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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

For All The Saints

Author: :en:Fra Angelico Created: :en:15th CenturyImage via Wikipedia

Today, as temperatures drop and October fades into November, your house might look like mine: bedecked in faux spider webs, harvest orange candles, and school-painted paper jack-o-lanterns. The kitchen permeates with scents of apple cider, popcorn and the unmistakable earthy smell of pumpkin innards. We’re gearing up to trick-or-treat, but around here, we don’t forget that Halloween started as All Hallows’ Eve, the night preceding a special day in the church. November first is the day set aside to celebrate All Saints, a long-held observation of those who’ve served Jesus faithfully.

I love saints: I’m always adding to my saint book collection, learning about the saints who are living now or who have gone to heaven, and how and why the church holds them dear. All Saints’ Day is quite a feast in our church. White linens, meaningful hymns, and joy are expected and powerful in the service. We remember all kinds of saints, like those who are Saints with a capital "S," Christians who are recognized by the Church, known by many, painted on icons and featured in stained glass windows.

But these capital “S” folks aren’t the only ones invited to the All Saint’s party. We are too, and it’s an interesting perspective to realize that we live among saints, present and future (as we do future non-saints. As C.S. Lewis put it, each person we encounter is immortal and heading toward one of two eternal destinations. If that statement doesn't shake you into trying to woo others heavenward, I don't know what does.).

It’s always sort of jarring to me, though, that the celebration of the saints also includes me, a broken, sinful person who fumbles through life. Saints are supposed to be goody-two shoes, religious people who make right choices at every fork in the road. You know the kind. They may be interesting to read about, but I sometimes wonder if in day-to-day life, they got on everyone’s nerves because they, oh, say, never rolled their eyes, or got angry at the person ahead of them in the “15 items or less” line at the supermarket for having eighty cans of cat food.

Except that goody-two shoes isn’t in the definition of a saint. Not even close. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is written “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). That means, if you are a Christian, one whom God has called to be one of His people and who is “faithful in Christ Jesus,” you’re a saint. Pretty cool, huh? And we’re all knit together in Jesus’ body, here to help each other along our journeys of faith and direct each other’s gaze to stay fixed on Jesus.

Have you ever sought inspiration from the saints? Just as the light illumines stained glass windows, God shines through the lives of saints as examples for us. When we look to the saints for inspiration, comfort, or encouragement, they point us to God.

For instance, when I put my foot in my mouth (which if you know me, you know I do a lot) I have the example of Peter to go to. He made a lot of mistakes, but he always turned to Jesus and got on with life, a reminder to me to give my blunders to Jesus and keep serving Him.

When I get irritated at someone who pushes my buttons, I think of Thérèse of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints, who considered spending time with those who’d hurt or bothered her as acts of devotion to Jesus.

When I feel discouraged or depressed, I thank God for those current-day saints He’s placed in my life who, like Barnabas (whose name had been Joseph, but was renamed to reflect his gift of encouragement) cheer and hearten me.

Brendan’s faith, proved by getting into a little boat to take the Gospel across the sea in obedience to God’s call, gives me courage on those days when I fear the unknown. Brothers Lawrence’s offering of every moment to “practice the presence of God” reminds me to serve God cheerfully in every chore.

Saints have helped me get through other rough patches. As the young bride of an equally young seminary student, folks warned that parishioners may not take us seriously as spiritual leaders, young as we were. Sometimes, those folks were right, much to our frustration, but God directed my eyes to others who served Him as younger people. Charles Lwanga and his companions, who were either teenagers or in their early twenties when they were martyred in Uganda over a hundred years ago, gave me strength, and pause: no matter how old I grow, I will still be growing into their level of spiritual maturity.

I encourage you to check out a book on saints. One place to start could be 365 Saints by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, a page-a-day-type book which is easy to go through. Naturally, these glimpses of saints just scratch the surfaces of their lives, but you may read about someone new whose story you’d like to explore further.

