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, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

christmas starImage by brockvicky via Flickr
Merry Christmas!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

May Almighty God, who sent his Son to take our nature upon him, bless you in this holy season, scatter the darkness of sin, and brighten your heart with the light of his holiness.

May God, who sent his angels to proclaim the glad news of the Savior's birth, fill you with joy, and make you heralds of the Gospel.

May God, who in the Word made flesh joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven, give you his peace and favor.

And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen.

from the Book of Occasional Services
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Feliz Navidad! A Recipe for What My Family Really Eats at Christmas

Bean dip? Are you serious?

Yes. I am. Exhausted by the previous night's Christmas Eve services, we go casual at our house Christmas Day. What started as a warm nosh to fill the empty-stomach time between a breakfast in our jammies and dinner, has now become a tradition so esteemed that I fear my parents would not come to visit on Christmas if I didn't serve it.

Ok, they'd come. But only to see the kids.

We like it so much that it never actually makes it to the table. It stays in the crockpot on the counter and we gravitate toward it like moths to a lamppost.

And it's so easy. I make it up after present-opening time and it's ready for grazing in a few hours. Of course, it's perfect for any party or just because, too. But calories don't count on Christmas Day, right?


Cheesy Bean Dip

1 16-oz can refried beans
1 c. your favorite salsa
1 c. each shredded cheddar and jack cheese
1 c. sour cream
3 oz. cream cheese, cubed for easy melting
1 T. chili powder
1/4 t. ground cumin
optional: jalapeno rings, garlic...whatever you love

Combine in a crockpot, cover, and heat on high for 2 hours. (I've done it on the stove over low heat, too.) Stir occasionally. Taste occasionally but don't let your family catch you, because then they'll have to taste, too, and forget it -- game over. The stuff'll be gone. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Few Of My Favorite Things, Ornament Edition

Don't you just love Christmas trees? Each is as unique as the decorator, revealing the tastes and joys, pasts and presents of the family who hung each ornament. We have a lot of ornaments at our house -- more than we need -- but each one represents something, a memory of the moment it was made or received, whether it's a kindergarten creation or a souvenir from a vacation, and I can't bear to part with a single one of them. One of my favorite days of the year is when all of the boxes come out and we unpack the treasures for our tree.

Some of my friends have themed trees. Red White and Blue God Bless America Trees; Gingerbread Trees; Star Trek (yes! you know who you are!); Feathers and Fur. My theme, I suppose, is "anything goes." But I do have a special collection of ornaments, and I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn they are teapots and teacups. I thought I'd share just a few of them with you.

Like all of our other ornaments, each is a memory. I purchased this one myself from a tea shop one November. My friend Laura and I had a wonderful afternoon that day, enjoying scones and fragrant Buccaneer tea -- a delicious blend of coconut and rooibos and I'm not sure what else, but it's divine. I'm a sucker for red toille, so I couldn't pass this up:

The newest in my collection came from my friend Susan. She sent it to me last year for Christmas with instructions to open the package early and hang it on the tree. I love the shade of blue and the wintry feel of this teacup!

This last photo shows two more. One is a pink teapot, which reminds me a bit of a favorite (human-sized) teacup I have, an Old Country Roses pattern laid over pale pink. It also came from a tea shop. The Christmas pattern teacup came from my friend Jill, the last Christmas I lived in the same town as her before I moved away. There's a pot to match this one, too. I love the Victorian collage-look of it.

There's a peek at a few of my favorite ornaments! What about you? What are some of the treasured ornaments gracing your tree?

Monday, December 6, 2010

King of the (Christmas) Airwaves

The Magic of Christmas (Nat King Cole album)Image via Wikipedia Have you started listening to Christmas music yet? My family has; in fact, we've gone so far as to have grown sick of some of our CDs already, cycled them out, and replaced them with new ones. We're that bad. We listen to Christmas music during breakfast and dinner. Classics. Contemporary. Madrigals. Pops. We're junkies for holiday tunes.

I have favorites, of course. We all do. While I especially love some classical pieces and less-popular songs ("The Cherry Tree Carol," anyone?), the stuff that gets me instantly in a Christmassy mood tends to be favorites from my youth, songs that predate my birth but got a lot of airplay when I was a kid, like The Boston Pops' "Sleigh Ride" and The New Christy Minstrels harmonizing carols in a 60's folk partyfest that probably set me up to fall in love with the B-52's when I was older.

My favorite, however, is Nat King Cole's version of "The Christmas Song." No Mel Torme-version for me, please. Nat King Cole is, well, king.

I recently discovered that other Americans agree with my appreciation of this song. Billboard Magazine has created a list of the one hundred most popular holiday songs, based on a blend of sales and airplay from October 2009-January 2010. "The Christmas Song" ranks at a delightful number 7 on the list, beating out eighth-place holder Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

Number 9 on the list is "Last Christmas," sung by eighties-pop duo Wham! -- I confess, I loved them back when this song came out and can still sing all of George Michael's little "Ohhh bab-ay" parts. Amazingly, "Last Christmas" shows up two more times in the top 20 of Billboard's list, with covers by Taylor Swift and the Cast of Glee showing up at numbers 15 and 20. Perhaps my kids will think of Wham! and this song when, twenty years from now, they indulge in Christmas nostalgia.

Other songs I love made the cut, too: Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" is number 10. But I was surprised that nothing by Manheim Steamroller found a top spot. Those albums have sold better than any Christmas albums in history, so I've heard.

Here's the top ten list. Is your favorite among its ranks? And were you as surprised by the number one top-seller as I was?

10. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams
9. "Last Christmas" by Wham!
8. "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby
7. "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole
6. "A Holly Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives (for those of us with Rudolph nostalgia)
5. "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano
4. "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms
3. "Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
2. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee
1. "All I want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Shoe Boxes Full of Blessing

Guess what I've been up to -- Christmas shopping! But before you groan and remind me it's too early and there's still 39 days left to go, let me clarify: I've been busy with an especially satisfying type of Christmas shopping...shopping for a stranger!

And not just any stranger, but a child who lives in another country, a child who may not otherwise receive much for Christmas this year. Thanks to the ministry of Samaritan's Purse, anyone who's interested can fill a wrapped shoe box full of small gifts. The box will then be sent to a child in need through Operation Christmas Child (click the link to learn more).

I love Operation Christmas Child; it's a wonderful way to engage my children in mission. It's an opportunity to talk about kids who lives in utterly different circumstances than we do, and we pray for the kids who will receive our boxes. We love to go out together and pick out appropriate toys, school supplies, socks, and hygeine items to go into our boxes, too. We always try to select a variety of items, with practical items as well as frivolous ones.

Sometimes, we even hear back from the kids who've received our boxes. Those letters are treasures.

Boxes are being collected now, so if you're interested, it's time to get busy. If your church isn't offering an Operation Christmas Child drive, visit the website to learn if a church in your community or another local organization is involved, and they'd be happy to receive a shoe box from you! Who knows...your act of love could bless a child in a unique way, perhaps even serving as a step toward a relationship with Jesus.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Jody Hedlund's Delightful Debut Novel, The Preacher’s Bride

“Puritanical” takes on a whole new meaning in Jody Hedlund’s debut release, The Preacher’s Bride. A sweet and satisfying love story, this historical romance celebrates faith, hope, and family, set during the religious persecution of Puritans during 1650’s England.

Under the rule of Cromwell, Puritans like John Costin and Elizabeth Whitbread enjoyed the freedom to worship as they pleased, and unlicensed preachers like John spread the Gospel throughout England. When Charles II came to power and returned England to a monarchy, however, being a Puritan preacher like John was a dangerous thing.

