Tuesday, July 1, 2008

FIRST-A mile in my flip-flops by Melody Carlson

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button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and her
latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and her book:

Mile in My Flip-Flops

WaterBrook Press
(June 17, 2008)


In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school
newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a
Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself,
creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper
was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit Melody's website to see all of her wonderful
and various book titles.

Don't miss her latest teen fiction,
Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2)


List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1400073146



I’m not the kind of girl who wants anyone to feel sorry for

So after my fiancé jilted me less than four weeks before
our wedding date, and since the invitations had already been sent, my
only recourse was to lie low and wait for everyone to simply forget.

Consequently, I became a recluse. If I wasn’t at work, teaching
a delightful class of five-year-olds, who couldn’t care less about my
shattered love life, I could be found holed up in my apartment, escaping
all unnecessary interaction with “sympathetic” friends.

that is how I became addicted to HGTV and ice cream. Okay, that
probably calls for some explanation. HGTV stands for Home and Garden TV, a
network that runs 24/7 and is what I consider the highest form of comfort
TV. It is habit forming, albeit slightly mind numbing. And ice cream
obviously needs no explanation.

Other than the fact that my
dad, bless his heart, had seven quart-sized cartons of Ben & Jerry’s
delivered to my apartment the day after Collin dumped me. Appropriately
enough, dear old Dad (who knows me better than anyone on the planet)
selected a flavor called Chocolate Therapy, a product worthy of its name
and just as addictive as HGTV.

But now, eighteen months and
twenty-two pounds later, I seem to be in a rut. And apparently I’m not
the only one who thinks so.

“Come on, Gretchen,” urges my best
friend, Holly, from her end of the phone line. “Just come with

“Right…,” I mutter as I lick my spoon and dip it back
into a freshly opened carton of Chunky Monkey–also appropriately named,
but let’s not go there. Anyway, not only had I moved on to new ice
cream flavors, but I also had given up using bowls. “Like I want to tag
along with the newlyweds. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Like I keep
telling you, we’re not newlyweds anymore,” she insists. “We’ve been
married three months now.”


“And it’s
Cinco de Mayo,” she persists, using that little girl voice that I first
heard when we became best friends back in third grade. “We always go

I consider this. I want to point out that Holly and
I used to always go to the Cinco de Mayo celebration together–as in
past tense. And despite her pity for me, or perhaps it’s just some sort of
misplaced guilt because she’s married and I am not, I think the days
of hanging with my best friend are pretty much over now. The image of
Holly and Justin, both good looking enough to be models, strolling around
holding hands with frumpy, dumpy me tagging along behind them like
their poor, single, reject friend just doesn’t work for me.

“Thanks anyway,” I tell her. “But I’m kind of busy today.”

what are you doing then?” I hear the challenge in her voice, like she
thinks I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday.

I slump
back into the sofa and look over to the muted TV, which is tuned, of
course, to HGTV, where my favorite show, House Flippers, is about to begin,
and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. “I’m, uh…I’ve got lesson plans
to do,” I say quickly. This is actually true, although I don’t usually
do them until Sunday evening.

She snickers. “Yeah, that’s a
good one, Gretch. I’ll bet you’re vegging out in front of HGTV with a
carton of Chocolate Fudge Brownie.”

“Wrong.” Okay, Holly is
only partially wrong. Fortunately, I haven’t told her about my latest

“Come on,” she tries again. “It’ll be fun. You can
bring Riley along. He’d probably like to stretch his legs.”

glance over to where my usually hyper, chocolate Lab mixed breed is
snoozing on his LL Bean doggy bed with a chewed-up and slightly soggy Cole
Haan loafer tucked under his muzzle. “Riley’s napping,” I say. “He
doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Like he wouldn’t want to go out
and get some fresh air and sunshine?”

“We already had our
walk today."

Holly laughs. “You mean that little shuffle you
do over to the itty bitty park across the street from your apartment
complex? What’s that take? Like seven and a half minutes for the whole
round trip? That’s not enough exercise for a growing dog like Riley.”

“I threw a ball for him to chase.”

“So there’s
nothing I can do or say to change your mind?” House Flippers is just
starting. “Nope,” I say, trying to end this conversation. “But thanks for
thinking of me.”

“Want me to bring you back an empanada?”

