these topics as they parent!) The piece was commissioned in response to a recent post John Piper wrote about bringing kids abroad, to live in risky or dangerous places.

His piece focused on spiritual risks. I’ve written a lot about fear and danger, mostly in terms of physical aspects. I believe, as I wrote in the Proper Weight of Fear, that safety is an illusion, it can even be crafted into an idol. No matter where we live, our kids are never guaranteed any level of safety. What are we going to do with that sobering reality? My piece responds to Piper’s, with a personal take.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I did the riskiest thing we could imagine and took a job in the Horn of Africa. People often responded by asking, “Are you bringing the kids?” We had two-year-old twins at the time.

…Yes, we were bringing the kids.

It still amazes me that people ask this question. But I heard from a friend who arrived in Africa about a year ago, she too, had been asked this. And several others have commented that people ask the same question.

Yes! We’re bringing our kids. And we don’t believe we are destroying them.

As I drafted this essay, I asked my kids if they thought they lived a dangerous or uncomfortable life. One responded, “I think its pretty comfortable. But from the outside, someone might not think that.”

One thing about risk and danger and pushing beyond our comfort zones, is that it is, partly, a matter of perspective. I look back at the US lately, and I feel a tingle of fear! I’m starting to understand my African friends who ask, “Aren’t you afraid to visit the United States?” and who assume I would have no fear about living where we do. Clearly, some places are more dangerous, physically, than others. I have never been to Mogadishu. Also, we do face unique risks regarding disease and healthcare. I am not ignoring those scary realities. But, the conversation about fear and risk is more than physical danger and more than simply thinking everywhere outside the US is less safe.

Anyway, head over to CT, and read the piece, about going outside the camp.

I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger


My First Heartbreak (it isn’t what you think)

Quick link: Borama, Somaliland. My First Heartbreak

This is in the second ever issue of Hidden Compass, a fantastic new travel e-zine.

Here is a link to the full magazine, check out the beautiful photos and stories.

I never really had a boyfriend-related heartbreak. The first boy I ever loved loved me back and we’re still married 18 years later. What a gift.

This story is about expectations, falling in love with a place and losing it and about what I still hold on to about our first months in Africa. It includes photos by Matt Erickson.

The dirt from Borama, wrenched from the earth and hurled down in swirling cyclones before a thunderstorm, seeped into me. It would stay for weeks beneath my fingernails, no matter how hard I scrubbed.

I said Borama was beautiful and my husband laughed every time. Was it the bumpy dirt road? The herds of goats? The expanse of empty earth, pock-marked with thorn bushes and camel trains? Was it the layer of dust that settled like a mosquito net over every surface and shimmered in the late afternoon Somalia sun? Maybe it was the distance from modernity, the isolation.

I insisted. Borama was beautiful, in a desperate way. The expanse that spoke of emptiness also spoke of wild adventure and discovery, freedom. The hollow drumbeat of a wooden stick on a yellow plastic jug so my neighbors could dance, the rancid flavor of laxoox, sorghum flatbread, offset by sugary tea.

Twelve years away from Borama, Somaliland and I still feel a sweet, wistful affection, a connection that dredges up fondness for the village that ejected me. We will never be more than 10 months when I was 24. We will never be more than my first footsteps in Africa on a journey that is ongoing. That is why I still love Borama. That is why, when I write, I still imagine myself sitting at a rough, hand-crafted desk in front of a wall painted half white and half aqua, listening to the mosque on the corner, the chickens in the yard, the donkey next door.

Click here to read the rest of this essay for the Chasing Demons column: Borama, Somaliland. My First Heartbreak

Did you ever suffer a place-based heartbreak?

Book News and an Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

You guys.

Book deal.


I signed a book contract. What a saga, a story for another day, of how it came about. But all the peaks and valleys brought me to a publisher who fits this story in ways I couldn’t have imagined a few months ago.

I signed with Plough and couldn’t be happier. I love their books, their vision, and the way they work.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to tell you, Djibouti Jones readers.

I want to thank you.

Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, challenging, and encouraging me. Thank you for the emails and private messages. Thank you for saying hello at the grocery store or the airport. Thank you for letting me write on your own websites. Thank you for reminding me that as an expat and a writer and a mother, three identities that can be so lonely, I am not alone. Thank you for sharing your words here, in guest posts.