Hedlund’s novel tells the story of Elizabeth Whitbread, a young woman who yearns to save the starving newborn son of newly-widowed John Costin, a fiery local preacher, even if it means earning his scorn. Tending the baby and John’s three other children, Elizabeth's work as his housekeeper jeopardizes her reputation among the leading Puritans, strains her relationship with the man she's promised to marry, and endangers her life when a nasty Royalist threatens her in order to silence John. But when love for the children - and for John - blooms in her heart, Elizabeth won't sit idly by and let the family, or John's ministry, be torn apart.

John is a rich character. His humor and conviction make him easy to like, but at times, I also found him as frustrating as Elizabeth does. His flaws are painful ones: he’s already lost his wife, and fearing his newborn’s death, he protects himself from further pain by ignoring the child. When his heart opens to baby Thomas – and later, to Elizabeth – the joy is all the sweeter due to the spiritual and emotional obstacles John has had to overcome to get to this point. John’s difficulties, whether they spring from the politics of the day or from his own broken heart, aren’t shallow ones, and the fixes aren’t quick and easy.

Likewise, Elizabeth is a well-rounded character. She’s sharp enough to argue her way out of trouble, courageous enough to testify before the authorities, and strong enough to obey God’s call no matter how difficult the circumstances. If anything, she’s a model of virtue, and her major flaw is that she falls into the trap of works-based righteousness, which seems both appropriate and expected for a Puritan maiden. Her story is a reminder that we love God not for what He gives us, but who He is.

Well-researched, the story gracefully placed me in the time period with its rich descriptions. The writing is strong, the plot solid. The story is made all the more compelling when the reader learns that the characters are based on the lives of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and his second wife, Elizabeth. Reading this story has inspired me to pick up a copy and get to know Bunyan a bit better.

This book is one of my favorite novels of the year and I look forward to more inspirational fiction from Hedlund.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher for the purposes of review.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Driftwood, Vampire Lattes, and Edbread: My Twilight Experience

This summer, I had a real life, honest to goodness Twilight Experience. As a fan of the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer (which tell the story of Bella Swan, her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen, and her werewolf best friend Jacob Black), I couldn’t pass up the chance to pass through the characters’ neighborhood of Forks, Washington, on the way home from visiting family in the Pacific Northwest.

The first thing we learned is that Twilight Mania isn’t limited to Forks, or even to Washington state. Even before our arrival in Washington, we found nods to Twilight in unexpected locales as we drove north. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why the gift shop at Multnomah Falls offered Twilight souvenirs or served as a stop on a Twilight scavenger hunt, until I learned that some scenes for the first movie were filmed there. (One is in the credits. Do you recognize the bridge?) Another Oregon-filmed scene? Bella’s house, for one.

Part of our family’s summer vacation included a jaunt to Victoria, BC, and we decided to catch a ferry in Port Angeles. Twilighters recognize this as the town where Bella shops with her friends, runs into some big trouble, and is saved by Edward. You can’t go far in this town without running into something that caters to Twilight fans. Maps at the Chamber of Commerce direct you to a number of sites mentioned in the stories, even if the resemblance they bear to these real-life locations is slight. The alley where Edward saves Bella from the thugs, for instance, is too close to the main street to seem threatening, and if Bella really stumbled into it, having lost her way from the bookstore which is located across the street, she’s in bigger trouble than we thought. This alley also runs behind the store where Bella bought her prom dress, according to their ads...although, as I recall, Alice ordered her dress for her. Never mind the inaccuracies; I decided to soak in as much fun as I could.

I ordered a decaf “Vampire Kiss Latte” at a local gift store (while my kids, unimpressed with my raspberry mocha latte, enjoyed soft serve from the Dairy Queen across the street). After browsing at the bookstore (we’re a family of readers, after all) I spent a fair amount of time in a store called “Dazzled by Twilight.” There, you can purchase any and everything related to the movies and books, from jewelry to shirts to dolls to Edward’s favorite coffee blend (never mind that he doesn’t…ah well.).

I wanted a lot of things in the store, but I decided my kids' teachers might not appreciate a PE Excuse written on Cullen letterhead, and I feared other moms might snicker at me if I wore my Edward t-shirt, no matter how smoldering his expression. But seeing as I’m making two orthodontic payments, I settled on getting myself a discreet black mug. My husband was relieved at my minimal purchase, I think, considering the way I’d been greedily eyeing the Edward dolls and patting their acrylic hairdos.

At the time we were in Port Angeles, “Eclipse” was still playing in the one-screen theater across the street from the store, and I thought how fun it would be to see the movie there, of all places – the very theater where Bella and Jacob went in New Moon! Alas, certain scenes in the movie aren’t friendly for everyone in my family, so we spent our evening doing the next best thing: eating at Bella Italia, the restaurant where Edward takes Bella after saving her from those awful thugs in the alley. The restaurant was smaller than I expected, with something like eight booths and just as many tables, all in one cozy room, so it wasn’t the ideal place to have an “RDT” (Relationship Defining Talk) or a “VCC” (Vampire Confessional Conversation) like they do in the book. No matter. I was eating at Bella Italia! I had mushroom ravioli, of course. (I took pics, but the restaurant's windows are mirrored, so my photos reflected the street and my family and total strangers and well, just looked too weird to share here. Sorry.)

Our Twilight-themed adventures took a slight detour while we took the ferry to Victoria and back. The next morning, we said goodbye to Port Angeles and headed south via Highway 101...the route to Forks! Squee! What a drive. I don’t remember if Stephanie Meyer describes this particular scenery, as Edwards tends to drive through it at a 100 mph blur, but I found the area breathtaking, all pines and greenery. I especially enjoyed passing Crescent Lake, thin and sparkling (much like Edward's skin on a sunny day). If we'd had more time, I'd have liked to stop and explore the area.

The sun was bright that morning and I joked to my family that when we arrived at Forks, all the vampires would be in hiding. But then we turned a curve and Forks lay ahead of us, gloomy and gray. It reminded me of the old cartoons where a storm cloud hovers over Charlie Brown’s head, raining on him and no one else. While the folks in Crescent Lake basked in light, Forks huddled under a thick blanket of cloud, damp and dim.

Our first stop in Forks: the sign! Much bigger than portrayed in the films. I hopped out for a picture. But first I had to ditch my flip flops for tennies and put my sweater on...it was chilly!

Second stop, the Chamber of Commerce (thanks for the tip, Gail!). In addition to distributing maps, the Chamber of Commerce offers brochures, quizzes, a few postcards, and a handy bathroom stop. If you need to go, you can choose one of two bathrooms: one for Edward's fans, another for Jacob's. (My husband was disappointed that there was no such place for fans of Alice.) There’s a world map tacked on the far wall, and you can place a stick pin on the map to mark your hometown. California, Oregon and Washington were solidly filled in with pins, so you're out of luck if you're from one of those states, but chances are you still may have problems fitting in a pin wherever you're from. There were clusters of pins covering just about every major US city. Dozens of countries, from China to Norway to South Africa, were also represented. No matter what anybody says about the books, good or bad, Twilight has a zillion fans, and huge numbers of them have been to Forks.

The brochures here say that visitors are welcome to take photos at just about every place mentioned in the book: the high school, the police station (really? they don't mind that?), and the hospital, where a parking spot has been reserved for the patriarch of the vampires, Dr. Cullen. While I wanted to see all of these things, we didn’t have a lot of time, so I took a picture with my kids in front of Bella’s truck parked outside, and selected the one spot I really, really wanted to see: First Beach at La Push on the Quileute Reservation.

