Thursday, December 31, 2009
The most enjoyable movie of the year for me was "The Blindside." It's an absolutely wonderful feel-good, go-out-and-make-a-difference movie. But for me, the most important movie of the year was an oldie that I saw for the first time--"Fireproof." It wasn't the most perfectly acted film, and it was certainly didactic and formulaic in places, but the lessons on improving a marriage, and the illustration of the sacrifice required to keep a marriage strong were inspiring, and I plan on buying copies of this film for all my kids. I might also make this a gift I tuck into all wedding gifts this year.
The song I've played the most this year is probably Jon Schmidt's instrumental remix of "Love Story." The music is absolutely gorgeous, but watch the joy on the faces of Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson, the cellist, and you'll see why I love it so.
The Bonefish Grill, with The Cheesecake Factory running a close second. Both are eateries that can make your mouth water through each and every course at an affordable price, but The Bonefish's Bang Bang Shrimp and Calamari are amongst the best delights I've ever eaten.
I've read so many wonderful novels this year, but I still have to confess that nothing I've read has the staying power--the ability to reach, teach and inspire like the scriptures. I make time for a chapter or two from them before I pick up anything else. Life is busy . . . and time is at a premium, so I invest it carefully, and this is where I begin.
That said, I have enjoyed some stellar fiction this year. I'd rate "The Good Guy" by Dean Koontz, the most heart-pounding thriller; "Counting the Cost" by Liz Adair the most heart-wrenching; and "Am I Not A Man" by Mark Shurtleff, the most enlightening.
This economy has made all of us vigilant about value and quality. My two picks are notorious for providing both. I'm now a bonafide fan of Amazon Prime. It's well-worth the $75 annual fee to sit home and buy practically anything within two days, with free shipping. For walk-in shopping, Kohl's is now my numero uno place to go--great quality, stellar value and a wonderful rewards program.
So that's a brief list of items that impressed me this year. If I thought longer, I'd probably be able to add many more, but these certainly left impressions. What tops your list from 2009? I'd love to know.
Happy New Year.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I heard this uttered from the lips of a young mother who was overwhelmed by the daunting tasks involved in preparing Christmas for only three people. "Try making Christmas Magic for fifteen people, including extended family," I thought.
I'd never say it out loud. Such reality is too much for a newbie Christmas elf who will learn all too soon that being the Christmas "elf" is much like a being a window. If all goes well, the recipients of your planning and labor will see right past the bags under your eyes, seeing only the beautifully wrapped and carefully selected gifts stacked under a perfect tree, surrounded by festive decorations festooning a tidy home boasting an abundant array of cookies, fruits and assorted holiday treats. Ahhhhhhhh. . . . . But miss a beat . . . let one ball drop, and somebody will likely utter a lethal satisfaction-killing line like, "What, no pecan pie this year?" or "Last year's tree was prettier," or the killer comment of them all, "This isn't the one I asked for." Arghhhhh.
For a moment, let's suspend the perfect, uncomplicated spiritual aspects of the Christmas celebrations and focus on the traditional, Santa-based revelry. It's a killer. Consider that the primary "elf" in the family begins Christmas prep as early as December 26th, setting up the next Christmas club, sale-shopping for next year's gifts, and picking up the discounted decorations to make the next year's decor festive.
Now store that stuff, (and try to remember where), as you take down this year's tree. The real shopping blitz may be a year-round exercise for bargain-hunters, but for those of us who can only do one thing at a time, the stress of playing James Bond to secure the secret "want-lists" from each family member probably only happens after the kids are finally nestled in school and the patio furniture is secured away. And then the real mission begins.
We shop, wrap, and calculate everything to be sure the checkbook holds steady while also assuring that each pile is equal in value and quantity. Then there's the shipping of gifts to faraway people. (Try stuffing a Holiday Barbie and a Fisher Price Riding toy into an economy-sized box!)
We select our cards, write a cheery letter, sign, stuff, address the envelopes, then mail them out, and one little check mark is all we get to place on our to-do list!
Moving on, we set the tree up, trim it, (and there's something sinister about tree lights. You know it, and I know it. Nuff said,) drag out the gifts, decorate the house from inside to out, shop and bake enough food to feed the equivalent of the Tabernacle Choir, and we do all this between maintaining the flow of life--laundry, soccer practice, bathroom cleaning, normal meal prep and, did I mention, hosting Thanksgiving?
Feeling a little flat, we try to recapture the lagging Spirit of Christmas by reaching out to others in service, watching the traditional Christmas TV fare like "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Charlie Brown Christmas," or "The Nativity Story" and we plan for the reading of the Christmas Story from Luke 2. "
When Christmas Eve rolls around, (it feels like it comes about six days after Thanksgiving), we elves are generally so sleep-deprived we become an unstable entity who, like nitro, could go off at any time, melting into a puddle of tears, or feeling so giddy that they're likely to bust a move to a Nat King Cole carol, much to the horror of the entire family. It's not pretty, and we're not proud of it. We're just really, really, really tired.
So rescue an elf. You know where to find us. Give us a hug and a pat for this year's effort, and promise to don some gay elfen apparel and join us next year. And while you're at it, a foot rub and somer peppermint cocoa would be really nice!
Monday, December 28, 2009
If you've tried and failed before, or if you've collected the food but wasted a fortune on seventeen-year-old spaghetti sauce that you never rotated, try, try again. This plan will probably be perfect for you.
And if you're a person who doesn't see the need for stashing away cans and jars of food when there's a perfectly good grocery store down the road, let me share my personal testimonial about the wisdom of storing and rotating a food supply.
We've found ourselves in need of, and grateful for, our food supply over the years. Several times we were out of work, and having that stockpile of staples and treats was a budget blessing and a source of great comfort. A parent's worry eases when they know they are still providing for their family even when a paycheck isn't coming in, because in their time of plenty, they prepared.
It's also a great convenience to have your own little grocery tucked away. Many is the time I've been able to avoid a trip to the store because a needed item was already in my storage. Likewise, when all your neighbors are in their bread-milk-eggs-and-toilet-paper panic because of an impending snow, you can sit tight and know that whatever befalls you, including power outages, you are in a position to help yourself and others if need be.
Lastly, and perhaps the most practical reason why I love my storage, is that I am no longer at the mercy of store pricing. I can now afford to wait until items are on sale to buy them, because I have sufficient goods on hand to wait out the price increases.
So give this plan a try. It's easy and can be adjusted to suit your own family's tastes. I didn't design it, but I'd love to shake the hand of the person who did.
In any case, life is sweet and messes can wait. For now, at least, because my get-up-and-go got up and went about a week ago.
On to books and writerly stuff. . .
Despite all my marketing efforts--radio ads, planned book-signings, and the blog tour--the Christmas push to sell "Dawn's Early Light" took a shot in the foot when Covenant ran out of volume one, "Dark Sky at Dawn."
Covenant ran an emergency printing and the books are back in, so now we're working to reschedule the signings for January and push the book along.
Thank you to all the readers who have taken a moment to email your reviews of the book. Each note has been a treasure. Thanks also to each of you who've felt "Dawn's Early Light" is worthy of a Whitney Award nomination. I appreciate each vote like a nod of affirmation, so thank you, thank you. The link is up there in the corner if anyone else would like to nominate the it.
I'm working on book four, "The Morning Breaks," and I'm salivating to get back to work on my romance/mystery, so I've got a lot of traveling and writing on the horizon. I'm sure you've got a busy calendar as well.
