I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Dakota Child by Linda Ford

In Linda Ford’s latest Love Inspired Historical, Dakota Child, unwed mother Vivian Halliday thinks she can make things right when she locates the father of her baby. But when she and her two-month-old son are trapped in a North Dakota blizzard, rescue comes in the form of “Big Billy” Black, a behemoth of a man who is feared by the people in the village. He lives in seclusion with his mother, “Mad” Mrs. Black, a woman still traumatized by her years as an Indian captive. Vivian isn’t sure she and her baby are safe with this pair, but there’s nowhere else to go. When Billy’s faith in God and surprising gentleness give her comfort and peace, however, she almost begins to wish she could stay with him after the storm abates.

I have never read an inspirational romance quite like this, where the heroine is an unwed teenage mother and the hero is not the father of her child. I appreciated Ford’s honesty in dealing with sin, shame, and forgiveness, as well as her examination of the motivations and consequences of the characters’ choices, both good and bad. I sympathized with the hero and heroine’s tremendous loneliness, as Vivian was raised in an orphanage, and Billy was rejected by the townsfolk. Likewise, I admired Vivian's commitment to her baby and her hope to make him legitimate, and I appreciated Billy's promise to care for his ill mother. As a hero and heroine, Billy and Vivian are likable, vulnerable characters, and I rooted for them every step of their journey.

Love (for God, each other, and the baby) urges Billy and Vivian to make changes to their lives, and I was curious to see how the story would unfold. I was not disappointed. Billy and Vivian struggle through their fears, misperceptions, and pasts, and every triumph they experience is attributed to the Lord.

The only issue I had in reading it is the occasional wish that Billy and Vivian’s thoughts and back story would be manifested into dialogue and action. In a book like Dakota Child, where the characters are snow bound and the secondary characters are an infant and an ill woman, there is plenty of time for the main characters to mull over their situations. The novel is strongest when the characters do little things for each other, support each other’s faith journeys, and later, when they interact with the pastor and the baby’s father.

Nevertheless, I found Dakota Child an engaging read which I couldn’t put down, and I recommend it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

reBlog from Susanne Dietze: Inkwell Inspirations


Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you? Lamentations 2:13

These words strike a chord in me. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been injured, and no matter how long ago the wound blossomed in your heart, mind or body, no matter how hard you’ve tried to get over it, it seems that healing is impossible. Sometimes I’ve thought that my wound is tattooed into the flesh of my heart, a permanent part of my fabric.The Bible tells us of a woman who also harbored a deep wound. She sought help from every source the world offered, to no avail. We never learn her name, but the day that she decided to reach out to Jesus for healing is recorded in Mark’s Gospel.

Susanne Dietze, Inkwell Inspirations, Sep 2009

To read the rest, pop over to the Inkwell.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Five Things to be Happy About

Notebook collectionImage by Dvortygirl via Flickr

Several years ago, I started a gratitude journal. Have you ever heard of those? Every day, you write down five things you’re thankful for. At the time, I was sleep-deprived, adjusting to caring for a newborn. I was weary, cooped up and lonely. I don’t know who put the idea into my head, though I know it was the Lord’s doing. But with a baby on my lap, I decided to keep track of what I’m thankful for. I hoped it might be a good way to adjust my attitude and focus my attention on all of the things God had given me, and He’d given me plenty! I just was too tired to think of them!

I made up a rule for myself that I had to come up with five completely different things each day. In other words, I couldn’t write “air, water, food, shelter, family,” every day, though those are certainly important things. Each is given by God as a blessing and answer to my need. But for my exercise, I had to think of specific things, events, or attributes, small as well as big. I found that it helped me be on the lookout for God’s blessings and better appreciate them.

For instance, I didn’t allow myself to write down “friends,” but I had to be more specific. I determined to take note of my friends’ attributes, acts, or abilities, and truly praise God for those. The day one friend taught me how to put on eye shadow is recorded in my gratitude journal, as is the day someone had me over for tea. My appreciation of another friend's faithfulness is also recorded in my notebook pages.