If you have a good book on saints, let me know! And may the Lord bless you as you walk with Him faithfully today, dear saints.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Like a Mini-Vacation

Egypt: GizehImage by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

Over on Inkwell Inspirations this week, five gals are blogging about their favorite trips. Their vacations, mission trips, and adventures have made for enjoyable and thought-provoking reading, especially when I’m in a season of life where I’m not much on the go. Not that I haven’t left the house, but my travels aren’t necessarily things others would get excited to read about.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed myself. I’ve taken some great trips this year. I went to my first writing conference (which was fun and fascinating); spent all my money in Disneyland; visited family and friends out of town, which restored my soul like nothing else; and I spent four highly-anticipated days in a beach-side condo. Sick as a dog. The kids loved the tide pools, shells, seal-watching and swimming. Fortunately, I had a good book and a blankie.

But these trips, while blessings to me, aren’t exactly the exotic stuff of travel blogs.

Take that back. I could write about how standing for three hours, saving spaces for my family to watch the Fantasmic! show at Disneyland, does not bring out the best in me. “What Would Jesus Do” went right out the window when I growled at a lady who kept trying to hamstring me with a stroller.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook sword fight aboard ...

It was a pretty cool show, though.

Right now, though, there are no such out-of-town trips for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t go anywhere. In my mind, at least. That’s part of what I love about books. I have experienced adventures I’ve never dreamed of taking in real life; I’ve traveled through time and space to cruise down the Nile, dance at Almack’s, sleep in a Scottish castle, and worship in gothic cathedrals.

I love to be transported to new places to learn what they’re like. Or to escape reality. Sometimes, I wish some of the fictional places I read about really existed, like the town in Allie Pleiter’s Bluegrass Christmas, an October Steeple Hill Love Inspired (I told you those Christmas books come early!). Just like Mitford in Jan Karon’s books (which are wonderful, by the way), Pleiter’s Middleburg, Kentucky is the kind of town where I’d want to live. It’s clean, wholesome, and filled with Christ-minded folks. It’s the kind of place where a mayoral challenge is the biggest news to hit in years, everyone eats at the pie shop, and a big city gal can get a full-time job running a Christmas pageant.

(I am married to a pastor who would love this church’s budget, since they can afford to hire a woman just to head up a seasonal drama. And she can live on that pay.)

It’s a joy to let go of the reality of your life (goodbye swine flu, bad economy, and the carpool!) and soak in the small-town holiday spirit of this novel, like a bubble bath. Sadly, you’ll eventually have to get out of the tub and back into the cold world. Nevertheless, though their town might be make-believe, I think there’s a benefit in keeping the memory of these characters with you. Acts of kindness, owning up to mistakes, and obeying God are all themes that are worth considering. Perhaps even incorporating into our own realities.

Now that’s a little trip worth taking.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Finally Hopping Aboard the Amish Bandwagon. Er, Buggy.

Traditional Amish buggy, Lancaster County, Pen...Image via Wikipedia

Recently I was chatting with my dad about my writing and the current book market. I shared the pessimistic thought that Regency-set stories, like the ones I write, just aren’t in huge demand right now.

“Well, what is in demand?” my dad asked. “Besides vampires.”

“Amish romances.”

“What? Did you say Amish?”

“Yes, Dad. Buggies and barn-raisings and shoo-fly pie.”

Well, my dad thought this was interesting, to say the least, and when Time Magazine ran a story on the popularity of Amish stories a few days later, my dad and I chuckled over the article. It seems that TV is getting in on the act, too: last week on “Bones,” a FOX crime drama, the murder victim was Amish.

The Amish are popular kids in school these days.

A writer-friend of mine was told by a literary agent to start writing Amish romances in order to get her foot in the door. “You’re a professional writer,” the agent insisted. “You can write anything, and Amish stories are here to stay.”