So here's hoping each one of you have a restful week and a wonderful New Year!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
This is the most delicious Put-It-Together-The-Night-Before recipe I've ever found. Perfect for a busy but special morning event.
1 pound spicy pork sausage 1/4 cup onion 2 1/2 cup hash brown 5 large eggs 2 cups shredded cheese 1 3/4 cups milk 1 cup Bisquick 1/4 t. salt 1/4 t. pepper
Cook and crumble sausage and onion together until sausage crumbles. Stir in the hash browns and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the sausage is no longer pink. Drain on paper towels, then place in a 9X13 baking dish. Mix together the eggs, cheese, and the next four ingredients. Pour over the pork mixture. Chill overnight or at least 8 hours. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes in 350 degree oven, then remove foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Abby stirred the pot of lemon pie filling over the camp stove. It was intended to be a wonderful Christmas pie, but now it would simply be a pot of ordinary pudding. She heard the children’s voices drifting down the staircase, and she knew she wasn’t the only one measuring the storm’s impact on Christmas Eve.
“Do you think Christmas will still come, Katie? Do you think we’ll still get our Christmas wish?”
“Christmas always comes, Sam. Even if Santa doesn’t.”
Abby fled to the snow-covered window to avoid hearing any more of the painful conversation. Santa would come, but now it wouldn’t matter. She heard the muffled stomp of Jeff’s snow-covered boots on the porch, then the squeak of the door and the rush of the winter chill that nearly took her breath away. “How does it look out there?” she asked.
Jeff glanced in her direction before dropping his eyes to the floor. “The snow’s not letting up.”
“And the power?”
His head shook slowly, offering a grim reply. “No utility trucks will be getting back here before tomorrow morning. We won’t be baking pies and roasting a turkey, but we’re in better shape than some. At least we’re warm, and we’ve got the tubs filled so we have water. And we can still heat things on the camp stove.”
Abby turned away to hide her frustration. “The poor children. We banked the entire Christmas fund on that one electronic game system. It’s the only thing they’ll find under the tree tomorrow, and with the power out, it’s useless.”
Defeat lined Jeff’s face as Abby’s words sank in. “There’ll be other days to play the game and roast that turkey.”
“But tomorrow is Christmas. It’s been such a hard year. I just wanted this one day to be special . . . like before.”
Jeff stared at the tree with one large box wrapped beneath it. “We’ve never worked so hard just to stay afloat.” He quickly swept his hand across his moist eyes and then he began zipping up his coat as he turned back for the door.
Abby felt his pain . . . pain she had harrowed up. “Where are you going?” she asked worriedly.
“I can’t fix everything, but at least I can cut enough wood to be sure my family stays warm and comfortable.”
“Jeff. . .” Abby called as he reached for the door. “I didn’t mean . . . I know how hard you’ve worked. It’s just. . .”
“I know. . .” And then he exited through the door and into the cold night.
Abby pressed her eyes tightly shut, regretting her words, and when she opened them, through the flickering light of a kerosene lamp, she noticed a Christmas sign hanging over the front door that read, “Oh, Tidings of Comfort and Joy!” She hung that sign every year, but she’d never really thought about the words, or the sentiment they carried. “Comfort and Joy. . .” she mused as she glanced out the window and saw Jeff laboring to keep his family . . . how had he put it? Warm and comfortable? Guilt bit into her heart. “I’ve been waiting for happiness to come to me, and it’s been here all along, hasn’t it?”
In a few minutes, she was dressed in her warm coat and boots, heading outside through the snowfall to the woodpile where Jeff was splitting and stacking logs on a trailer behind the garden tractor. He looked up, surprised, but said nothing as Abby began adding wood to the stack. They working in tandem for nearly an hour, until Jeff said, “That should be plenty.”
With an exhausted sigh, Abby leaned against the woodpile. A large snowflake landed on her eyelash and Jeff moved near, removed his glove and brushed it off. “Thanks for coming out to help me.” A soft smile broke across Abby’s lips like an invitation, and Jeff answered it with a tentative kiss. Smiling, he said, “Climb on board. I’ll give you a ride to the house.”
Abby shot him a dubious look, then chuckled as she climbed aboard. Jeff started the tractor and slowly eased the gas pedal but the tractor lurched under the load, throwing Abby backwards into the snow.
“Are you all right?” Jeff asked as he rushed to her, finding her laughing hysterically in the snow. “What on earth. . .?”
A look of wonder filled her eyes as she began swinging her legs and arms, making angels in the snow. Jeff extended his hand to pull her up, but she kept up her rhythm, coyly eyeing the spot beside her. “Come on down.”
Jeff complained good-naturedly as he fell into the snow beside her and began swinging his limbs to clear the snow. After few moments his body stilled and he turned his head to face his wife. “I’d almost forgotten how to be happy.”
With her eyes moist, Abby nodded. “Me too.”
Rolling to his side, Jeff faced his wife, noting the contentment on her face. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered softly.
“Yes . . . I really think it will be now.”
Cheers resounded from the porch where Sam and Katie stood wrapped in blankets and holding flashlights. Jeff and Abby laughed as they hurried over to their beaming children. “What are you two doing out here when you should be in bed?”
Sam leapt into his father’s arms. “We heard you laughing, and we knew Christmas had come!”
“It’s still too early, Sam,” cautioned Jeff. “Santa hasn’t come yet.”
“We didn’t ask for anything from Santa. We prayed for something special, from God. We asked for one gift on Jesus’ birthday. And He gave us our wish!” Sam reached his hand out and touched the curve of his mother’s smile.
“My smile?” Abby’s lips began trembling, “That’s all you asked for this year? Not new toys.”
“And Dad’s.” Wise Katie explained. “New toys aren’t special for long. But old toys feel new when you two play with us. But you’ve been too sad and busy to play for so long. So we asked God for the one wish that would make us happiest too.”
“And our wishes came true!” Sam reminded. “Didn’t they?”
Jeff wrapped his arms protectively around his family as his eyes locked with Abby’s. “Yes, Sam. They certainly did.”
“Thank you both,” cried Abby. “That was the nicest, the best Christmas gift we’ve ever received.”
As the joyful family scrambled inside, Jeff caught Abby glancing at the sign. “Comfort and Joy. . . Is that new?”
Abby leaned into him and rested her head on his chest. “Nope. It’s been there every year since we were married. We just couldn’t see it . . . until tonight.”
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
This is a sweet treat fit for a gourmet! Oreos are good. And chocolate is indisputably good. But when you combine the two with a few other ingredients, the result is better than the individual parts. Enjoy!
Yummy, rich, no-bake, Oreo truffles!
45 Oreo cookies (1 package)
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 (8 ounce) packages baking chocolate, melted
Crush the cookies to fine crumbs in a food processor -Add the cream cheese and mix until well blended -Roll cookie mixture into 42 balls, about 1" in diameter -Dip the balls in the melted chocolate and place them on a wax paper covered baking sheet -Sprinkle the tops of the truffles with sprinkles -Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour - Enjoy! Beware: They are very rich!!!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: None
Monday, December 21, 2009
" ON THE EIGHT DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS. . ."
Instead of a story or a treat, today I'd like to share my favorite Christmas movie--"The Nativity Story." If you haven't watched it, please do. It's a stunning telling of the complex details surrounding the birth of Christ. The script covers the political, social, spiritual and astronomical events that culminated in the singularly divine birth of Jesus, told with exquisite acting and cinematography.