When we take time to consider the little things in the world around us, we actually begin to appreciate the people and blessings in our lives more and more. When I'm grateful for small things as well as large, I am less apt to take my family for granted, and more aware of how precious every moment with them is. I realize that I am blessed to live, to be able to choose what I eat, to walk, talk, take antibiotics if I need to, drive, feel the sun on my face, and smell the late-blooming roses. Not everyone can say all of that.

I confess that I do not keep the journal daily anymore, but it’s been one of “those weeks” for me, so gratitude might be an appropriate way to turn myself around. I thought I’d share what I’m grateful for today:

  • I’m almost done with the chapter revisions I’ve been struggling through for my Regency novel, Lady’s Slipper. Not done yet, but almost. An agent suggested some changes, and I’m implementing them. I’m also grateful that God has given me people to help me make the story better, like my patient critique partners.
  • I got a haircut today! I love it when someone else fixes my hair. I am no good at it.
  • My local Target is expanding their food line, and they're stocking more tea. Happy day for me! Before, they just carried Lipton and Celestial Seasonings, which are both good teas, but now they’ll be carrying Twinings and other brands too, including Traditional Medicinals, and their prices beat the supermarket’s. To celebrate, I bought a box of Organic Chamomile and Lavender. It is supposed to ease tension, but it tastes pretty good, too.
  • Tomorrow night is the season premiere of one of my favorite shows, The Mentalist. It’s about a guy who pretends to be psychic and uses his keen powers of observation to help the police. Though Fall Premieres are kicking off, I’m grateful to have a few more episodes left of my favorite summer show, Psych, which is also about a guy who pretends to be psychic and uses his keen powers of observation to help the police...
  • I’m reading some good books, like Dakota’s Child by Linda Ford. I’ll review it later.

See, these aren’t earth-shattering things, but I am grateful for all of them, and just writing about them has helped me focus back on all the blessings God has given me. Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? What are you grateful for today? I’d love to hear about them, to celebrate the little (and big) things with you today.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

reBlog from Susanne Dietze: Inkwell Inspirations

english teacupImage by digiyesica via Flickr

Here's a segment of my first post on Inkwell Inspirations:

I’m a party girl. Tea party, that is. There’s something about teatime as a celebration of the moment that soothes my spirit, whether it is time spent building relationships or in solitude.

I love all things tea: tea houses, tea sandwiches, and teacups. Boy, do I love teacups. The first in my collection, a violet-strewn piece, came from my husband the first year we were married. Since receiving that gem, I’ve added a few shelves’ worth, and each cup and saucer is like a friend, unique and precious, with its own history.

My tea-themed collection also includes books, and my favorite is by inspirational author Emilie Barnes. It's a pretty book, part narrative, part recipe collection. Can a recipe book challenge and inspire you? You bet it can: If Teacups Could Talk enriched my life, and not just because of the astonishing recipe for Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake.

For one thing, Barnes’ insight into the ritual of tea offered me a practical way to put my faith into action: by showing hospitality. Though my house doesn’t look like an Ethan Allen showroom, I was reminded that God still wants me to open my home and show love to His people, using the things I surround myself with to His glory.And as I’ve said, I’ve surrounded myself with more than a few teacups. Barnes encouraged me to get them down, wash them out, and have some girlfriends over. So, when there were no small children afoot to shoot a Matchbox car across the kitchen floor while I carried the cups to the sink, I removed my teacups from the hutch.

Of course, I didn’t have to use my teacups, or serve tea for that matter, to fellowship with my friends. A paper cup of lemonade would’ve sufficed. But I do not lack teacups, so I decided that I should use them as they are intended, “to share joy and friendship and caring, truly a ‘cup of kindness’” (47).I learned that a teacup’s true purpose is to bless others, even though (and perhaps because) it is a thing of great beauty, value, and vulnerability.

With use, however, I knew chances were good that a handle would break, or the gold paint on the rim would wear off. I didn’t really want to use my teacups, even to share joy and friendship.

Susanne Dietze, Inkwell Inspirations, Sep 2009

To read the rest, hop over to www.inkwellinspirations.blogspot.com .