“Sure,” I say quickly. “You guys have fun!” Then I hang up and,
taking the TV off mute, I lean back into the soft chenille sofa and lose
myself while watching a hapless couple from Florida renovate a
seriously run-down split-level into something they hope to sell for a profit.
Unfortunately, neither of them is terribly clever when it comes to
remodeling basics. And their taste in interior design is sadly lacking too.
The woman’s favorite color is rose, which she uses liberally throughout
the house, and she actually thinks that buyers will appreciate the
dated brown tiles and bathroom fixtures in the powder room. By the time
the show ends, not only is the house still on the market despite the
reduced price and open house, but the couple’s marriage seems to be in real
trouble as well.

“Too bad,” I say out loud as I mute the TV
for commercials. Riley’s head jerks up, and he looks at me with
expectant eyes.

“You just keep being a good boy,” I tell him in a
soothing tone. Hopefully, he’ll stretch out this midday nap a bit
longer. Because once Riley starts moving, my tiny apartment seems to shrink,
first by inches and then by feet.

My hope for an elongated
nap crumbles when his tail begins to beat rhythmically on the floor,
almost like a warning–thump, thump, thump–and the next thing I know, he’s
up and prowling around the cluttered living room. Riley isn’t even
full grown yet, and he’s already way too much dog for my apartment. Holly
warned me that his breed needed room to romp and play. She tried to
talk me into a little dog, like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, but I had fallen
for those liquid amber eyes…and did I mention that he’s part chocolate
Lab? Since when have I been able to resist chocolate? Besides, he
reminded me of a cuddly brown teddy bear. But I hardly considered the fact
that he would get bigger.

After he climbed into my lap that
day, licking my face and smelling of puppy breath and other things that I
knew could be shampooed away, there was no way I could leave him behind
at the Humane Society. I already knew that he’d been rejected as a
Christmas present. Some dimwitted father had gotten him for toddler twins
without consulting Mommy first. Even so, Holly tried to convince me
that a good-looking puppy like that would quickly find another home.

But it was too late. I knew Riley was meant for me, and that was
that. And I had grandiose ideas of taking him for long walks on the
beach. “He’ll help me get in shape,” I assured Holly. She’d long since
given up on me going to the fitness club with her, so I think she bought
into the whole exercise theory. She also bought Riley his LL Bean deluxe
doggy bed, which I could barely wedge into my already crowded
apartment and now takes up most of the dining area, even though it’s partially
tucked beneath a gorgeous craftsman-style Ethan Allen dining room set.
Although it’s hard to tell that it’s gorgeous since it’s pushed up
against a wall and covered with boxes of Pottery Barn kitchen items that
won’t fit into my limited cabinet space.

“This place is way
too small for us,” I say to Riley as I shove the half-full ice cream
carton back into the freezer. As if to confirm this, his wagging tail
whacks an oversized dried arrangement in a large bronze vase, sending
seedpods, leaves, and twigs flying across the carpet and adding to the
general atmosphere of chaos and confusion.

My decorating style?
Contemporary clutter with a little eclectic disorder thrown in for
special effect. Although, to be fair, that’s not the real me. I’m sure the
real me could make a real place look like a million bucks. That is, if I
had a real place…or a million bucks.

I let out a long sigh
as I stand amid my clutter and survey my crowded apartment. It’s been
like this for almost two years now.

Overly filled with all the
stuff I purchased shortly after Collin proposed to me more than two
years ago. Using my meager teacher’s salary and skimpy savings, I started
planning the interior décor for our new home. I couldn’t wait to put
it all together after the wedding.

“Have you ever heard of
wedding presents?” Holly asked me when she first realized what I was

“Of course,” I assured her. “But I can’t expect the
guests to provide everything for our home. I figured I might as well get
started myself. Look at this great set of espresso cups that I got at
Crate & Barrel last weekend for thirty percent off.”

“Well, at
least you have good taste,” she admitted as she stooped to admire a
hand-tied wool area rug I’d just gotten on sale. Of course, she gasped when
she saw the price tag still on it. “Expensive taste too!”

“It’ll last a lifetime,” I assured her, just like the Karastan salesman
had assured me. Of course, as it turned out, my entire relationship
with Collin didn’t even last two years. Now I’m stuck with a rug that’s
too big to fit in this crummy little one-bedroom apartment–the same
apartment I’d given Mr. Yamamoto notice on two months before my wedding. It
was so humiliating to have to beg to keep it after the wedding was
cancelled, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And now, a year
and a half later, I’m still here. Stuck. It’s like everyone else has
moved on with their lives except me. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had enough
room to make myself at home or enough room for Riley to wag his tail
without causing mass destruction…or enough room to simply breathe. Maybe
I should rent a storage unit for all this stuff. Or maybe I should move
myself into a storage unit since it would probably be bigger than this

As I pick up Riley’s newest mess, I decide the
bottom line is that I need to make a decision. Get rid of some
things–whether by storage, a yard sale, or charity–or else get more space. I
vote for more space. Not that I can afford more space. I’m already
strapped as it is.