The story is harrowing, and parents of young children should be cautioned, but anyone, from Christian devotees to academics, will be spellbound by this film. It is now a tradition in our home.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
For day seven, I wanted to share a tried-n-true Lewis holiday breakfast tradition--cinnamon rolls . . . the easy way. I guarantee that these are to die for, and they make the house smell divine.
I cheat . . . (I like to call it being creatively lazy), and I use frozen bread dough. Let it thaw to room temperature, divide it into two portions, and roll each portion out into a long rectangle about 8-10 inches wide.
Slather butter or margarine over the entire surface, sprinkle cinnamon generously over all. Now spread a layer of dark brown sugar over the entire rectangle.
Roll up on the long side. Cut into 1 or 1 1/2 inch slices and place 1 inch apart on greased baking pans. Allow to rise until at least doubled.
Bake at 350 degrees for 2o minutes or until the centers are no longer doughy.
Icing: Melt one stick of butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 box powdered sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons milk. ( I usually double this.)
You're family will love these, and they can be made and frozen before baking to make life simpler.
Enjoy! Merry Christmas!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The woodworker started his day like every other day. He stopped by his son’s house to walk his adored eight year-old grandson to school, and after dropping him, off he headed on to his little Main Street work shop. There in the shop, by the large bay window, stood a homemade table covered by a recently completed jigsaw puzzle. He loved puzzles. In fact, a day never passed where the table wasn’t covered with a puzzle in some stage of completion.
He worked on them throughout the day, a minute here, a minute there, whenever he took a break from his labors. Sometimes he would pop a piece into place as he passed by, but generally he would set aside a block of time in the lull of his work to sit at the table while he stared at the intricately cut pieces, trying to visualize each part’s place. His favorite puzzles were the kind he could only buy at the hobby store, those whose pieces recreated the works of the great masters: Da Vinci, Matisse, Rembrandt, Rubens, and today he needed a new project to begin.
It was the third of December and the hobby store shelves had been thoroughly picked over by the holiday early birds. The only puzzle remaining had been opened and re-packaged without a photo of the completed image. It was the reason no one else had bothered with the toy, but the man found the dilemma intriguing and carried it to the shop to give it his best effort.
After hours of work he still had no idea what the finished project would disclose but he continued to move the pieces around the old oak table. There were shapes colored in hues of scarlet and a few blues but the bulk were in tones of beige and brown, none of which were descriptive enough to give the man a ready clue as to what great work his completed project would imitate. He smiled. The difficulty of the work didn’t dissuade him. He knew that time and patience would reveal the image’s secret.
He was mulling over some blue pieces which he had snapped together. There were too few to build a sky but he could not yet place them in their proper context. He looked out the window to get a new perspective, and noticed some of the townsfolk dragging out the Christmas lights to begin decorating Main Street. He saw people on ladders hanging wreaths, and others stringing lights and ornaments on the tree in the Town Square in anticipation of the evening’s annual tree lighting ceremony. The woodworker smiled and when he returned his attention to the puzzle he was immediately able to snap the three blue pieces precisely into their place.
Encouraged by his success and the lack of customers, he tackled the puzzle with renewed enthusiasm until Bruegel’s, The Adoration of the Kings, began to emerge. He continued to place pieces, soon revealing the stall and the donkey, some soldiers, a host of onlookers and of course, the three kings. The blue pieces had formed the veil of Mary who held the Christ Child in her lap, but after placing every piece he had, he sadly realized his puzzle was missing one crucial piece.
It was at this moment, that his grandson, returning from school, opened the door and called out a melancholy greeting to his grandfather who was on hands and knees on the floor, searching for the missing piece.
“Why so glum?” the woodworker asked.
“I want to be the one to climb the ladder and place the star on top of the tree, but they will only allow me to hang ornaments on the lowest branches.”
“I see . . . and you don't think that's very important?” smiled the woodworker who was still searching for the lost piece.
“No,” mourned the child. “I am eight now. I can do more than that.”
The grandfather slowly rose to his feet and slumped into his chair. He patted his knee, calling for his grandson, and once the boy had scrambled up the man pointed to his puzzle.
“See. Despite all the work I have put into this puzzle it is marred because of the loss of one piece. One small piece,” he repeated sadly. “The story is incomplete because without that piece we cannot reveal the face of the Christ Child. We cannot tell if He was smiling or sleeping, how He responded to the loving touch of His gentle mother or the adoration of the strange Kings. The story is obscured because one piece has not contributed its share to the story.”
The boy raised his large brown eyes and stared into his grandfather’s wise, crinkled ones.
The man hugged the small child close and kissed his head. “It matters not what job we do, only that we each contribute what is required of us.” He tapped piece after piece of the puzzle. “When the work begins, who knows which contribution will be the one to reveal the face of the Christ?”
The boy scrambled off his grandfather’s lap and peered into a crack in the old, wooden floor. He drew an object from the crevice and when he returned to his grandfather’s side he opened his palm revealing a single puzzle piece. He snapped it into place and there, lying on the table before him, was the smiling face of the Christ Child in his mother’s protective arms, surrounded by the three kings. He gingerly touched the holy face, then he began rubbing his hand over the completed picture, feeling the ridges that marked the boundaries of one piece’s contribution from another’s. Then, smiling lovingly into his grandfather’s face, he hurried out the door, ready now, to simply do his part.
Friday, December 18, 2009
My router locked me out!
No I n t e r n e t !
No darling stories,
emails or Facebook,
until 10:30 p.m. tonight!
So in honor of being restored to the cyber-universe, here's a sweet tip for Day 5.
UNIVERSAL COOKIE DOUGH
Any cake mix can become cookie dough by adding 2 eggs and 1/3 cup of oil. This makes cookie dough that can be frozen. Now jazz things up by adding a few extras. Try these winning combos:
Yellow cake mix w/ toffee bits, chocolate chips, nuts
Devil’s food mix w/ white chips, peanut butter or butterscotch chips
Spice mix w/ Cranraisins, nuts, crushed, dried banana or apple chips
White mix w’ coconut
Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes depending on what you choose to mix. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
December in New England had indeed proven to be as enchanting as the old Currier and Ives print hanging over his father workbench had implied all those years ago. Seth Perry remembered standing on tiptoes, glancing at the old calendar page, watching his father mend broken appliances, things other people were throwing out, so they’d be ready when someone else needed them. Seth idolized his dad, and though he thought he was the smartest man alive, he remembered listening as the good man would go on and on, bragging about how his bright boy would someday leave their little home on the outskirts of Pittsburgh to attend college at a fine school in such a town, and become more than his “old man” had ever been.
That dream of college had indeed been realized. And as the freshman drove his old Jeep through Dartmouth’s entrance on his way home for Christmas, his smile remained undimmed as he glanced with but momentary longing at the clusters of foreign imports parked in the fraternities lots, many of which were owned by students whose surnames matched the names of campus buildings and Founders of both the school and the nation.
Seth twisted his hands around the steering wheel of his old, restored Jeep and smiled. “So what-dya-think, Allie?” he asked the old SUV rhetorically. “Do you suppose things like unemployment and gas prices ever touch them in their world?” Offering a wry smile, he checked the gas gauge knowing that regardless of the semester spent hob-knobbing with the young heirs of “old money”, he was simply a Perry, and Perrys did have to worry about fundamental issues like gas and money. Pleased that the fuel level in his tank was sufficient for a while, he headed west for his first leg of the journey home to Pittsburgh.