En route through town, we saw that many establishments take advantage of their connection to Twilight. Forks Outfitters, for example, advertises its connection as Bella’s place of employment, and it’s handily located next to the Thriftway where she shops for enchilada ingredients.

Here, you can see another “Dazzled by Twilight” store in the background. My photographic skills stink, as you can surely tell, seeing as half my face ended up in the side-view mirror, but can you note all of the costumes in the window? Dr. Cullen’s coat and Rosalie’s wedding dress are among the items – I’m guessing reproductions – on display. Because we were in a rush, we didn’t go inside. That, and I didn’t think my husband could stomach standing amongst so many Edward dolls again. If I'd popped into this store, he'd probably wait outside like the guy in the picture wearing blue, leaning against the building with his arms crossed, thinking about golf. So we just drove past. Oh, but one more thing. On the right of the pic, under the red-white-and-blue fringe, a drug store sign nods to Bella’s clumsiness by offering her first aid.

The drive to First Beach took twenty minutes. We knew the moment we crossed the Reservation line:

We didn’t stop at the reservation’s Visitor Center or stop at the little drive-thru, Jacob’s Coffee (but if we'd wanted coffee, I’m guessing we’d have ordered it black, pa-dum-crash!), but after making a few wrong turns, we found First Beach. In the gravel parking area, we saw cars with license plates from several states and Alberta, but the beach was not crowded.

My pic doesn't do it justice. I could’ve stayed for hours on this stretch of beach, perched on a chunk of driftwood. The rock formations are stunning, and I felt peaceful watching my kids play among the wood and crabs and shells as the steel-gray waves lapped against the shore.

When we left, we encountered a bit of a problem with our car, which I describe today on Inkwell Inspirations (click here). Fortunately, a local woman directed us to a friendly mechanic and he diagnosed the problem right away: a piece of gravel from the parking area at First Beach had lodged between a rotor and the dust shield.

The diversion ended up costing us a bit more time than we planned, however, so we decided to put an end to our Twilight sightseeing (sob!) and stop for lunch before we hit the road. We stopped at a place in the Forks Outfitters lot, Pacific Pizza, a place not mentioned in the books like real-life restaurant The Lodge ,where Bella eats a burger on graduation night. I would’ve voted to eat at The Lodge just for the sake of sentiment, but Pacific Pizza was the easiest place to get to, so there we were.

While Pacific Pizza serves a number of Twilight-inspired cuisine, a la "Bella & Edward Wedding Soup" and "Black Angus Gorgonzola Pizza" (served with Edbread!) we went the simple route and ordered pepperoni. It was delicious, but I got a kick out of eating it as two police cruisers pulled up. Two cops and their families met for lunch. Neither of the officers looked like Charlie Swan, but I pretended one was Bella’s dad, anyway.

As much as I would’ve liked to have seen the school and visited a bit longer, I’d accomplished something fun that I never thought I’d do. I went somewhere I'd read about, compared the reality to my imaginings, and got lost in the enthusiasm of fandom. Even beyond the Twilight "stuff," I had a few wonderful experiences: relaxing at First Beach was a highlight of my summer, and it still would have been amazing even if I hadn't been sitting on Bella and Jacob's driftwood bench.

But I totally was sitting on their driftwood bench. Which made it doubly fun.

What real-life places that you’ve read about would you like to visit? I’d love to see some of the Regency-era buildings that still stand in London. How about you? Or have you ever visited the setting of a favorite book?

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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Master's Wall: Recommendation and a Giveaway!

Set in first-century Italy, Sandi Rog’s The Master’s Wall is an epic tale of action and romance, set against the backdrop of Christian persecution, slavery, and the Roman excesses of first century Italy. David, an enslaved Christian boy, is caught between his desire for freedom and his affection for Alethea, the granddaughter of his cruel master. As the children mature and their secret bond intensifies, dangerous obstacles threaten not only their friendship, but their lives.

The world of David and Alethea comes alive thanks to numerous historical details, from the costume descriptions to the geography, and even to the menus. Fans of Biblical fiction will appreciate these fine points, but any reader of historical fiction will enjoy how skillfully Rog has recreated the universe of ancient Rome and its environs.

Rog has taken the same care with her characters. Alethea is a spunky heroine. She endured grave tragedy but never bows to her grief. As a female, she is limited in her actions, but she is smart enough to know that she must work within the parameters set by her Society in order to survive. And when she breaks Society’s rules, she is well aware that the risks she’s taking may cost her life. Likewise, David is all hero – handsome, charming, quick, and devoted to Yeshua. He’s a Christian, but also a slave trained in the art of fighting. Both are highly dangerous things to be, and he must eventually decide if his beliefs are worth dying – or killing – for.

An inspirational novel, The Master’s Wall traces the characters’ spiritual journeys in a way that seemed real to me, progressing through seasons of doubt, confusion, and even fear. The comparison between David’s suffering for Alethea’s sins and Jesus’ torment and sacrifice for humanity’s sin was powerful.

I recommend The Master’s Wall and look forward to more from Sandi Rog.

Sandi has graciously offered to give away a copy of The Master’s Wall to one commenter. To enter the drawing, please leave your email address in the comment section by 6 pm, Pacific Time, October 27. I’ll draw a name at random. (Void where prohibited.) If you're not the lucky winner, you can find the book on Amazon soon or direct from the publisher, DeWard. You can visit Sandi at her website, too.

Here’s just a few of the good things others are saying about The Master’s Wall:

"It's a grand thing to find an intriguing story told by a talented storyteller, and that's just what we have in The Master's Wall by Sandi Rog. This story has it all: ancient Rome, authentically depicted; a hero worth rooting for; and a feisty, charming heroine—all flowing through a rousting tale beautifully spun. Rog—and every reader—has a winner with this one.”
—Robert Liparulo, bestselling author of Comes a Horseman, Germ, and the Dreamhouse Kings series

“. . . If you love gladiator scenes—you’ll love this book. If you enjoy coming-of-age stories, you’ll enjoy Alethea’s journey from girlhood to adult. If you thrive on romances, the sweet love story will grasp your heart. A must read for all the right reasons.
DARLENE FRANKLIN, “The Prodigal Patriot”

Note: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from De Ward Publishing for my review.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bittersweet: A Book Recommendation

Anyone who’s suffered through a painful season knows that sometimes it’s difficult to endure, much less glean perspective during the journey. Shauna Niequist’s Inspirational non-fiction book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, compels the reader to celebrate life’s sweetness with gratitude and joy, while seeking growth and wisdom through the chaotic, bitter portions.

Bittersweet, she says, “is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful…” and she believes change is one of God’s greatest gifts, offered to help His children grow into courageous people of mature, complex faith.

Niequist is a gifted writer. She describes the world with vibrant sensuality, celebrating the miraculous in every good gift, whether it’s children, books, or wine. While it sounds as if she is surrounded by an enviable support network many lack, her experiences during an intense season of loss are highly relatable, especially to female readers in their thirties who’ve struggled with job insecurity, marital strain, or infertility.

Bittersweet is compelling enough to curl up with in long, cozy sittings, but I found its short, blog-style chapters perfect to read in short, digestible bits. While the chapters flowed well, a few chapters hit me hard and made me pull out my highlighter.

As I work on embracing the bittersweet in my life, I have a feeling I'll return to this book again for another taste of Niequist's wisdom.