Well, my friend is talented and can indeed write anything. I’m not so sure that I can. Creative writing teachers tell you to write what you know, and my experience with the Amish is very limited. I respect their beliefs and practices, and I appreciate the sense of community and relationship with God they hold firm. I don't know much beyond that, however. I've had little opportunity to even interact with the Amish. I've purchased fabulous baked goods and sighed over the exquisite stitching in some quilts. I did visit a barn where men created furniture to the customer’s order, but despite the amazing craftsmanship, I didn’t take home the baby cradle I’d wanted. Oh, and one time, when I walked across a street, I almost got run over by an Amish boy on a pony. It was quite, quite exciting.

That right there is not enough to craft a comic strip, much less a dynamic, intriguing romance novel.

Of course, it might help if I actually read an Amish-set story. Yes, it’s true; I haven’t read one yet. When reaching for reading material, I tend to choose historicals set in faraway places over contemporaries, although one could argue that the Amish might not exactly fit into the contemporary category, either. In a lot of ways, they are similar to the blacksmiths and oxen-dependent farmers in the romantic historicals I read. Hey, this could be a good fit for me, after all.

Time to hop aboard the Popularity Train and buy an Amish story. After reading the back cover blurbs of several, I chose A Cousin’s Prayer by Wanda E. Brunsetter, one of the grand dames of Amish-set romance. I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve finished.

What about you? Are you a fan of Amish romances? Do you have any good recommendations for me? Leave a comment and October 15, I’ll randomly draw a winner to receive a Harmony-scented Gold Canyon bookmark. No need to leave your email address in the comment; just let me know if you want to win a bookmark and I’ll announce the winner Oct 16.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Reviews and New FTC Rules

A little bit of business today. According to FTC regulations, if I write a book review, I must mention if I received the book for free. As one could view that free book as “payment” for my review, the reader should be aware of the fact that I might be biased.

As I’m not a real book reviewer (professional or otherwise), I don’t receive free books. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I’ve won a few books on blog contests, but I have never received a book for the sole purpose of reviewing it. However, if I do review a book I’ve won, I’ll let you know. It’ll happen soon, because I won something, Yay! But every book I’ve mentioned so far on this blog has entered my world accompanied by a store receipt.

I should also note that I will only review books I like. I read some books that you’ll never see a post about, mainly because I don’t want to pick anything apart in this space. And frankly, I often don’t bother reading more than a few chapters if I can’t stand the book. I will mostly review "inspies" (that is, Inspirational, or Christian Fiction), and as I write inspy historical romance, that’s the genre I read the most. However, I do read some mainstream books, like The First Patient and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and sometimes I'll want to talk about them.

Ok, enough business. Tomorrow will be back to tea and good books as I explain why I’m finally catching up to the 21st century, jumping on a buggy, and reading Amish romance.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Oh My!

'CoverCover via Amazon

I’ve never seen anything like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ("The Classic Regency Romance -- Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem") before. A national bestseller, the novel came about when Quirk Publishing hired screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith to re-write Jane Austen’s 1813 classic, Pride and Prejudice, weaving a zombie-centric theme through the original work. As an Austen fan and lover of Regency England, I was simultaneously creeped out and intrigued, so I decided to check the book out.

Then I couldn’t put it down. I found myself snorting back chuckles within the first few pages. Just like those old TV commericals where the chocolate gets mixed up with the peanut butter, there's something about the mish-mash of English literature and horror flick that works here, and I got a big laugh out of it, partly at my own expense as an Austen fan.

The story follows the basic plot of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters live with their parents in Hertfordshire. Wealthy and handsome Mr. Bingley takes up residence in a nearby house, Netherfield, joined by his sisters and friends, including the dashing Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth’s mother sees potential in both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy as husbands for her daughters. The eldest Bennet sister, Jane, takes a fancy to Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth is both drawn to and infuriated by proud Mr. Darcy.

As these two couples’ journeys to love progress, however, they must fight off zombies at every turn. Hence the twist: a plague terrorizes England, unearthing brain-hungry corpses which devour or infect hapless folk who are unfortunate enough to walk alone, find themselves low on musket ammunition, or stand too close to a window. To defend themselves, characters carry muskets, longbows, or pitchforks, though the Bennet girls have been trained in martial arts and are experts at combat.

