Blogging, Book Reviews, Short Stories, Written Essays

Book Review: Jenny of Lebanon

Warning: Some Spoilers ahead

Jenny of Lebanon is an easy, single day read. I got the book in the mail today and then, proceeded to read the book in less than an hour. It’s roughly 50 pages in length, to put it in perspective (that’s not counting any acknowledgement pages or about author page). However, aside from the book being short in length, it just grabs you rather quickly and holds onto you, where you can’t help but finish it in one sitting. At first, the descriptive introduction of the characters made me worry that it was going to be too descriptive (the first chapter is complete setup), but even that was too lively to bore me. I’m a sucker for cats, so an opening with a cat trying to catch a robin is a great way to keep my attention, be it a tad biased (love you, Marvin, you adorably bratty cat). Still, the minute we see Jenny and Billy interact, it’s fast-paced throughout the rest of the story.

So…the story.

What can be said about Jenny of Lebanon other than the fact that it is painfully relatable even if you aren’t dealing specifically with the same themes and problems as Billy and Jenny. As a person who fell in love and married my high school sweetheart, I’m a sucker for first love romance, but this book doesn’t sugarcoat the other side of that dynamic. First love is full of first mistakes, first fights, and first shortfalls, and while we don’t get to see that firsthand in this story, we see the aftermath of it for Jenny and Billy. They’ve dealt with the realities of life, and author, Gabrielle Olexa, is smart in giving just enough subtle, implicit glimpses at that to make you not only want to know more but also, grasp some of the lives these two has faced.

I don’t per se relate to either of them specifically in their choices to play this cat-and-mouse game of kiss-and-fake-the-make-up, but I’ve also never encountered the painful pasts that are peppered throughout their dialogue and carefully described settings/memorabilia. So, I feel an empathetic heart for them as they both struggle to decide if they should actually remain together or finally end it, and the book leaves that open to the reader to decide as it ends with her leaving, but Billy clearly leaving his door open for her return.

There are a few themes that are personally hard for me, as a Christian: some vulgar language, an implied sex scene that luckily peeks away into the next chapter for the aftermath, discussion of one completed abortion, and the implication of a second one likely to follow, but in the context of the story, they all makes sense. This story isn’t some fluff piece with cutesy childhood friends who married and lived happily ever after. It’s painfully real story of heartbreak, attempts to mend a broken marriage, and a past littered with regret and consequences, and in that, it is beautifully written.

As the book blurb puts it, “Jenny… hits a lot harder than a Honda”, and I think that’s a fair representation of Jenny of Lebanon.

5/5 Stars

Where to Buy it: Amazon

Where to See Gabrielle Olexa and her story: Twitter

Her Website

Short Stories, Written Essays

Infant Escape Artist

            When we are children, we don’t see things the way adults do. We may think we know everything, but we don’t. Seeing as we don’t always see eye-to-eye with our parents during these years, it’s not uncommon for us to do some pretty stupid things. Most of these things result in a lifetime of teasing and a good embarrassing story to tell that super cute boy or girl you wanted to date. Unsurprisingly, I was not spared from the stupid gene, and now, my tales for verbal torture are the subjects of every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter family potluck.

            One specific blackmail tale comes to mind without much effort of remembering. Years and years ago, I once was a baby. I know, that’s not that surprising or blackmail worthy, but it gets worse. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was somewhere between the screaming for all my basic needs stage and speaking stage. That being said, I still slept in a crib, but I had been known for getting closer and closer to climbing that sucker in attempts to escape my cage of a bed.

            One fateful night, really late between the hours recognized by most as night and early morning, I woke up in the middle of the night. I’m not sure why, considering regardless of some people’s opinion, I have no recollection of the night. Anyways, I woke up, and I guess I was at it again, but this time I became fixated with the changing table next to my bed. I watched it for a while, and then began planning my escape with as much thought and cunning ideas of that of the average infant.