Per FTC Guidelines, I must disclaim that I received this book from the publisher, Zondervan, in exchange for my review.
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

If You're a Mom, or Have a Mom, or Know a Mom...

This week, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers, hit retailers everywhere, and I'm pleased to announce that my devotional, Listening for God's Voice, is included in the book!

Being a mother is one of the best -- and most challenging -- things in my life. As a mom, I feel blessed and humbled to be the mom of such wonderful kids, of course. But I also get overwhelmed sometimes, drudging through areas where I lack the wisdom to handle difficult situations my kids face. Then there are the days where I feel like Superman wearing a Kryptonite necklace. Do you remember that old commercial for the US Army, where the soldier says he's accomplished more by 6 AM than most people do all day? Some mornings I look at the clock and tell myself that yes, it really is only 8 in the morning...even though I've halted two world wars, found a missing Star Wars figure, started dinner in the crockpot, nursed a sick child and destroyed an ant invasion. Those days, I feel like I've given everything I have and there's nothing left, not for my kids, not for my husband, and certainly not for me.

Devotional Stories for Mothers offers the opportunity for a mom to fill her cup, to take a moment for herself, to find companionship within the stories of other women who've walked in her shoes. Each devotional includes a brief Scripture verse and prayer.

I'm proud to be part of this project. Moms need all the support, friendship, and help they can get. They also need the Lord, and this book might help women with the needs they face.

Let me know if you check it out!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Book In A Week

600x750mm sign intended to match the specifica...Image via Wikipedia This week I'm trying something I've secretly longed to do for ages: write a book FAST.

Book in a Week, or BIAW, is just one of many names and methods for a popular idea -- meeting a predetermined word count through a scheduled burst of writing, generally with the support of other writers who are busy doing the same thing. The writing time is intense but doesn't usually last more than a week or two, allowing a writer to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.

And yeah, some writers can actually pull off composing an entire 80,000 word book in one week.

I'm not one of them, by the way. I'm the tortoise of the novelist menagerie. And I know a lot of cheetahs.

To accomplish writing a book in a week -- or even meeting a lesser goal -- preparation is key. Many writers (I've read) complete all of their research and outlines before their BIAW challenge. They shop for groceries, freeze prepared meals, and line up others to help with their children. Then they sit down and type like crazy, oftentimes in "draft" mode, which means they don't go back and edit, and if they come to a question or difficult spot, they make a notation and keep moving in the manuscript.

Anyone can accomplish a BIAW Challenge by themselves, but sometimes it can be helpful to join an established group for accountability purposes. When one of the writing groups I belong to, HisWriters, announced they'd sponsor a BIAW challenge over the next two weeks, I thought it might be just the kick I need to get moving with my historical WIP. As I said, I'm a slow writer anyway, so I need to just get busy and finish the draft already.

I created a goal based on word counts achieved during previous blocks of intense writing; I also looked at my calendar and factored in the amount of time I'll have alone (alas, I have no childcare lined up for this writing spree). Therefore, my goal isn't very large: 1500 words per day. No, it isn't much. I won't get a novel written this way, but reporting my accomplished words per day to the BIAW participants in HisWriters will offer me the motivation to at least meet this goal. If I surpass my goal, wonderful. If not, I'll receive encouragement from the women in HisWriters to do better the next day.

So if you don't see much of me over the next two weeks, you know what I'm up to. I'll be in another place and time, up to my neck in bustles and buggies and mustachioed swindlers, at least in my imagination. And I'm also guessing that in real life, my fingers will be worn out from typing, but the sense of accomplishment should be enough to soothe the ache.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Recommendation -- The Healer’s Apprentice

It’s my absolute pleasure to recommend The Healer’s Apprentice, the debut novel by inspirational author Melanie Dickerson. Loosely based on the story of Sleeping Beauty, The Healer’s Apprentice is a retelling of a familiar fairy tale with an inspirational twist.

In this medieval-set story, Rose , a woodcutter’s daughter, serves as the apprentice to Frau Geruscha, healer at Hagenheim Castle. Although Rose gets queasy at the sight of blood, her quick thinking and faith help her tend to the wounded son of the duke, Wilhelm, Lord Hamlin. Their attraction is instantaneous, but the obstacles between them are insurmountable. Rose isn’t his social equal. Nor is Wilhelm free. He’s been betrothed since childhood to the mysterious Lady Salomea, a young woman hidden since infancy to protect her from a sorcerer’s curse. Yet circumstances continue to bind Rose and Wilhelm’s hearts together, and both of them must struggle with God and their wills to fulfill their separate destinies.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and took it with me everywhere. The pace is quick, the story sound. Dickerson’s writing is graceful, and her knowledge of the medieval period flows through the story in ways that both enhance the setting and further the plot.

The characters are equally well-drawn. Rose is the sort of person anyone would want for a friend: she’s loyal, intelligent, and loving. In the face of adversity (hers or others’), she strives to make things right. Her relationships with others, from Wilhelm to her indifferent parents to her friend, Hildy, reveal her to be a heroine worth rooting for. Wilhelm likewise makes an admirable hero. He’s handsome and strong, of course, but his struggles between his desires and his duty make him a man with a lot to lose, and it’s easy to see why Rose loves him. Both characters grow throughout the story, as does their faith in God as they work through themes of desire, submitting to God’s will, and even spiritual warfare.

Although The Healer’s Apprentice is a Young Adult novel (YA), there’s plenty of heart, action, and passion in this book and should satisfy any fan of historical fiction or reader of sweet or inspirational romance.

You can find The Healer’s Apprentice online or at your favorite retail establishment. To visit Melanie’s blog, click here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book compliments of Zondervan, the publisher, although no review was expected in exchange.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not Going to ACFW This Year?

Sequins, Stars and HeartsImage by Jo and Paul's pics via Flickr If you’re reading this, chances are that (like me) you’re not attending this year’s conference for American Christian Fiction Writers. It starts tomorrow, and today a lot of folks are en route to Indianapolis for the big event.

And what an event. There are workshops on every aspect of publishing, plus appointments with editors and agents, book signings, and worship. There will also be chances for friendships to form and solidify, through stolen moments over coffee as well as scheduled meals for particular subchapters and groups. I confess an eagerness for these opportunities someday, to meet so many of my writing friends face to face and thank them for the encouragement and fellowship they’ve offered me through my writing journey.

Then the weekend comes to a head at the awards banquet Sunday night.

And yeah, instead of wearing sequins and eating dessert Sunday night when my picture comes up on the screen alongside the other Historical Romance Genesis finalists, I’ll be wearing yoga pants and indelicately scarfing down a Rubio’s fish taco at home.

Fortunately, ACFW is offering a live blog stream of the event. If you’re interested in the next best thing to being there, follow this link:


You can provide your email address at the prompt so a reminder will be sent to you. Then, like me, you can sit down at your computer at 7:30 pm EDT, follow along, and cheer for your friends. I’m so thankful for those who are putting the live blog together. Thanks, folks!

After the conference, CDs will be available for specific workshops. These can be a great way to glean bits of knowledge shared by the speakers. Check out http://acfw.com for more details next week.

Until then, I’ll be rooting for all the nominees Sunday night and waiting to see everyone’s pictures!

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life: A Book Recommendation

Best-selling author Max Lucado has spent twenty-five years assuring us of God’s love, care, and commitment to us; now he assures us that God can use us to stand against poverty, complacency, and injustice. His new release, Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference, calls Christians to change the world, regardless of their age, strength, or finances.