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

And The Winner Is...

'AImage via Wikipedia

Congratulations to Suzie Johnson, who won the drawing for The Preacher's Wife by Cheryl St. John! Suzie, I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I did.

Thanks to those who entered. I'll be doing giveaways on this blog again, so stay tuned! For another prize-winning opportunity, check this out:

What do teacups, spiritual gifts, rejection and a recipe for chocolate cake all have in common?

(Sadly, it isn't the chocolate cake pictured above. I can't bake anything that looks like that. Just ask my family, and they'll tell you all about the Dreadful Barbie Cake Incident.)

For the answer, check out http://www.inkwellinspirations.blogspot.com/! I'm so excited. Today is my first official post over at Inkwell Inspirations, a blog for readers by fifteen women who love Jesus and writing romance. I am still in shock that I was invited to be a part of this group of talented, award-winning writers. Please pop over today and let me know what you think. I'm giving away a fab prize of Raspberry Scripture Tea, which goes swimmingly with chocolate cake, by the way. Just leave a comment following the post on Inkwell with your email address in it, and don't forget to space it out to protect yourself from spammers trolling the internet, ie, you <@> yourmail <.> com.

Thanks for checking it out, and thanks for entering to win The Preacher's Wife! See you at the Inkwell!

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Perfect Pot of Tea

TeapotImage by Phoenix Han via Flickr

Thanks for accepting my invitation to tea! No teabags for us today, though I have nothing against them. They’re convenient, inexpensive, and tasty. I use them daily, and there’s always a mug of Earl Grey or Jasmine Green at my elbow when I’m at the computer. But there’s something so much better about loose leaf tea, brewed in a pot and served in a china cup. It’s like butter instead of margarine. Or, to me, a long hot bath with scented candles rather than a rushed shower. One is the real thing, and the other gets the job done.

Tea made from loose leaves is an indulgence, a slower, smoother experience that’s almost celebratory. Tea becomes a ritual, a time of careful planning, whether we’ve invited a friend to join us for scones and conversation, or we plan to sit with a good book. Even if there’s nothing to accompany the tea, waiting for it to brew in a pot forces us to relax, wait, and enjoy the moment. And as for the taste, well, you’ll have to let me know what you think.

Have you ever made a pot of tea? It’s not at all difficult. When I first decided to try brewing loose leaf tea, I noted that none of the containers I’d bought came with instructions. What if I used too much or brewed it too long?

With some research and a little practice, I found my rhythm. Here’s how I make a perfect pot of tea.

• Fill a kettle with fresh water, and put it on to boil.

• While you wait, pour hot water into the teapot to warm it. China, stoneware, porcelain or glass teapots work best. If you don’t know how many cups your teapot holds, this is a good way to find out. Use a measuring cup of hot water to fill the pot.

• Measure your tea. How much tea you add depends on how big your pot is. My favorite pot holds four cups. For every cup, I use a teaspoon of tea. Some experts suggest adding a spoonful for the pot. Put the tea in a large tea ball, but if you do not have one, you can add the tea to the pot. You’ll have to use a strainer when you pour it out, however, but you’ll feel just like Jane Austen when you do it.

• Pour the hot water out of the teapot, add the boiling water from the kettle, and add tea.

• Let the tea brew for three to six minutes, depending on your strength preference.

• Remove the tea ball, if you used one. Carefully pour tea into cups, using a tea strainer if you didn’t use a tea ball.

• Crack open a good book or call a friend to join you, and enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by today! How often do you indulge in a special, life-giving ritual, like savoring tea, lighting candles, or taking a long hot bath? How do you fit time in for yourself? Add a comment between now and September 15, and you'll be entered in a drawing to receive one of my favorite summer reads, The Preacher's Wife by Cheryl St. John. It's the sweet story of a widow and a preacher whose children need a mother.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Help! My Character Needs Therapy!