Kindergarten teachers don’t make a whole lot. I
feel like I’ve created a prison for myself. What used to be a
convenient hideout now feels like a trap, and these thin walls seem to be
closing in on me daily. Feeling hopeless, I flop back onto the couch and
ponder my limited options. Then I consider forgetting the whole thing and
escaping back into HGTV, which might call for some more ice cream.

But that’s when I look down and notice my thighs spreading out
like two very large slabs of ham. Very pale ham, I might add as I tug at
my snug shorts to help cover what I don’t want to see, but it’s not
working. I stare at my flabby legs in horror. When did this happen?

I stand up now, trying to erase that frightening image of
enormous, white thunder thighs. I pace around my apartment a bit before I
finally go and stand in front of an oversized mirror that’s leaning against
the wall near the front door. This is a beautiful mirror I got half
price at World Market, but it belongs in a large home, possibly over a
fireplace or in a lovely foyer. And it will probably be broken by Riley’s
antics if it remains against this wall much longer.

instead of admiring the heavy bronze frame of the mirror like I usually do,
I actually look into the mirror and am slightly stunned at what I see.
Who is that frumpy girl? And who let her into my apartment? I actually
used to think I was sort of good looking. Not a babe, mind you, but
okay. Today I see a faded girl with disappointed eyes.

people, probably encouraged by Holly, a long-legged dazzling brunette,
used to say I resembled Nicole Kidman. Although they probably were
thinking of when Nicole was heavier and I was lighter. Now it’s a pretty big
stretch to see any similarities. To add insult to injury, Nicole has
already hit the big “four o,” whereas I am only thirty-two. Her forties
might be yesterday’s twenties, but my thirties look more like someone
else’s fifties. And I used to take better care of myself. Okay, I was
never thin, but I did eat right and got exercise from jogging and
rollerblading. Compared to now, I was in great shape. And my long strawberry
blond hair, which I thought was my best asset, was usually wavy and fresh
looking, although you wouldn’t know that now. It’s unwashed and pulled
tightly into a shabby-looking ponytail, which accentuates my pudgy
face and pale skin. Even my freckles have faded. It doesn’t help matters
that my worn T-shirt (with a peeling logo that proclaims “My Teacher
Gets an A+”) is saggy and baggy, and my Old Navy khaki shorts, as I’ve
just observed, are too tight, and my rubber flip-flops look like they
belong on a homeless person–although I could easily be mistaken for one if
I was pushing a shopping cart down the street.

Then, in the
midst of this pathetic personal inventory, my focus shifts to all the
junk that’s piled behind me–the boxes, the myriad of stuff lining the
short, narrow hallway and even spilling into the open door of my tiny
bedroom, which can barely contain the queensize bed and bronze bedframe
still in the packing box behind it. If it wasn’t so depressing, it would
almost be funny. I just shake my head. And then I notice Riley standing
strangely still behind me and looking almost as confused as I feel.
With his head slightly cocked to one side, he watches me curiously, as if
he, too, is afraid to move. This is nuts. Totally certifiable. A girl,
or even a dog, could seriously lose it living like this. Or maybe I
already have. They say you’re always the last to know that you’ve lost
your marbles.

“It’s time for a change,” I announce to Riley.
He wags his tail happily now, as if he wholeheartedly agrees. Or maybe
he simply thinks I’m offering to take him on a nice, long walk. “We need
a real house,” I continue, gathering steam now. “And we need a real
yard for you to run and play in.” Of course, this only excites him

And that’s when he begins to run about the apartment like a
possessed thing, bumping into boxes and furnishings until I finally
open the sliding door and send him out to the tiny deck to calm

After he settles down, I go and join him. It’s pretty hot out
here, and I notice that the seedling sunflower plants, ones we’d
started in the classroom and I’d brought home to nurture along, are now
hanging limp and lifeless, tortured by the hot afternoon sun that bakes
this little patio. Just one more thing I hate about this place.

So much for my attempt at terrace gardening. I’d seen a show on HGTV
that inspired me to turn this little square of cement deck into a real
oasis. But in reality it’s simply a barren desert that will only get
worse as the summer gets hotter. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears
now. It’s hopeless.