Make no mistake, this version of Elizabeth Bennet is a warrior. She spends her spare time whittling blowgun darts, cleaning muskets, and sparring in the dojo. In the original novel, Lady Catherine encourages Elizabeth to demonstrate her fingering ability on the pianoforte; in the Zombie version, Elizabeth displays her finger strength by standing on her head and “walking” around, supporting her weight on her fingertips. It’s ridiculous. But it also made me laugh.

Zombies infiltrate every aspect of this retelling. The “sorry stricken” (the characters don’t use the word “zombie”) intrude on Mr. Bingley’s ball, lurk outside Pemberley, and prey on travellers, which makes each trip to London a life or death battle. Zombies prove to be a valuable plot device, as they are ultimately responsible for lost messages, Charlotte Lucas’ decision to marry Mr. Collins, and the military presence in Hertfordshire.

The book will not satisfy everyone’s tastes, of course. No book does, but some Austen purists will do better to stay away than expose themselves to the desecration Grahame-Smith inflicts on the original masterpiece. Other readers might not appreciate the humor, which includes lots of zombie yuckiness, descriptive ninja fights, and the occasional double entendre. I rolled my eyes on occasion, but that's the worst of it. I am not one to object to the numerous historical inaccuracies, either, particularly the Asian influence permeating the book. Of course it was impossible to make multiple trips (much less one) to China at that time, as the Bennets do for martial-arts training. Nor would Darcy have modeled Pemberley after a Shinto shrine or refer to Buddha. Nor would Lady Catherine have surrounded herself with a guard of ninjas. However, as nearly every action hero from our own day and age seems to receive training in Buddhist monasteries (Batman, for instance), I saw the Asian influence as part of the spoof.

And as I said, I did enjoy much of the humor, especially the understated parts. It is in passing that we learn of Mr. Bennet's "zombie traps" which use cauliflower as bait; and when Mr. Darcy fights off a hoarde of zombies, "the smoke from (his) musket hung in the air around him, wafting heavenward through his thick mane of chestnut hair." That's my sense of humor for ya.

Perhaps the best thing to me about the book is that I felt compelled to get my copy of Pride and Prejudice off the shelf for the sake of comparison. I read passages side by side, marveling at the changes. I can’t help but wonder if others have done the same. Perhaps someone who has never read Pride and Prejudice is now, thanks to the zombie version, enjoying the original. If just one person has visited the public library or their local book store for such a reason, I feel that there is merit in it, even if it’s not for everyone or proves a one-hit-wonder.

Nevertheless, I see that Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is out in stores, and already on the bestseller list.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Tea, Jane Austen, and A Giveaway

Scones are also commonly served with jam and c...Image via Wikipedia

What is the most decadent thing you've ever eaten? Beignets? Chocolate mousse? Creme Brulle?

The most tempting, indulgent, hard-to-not-eat-the-whole-dish-with-a-spoon treat I can recall devouring is Mock Devonshire Cream. (I'm sure the real thing is delicious too, but you can only find it in specialty stores here in the US. My friend Arlena shared her recipe for the mock stuff with me, and it's fabulous.) Smooth, rich, sweet and creamy, Mock Devonishire Cream is meant to go with jam and scones, but I can't stop with one dollop. Therefore, in the interest of my arteries, it's best not to have all of the ingredients on hand.

I didn't take this picture of scones and jam and cream, but just look at it! Look how thick that cream is...