Yes, Perrys worried about a lot of things . . . and a lot of people, because as Seth had grown to discover, the Perry’s tended to adopt other people’s disasters. Take the Jeep, for example. Seth didn’t know exactly how the old Jeep had come to be his. All he knew was that one Christmas Day his father owned an old Chrysler sedan, and the next day he didn’t. Instead, in its place sat a rear-ended Jeep. “We’ll fix it up! It’ll be perfect for you, someday!” his father had assured him when he was barely able to peer over the workbench. And it was, as it turned out. But Seth wondered what sad story had been the catalyst in the deal that had netted him the old Jeep his father had lovingly nicknamed “Allie”. There had to have been one. After all, with a nurse for a mother, and a volunteer fireman for a dad, every person’s tragedy somehow landed at the Perry’s front door.
Each Christmas, his father loaded him up in his truck and carted him about to deliver turkeys and fruit baskets to every local family who had suffered a tragedy over the year. It was not unknown for a few of those families, relative strangers, to actually show up at the Perry’s dinner table at Christmas as well. The service continued when, to Seth’s dismay, the treasured leftovers were packed and sent to home with the guests. But he was always reminded that he had never gone hungry. Even now, he recognized that though some did have more of life’s goods than he, he had plenty, and more than most.
With three hours left on his journey, Seth heard the Jeep’s engine sputter and then fail and the gas gauge register “E”. Guiding the car to the shoulder, he used his cell phone to call his road service, and after waiting for nearly an hour, a tow truck finally appeared. The operator added a gallon of gas to the Jeep’s tank but the car still wouldn’t start. Frustrated beyond belief, Seth watched sullenly as the tow truck operator rigged the Jeep for towing.
The man kept eyeing Seth as he walked around the car, examining every detail. Finally he said, “She looks good. Real good for a Jeep her age.”
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Seth replied, “My dad keeps her running. He can fix anything.”
The man smiled and nodded. “That he can. People as well as things. And I’m sure he could replace this busted fuel line, but let me tow you back to my shop and take care of that for you.”
Seth eyed the man quizzically. “Do you know my father?”
Again the man smiled. “You don’t remember me, do you, Seth? Of course you wouldn’t. It was so long ago. Yep, I know your dad. Your mom too. And I know she’s one fine cook.”
“You’ve been to my house?”
The man pursed his lips and paused in thought. “My little girl’s thirteen now, so it would have been that long ago. My wife has a heart condition. It was discovered in the middle of her pregnancy. We were on our way to Pittsburgh, to Mercy Hospital to see a doctor who specialized in High Risk deliveries when we were involved in a multiple car crash on the Turnpike in mid December.”
“Wow,” said Seth, noting the feeling of helplessness the memory still conjured for the man.
“It wasn’t your dad’s company that rescued us at the scene, but he heard about us somehow, and understood what a fix we were in . . . a sick, expectant mother, a young father without insurance, both of us far from home and family at Christmas time. We were just strangers . . . kids really, but he and your mom cared about us and came by the hospital to see us every day. And when our baby was born, early and small, and unable to be discharged, they invited us to your home for Christmas supper . . . even gave us presents for the baby and loaned us the use of their sedan. Two days later, when our baby girl was released, your dad insisted we swap vehicles so I could get my family home.”
“Yep. It was great for a single fella, but it was a terrible car for a married man with a baby on the way. Your dad knew it. I fought him on it at first, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said things had worked out perfectly. I knew they did for me. They changed me in fact. I wanted to be a man like your dad after that, and as the years went by and we kept exchanging Christmas cards and letters, I could see that God had blessed your family in return.”
Seth felt a lump grow in his throat. “Tell me something. Did you name your little girl Allie?”
The man met Seth’s eyes and they both nodded. Things had worked out perfectly.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
"ADVENTURE WITH GRANDMA"
I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.
Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous, cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, and the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class.
Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out for recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!
I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that. "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes,"I replied shyly. "It's ... for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas.
That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on it -- Grandma said that
Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.
Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going." I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes.
That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous.
Santa was alive and well and we were on his team.
I still have the Bible, with the tag tucked inside: $19.95.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Every year, I write a little one-page Christmas story to go along with the annual family letter. They're usually a little smarmy and sweet, but that's a reflection, I suppose, of my child-like love of Christmas. So here's the 2007 offering. I hope you smile.
"ONCE IS NEVER ENOUGH"
John laid the Bible carefully on the end table and ruffled his young son’s head. He smiled as Ann bent low to place their toddler daughter near enough to receive a good night kiss.
“How about we say prayers with Mommy and Sarah tonight, Jacob?” John suggested as he tenderly showed Jacob how to fold his arms. His eyes misted and his heart stirred by the too frequently-neglected expression of reverence, making it difficult for him to begin, but as his son snuggled closer, John found his voice more easily. After the amen was uttered, Ann rose and guided the children to bed, leaving John to marvel at the simple turn of events that had precipitated the change in their family that night.
He scanned the table where the critical shopping lists now lay, tossed inconsequentially upon the return home, their errands left incomplete. Odd, since just a few hours earlier he and his wife had sat there with their carefully balanced checkbook, newspaper ads and their list spread between them, strategically making the decisions about whom and what to shop for.
They had divided the errands between them— his wife and Sarah setting off in one direction while he and Jacob headed in another, beneath dangling snowflakes the size of garbage can lids, past inflatable snow people and their revolving, musical village.
Twice, his rambunctious five year-old had dashed off to explore the colorful display, each time earning a stern rebuke from his father. His father’s reproach only unsettled the child further until the man finally relented, allowing his son a few moments to survey the dazzling display that showcased the gems of the season—the must-have toys which were set upon blocks of rotating, plastic “ice”, beneath which the names of stores and price tags were displayed.
With hands clenching his carefully-crafted list of errands, he stared at the scene, taking in the sounds of three dozen children, each one pointing out desired items while voicing their requests aloud. Soon he heard his own son’s voice joining in the cacophony, crying out request after request for each and every item on display, and for a moment . . . for just a regrettable moment, as the crowds jostled him and the music and voices raised all around, he voiced his thoughts. “I hate Christmas. . .”
The bitterness of the words chilled his heart as soon as they passed his lips.
Hungry to find Ann, to have her reset his anchor, he lifted Jacob into his arms and whispered, “Let’s hurry and find Mommy.” Clutching his son close, he dashed off to the first store on his wife’s list. As he approached the location he saw a crowd gathered around the store’s window and he marveled at the attitudes of the people coming away from the area, speaking in soft tones, their faces as bright and soft as their smiles. Curious, he drew near and to his amazement, little Sarah was the cause of all the excitement.
On tiny toddler knees with her nose pressed to the glass, she knelt before a Nativity scene, babbling as she pointed from one character to another. “Beebee!” she cried out with excitement. “Nicey beebee!”
“Yes,” her mother whispered hoarsely. “He is a very nicy baby, Sarah. He’s a very special baby too. His name is Jesus.”
“Jesus. . .” replied Sarah with reverence equal to her mother’s. “Nicey Jesus. . .”
With a trembling finger, Ann pointed to Mary. “And this is his mommy. Her name is Mary. She didn’t have a nice crib or a soft blankie for her baby, so she had to wrap him with pieces of cloth and lay him in this soft hay. The animals kept him warm and,” she pointed out various figurines, “angels sang to him . . . and shepherds and Wise Men came to visit him.”