And the world is in need of change. Lucado’s statistics are staggering. Every five minutes, 90 children die of preventable illnesses. Two million children are trafficked annually in the commercial sex trade. One billion people are hungry. And a tiny 2% of the world’s grain harvest would be enough to feed them.

Of course, the solutions aren’t simple, and Lucado acknowledges that. He knows one person can’t end world hunger or immunize the planet. But He also acknowledges that we are among “the wealthiest generation of Christians ever,” and God wants each of us to do something about it.

God’s given Lucado a gift for storytelling and expressing Biblical truths in clean, catchy ways (I loved it when, describing first-century folks’ reactions to the Resurrection: “The word was out that the Word was out.”). Lucado’s reminder that God changed the world through the disciples, a rag-tag bunch who, somewhat like us, were regular folks lacking fortune and fame but who’d encountered the Living God, was encouraging to me.

But I found inspiration in many of Lucado’s modern-day examples, too. In the early chapters alone, one man’s gift of fifty dollars freed an entire family from poverty in Brazil; two ladies’ efforts rescued over 800 girls from sexual slavery; and one elderly gal’s sewing blessed cancer patients. None of these folks were wealthy or powerful, but they obeyed God’s call to consider “the least of these” and went to work. And He blessed their efforts.

This message is so important to Lucado that he’s written several versions of the book, aiming his message at teens and kids, too. In addition, one hundred percent of Lucado’s royalties are being donated to World Vision and other faith-based compassion ministries whose goal is to feed, clothe and educate the world’s neediest children.

This book may be purchased wherever books are sold. To follow the use of the royalties, go to www.MaxLucado.com.

I was provided a copy of this book by Thomas Nelson for the purposes of review.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Giveaway at the Inkwell and In All The World

Brownie Scouts bookImage by litlnemo via Flickr Today ends our celebration of the one year Blog-O-Versary over on the Inkwell! Pop over today (click here) for a chance to win a 4-pack of Gaila Graphics' gorgeous notecards -- details follow my post on how I became the most clueless Brownie Scout ever!

And if you hurry, you can still enter one or two of the week's earlier drawings. Just scroll down to read the earlier posts.


Speaking of give-aways, I'm reading Max Lucado's newest release, Outlive Your Life. I'll write a recommendation which will appear here on September 10, but one cool thing I'd like to share about this book is that 100% of the author's royalties will benefit faith-based compassion ministries like World Vision.

I'm a huge fan of ministries like World Vision and Compassion International. They offer wonderful, practical ways for families to reach out to children who live in some of the world's poorest countries. And for the cost of one dinner out at Applebee's a month, you can educate, feed, clothe, and offer medical treatment to one of God's children.

When I told my husband about Lucado's donation, he wondered aloud (without sarcasm) what it would be like to be so blessed that you could give away millions of dollars. Which got us thinking, where would our money go, if we had that much to donate?

What about you? If you could give away millions of dollars, where would you send it?
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

September Reads

American Christian Fiction Writers just announced its members' September releases. And as it's that time of year again (back-to-school, still scorching heat, but yeah, it's September), there are plenty of Christmas-themed stories in the bunch, along with adventure, suspense, and romance titles.

So take a peek and see if anything strikes your fancy!

1. Across the Cotton Fields; Mississippi Brides, book 1 by Diane T. Ashley and Aaron McCarver-- Romance from Barbour. Alexandra Lewis must find a husband before a family scandal follows her to Mississippi, but where does God fit into her plans?

2. A Door County Christmas; The Heart's Harbor by Cynthia Ruchti, Ride With Me Into Christmas by Rachael Phillips, My Heart Still Beats by Eileen Key, and Christmas Crazy by Becky Melby, A collection of four Christmas-themed romance novellas from Barbour. A Door County innkeeper guarantees four single women that her Christmas cactus gifts?and love?will bloom by Christmas. As December nears, will barren plants and romances blossom into holiday joy?

3. A Hope Undaunted; Winds of Change series, book 1 by Julie Lessman -- An Romance from Revell. While on a summer law internship, a sassy and modern woman of the Roaring 20s butts heads with her lawyer boss, a stubborn pest from her past.

4. A Memory Between Us; Wings of Glory, Book 2 by Sarah Sundin -- An historical from Revell. During World War II, B-17 pilot Maj. Jack Novak has never failed to meet a challenge - until he meets Lt. Ruth Doherty, a striking nurse with a shameful secret.

5. A Prairie Christmas Collection by Deborah Raney, Tracie Peterson, Tracey V. Bateman, and six others -- A collection of nine Christmas-themed romance novellas from Barbour. An instant holiday treasure, this fiction collection is penned by nine multi-published authors. Each novella promises a sweet Christian romance on the historical American Great Plains.

6. A Riverwalk Christmas by Elizabeth Goddard, Martha Rogers, Lynette Sowell and Kathleen Y'Barbo-- A collection of Christmas-themed romance novellas from Barbour. Four young women find love in the most unexpected places at Christmas.

7. A Very Private Grave; #1 The Monastery Murders by Donna Fletcher Crow -- A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Kregel. A new policeman must protect a young social worker from big-city gangs making their evil way down south. Felicity thinks she knows everything, until a brutal murder teaches her she doesn't know anything.

8. A Woodland Christmas by Janelle Mowery, Tamela Hancock Murray, Darlene Franklin and Ramona Cecil-- A collection of Christmas-themed romance novellas from Barbour. Experience a nostalgic Christmas in the Piney Woods of East Texas where a traveling wood-carver dispenses wisdom that brings four couples to realize the gift of love.

9. Alpha Redemption by P.A. Baines -- A Science Fiction/Fantasy/Futuristic from Splashdown Books. In man's pursuit of knowledge, artificial intelligence was created. In the pursuit of love, artificial intelligence found God.

10. Baby Makes A Match; Love Inspired/Chatam House Series by Arlene James -- A Romance from Steeple Hill. A rodeo cowboy rescues a stranded pregnant girl and with the help of three matchmaking aunties?.well what else do you need?

11. Christmas Mail Order Brides by Vickie McDonough, Susan Page Davis, Therese Stenzel and Carrie Turansky-- A collection of Christmas-themed romance novellas from Barbour. Ride the transcontinental railroad as marriage arrives by mail-order-and just in time for Christmas.

12. Finding Becky; Book 3 Winds Across the Prairie by Martha Rogers -- An Historical from Realms/Strang. Rebecca comes home with a new attitude, but Rob wants to find the Becky he's loved since their youth.

13. Formula for Danger by Camy Tang -- A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Love Inspired Suspense. Dermatologist researcher Rachel Grant is pursued by an enemy trying to take her latest research and her life.

14. Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer -- A Romance from Bethany House. When a recovering romantic goes to work for a handsome ranch owner, her heart isn't the only thing in danger.

15. High-Stakes Inheritance by Susan Sleeman -- A Romance from Steeple Hill. Claiming an inheritance turns deadly when Mia Blackburn returns to her hometown.

16. In Every Heartbeat by Kim Vogel Sawyer -- An Historical from Bethany House. Claiming an inheritance turns deadly when Mia Blackburn returns to her hometown.Three best friends, three cherished dreams, three searching hearts...

17. Judgement Day by Wanda Dyson -- A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Random House/Waterbrook. One reporter's love of sensationalism leads to a horrifying story and someone willing to kill her to keep her quiet.

18. Lily and the Lawman; Idaho Brides, Book Two by Erica Vetsch -- An Historical from Barbour. A wary woman has no choice but to join forces with a local lawman to rescue her kidnapped niece.

19. Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe by Anita Higman and Irene Brand-- A Romance from Summerside Press. Two heartwarming stories of Christmas past and present.

20. Lydia's Charm by Wanda Brunstetter -- A Romance from Barbour. Will the anonymous gifts left for Lydia bring her hope for a new life, and when tragedy befalls her yet again, will the mysterious gift giver be there to support her?

21. Making Waves; CHAIM series, Book Four by Lorna Seilstad -- An Historical from Revell. After Mr. Boring presses for an engagement, a witting debutante meets an intriguing sailing instructor who is everything her hum drum suitor is not.

22. McKenzie; Montana Skies Series by Penny Zeller -- An Historical from Whitaker House. She wanted to change him and mold him into the man she was supposed to marry. Instead, she was the one whose heart was changed.

23. Medical Error; Prescription For Trouble (book two) by Richard L. Mabry, M.D. -- A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from Abingdon. Identity theft isn't normally fatal, but this time it was.

24. More Than Words; Daughters of Amana #2 by Judith Miller -- An Historical from Bethany House. Will Gretchen Kohler's one impulsive decision cause tragic consequences for the entire Amana Community and cost her everything, even the love of her life?

25. Second Chance Brides; Texas Boardinghouse Brides #2 by Vickie McDonough -- An Historical from Barbour. When the man they came to town to marry weds someone else, two mail order brides must find a way to survive in Texas--or find another man to marry.

26. Secret of the Shroud by Pamela Billings Ewen -- A Suspense/Mystery/Thriller from B&H Publishers. A powerful Bishop reaches for revenge when he's suddenly confronted with the secret of the Shroud and a choice that can destroy him.

27. Tender Vow by Sharlene MacLaren -- A Romance from Whitaker House. When John Evans is killed in a skiing accident, his brother, Jake, reaches out to his widowed sister-in-law, but Rachel will have nothing to do with his charity, particularly since they have a "history" she'd rather forget--but God has other plans.

28. The Columns of Cottonwood; The Alabama River Heritage Series by Sandra Robbins -- A Romance from Barbour. When a handsome stranger purchases a woman's plantation for back taxes, she vows to recover her land, but they discover God has a greater solution--a compromise to benefit both.

29. The Doctor's Blessing; #2 in The Brides of Amish Country by Patricia Davids -- A Romance from Steeple Hill. A nurse-midwife to the Amish and the new doctor clash over her home deliveries.

30. The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson -- A Romance from Zondervan. The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale comes to life when Rose, the apprentice to the town healer, falls in love with Lord Hamlin, the betrothed son of a duke.

31. The Newcomer by Laurie Alice Eakes -- An Historical from Barbour. Marigold sacrifices things precious to her, for the sake of her young charges and isn't willing to let their uncle take over when danger follows in his wake.

32. The Perfect Blend; The Tea Shop Series by Trish Perry -- A Romance from Harvest House. A jilted bride encounters chaotic jobs, overbearing society matrons, and charming suitors in her quest for love, independence, and the occasional glimpse of God's will.

33. The Wolf of Tebron by C. S. Lakin -- An Science Fiction/Fantasy/Futuristic from AMG/Living Ink. A young blacksmith goes in search of his missing wife, journeying to the four ends of the world and solving riddles with a faithful wolf at his side.

34. Where Hearts Are Free; Darkness to Light Series, Book #3 by Golden Keyes Parsons -- An Historical from Thomas Nelson. In the freedom and promise of the New World, Bridget Barrington and Philippe Clavell fall in love, but nothing about their love seems possible, apart from God's intervention.

Whew! There's something in that list for everyone! See anything you like?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Finding Joy in Unexpected Places: The Pastor's Wife Speaks

Whether you're a pastor's wife or a fan of inspirational fiction, you're sure to find encouragement on Jennifer AlLee's new blog, The Pastor's Wife Speaks.

Centered around the heroine of Jen's newest release, The Pastor's Wife from Abingdon Press, The Pastor's Wife Speaks is a blog that celebrates faith, shares inspiration, and offers giveaways...and you don't have to be a pastor's wife or have read Jen's book to participate. However, the blog offers encouragement for the unique issues faced by pastor's wives.

Jen graciously invited me to share an article I'd previously written for Inkwell Inspirations, and you can read it using the above link. I muse about an opportunity God gave me to share my faith through my position as the wife of a pastor. I hope you'll check it out!


Speaking of giveaways, be sure to check out Inkwell Inspirations all week as we celebrate our First Blog-o-versary. I'll be posting Friday with a giveaway of my own.

Hope you're all enjoying the end of summer!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


This morning on Inkwell Inspirations, I've posted a devotional on seizing the day and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. It was a lesson I received this summer while we were on our family vacation in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes I'm amazed at the ways God reminds me how He wants me to live, and this occasion was no different. He reminded me to reach out to others using a funny sort of instructional aid.

Napkins. Bedecked with gnomes.

I guess I shouldn't be shocked. God knows me inside and out, and understands I've got a thing for gnomes so they'd be a good way to grab my attention. Gnomes remind me of childhood, when I'd pretend that fairies and clothes-wearing mice dwelled within the tree trunks and slept under rose-petal quilts. I may be an adult, but my imagination is still just as crazy and I haven't outgrown my affection for tiny mythical creatures. To prove the point: three little red-capped gnomes are tucked in various spots throughout my garden. As if they were really alive, they're always on the move, thanks to my kids, who hide them like pirate treasure for a few of our younger friends when they visit. Here they are in the basil, Lars, Uther, and Nicky.

And even if gnomes aren't your thing, the reminder that God gives us opportunities to share His love with others applies to us all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tea, Crumpets, and Lavender -- a Novel Idea

You know me. Regardless of whether the weather is hot or cold, you can't keep me away from a good book and a cup of tea. My summer vacation was no exception.
Inside Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington.Image via Wikipedia

It was a cool, rainy morning when we drove into Seattle to check out Pike Place Market. I'd never been to the Pacific Northwest, but Pike Market is a place that's almost required visiting for tourists. What started out as a small public street market in 1907 is now a world-famous farmer's market/experience. Even if you haven't been, you've perhaps heard of the fishmongers who shout and toss whole salmons to each other to the delight of the crowd, or you've read about the delicious donuts from Daily Dozen (I'd read about it. And yearned for the donuts. We ordered a varied dozen, but I never saw more of the sprinkled ones than a flash of pink frosting. My kids and nephews had first dibs and just like that, poof! They vanished. The cinnamon sugar I tried were fabulous, however.).

There was another stop I'd heard of and wanted to explore. How could I possibly pass by Market Spice?

When we entered that amazing-smelling store, I restrained myself from going gaga. As the name implies, they sell spices and teas, displayed in hand-labeled jars. Accoutrements, too, from goofy teacups to some serious china, like the pot that matches my Russian Cobalt Net teacup. I browsed with a paper cup of their signature blend of tea in hand (a spicy tea that reminds me a bit of Good Earth brand). Of course I bought a packet of the loose leaf, but I also bought a blend I'd never heard of before: Princess Grey, a mixture of Earl Grey, rose petals and lavender. My daughter and I exclaimed over the sheer delight of that combination.

"Girly tea," my brother-in-law quipped. He's right, of course. The tea is delicate, feminine, and delicious, the perfect accompaniment for scones. And if there's a fair-princess-girly tea where Princess Grey is served, invite me.

