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 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!