Sarah slid her finger along the glass until it too pointed to Mary. “Pretty mommy. . . pretty beebee.”
John stooped down, gently placing Jacob beside Sarah and sliding an arm around his wife’s shoulder. Other children were now drawing close to the scene. Gazing at them, Ann wiped a tear from her eye and smiled as she explained the moment to John.
“I was standing in line at the kiosk over there, struggling with Sarah who was crying and squirming. I was at my wits end when she suddenly became still and quiet. When I checked to see why, I noticed that she was staring at this store window whispering, ‘Beebee . . . beebee. . .’ After I paid the vendor, I put her down and she ran right over here. This is what she’s been doing ever since. It’s like she gets it, you know?” she sniffed. “It’s as if this little child understands what’s most important about Christmas.”
“I know this story, don’t I, Daddy?” asked Jacob with a furrowed brow. “Didn’t you tell it to me once?”
Sliding his list into his pocket, John squeezed his wife’s hand and raised her to her feet. Each bent down and picked up one of their children, placing kisses on their cheeks.
“Once is not enough for the telling of the Christmas story, Jacob. Let’s go home and read it again, tonight, because once is never enough.”
Monday, December 14, 2009
There are no cookies baked, and no gifts under the tree, though I've wrapped a bunch and mailed them away to faraway children who shared Thanksgiving with us, but who will be Christmas-ing elsewhere this year. Today I need to crank up my favorite old Christmas CD and get to work!
First item on the list is to begin my "Twelve Days Before Christmas" tradition, cyber-style! The "Twelve Days of Christmas" actually refers to a period that begins on Christmas Day and ends January 5th, called Christmastide, but many families have begun a variety of traditions that begin twelve days beforehand to give small, secret gifts or acts of service to people leading up to the wondrous Christmas Day. That's the thread we're following.
So, I've worn out another key board this year, (no e, r, t, a or n, and l and y are barely hanging in there, but I'll use the last of my keyboard letters' visibility to pound out Christmas recipes and stories throughout these next twelve days.
Here's my food/gift tip for today, the "First Day of Christmas" (I love food)!
Melt chocolate, (I love chocolate too!), dip plastic spoons into it and allow them to dry. Stuff the spoons into a new mug, tie a few packets of gourmet cocoa or a box of cocoa to the mug, and wrap in cellophane! Wonderful little treat for cocoa-lovers, and it makes a great gift for neighbors, teachers, etc!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Followers of "The Dandy Giveaway" blog know there's a treasure hunt over there nearly every day. Well, today, I get to provide the treasure! So click and visit this cute site to enter!
Also, while Shauna's "Tryin' To Stay Calm" at her blog, she's also givin' away a copy of "Dawn's Early Light." Click on the bookshelf to visit her blog and enter there!
And while you're here, sign up to be a follower of this blog. As you can see on the sidebar, today I draw the name from my "Followers" list for a free copy of "Dawn's Early Light." I hope you win one of these!
Monday, December 7, 2009
In my case, the test of a book's appeal can easily be determined by one look at its post-read appearance. I rarely have the time to sit down and do a straight read-through, (oh, the heaven of such an indulgence!) So if I really get into a story, I stuff the novel into my purse and drag it around everywhere I go, stealing reading moments anytime and any place possible.
My copy of "Shudder" is a a sad sight. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
The quality of the read is no surprise. Jennie Hansen is a prolific author whose experience shines in this novel. She grabs her readers' attention in paragraph one, dropping little breadcrumbs of back story until by page three, we're fully invested in the principal characters--best friends and roommates, Darcy and Clare. The tension and suspense ramp up as multiple story lines twist around a common theme--the danger encircling two women Darcy loves.
The timing between the arrival of Clare's wealthy, well-connected boyfriend--Blaine--and her persistent injuries, frightens Darcy, but despite her love for her childhood friend, Darcy moves out when love-hungry Clare succumbs to Blaine's insistence and allows him to move in to the spare room in the girls' apartment. As a student teacher hours from her home and family, Darcy's financial resources are limited. Fellow-teacher and running companion, David Schoenfeld provides a housing lead, and Darcy leaps at the opportunity to serve as a live-in companion for Karlene, a fifty-ish car accident victim. But Karlene insists that her accident was anything but accidental, and she fears her attacker is still out there, awaiting another opportunity to finish the job.
The two story lines contrast powerfully off of one another. Clare is a young, beautiful, and physically strong woman whose emotional neediness causes her to submit to Blaine's abuses in the name of love; while Karlene summons a broken body to vigilance, fighting to have someone believe her story and save her from her attacker. Entangled in each of their lives is Darcy, who finds her own life in jeopardy because of her love for both women. Jennie Hansen did such a fine job weaving multiple threats into the story that I became suspicious of every support character as well, and that's what led me to turn one more page each time I tried to lay the book down.
Sadly, we likely know a Clare or two. Perhaps that's the real reason "Shudder" hits home. It pulls no punches, showing how ugly and destructive abuse can be, while holding a mirror up to potential enablers who protect abusers out of some misconstrued sense of loyalty.
"Shudder" would make an important YW read as well. The coverage of Chris Brown's abuse of Rhianna showcased this issue as an important topic for vulnerable, insecure women of dating age. Though the topic is tough, Ms. Hansen balances the questionable moral choices made by some of her characters by openly emphasizing Church standards. It feels a bit instructional in places, but her care to avoid glamorizing or condoning such decisions is admirable and should put parents at ease. An added bonus is the lovely romance Jennie Hansen weaves a through the book, providing another contrasting storyline, balancing Clare's and Blaine's destructive relationship against the tender, respectful, supportive romance developing between Darcy and David.
The ending is suspenseful to the last page turn, and though bittersweet, the growth of the characters left me content and thoughtful well after the book was laid aside. "Shudder" is a satisfying, important read I can highly recommend to all readers, and one I feel mothers and daughters should read and discuss together. After reading "Shudder" I'm anxious to dig into other pieces from Jennie Hansen's body of work. The hardest part of that decision is choosing which piece from her twenty-one-book collection to begin with. Such a lovely dilemma!
"Shudder" is available wherever LDS books are sold.
(I recieved no compensation for this review, however the copy was provded to me at no charge.)
Friday, December 4, 2009
To a reader, choosing a book is as tantalizing an enterprise as selecting a perfect piece from a box of chocolate--so many delectable choices. What to choose? Well, Joan Sowards dished up a ghost of a romance this fall, and snuggling under winter covers might be the perfect venue for this spine-tingling read. From the back cover:
Callie Wilford doesn't believe in ghosts, but as soon as the former school teacher arrives in the tiny town of Cassady Springs--home of two feuding families and a cafe owner with a startling story--residents start telling her tales of a ghost who "guards" her century-old, deserted inn. Unfortunately, it is soon apparent that there is more truth than fiction to the stories. While Callie has the courage to unearth tragic secrets to claim her heritage, it takes a handsome cowboy--and a lonely rancher--to prove that her own long-guarded heart may be able to love again.
Now, doesn't that sound delicious?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Covenant has a precious and poignant Christmas release reminiscent of two timeless stories that each became classic must-watch holiday movies. "An Angel on Main Street" oozes with the nostalgic childhood innocence beloved in "A Christmas Story," while also capturing the moral struggles of the brilliantly tender film, "It’s A Wonderful Life."