A buttered crumpetImage via Wikipedia
After lunch, I was delighted to stumble across The Crumpet Shop on 1st Avenue. Feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland, I forked over $1.60 and ordered one smothered with honey. The crumpet looked like a cross between a thick pancake and an english muffin. I wish I'd photographed it, but there it was, sticky in my hands, and all I could think about was keeping the honey from dripping on my pants. I had no fork, no plate, nothing but my fingers to work with, so I broke off a chunk and stuck it in my mouth. The crumpet was crispy on the outside, soft inside, and delicious, tasting like neither a pancake or an english muffin to me. (Here's a pic which I didn't take, of course, but it gives you an idea.) If I'd had ten minutes, a novel, and a mug of tea to go with it, I'd have been set. As it was, my little crumpet break during a busy day offered a bit of refreshment that went beyond putting my feet up.

If tea and crumpets offered relaxation, another stop on my trip offered inspiration. A lavender farm.

As we passed through the peninsula of Washington, we spotted several signs advertising family-owned lavender farms. We had a bit of time to do away with, so we stopped at one in Sequim, and I'm not disappointed we did. Lavender makes a particularly pretty crop, and the elegantly-rounded plants flowed seamlessly into the gardens surrounding the farmer's house. We were invited to walk among the lavender and we trailed our hands through the blossoms, breathing through our lavender-scented fingers. In the small gift shop, I pored over all things lavender -- cookbooks, soaps, dishtowels, and tea. Yes, Princess Grey was here, too! I asked the proprietor -- a gentleman who'd lived in my own hometown and retired to Sequim -- and he told me the earl grey component of the tea came from Market Spice, which he then blended with his own lavender.

The sensory experience of the lavender farm got my creative energy going and inspired an idea for a new story. When, of course, I finish my current project. (I'm working on it!)

Until then, I have my memories (and notes) to sustain me. I may not be able to recreate my crumpet experience, but I'm lucky enough to have my Princess Grey tea and lavender-infused goodies to remind me of the bit of relaxation and inspiration I received this summer.

How was your summer vacation? Were you able to try something new? If you're a writer, did you receive inspiration from it?

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Five, Yes FIVE, Free Copies of Goodness Gracious Green!

Wow, it's good to be back. After seven weeks of a sinus infection and a lo-ong car trip to visit family in the Pacific Northwest, I've been absent from the blog scene for a while now. But with school starting right around the corner, it's time to get back into the routine. (I wish the weather felt a bit more like summer is waning!)

I can't wait to share a bit more about the books and tea of my summer (I had the most fabulous thing in Seattle -- a honey-drizzled crumpet -- to tell you about) but for now, I have to share the astonishing opportunity to win a delightful book.

Visit Inkwell Inspirations today, August 9, and leave a comment for the chance to win one of five copies of Judy Christie's Goodness Gracious Green, published by Abingdon Press. Thanks to Abingdon, Judy, and Abingdon author Jennifer AlLee (author of the wonderful book, The Pastor's Wife) for making this possible!

Tomorrow, I've got a post on the Inkwell weaving together 1950s nostalgia, board games, and learning about my mom. I hope you can check it out!
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Doin' the Mash (Up, that is)

Robert Pattison, Edward TwilightImage by AMMY.LOU via Flickr

I know. I'm supposed to write historical inspy romances. So why am I blogging over on the Inkwell on my "thing" for a book about vampires? And no, this time I don't mean THAT vampire.

Today on Inkwell Inspirations, I'm writing on my need to keep humor in my life... something that was drawn to my attention by my husband. This past Valentine's Day, he gave me an interesting gift:

...a recent release called Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, a mash-up book by Seth Grahame-Smith.

If you're not familiar with mash-ups, they’re books that blend two things that don’t go together and puree them into a (potentially) delightful smoothie of a story. So far, I’ve only read one mash-up, Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a blend of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a plot involving zombies, all while attempting to stay true to Austen's voice.

Some dislike the idea of mash-ups, and I can understnd why. Jane Austen didn't agree to the use of her characters as zombie-slayers, nor did Abraham Lincoln green-light the use of his life story as fodder for a novel. Other readers dislike the inherent goriness in mash-ups. I can only comment on the one I've read, and all I can tell you is I laughed so hard that iced tea came out my nose.

I like Grahame-Smith’s sense of humor enough to hoot aloud, and I’m not alone. His mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has sold more than 120,000 copies, prompting his publisher to offer him a two-book deal for a rumored $575,000 (according to Publisher’s Weekly). Not too shabby, eh?

The premise of my Valentine’s present is that Grahame-Smith has come into the possession of Abraham Lincoln’s secret diaries, and wouldn’t you know it? The undead lie behind every tragedy in Lincoln's life, from the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, to the Civil War. And he has no choice but to fight them.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at a photo of Honest Abe in a long coat again without imagining there’s an axe hidden under it.

I've saved the book for my summer reading, and now that it's hot, I'm picking up my Valentine's present and preparing to be amused.

How about you? Have you ever read a mash-up? What sorts of stories make you laugh?

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy 4th!

Fireworks on the Fourth of JulyImage via Wikipedia

How are you celebrating the 4th of July?

I confess, I haven't settled into a routine in my new neighborhood. Once upon a time, we lived in a place where the entire neighborhood convened in the park for a Norman Rockwell-esque celebration, just like you'd see in an old movie. As a neighborhood, we had a potluck, bounce house, face painting, snow cones, and a patriotic bike parade for the kids. When the sun went down, everyone shared in shooting off fireworks on the basketball court.

I may not be with so large a group this year, but I'll still be enjoying family, friends, BBQ, sparklers, and a grateful heart for my country. If it weren't for many the freedoms I enjoy as an American, I might not be able to share my Christian faith on this blog. I'm thankful for my country, our Constitution, and for those who've sacrificed to keep me and my family safe.

Wishing you the happiest of Independence Days!
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tag, You're It!

Ah, those were the good old days of summer: playing tag in the front yard. Sometimes with the sprinkler running.

I'm obsessed with a different type of Tag this summer, the kind that appears in a book. You see, I'm still scurrying to get a manuscript completely revised and (hopefully) polished a bit -- and no, this isn't even the Genesis finalling manuscript. My head is bowed in shame.

Anyhoo, Tags can be an effective way to convey movement, emotion, and even romantic tension in a story, all in an itty bitty one-liner. These descriptive phrases are often woven through narrative or (my favorite use) placed between beats of dialogue. Sometimes readers don't even notice them, but some have said a reader can "feel" a good Tag.

What do I mean? Well, here's a lame example. My Regency heroine does not like a particular gentleman one bit, but he's pursuing her. Which sounds stronger, "She didn't like him staring at her" or "His intense gaze stirred the contents of her stomach?"

While it may not be my finest example, hopefully you'd vote for the second choice.

Helping me with my Tag Improvement is The Romance Writer's Phrase Book: The Essential Source Book for Every Romantic Novelist by Jean Kent and Candace Shelton, romance novelists who made it their quest to create better descriptive phrases. The book is chock full of lists of tags, categorized by emotions, physical characteristics, movement and color.

Perusing it, I wondered if the authors ever feared that their phrases would be stolen, but they consider this a workbook. They urge the reader to mark up the book and make it their own.

Which I'm trying to do. If you're a writer struggling with improving your manuscript, this book might be a welcome addition to your summer reading pile.


Today over on Inkwell, I've got a post on the worst hotel I've ever stayed in. Yet God gave me an unexpected, lifelong gift at this hotel...and no, it wasn't an allergy to bedbugs. It was a good gift! Pop over to check it out!