Ok, snapping out of it -- Today on Inkwell Inspirations, I share Arlena's recipe and also chit-chat a bit on how Jane Austen enjoyed her tea. In Georgian England, tea was something of a status symbol, expensive even without the high taxes imposed on it by the government. It was such a regarded commodity that the poorer classes would do some extreme things to stretch their tea supplies, including recycling it, over and over and over. Unscrupulous salesmen created disgusting blends of tea, twigs, sheep dung and toxic chemicals (dear me, I am so glad we have regulations against that sort of thing nowadays) and smugglers made a mint off of contraband tea. The price was better that procuring it honestly, but it was illegal, not to mention the fact that the tea had been packed in smelly oilskins, giving the tea an odd taste. No wonder Jane liked to go directly to the Twinings warehouse and buy her tea straight from the source, several pounds at a time.

If you visit the site, don't forget to leave a comment by Oct 8 with your email address so you can be entered into the drawing for an Inkwell Inspirations recipe book. I've seen some of the recipes in there, and I want one too! Happy Tea time!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Paint the Town Pink!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness MonthImage by oOoHEAVENLYoOotheheavenlyexperiance© via Flickr

With all of the pink ribbons tied around car antennae and tree trunks, you’re probably aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s hard to escape. This time of year, many communities paint the town pink; offer fun runs, rallies, or fundraisers; and offer TV spots drawing attention to the leading killer of American women aged 40-55. Breast cancer awareness is everywhere: even kitchen products offer lines of pink mixers and measuring spoons, for sale just this time of year, making a donation to cancer research. My grocery store is well-stocked with teddy bears in pink t-shirts, and on my latest trip to Hallmark to buy a birthday card, I noted a stack of free greeting cards (with pink envelopes, of course) that encourage a gal pal to get a mammogram.

I support every ounce of the hoopla. I think that it’s unfortunate when makers of “breast cancer” items do not make a donation toward cancer research, but at the same time, anything that draws attention to breast cancer can be worthwhile if it makes a woman consider the issue. As one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer (that’s one woman every two seconds), this disease will probably affect you at some point during your life, whether it’s a battle fought in your own body or that of someone you care about. Your phone might ring, as mine did, with the news that somebody close to me was now engaged in the battle of her life.

In honor of the moms, sisters, daughters, friends, and neighbors who are affected by breast cancer, I’d like to encourage you to do something about fighting breast cancer. Here are some things any woman can do:

Support local fun runs, rallies, and fundraisers that celebrate cancer survivors and encourage patients.

If detected early, the breast cancer survival rate is 96%. Wow! Yet 13 million American women have never had a mammogram. If you are over 40, get a mammogram every one to two years. It’s what the National Cancer Institute recommends, and so does the US Department of Health and Human Services. Mammograms saved the lives of two women I know, bringing to light tumors which were not detected through self-examination. If you’re over 50, get a mammogram every year.

Visit www.theBreastCancerSite.com to help donate mammograms to needy women. All you have to do is click a button, once a day. (While you’re there, visit the other partner sites to help feed kids, save the rainforest, and buy vaccinations for inner city kids.)

Do your self-examinations every month, starting at age 20. Have a trained professional do an exam every two years if you're under age 40; if you're older, do it every year. Seventy percent of breast cancers are discovered through examinations.

Keep in mind that eighty percent of lumps are not cancerous. Get them checked, anyway.

If you have a friend undergoing cancer treatment, do what you can to help. Pick up their kids, take them dinner, rent them movies, give them love, or give them space if they need it. But don’t let them think they’re alone. Call, send cards and flowers, and be there.

From personal experience, I learned that sometimes during chemo, things smell and taste different to the patient. Be tolerant of their preference and new dietary needs.

Men can get breast cancer, too. Encourage the guys in your life to see a doctor if they notice a lump.

Eat a low-fat diet, exercise, and don’t smoke.

Pray, pray, pray. For healing in the lives of those affected, and for a cure.

Celebrate the women in your life now, today! Call a friend, go out to lunch, forgive someone, hug your daughter, thank your mom. Be grateful for every moment you have with the precious people God has put in your life.

I’m thankful for you, Mom. Thanks for fighting with all you had to beat your cancer, and now helping others who are undergoing that same battle.

Below are the sites I used for the statistical information. If any errors appear, however, it is entirely my fault.


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