I’ve been blogging now for ten years, working on essays, learning how to write in public. Some of you have been around that long. Thank you. I’m sure many of my posts are ridiculous.

I don’t ever take it for granted that you spend time here and that, when we have the chance to meet in real life, you offer words of support and encouragement.

I have a thank you gift for all of you but first let me tell you a bit about what I’m diving into.

Our world seems to grow only more divided and brokenness is exposed every day. How do we continue to live and love when fear of the ‘other’ permeates the very air we breathe?

This biography, with a little memoir sprinkled in, addresses that question. It is the story of the most inspiring woman I have known. It is a global story of massacre, war, secrets, and disease, and it is a testimony of how love, through radical service, conquers fear.

Research took me across the world. I’ve been in musty Nairobi archives (bliss), unfolding hand-drawn maps from 1910. I sat in an Italian doctor’s attic with a bowl of gelato in my lap to watch a slide show, with actual slides from the 1990s (also, bliss. Actually? I’m loving all of this). I’ve talked so long with Somalis in Holland that they gave me a toothbrush and pajamas and insisted I spend the night. I’ve been in Somali deaf schools and gorged myself on homemade Italian feasts. I’ve been hosted by the bravest, most generous people, our world’s quiet heroes. I’ve cried with them as they told stories of this woman and I’ve cried when they passed heirlooms to me. I’ve been changed by this research, the writing of the story, and by this woman.

This is a story that needs to be told and I can’t wait to introduce you to her.

But. I have to wait. Publication day is far out in the future. You’ll hear more about that down the road.

For now, I want to offer Djibouti Jones readers something as a token of my gratitude. I’m so excited about this book and want to celebrate with you!

Some of the themes in the story are fear, courage, and love. I’ve written many times about these themes and the best piece is a longform essay published originally by The Big Roundtable. I want to gift it to you. This edition includes stunning new photos by the talented Matt Erickson, who has been involved in the research and development of this book from the start.

After the essay, I’ve included my top 12 tips for fighting fear and living a full life, things I’ve learned over the course of 15 years in the Horn of Africa.


I’m offering a $50 Amazon gift card to one lucky reader! (I know, book stuff blahblahblah, but free money?! Now we’re talkin’)

To download The Proper Weight of Fear book and be entered to win the gift card, here’s what to do:

  • Sign-up for my newsletter, Stories from the Horn (the confirmation email includes a link to the book)

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 Do one or more of the following:

  • Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram
  • Share this post on social media
  • Tag a friend or two (or 12) you think might enjoy Djibouti Jones, The Proper Weight of Fear book, the upcoming biography, or who just needs $50 from Amazon

Optional: Leave a comment below letting me know what you’ve done!

By signing up for the newsletter, your email address will automatically be included in the drawing for the Amazon gift card.

If you already subscribe to the newsletter, don’t worry, your email is already included in the drawing. But don’t be shy about sharing/commenting/following/tagging!

*the book and gift card giveaway will end November 30th, just in time for holiday shopping!









The Mother Writer

Quick link: Blood, Sweat, and Words

I had a piece published in The Sunlight Press this week. I was traveling (college tours, yipes!) and am finally able to share it with you now. It is about my first published essay, a bloody nose, and being a mother trying to write.

My first published article arrived in my PO box in Djibouti three months after being printed. Rats had gnawed the corners of the box to get at Easter chocolates inside but the magazine, Get Born, was untouched.

The cover photo pictured a Djiboutian mother and baby standing in the downtown market in the pouring rain. I was in awe. My first story and it earned the cover photo. And, a photo of rain in Djibouti. Djibouti is a small, desert country in the Horn of Africa and at the time, it was in the middle of a drought. I wasn’t sure if my article or the rain was the greater miracle.

I stood in the post office’s open doorway to catch small wafts of steamy breezes and tucked the box and the rest of the goodies my mom had mailed between my elbow and my side. I held the magazine between my fingertips so I wouldn’t leave sweaty palm stains on the pages. I stared at it for a few seconds, then climbed into the car and drove home.

To read the rest, click here Blood, Sweat, and Words