Tenderly written by Kathi Oram Peterson, (The Forgotten Warrior), "An Angel on Main Street" takes the reader back to small-town Idaho during Christmas week 1953, to a time when life’s vicissitudes were met with floods of faith, innocence and neighborly kindness.
Peterson has a gift for first-person prose that immediately invests us in Micah Connors, a misunderstood eleven-year-old with the world seemingly being borne upon his young shoulders. When his father fails to return home from the Korean War, Micah assumes the self-appointed role of “man-of-the-house”, but his naïve efforts to “provide” for his mother and fragile sister, Annie, land him in trouble with the law.
His mother moves her little family to the small Idaho community of Bolton, hoping to give Micah a fresh start and a clean slate, though the move takes Annie away from her familiar doctors. After promising to stay out of trouble, Micah finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the local sheriff becomes entangled in the lives of Bolton’s newest family. This intrusion comes as two pivotal events occur. Annie’s health declines, adding guilt to Micah’s already pressing burdens, while pieces of a Nativity mysteriously begin appearing in the town square. The Nativity means hope to Annie, who has faith that the baby Jesus will heal her, and a desperate plan forms in Micah’s well-intentioned heart.
Peterson’s skilled storytelling immediately hooks us and we cheer for our flawed hero, even as our stomachs tighten with each misstep and ill-advised choice. "If only they could see into his heart," we cry out with each page turn, but life becomes increasingly complicated for Micah as time runs out to save his sister.
Kathi Peterson tugs at the heart without becoming trite or formulaic. Her characters are rich, her storyline is fresh and her ending blindsides you in a most satisfying way, leaving you with a sweet message, delivered without moralizing.
At 89 pages, An Angel on Main Street is a quick read whose inspiring impact lingers. Each chapter of this little story would make a perfect before-bed read for parents and children, providing a spring board of sharing that would deepen a family’s Christmas season. In fact, I believe it will become a family favorite for years to come.
Click on the cover to read an excerpt from this engaging title. An Angel on Main Street is available at Deseret Books, Seagull Books, on Amazon, and wherever LDS books are sold.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
So it was an added pleasure this past weekend, when Tom and I accompanied our oldest son and his family to Philadelphia, ( I love that city anyway), to visit the "Please Touch" Children's Museum, and a museum docent presented a new glimpse of young America's struggle for recognition and world respect, topics underlying my Free Men and Dreamers series. This wondrous child-friendly facility is a brilliantly fun place which I will delve into in another post. Today, it is the building itself that stirs my interest.
The Memorial Building that houses the children's museum is one of only two buildings remaining from Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exposition. This 100th-year birthday celebration of America was quite a she-bang. It was the first World's Fair hosted by America, a huge promotional effort to reassure the world that this infant nation had not imploded after the Civil War, that it's government had not failed as had other democratic experiments, and most of all, this birthday party was a shout-out to every nation on the earth that not only were we still alive and well, we were planning on being a world leader of industry and economy. In short, we were putting every nation on notice that we were no longer willing to be ignored, trampled or coddled. We weren't willing to wait seven generations to be validated as a people. We had invested 100 rocky years to prove the mettle of the Constitution, the power of freedom's light to build a strong citizenry, and the incentive of free-enterprise to encourage brilliance and industry. We were letting the world know that after a centennial of experience, we had become a nation and a people to be respected, and if need be, to be reckoned with.
As one docent put it, the Centennial Exposition was America's opportunity to give posthumous credit to Abraham Lincoln's determination to not only preserve the union, but to drive it forward using freedom as an incentive for ingenuity, harnessing the capabilities of all it's citizens. And what the world saw was astonishing!
We led in technology, in agriculture and horticulture at that fair. This infant nation had catapulted past it's political parents in most areas of science and technology, and what was the fuel? Liberty, self-determination, free-enterprise. . .
We saw that superlative trend continue into the next centennial, and then something happened in the last few decades. We're losing our edge, falling behind. We no longer produce the same percentage of home-grown engineers and scientists. Other nations send their most promising students to our schools, while the percentage of our own scientists and engineers is dropping.
When things get muddled and unclear, we often hear a call to return to the beginning . . . to get back to basics. That's why I love Philadelphia. This is where our national "basics" were determined. This is where we can find our national roots, our national soul.
So crack open a bio of a Founding Father, read the Constitution, study the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or google George Washington's Farewell Address. Let's all get back to what made America great--what made us crow back in 1876. We've still got it. It's in our collective souls.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The offer of help is critical, but often timing is the deal-maker--with support, encouragement, and simple love arriving just in the nick of time. I know this all too well. My latest book, "Dawn's Early Light," and perhaps my writing career, are examples of what can happen when helping hands reach out in the needed hours.
The number one question asked since the release of "Dawn's Early Light" surrounds the cover. It's obvious that this volume is singularly different in appearance from the first two, and for good reason--I have a new publisher on book three--me. And why? Well, the why isn't nearly as important as the how. . . As in, "How did this volume come to be at all?"
When sales of book two, "Twilight's Last Gleaming" slipped below the number anticipated, my publisher pulled out, and I was left with a homeless third manuscript I had invested over a year writing. I believed the story was important, and I was in love with the characters, but with publisher one owning books one and two, no one would invest in book three. My series would never be completed. The story would never be finished.
The dark, confidence-reducing thoughts began. "Maybe the storyline isn't that great. . . maybe my writing isn't that interesting. . . maybe I don't have what it takes. . ." I suppose most of us have had these thoughts on some occasion--about our careers, our parenting, our talents. . . The Adversary's most prized tool--"The Wedge of Discouragement," was being put to good use during that time. It will sound silly, perhaps, to care so much for an intangible thing like a story, but receiving that email on October 3, 2008 felt like a death of sorts--of my series, of these characters I loved so dearly, and of my career.
Fortunately for me, hands were at that ready to pull me out of my downward spiral. The first set of hands was my husband, Tom's, whose first desire always is to eradicate the source of my pain. If there were dragons, he'd be my dragon-slayer, so in spirit he began pummeling away at my invisible demons, while cheering loudly and holding on tightly.
Ironically, word had arrived the previous day from a group of readers that they had nominated "Twilight's Last Gleaming" for a 2008 Whitney Award. I had no delusions of winning, but the simple idea that someone felt my work was worth nominating thrilled me. Still, the series had been cancelled, and I was confused about how to put all these events into context. I felt like a literary Hester Prynne, bearing the stain of a scarlet "R" for "rejected" emblazoned across my chest, and stamped across the body of my work. I needed professional assurance and validation, and where did I turn? To the talented woman who had edited all my books. There wasn't anything in particular that she could do, but her verbal hand-holding and back-pats helped me regain a healthy perspective about the fickle nature of publishing, and I dug back in to investigate the possibility of self-publishing.
A few months later I travelled to Utah for the LDStorymakers' annual convention. Being surrounded by successful, award-winning authors whose books adorned LDS book catalogs, and filled store shelves, intimidated me. My "R" seemed to glow ever brighter and I again wondered whether I should throw in the professional towel. These were my thoughts as I was setting up my book display, and a sweet woman walked over to me. She introduced herself and I recognized her name instantly. She's a successful, fan-favorite author whose multiple-genre-d career is highly renowned. She asked me who I was, and as I snapped my hanging mouth closed, I introduced myself quietly, certain my name would be unfamiliar to her. Instead of brushing me off, she offered profuse kindness and had lovely things to say about my work. Unbelievable! That simple act of generosity pulled me out of the basement, steeling my commitment to publish volume three. It was just an ordinary moment of human kindness to this generous mentor, but to me it was pivotal--a positive spark bright enough to clear away the discouragement. It made all the difference.