            I decided to go with the obvious strategy… climb. I was too large to fit between the bars of the crib, and I didn’t exactly have a shovel to dig my way out or something, so I ascended the bars. I stood up on my stubby little feet and legs, grabbed the bars and started trying to pull my weight up as high as I could. It took a few tries consistent with falling on my baby behind, but I managed to get over the railing. Then without further ado, I stepped forward toward that changing table…

Now, here’s when the smart gene that children do not seem to have in these moments would have been nice. As a child, I did not understand depth perception, measurements, and overall… gravity. I did not comprehend that there was a space about half a foot wide between the table and the crib. So I stepped forward into mid-air and dive-bombed face first… into a trashcan.

I screamed my little face off, crying and shouting for help. I wasn’t hurt or anything: I was just stunned and confused. In scampered Mom, Dad, and Eva to my rescue. I’ve been told that they tried not to laugh, but once they knew I was okay, they couldn’t help it; my feet had been dangling out of that plastic can kick and flopping all over the place. They picked me up and calmed me down, and I went back to sleep in no time.

Still, I definitely learned my lesson; I never once tried to get out of my crib like that again. To this day, Dad and Eva tell the tale to anyone who will listen. I would say in my defense that they couldn’t hold me accountable over that considering I have no memory of it, but I will admit my childhood mishap was pretty funny. And, I’ll let them tease me if they want because unbeknownst them… (Hehe) I have the dirt on them, too! 

Short Stories, Written Essays

The Origin of Elizabeth Helen
Elizabeth Helen now


Being in my twenties, I have had many items throughout my lifetime that have come and gone, been the next big thing and then, obsolete the next. After all, I was born and raised as a realist and a Christian, so I learned that material things were of little to no value over time because they would fade away with time, just like me. However, since my childhood, there has been one object that throughout the past 18 years has brought me enjoyment and pleasure in owning it.

            Ten years ago, on July 7th, 2001, my family and I were on vacation, navigating the Californian coastline. Along the way, we saw many beautiful things from the Redwood Trees to the Trees of Mystery. We went to many beaches along the coastline, and we drove through a hole in the trunk of a huge Redwood. To sum it up, the vacation had been amazing. On this particular day, we decided to stop in a tourist attraction, a small Danish-themed village by the name of “Solvang.” At the time, I was seven years old and didn’t understand the sophistication, refinement, and flat out awesome nature of “recreational shopping” as I like to put it. So that being said, I saw this town as nothing more but another boring yet colorful town with boring stores filled with boring, adult souvenirs that no child of seven would ever desire to obtain.

            We traveled throughout the streets of this little place, looking at store front after store front. Occasionally to my delight, Dad would get Daniel and me a snack from a local vender. We didn’t care if it was chocolate, caramel, raspberry, or any other flavor. Food was food, and eating was a chance to do something, anything. We nibbled on our delicacies as our parents continued the “Oh, look at the craftsmanship of that” or “Wow, don’t you think that Louise would like that china set?” discussions.

            The day continued on like this, and though there were many interesting street people about in fancy Danish costumes or interesting tourists to stare at, I was beginning to think the day was a lost cause. As we were headed toward the exit at the other end of the town, my eyes like magnets saw a sign in the distance. My eyes grew wide in shock and delight to see the words “Toy Store” written on it. I begged and pleaded, and my parents finally agreed to take us to this one last store. I rushed to it, my energy and hope returning.

            We entered and the place was huge, being about the size of two of the regular stores on the other streets towards the beginning of the town. Daniel and I were like kids in a candy store. We quickly looked from section to section, searching for something to keep us entertained for the remainder of this trip. I saw many interesting things, including a display boasting that you could simply grab a small, blue velvet bag and pick your choice of shiny rocks in the container to fill in the bag all for around four bucks. I had enough money for that if I wanted it, but I decided to look some more as I pondered on whether to get it.