Jatropha podagrica flowersImage by Martin_Heigan via Flickr

Today I had the privilege of having the fictional hero of my work in progress, Tony, assessed by a real life Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Jeannie Campbell, The Character Therapist, is a generous woman who happens to write inspirational romance, just as I do. We "met" through American Christian Fiction Writers, and she graciously offered to help me with my characters and their development. I filled her in on my heroes' issues, motivations, goals, and problems. She gave these struggling fictional fellows her time and consideration, informing me of just what's going on in their heads, and where they might go from there.

Poor dears. One of my heroes, a Regency-era spy, has a dissociative disorder, brought on from years living a dangerous double life. He'll have sleeping issues and a lot of anger to work through, among other hosts of symptoms. (I feel sorry for him, but I'm having a blast forcing him to protect the heroine, the girl who ruined his best hope to stop spying and resume a normal life.)

Today, Jeannie blessed me and assessed "Trent" (as she called Tony). She diagnosed him with an identity crisis. The poor guy is a Regency-era British earl with several secrets, including a doozy about his parentage. Now he's entangled the heroine in his mess. How will he live with the guilt, the anger, the lies? Jeannie filled me in!

Whether you're a writer or a reader, this site is a lot of fun. Check it out: www.charactertherapist.blogspot.com

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Autumn is Here! Apples, Crunchy Leaves and...Christmas Books?

Autumn StreamImage by digitalART2 via Flickr

Nothing says “Autumn is here!” like the advent of school: sharpened pencils, new lunch boxes, and Back-to-School night, that evening during the first week or so of school where parents visit their children’s classrooms, sit in their kids’ desks, and get to know their teachers.

Except that where I live, the thermometer read 97 degrees when I left the house for Back-to-School night. The kids, who stayed home with my husband, told me goodbye while wearing swimsuits. I drove to the school, found a place to squeeze my minivan, and hiked a block and a half to the campus, grateful to be wearing walking shorts and wondering if my hair was matted with sweat already. My wish for the evening quickly degenerated from asking the teachers particular questions to hoping that the air conditioning would be on full blast in the classrooms.

I seem to be stuck in summer compared to the rest of the world, however. Friends in other states have reported chill mornings and the need to begin wearing socks again. The other day I received my September issue of Southern Living (which in itself is interesting to me, as I did not personally subscribe to it, and I do not live in the south. Nevertheless I like reading it very much, so if you are the person who gave me the subscription, thank you! And come clean, already!). The cover reads “61 Tempting Fall Recipes” (why 61?) and pictured dishes featuring apples, butternut squash, and walnuts. The recipe for wild rice salad with pumpkin vinaigrette did tempt me to move out of my summer mode. Even though it is 97 degrees, I thought longingly of casseroles and pork chops. My husband suggested fried apples as a side dish. We are getting ready for autumn, even though September 1st means little here, weather-wise.

Great Pumpkin Patch

Image by yuan2003 via Flickr

But September 1st does mean Christmas books are coming our way. Fast. Over on the Edit Café blog (where the editors of Barbour Publishing post), they announced that on September 1, they ship out their Christmas selections, and the stores begin to display them. (I stopped in at my local Bible book store today and saw no Christmas items yet, other than some Veggie Tales ornaments in the clearance bin, dated 2006.). This may seem early, especially to people who cringe that Halloween costumes are already for sale. Barbour is not the only publishing house to put out holiday books now, however, because Christmas-themed books sell. Very well.

I’m guilty of feeding that frenzy. I love Christmas books. Cookbooks, romances, craft books, and my favorite little Inspirational Christmas Almanac. It’s tradition: my husband reads A Christmas Carol every year. I, too, re-read favorites, stories set in Regency England and burgeoning pioneer towns, but I also buy new books to get me into the spirit. In just a few short weeks, those new stories will all be out there, waiting for me.

But today, the winter fog and blazing hearth seem far, far away. I’ll give it a little more time, have another sip of iced tea, and come up with yet another dinner option that doesn’t require the use of the stove.

Do you read Christmas-themed books? Do you wait until December to buy them, or do you give in and purchase them in autumn? Are you tempted or horrified to see Christmas stuff in stores this early?

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your email addy for your chance to win The Preacher’s Wife!

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