"Dawn's Early Light" debuted just a week ago to lovely reviews--a delight considering that it nearly didn't get published at all. I don't yet know how well it's being received by readers. It could fail, but at least I finished it. Yeah, because of a few helping hands that reached out at in needed hours, I managed to get it out there.
If I'm ever accused of being anything, I hope it will be of being really kind, too gushy, too gentle. But is that even possible? I doubt it, but it's surely worth the risk.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The men immediately head off to the basketball hoops under the cover of playing with a child. Seconds later, bells are ringing and lights are flashing as the machine regurgitates tickets. The boys pretend it's all about the children and the prizes, but their enthusiasm is just too-over-the-top to sell that line with any credibility.
Nearby, two pre-teen boys sit with their mothers. One comments, "Those guys are good!" His friend replies, "Well. . . they're like . . . 20! If you're 20, you ought to be able to shoot hoops at Chuck E. Cheese!" 20? How about 25, 26 and 31?
When playing a game with a child, should we shamelessly allow them to win, or should we challenge them appropriately for their age? That is the burning question. Here is an interesting slant on that question. Across the room, I'm playing air hockey with my three-year-old granddaughter, Keira, purposely avoiding scoring any points while I cheer on her success. I accidentally knock my puck in the slot and score. Keira's reaction? "Good, Grandma! You're learning!"
To our six-year-old grandson, Tommy, winning tickets is the serious business we are about. So when he sees Grandma feeding tokens into no-ticket-return-infant rides for his toddler-brother, Christian, he hastens over to me and offers this sage counsel, "Don't waste the tokens, Grandma." After explaining that "having fun" is also an appropriate use of the precious coins, our hearts warm upon finding out that Tommy handed one of his tokens to another little boy, a stranger, who was down to his last coin.
Finally we come to the point of the evening--all the hard-earned tickets are counted and traded in for prizes. At a value of 1 cent per ticket, you don't get much in retail value, but the elated expressions on these children's faces provide the real value of this evening. And it's priceless.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
by Mark L. Shurtleff
When offered, I leapt at the chance to receive a pre-release copy of this book and write a review. “AM I NOT A MAN?” the first novel by Utah’s Attorney General, Mark L. Shurtleff, has generated a substantial amount of buzz, and for good reason. The author’s research about Dred Scott’s life and the era in which he lived, is phenomenal, particularly as it’s observed through the prism of his battle to escape slavery using the American judicial system. The storyline is educational and tender, and the topics of the Constitutional guarantees of liberty are again passion-points in America. For these reasons and many others, “AM I NOT A MAN” is an important book that should be on our shopping lists this year.
Most school children have had some introduction to the man for whom the infamous Supreme Court ruling, “The Dred Scott Decision,” is named, but Mark L. Shurtleff’s exhaustive research transforms a vague history lesson into a powerful example of hope, courage, and dignity under fire, reminding us why that landmark Supreme Court case was required text. The highest court’s ruling, “that a black man was so inferior that he had no rights a white man was bound to respect,” chills us today, highlighting the dangerous consequences that occur when men bend the Constitution to achieve an agenda.
Dred Scott was born a slave named Sam Blow, but his life was a montage of extraordinary experiences, propelled by a mind and heart that could never be enslaved. He was connected to the most important events and people of his day, and his battle to hold the legal system’s “feet” to the Constitutional “fire” drew the entire nation’s attention. Underlying the precedent-setting legal chronicle is the simple, tender story of a man seeking what every person seeks—love, a family, self-determination. For years, Dred fought to prevent his family from being split apart, and to spare his young daughters from the brutality and debasing abuse subjected upon most female slaves. With the help of his white benefactors, and after years of suffering, Dred won his fight and achieved his dream of freedom, but his victory was short-lived when his case was overturned on appeal. Following more years of delay and further appeals, Dred’s case was heard before the United States Supreme Court, where the justices’ decision was not made to uphold the law as much as it was intended to calm the gathering storm. It failed on all counts, stripping away the Scotts’ freedom, denying all Negroes the standing afforded to other Americans, providing the platform upon which Abraham Lincoln rose and escalating the call to war.It is a painful saga.
Truly, “AM I NOT A MAN?” is more than a biography. It is a sweeping panorama of American history, and Dred is in the thick of it. I regret that no historical notes were included in this book. I would have loved to follow Mr. Shurtleff’s leads for further study, and to draw the line where the history ends and the fictionalized portions exist.
For example, a painful exchange occurs between fellow slave owners, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, over the immoral compromise they had each accepted in order to secure passage of the documents needed to establish and maintain the United States—the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The great irony is that these “definers of American liberty,” are discussing their regret over the institution of slavery as they arrive at the Blow family plantation the night Dred “Sam Blow” Scott was born a slave. Mr. Shurtleff delivers a fascinating literary moment, but I would have loved knowing where fiction and fact met during that exchange. Another curious connection exists between Dred and his boyhood friend, Nat Turner, the slave whose murderous revolt would spell agony for slaves across the map. Again, historical notes would help separate the extraordinary facts from the fascinating fiction.
Let me note, however, how extraordinarily exhaustive Mr. Shurtleff’s research is. During the five years I’ve conducted the research for my Free Men and Dreamers series, I’ve covered many of the issues, places and people that fill “AM I NOT A MAN?” Mere weeks ago, I returned to Point Comfort where Dred Scott fought during the War of 1812, and then, as I read Shurtleff’s account of that battle, I was impressed with the care and attention to detail the author took with this small chapter in Dred Scott’s life. That level of historical integrity permeates the work.
“AM I NOT A MAN?” is not an easy read—literally or emotionally. In his effort to incorporate all the wonderful history he has uncovered, the author frequently becomes a historian instead of a novelist, shifting time periods and interjecting long passages of fascinating background info that slow the read for those who come merely seeking a historical novel. Emotionally, the story is painful and graphic in places, perhaps necessarily so, but parents should be advised before handing the book to a younger reader.
None of these issues trump the value or importance of this book. It is a painful story that chronicles the best and worst traits of the human spirit, compelling the reader to place themselves in the shoes of Dred Scott or his brave benefactors. We turn the last page, determined to seek and defend liberty at any cost, and that’s what makes “AM I NOT A MAN?” one of the most important books I’ve read this year, and a novel I highly recommend.
Hardcover: 534 pages
Publisher: Valor Publishing Group; 1st edition (November 3, 2009)
Friday, November 13, 2009
While I waited for the UPS man, (who by the way has been a frequent visitor since I signed up for my free-shipping trial offer), I decided to organize the gifts that had already arrived. (You know. . . even out the piles and make sure everyone has something besides socks).
I had received a few small boxes from Amazon the other day, filled with Christmas gifts--videos, etc.--and the UPS guy wrapped all the little packages together in a big plastic bag to keep them dry.
Fortunately, since I was feeling Christmas-sy today, (we had "ELF" on) I decided to open all the boxes and organize the gifts. Tucked in with all the Amazon packages was a small package with my book! HAPPINESS!