If you're a writer, are you working on an aspect of your craft this summer? Have you found any good resources you'd like to share?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ken and Edward: The Movie Men of My Summer

Ken appearance in Toy Story 3.Image via Wikipedia

What summer movies are you gearing up to see?

At my house, we're excited for the release of "Toy Story 3," which comes out next Friday. I'm not ashamed to admit that "Toy Story 2" is one of my favorite movies, and I'm not saying this because I've watched it 800 times with my kids. It also has heart, a touching backstory woven through it, and a tight plot which is inspiring to me as a writer.

This next installment has kindled my hopes for a few hours of family-friendly entertainment -- and perhaps a dose of further inspiration. And laughs. One of the new characters, the Ken doll, has the potential to go down as one of my all-time favorite movie men. I mean, just look at him! He's got attitude. Dialogue. And an ascot.

While I can't take the kids with me, I will definitely occupy a theater seat sometime in July for a screening of "Twilight: Eclipse." Yes, I know, the movie isn't based on an inspy book, but I am not immune to Edward Cullen's charms.

I found a new trailer and wanted to embed it (please forgive the fact that the titles are a bit off-center. I couldn't fix it, and the actors come across fine, so I let it go.). Can anyone tell me: does it sound like Carlisle Cullen has a British accent? And what do you think of the engagement ring? Wowzers.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To Use an Alias or Not: Character Therapy at the Inkwell

Today Jeannie Campbell, award-winning writer and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is visiting the Inkwell. She's a generous person who uses her skills to help numerous writers, including me: she's evaluated two of my heroes on her blog, The Character Therapist. Her topic today on Inkwell Inspirations is name-recognition: if you're a writer, what goes into your choice to use an alias?

There are several reasons to use a pseudonym, such as setting yourself apart from an author with a similar name, fulfilling a publisher's request, or to protect your privacy. Reasons to not use a pseudonym? Standing on the platform you've built in your business, being able to "take your name with you" if you change publishing houses, and having an internet track record are a few reasons to keep your own name.

What's Jeannie's take? Come visit the Inkwell and check it out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Happy Heimlich Maneuver Day!

Welcome to June. What a month! According to my calendar, June is the month to celebrate roses, dads, grads, dairy alternatives, potty training awareness, and accordian awareness. This week kicks off International Clothesline Week, and soon we'll gear up for Carpenter Ant Awareness Week (the 20-26, so get ready!). Today is the official day to honor the worthy and life-saving Heimlich Maneuver! Whew!

For me, June is also a month of craziness. Vacation Bible School. Sports. The long-anticipated release of the Harry Potter Lego Wii game (my kids have counted down the days). Regular school is out this week, too, so we're enjoying a wealth of picnics, BBQs, assemblies, pizza parties, swim parties, softball games vs the teachers, wrapping teacher presents, and fatigue. I am already wishing I didn't have to cook dinner tonight. Or ever again.

The weather isn't the only thing warming me up. So is the pressure I've placed on myself, writing-wise. I have a bit on my plate. Two manuscripts, in fact. One needs revision and another needs to just plain old get finished. I got some excellent feedback from two contests I recently entered, which has given me food for thought. But thought needs to turn to action, and fast. My self-imposed deadlines are encroaching and frankly, I'm a bit overwhelmed.

So if I'm not around much this week, I apologize now. The summer crazies have begun.

How do you deal with writing-pressure? Or balance your life?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LOST Finale: Pour a Cup and Let’s Dish!

Crybaby that I am, I went through a significant portion of a Kleenex box watching the final episode of LOST. And I need to talk about it! If you haven’t caught up on the finale yet on your DVR, stop reading now. I’m going to talk spoilers: mainly, Christian themes I noted and questions I still have. There are blog-loads about the finale out there, but here are a few things I’d like to dish about. So pour yourself a cup of something warm (I have a coconut mango oolong blend here) and let’s gab LOST!

Last warning: spoilers after the photo!

From left to right: Ben, Kate, Sawyer, Claire,...Image via Wikipedia

So, what did you think of Christian symbolism and themes in the finale? Christians have long recognized elements of faith in the series as a whole (there are quite a few books on the subject). References to other religions were also woven through the show (reinforced by the stained glass window in the sacristy where Jack spoke to his father, Christian, in the final ten minutes of the show). But as a Christian, I took mental notes on the Christian themes running through the final episode. Some of my favorites?

The “Holy Communion” ceremony to pass on guardianship of the Island. We saw “Mother” offer a cup of flowing water to Jacob; Jacob offered a cup in the same ceremony to Jack; and finally, Jack took part in the same ritual with Hurley (the vessels differed, but the water flowed from the same source). In each instance, the “officiant” said, “Now you are like me.” It made me ponder how I identify with Jesus when I partake in communion each Sunday, recalling His words, “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The episode is rich in demonstrations of forgiveness, even though most are not articulated. Among them: Jack and Sawyer discard their mutual dislike and work together in a way they’ve never before demonstrated on the show; Claire accepts Kate’s support raising Aaron through she has blamed Kate for taking Aaron away; and Jack forgives his father. The most poignant scene of forgiveness is when Locke forgives Ben for murdering him, a beautiful scene which brought on a fresh round of tears. Ben’s confession was heartbreaking and all too-familiar to me as I recalled the times I’ve spent on my knees admitting my jealousy, anger, and outrage.

(Side note: I thought it was interesting that while Ben received forgiveness and was invited inside the church not once but twice, he chose to stay outside. Whether or not this is the point, it made me think that we all are offered forgiveness and invited “inside,” yet many people choose to reject the offer. Is Ben symbolic of those who reject Jesus, or will Ben eventually come to terms with his sins and make his way inside? Hmm.)

Community of Believers. I thought it was interesting that life’s biggest questions were best dealt with in the context of community. That point was introduced in the beginning of the series (“live together or die alone,” and the Drive Shaft song, “We All Everybody”). The characters grapple with large themes together, they struggle together, and they even go to heaven together. The Bible tells us that we make up the Body of Christ. We use our gifts to serve others and glorify Jesus, the Head of our Body. God Himself is a community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, One God. He values community, and it’s interesting that the show emphasized it, too.

(Other side note: I loved that “heaven” – or eternity or whatever it was – was shown as being outside the constraints of time. No matter when the characters died, whether it was shortly after the plane crash like Boone or “long after” Jack died, like those who escaped on the plane, they all meet to enter eternity at the same time. We are to left to guess that Claire, Kate and Sawyer would not die for some time, and Hurley and Ben acknowledge their work on the island, which didn’t start until after Jack’s death. Nevertheless, they all meet up to “move on” together. Who was missing from the church scene who you thought might be there? I looked for Richard and Miles. Baby Aaron was there, but not Baby Charlie or Sun and Jin’s baby, whose name I will surely misspell.)

Lastly, many would argue against Jack as a Jesus figure, though he did heal the lame and sometimes had a surgeon’s God-Complex! I did think it was interesting that Jack offered himself as a sacrifice to save those he loved. He was stabbed in the side, too. He also had a "garden scene" before he went to vanquish evil. This may be stretching it, but the “certain death” of The Source didn’t kill Jack, either. Not exactly a Resurrection scene but interesting, nevertheless.

What did the finale of LOST leave you with? Food for thought, closure, and/or a heap of unanswered questions? I have oodles of those. What happened to our friends on the plane after they left the island? How did Desmond get home? (Ah Desmond, one of my favorite characters. I envision him having a long and happy life with Penny.) All my Dharma questions will remain mysteries, as will the things I never “got” about Charles Widmore. Ah well.

So tell me, what did you think about the finale? I’d love to dish with you!

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