This is all wrong. On so many levels. This
is not where I was supposed to be at this stage of the game. This is
not the life I had planned. I feel like I’ve been robbed or tricked or
like someone ripped the rug out from under me. And sometimes in moments
like this, I even resent God and question my faith in him. I wonder why
he allows things like this to happen. Why does he let innocent people
get hurt by the selfishness of others? It just doesn’t make sense. And
it’s not fair.

Oh, I’ve tried to convince myself I’m over the
fact that my ex fiancé, Collin Fairfield, was a total jerk. And I try
not to blame him for being swept away when his high school sweetheart
decided, after fifteen years of being apart, that she was truly in love
with him. I heard that the revelation came to Selena at the same time
she received our engraved wedding invitation, which I did not send to
her. She wasn’t even on my list.

And I actually believe that
I’ve mostly forgiven Collin…and that sneaky Selena too. And I wish them
well, although I didn’t attend their wedding last fall. A girl has to
draw the line somewhere.

But all that aside, this is still so
wrong. I do not belong in this stuffy little apartment that’s
cluttered with my pretty household goods. I belong in a real house. A house
with a white picket fence and a lawn and fruit trees in the backyard. And
being single shouldn’t mean that I don’t get to have that. There must
be some way I can afford a home.

Of course, I’m fully aware
that real estate isn’t cheap in El Ocaso. It’s on the news regularly.
Our town’s prices certainly aren’t as outrageous as some of the suburbs
around San Diego, but they’re not exactly affordable on a teacher’s
salary. I try not to remember how much I had in my savings account back
before I got engaged and got carried away with spending on my wedding and
my home. That pretty much depleted what might’ve gone toward a small
down payment on what probably would’ve been a very small house. But, hey,
even a small house would be better than this prison-cell apartment.

And that’s when it hits me. And it’s so totally obvious I
can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I will become a house flipper!
Just like the people on my favorite HGTV show, I will figure out a way
to secure a short-term loan, purchase a fixer-upper house, and do the
repairs and decorating myself–with my dad’s expert help, of course!

And then, maybe as early as midsummer, I will sell this
beautifully renovated house for enough profit to make a good-sized down payment
on another house just for me…and Riley. Even if the secondhouse is a
fixer-upper too, I can take my time with it, making it just the way I
want it. And it’ll be so much better than where I live now.

surprised I didn’t come up with this idea months ago. It’s so totally
simple. Totally perfect. And totally me!

“We are going house
hunting,” I announce to Riley as I shove open the sliding door and
march back inside the apartment. His whole body is wagging with doggy joy
as I quickly exchange my too-tight shorts for jeans and then reach for
his leather leash and my Dolce & Gabbana knockoff bag–the one I bought
to carry on my honeymoon, the honeymoon that never was. I avoid looking
at my image in the big mirror as we make a hasty exit.

“Come on, boy,” I say as I hook the leash to his collar at the top of the
stairs. “This is going to be fun!” And since this outing is in the
spirit of fun, I even put down the top on my VW Bug, something I haven’t
done in ages. Riley looks like he’s died and gone to doggy heaven as he
rides joyfully in the backseat, his ears flapping in the breeze. Who
knows, maybe we’ll find a house for sale on the beach.

it’d have to be a run-down, ramshackle sort of place that no one but me
can see the hidden value in, but it could happen. And while I renovate my
soon-to-be wonder house, Riley can be king of the beach. The
possibilities seem limitless. And when I stop at the grocery store to pick up
real-estate papers, I am impressed with how many listings there are. But
I can’t read and drive, so I decide to focus on driving. And since I
know this town like the back of my hand, this should be easy.

But thanks to the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the downtown area is
crowded, so I start my search on the south end of town, trying to avoid
traffic jams. I’m aware that this area is a little pricey for me, but you
never know. First, I pull over into a parking lot and read the fliers. I
read about several houses for sale, but the prices are staggering.

Even more than I imagined. Also, based on the descriptions and
photos, these houses already seem to be in great shape. No fixer-uppers
here. Then I notice some condo units for sale, and I can imagine
finding a run-down unit in need of a little TLC, but it’s the same
situation. According to the fliers, they’re in tiptop, turnkey shape–recently
remodeled with granite counters and cherry hardwood floors and new
carpeting and prices so high I can’t imagine doing anything that could push
them a penny higher. My profit margin and spirits are steadily sinking.
Maybe my idea to flip a house has already flopped. Just like the rest
of my life.

Excerpted from A Mile in My Flip-Flops by
Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by
permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without
permission in writing from the publisher.

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