What Elizabeth Helen looked like originally

            As I continued to walk around, I walked into the other side of the story which was darker in lighting but filled with stuffed animals. It had a lace canopy draped over a main display with many different plush dolls. Then, my eyes fell upon one specific stuffed creature, and I was in love at first sight. It was a fluffy white and pink stuffed cat with a beaded crown, bracelet, and a gold trimmed rhinestone encrusted set of butterfly wings attached to its back. I quickly picked the fluffy feline up, inspecting it closely. I then turned to the attached tag, and opened it to reveal a price sticker. I nearly dropped the thing in shock when I discovered this little 8” stuffed cat was a whopping fifteen dollars. Now if I looked at this price today, I’d probably shrug it off and cough up the cash no problem, but when I was a seven year old girl, making only one dollar a week allowance, fifteen dollars meant so much more to me.

            Within my Barbie© wallet was a whole eighteen dollars that I had been saving for months before the vacation. Even at a young age, I valued the dollar much differently than most children my age. My parents didn’t just hand me toys and gifts on a silver platter like it was their obligation in life. When my parents chose to spoil me with a surprise toy or treat, I was grateful and thanked them continuously. So, it was not surprising that I found it hard trying decided to part with almost all my vacation savings on one simple toy. I considered going back to the shiny rocks and paying for those instead. Finally, fed up, I went to my father, the one who made me the realist I am today, and asked for his advice on which item I should spend my hard earned cash on. He said it was my choice since it was my money but pointed out a very profound thing to the seven old me. He reminded me with a smile that I couldn’t snuggle and sleep with a bag of shiny rocks.

            I realized he was absolutely right, so I took my stuffed kitty to the register and forked up the Washington’s for it. The cat had came with a name, but at my age, I found it far too hard to pronounce, so partially inspired from my love for “Emily Elizabeth” from the child television and book series Clifford the Big Red Dog, I named my new friend “Elizabeth Helen.”

            Nearly 20 years later, I still have this plush cat. Though, she shows obvious signs of extensive love-treatment with missing or mismatched rhinestones, tears in the wings, and faded pigment in the fur. She has been with me through the death of my grandfather, every flu and cold, every indoor movie night with Mom, every broken heart, and most importantly every happy memory in my life. I’ve had her so long that I’ve come to think of her as a guardian angel in plush form. I even went on to write forty-five fantasy short stories in a children series about The Adventures of Elizabeth Helen. I know she is just a stuffed animal and with time, will eventually fade away like every other worldly object on this earth, but I will love and cherish my guardian angel till the day God decides to take her back from me.

Short Stories

The White Peacock

On a small island off the northern coast of Okinawa, there lived a large flock of peacocks. Their plumage was so vibrant and revered that local fishermen would not set foot on the island for fear it would invoke the wrath of their deity. However, from a distance they would paint, sketch, and write poetry and stories about the beautiful birds. The sailors had gained knowledge of the creatures’ name from their trade expeditions to India, and soon the words “peacock” and “peafowl” became an uttered phrase between the men.

Unbeknownst to the humans, the peacocks noticed the actions of the sailors and became amused by their actions of adoration. Soon, they began to purposely make themselves visible so they could immerse themselves in the humans’ awe and praise. They would fluff up their feathers when a sail was visible on the sea and pose in classic peacock elegance, enjoying every minute of attention they received.

Soon, however, spring was upon them, so they slipped back into the shadows of the sakura[1] trees and began to devote themselves to one another; the sole purpose being to reproduce more admirable peacocks and gain more attention from the foolish, colorless zealots that visited day after day without fail. So one by one, the birds chose a mate and created a small, future peacock prima donna.

However, of all the chicks born that season, one stood out among the rest of them. His little baby feathers were white and cottony as snowflakes, and his eyes were like that of a baby doll, small, black, and glassy. His mother and father did not know what to make of this phenomenon; after all, albinism was but a human term. Feeling that their offspring would only dissuade the human masses from their island, they hide their weird chick from the rest of the group and called him by a name they had heard the humans say, Kaiki[2]. They did not know what it meant, but when it was said, the tone was filled with fear or apprehension. Thus, they felt it was fitting.

Nevertheless, Kaiki was a lively bird filled with happiness and innocence, and when he was alone, he would sing out about the pink trees or the glassy sea. Though, his parents discouraged his songs, he snuck away to perform them to no one in particular.