I also placed the first orders today. For the record, Service Drug in Delta, Utah will end up with the very first copies, and any store ordering from Brigham Distributing will soon have their copies as well, because we ordered a boat-load of books to head straight there. Seagull Book will have their order in on Monday, and Amazon will have my online page up for your Super-Saver shoppers by Thanksgiving!
Thanks to everyone who has held my hand, let me whine, and given me great advice along the bumpy path to Dawn's Early Light's printing. Thanks also to everyone celebrating this book's release. Here she sits with the rest of the Free Men and Dreamers "family"--Dark Sky at Dawn, Twilight's Last Gleaming, and now, Dawn's Early Light. Together they tell a wonderful story about the generation that followed the Founding Fathers, the first American-born generation, the warriors of the War of 1812.
Even now, as voices raise in defense of our threatened Constitution, read about another time when divisions and strifes within our people caused this sacred document, and our republic, to hang by a thread. This was a great generation . . . they were Free Men and Dreamers!
Dawn's Early Light is coming to a store near you! I hope you love it. It's a pretty great read!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Politics and Sociology aside, no parent can deny that the world is becoming increasingly stressful and busy, and that stress is taking a toll on even the most steadfast of families. Families need a safety net--an ark--so to speak, to lift them above the fray and convey them safely over the flood of worry and trouble. FHE, or Family Home Evening, can be that ark.
It requires little more than for families to agree to push the world back for an hour in order to gather each member together. For LDS, (Mormon) families, the evening is Monday Night, and the agenda generally includes singing, prayer, a lesson, and/or an activity, and a snack. But families will soon discover that there are a vast array of ways to fill that time once everyone sits down together.
My husband and I struggled through wriggling, elbow nudging, "don't-touch-me" complaints from siblings, and actions that mildly resembled at night at a WWF arena when we gathered our four children together. We soldiered on with flannel-board stories, prepared lessons, and games. Some nights, a lesson of any spiritual quality was impossible, but fun and sharing always reigned supreme.
Despite our failings, in this safe(?) place our children learned to conduct a meeting, lead music, perform talents, give little lessons, read aloud and offer simple scriptural thoughts. We often felt like traffic cops throughout the evening, but I'm convinced that those hours, during which we played games and shared in one another's triumphs and trials, became the basis of these successful adults' self-esteem and confidence.
Consistency is the deal-maker here. I confess to having allowed many of our FHE's to erode into attending a child's team sports activity. We justified it by convincing ourselves that we were "together" to support a child, but that weak argument failed on many counts. Once at the field, kids scattered off with friends, and our special evening was like any other. There was no invitation to the Spirit to lift us from the world, no testimonies of Christ strengthened, no expressions of love and gratitude. Looking back now, I see the subtle but essential difference between "fun family time" and the safety net of regular "Family Night." Both will create memories and strengthen bonds, but when parents do everything in their power to make Family Night a sacred, set-aside hour, the supreme priority over all other activities, and a time to testify of Christ, we elevate the importance of the family in God's great Plan of Happiness, not only bringing our children closer to us, but to Christ. The dividends are eternal and incalculable.
Where to begin? As a group, set the priority and block it into the calendar. Then rotate responsibilities for prayers, music, an activity, a lesson, a snack. Get everyone involved somehow. The lesson can be as simple as a testimony borne, a single scripture read and discussed, or a story that is shared with follow-up questions that inspire sharing and feeling the Spirit. Play games, sing, pull out the instruments, act out a skit, make a new recipe together and secretly leave it on someone's doorstep. Learn about the earth, do service--the list is endless.
If it still seems daunting, let me recommend Anne Bradshaw's new release, "FAMOUS FAMILY NIGHTS." There are dozens of other families' examples of triumph and challenge, lesson ideas, and most of all, testimonials to the rewards of sticking with it. It would make a loving and perfect gift to newlyweds and new parents. (Available at Seagull Books, Deseret, Amazon and most LDS book stores.)
These testimonials may ease your fears about leaping in to the journey called "Family Night." Good luck! You're in for the time of your life!
"After reading the first few stories in this book I let out a sigh of relief and a chuckle as I realized my family really wasn't so dysfunctional when it came to family home evening experiences after all! This collection of stories is a "must-own" book, whether you are LDS or not. It provides wonderful ideas, and also helps us realize how important family time is to our children - whether they know it or not." - George Dyer, International Opera Singer.
"I heartily add my recommendations to other reviewers. Not only did I find many great family night ideas, but I learned that other people are just like me! We all struggle, especially when the children are young, but the concept of family night brings so many benefits that we continue to do it. And then at times, the light shines through and the moment is so sweet that we wonder why we ever doubted." - Rachel Ann Nunes, award-winning Author of thirty published books.
"Everyone can benefit from this unique compilation of entertaining and uplifting stories of family home evening through the eyes of a diverse stable of LDS contributors. I sure did!" - Jason F. Wright, New York Times best-selling Author of Christmas Jars and The Wednesday Letters."
What a wonderful experience reading Famous Family Nights has turned out to be. Each essay has touched my heart in some way. I've learned new ideas to try with my own children during home evening, felt the spirit as I've shared in the experiences of other families, and seen how holding home evening can make a difference, even when you're wrangling a bunch of kids who claim they don't want to be there." - Lu Ann Staheli, Author, When Hearts Conjoin.
"Whether in your later years, or like me, in recently married years, Famous Family Nights is a smashing book I highly recommend to anyone." - Alex Boyé, award-winning Recording Artist, Actor, and Mormon Tabernacle Choir member."
("Famous Family Nights" is) . . . also just laugh-out-loud funny sometimes, and at other times very touching. I loved the glimpses into the lives of the contributors and the experiences they shared. I suggest that you can do most of your Christmas shopping by purchasing multiple copies of this book. It's that good. It's that useful and helpful and thought-provoking. It's one of those books that has "something for everyone." It's bound to be a perennial favorite, to be picked up time and time again at various stages of family life." - Janet K. Jensen, award-winning Author, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys.
"These wonderful stories can touch and inspire us all, no matter what our place in life. The writers don't claim family home evening perfection and I feel their honesty will be much appreciated." - Donna S. Dewberry, Artist, Author, One Stroke Painting TV Presenter.
"Famous Family Nights, by Anne Bradshaw, is such an excellent book for parents of all ages! I laughed, I cried, I read several entries over and over and out loud to my hubby. So much fun, and so many parents who felt like their family home evenings were such a catastrophe! From measuring lint in belly buttons to stylishly modeling newly-washed clothes over . . . whatever, it's a hoot! Even the hollering! This book is a great reminder to parents everywhere that the Lord never expects us to get it perfect, He just expects us to do it! " - Sherry Ann Miller, Author, "writer of miracles."
"Anne Bradshaw has collected a smorgasbord of FHE ideas to delight any and every family. From foil dinners to teaching scriptures and songs --this book is full of ideas to make family time the best it can be. Ideas come from families worldwide, a sampling of ways to love those that love you the very most!" - Amy Freeze, Chief Meteorologist, Fox News Chicago.
"I was so interested to learn more about the various authors and their experiences that I kept reading the moment I picked the book up and didn't stop until I finished! It was a spellbinding page-turner. I laughed and giggled at some stories. My heart was touched deeply through it all, leaving me inspired to continue my efforts to hold family night despite any setbacks or having a less-than-ideal evening. Bravo! Well done." - Jeffrey Denning, CPS, CMAS, Iraq War Veteran.