Then one day, his audience came. Attracted by the strange sound, a sailor, who wandered too far to the east side of the island, spotted the weirdest, unique creature his eyes had beheld. It appeared to be a peacock from the appearance of its feathers and body structure, but its pigment was white and its tail feathers flowed lightly through the breeze like mature dandelions. Entranced by the creature he reached for his journal of sketches, but then Kaiki saw him. In embarrassment, the animal fled back into the sakura forest that was now shedding its blossoms.

The next day, Kaiki went back to his choral chatter and the sound brought forth two boats this time. Although afraid, Kaiki’s curiosity guided him to fly toward the boat and land serenely on its mast. The mariners became elated as they collected the fallen feathers that traveled from Kaiki’s back. They pet the remnants as though they were pure silk, and the men stored them inside their books for safekeeping. Kaiki then heard the call of his mother and flew back to the island as the humans surveyed in adulation.

Before long the other peacocks became confused as to why their sailor followers had left them. When a loud obnoxious call of a peacock was heard on the other side of the island, they all went to see what the commotion was about, and there was their congregation flocked around Kaiki as he flew from ship to ship dropping feathers like presents from above.

 The peacocks’ hearts filled with envy, and as this continued, they decided that they would do anything to be as beautiful as Kaiki, no matter what it took.

At first they tried to stick cotton and light leaves on their feathers with mud in an ill attempt to cover their feathers. Then they strutted out, hoping for adoration, but their appearance only confused the sailors. Then one sailor did something they did not expect. He chuckled. Then he laughed and soon the others followed. These simple-minded, insignificant humans were laughing at them, them, their gods! The peacocks were so humiliated, so angry, that they fled back into the forest and swore they would be the most beautiful creatures in this world, and those insolent humans would bow to them.

Their next attempt was to dye the feathers. They crushed almonds, white sakura flowers, and coconut, combined it with the coconut juice and bathed in it for hours. For a while, it seemed to work. They feather did look lighter, and the sailors did seem to like it. However, over time the color started to fade and the teal started coming back. Also, when the feathers got wet, it created an awkward splotched effect. As this happened, the sailors would either stare at them confused or laugh again.

In the midst of all this, Kaiki tried to tell them that he liked their teal feathers, but they blew him off, blinded by anger. Only one peacock, a female called Aomidori[3], seemed to listen; she wanted the white feathers too, but she, also, didn’t find all this effort necessary. So she followed Kaiki and his happiness.

The others, however, called out to a higher being for the white feathers, now desperate. They prayed and prayed. One night a mist covered the island, and the peacocks were shocked when they woke up to a field of white. Yes, their wish was granted, and their feathers were fluffy white and gorgeous like Kaiki’s.

With their desires met, they triumphantly flew before the sailors. They covered the sky with their feathers and rained down the snow-like appendages as the sailors bowed and cried out in worship. The peacocks were so pleased with themselves that they decided they would put on this show forever. So day after day they did just that.

However, eventually the sailors got bored of seeing nothing but the same peacocks over and over again, and they stopped visiting the island on a daily basis. The peacocks were shocked and confused. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t make these fickle humans happy. They were beautiful, why didn’t the humans see it.

In the midst of all this, Kaiki and Aomidori emerged from a length of absence with a peachick… a teal colored peachick along with its albino father and teal mother. They looked at the baby and the mother, and as the family played on the beach, a nearby ship stopped by the beach. They “oohed” and “awed” at the family, and it made sense to the others.             In their desire to have the same beauty as Kaiki, they lost their own beauty, and now, nothing they could do would give them back their striking color. With nothing more they could do, they went out on the beach with Kaiki and his family and played. And for once, they actually felt alive and beautiful, no longer depending on the approval and attention of the nearby sailors.

[1] Sakura- Japanese for “cherry blossom”

[2] Kaiki- Japanese for “strange, wonderful, weird, outrageous”

[3] Aomidori- Japanese for “blue-green”