Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Happy Birthday Book

First of all--Happy Birthday to Me! (pic is my birthday cake from last year--decorated by my sons...notice "MOM" spelled out in Twizzlers...) I've never been a big birthday celebrator--not much of a party girl--but I thank the Lord for the blessings He has given me this past year, all the wonderful opportunities to connect with readers and friends and family. So, thank you, all of you Crossroads followers and readers for being numbered among my blessings! In light of that, I have an AWESOME book-give-away specially picked for my birthday week drawing.

(Oh, and Roxanne--you are the lucky winner of the romance Return to Love! Contact me and I'll get that to you...)

OK, on to this week's book: My Heart Remembers by the lovely Kim Vogel Sawyer. Now, I have to tell you, I personally gave this book the highest honor possible. No, not a medal or a trophy--better than that! Really. I...loaned my copy of this my mother. Now, that might not mean a lot to you, but mom is a rather picky reader, and woe unto me if I ever recommend a book that she ends up not liking. So, I only go out on a limb and actually give her very special books.
That said, I realized Ididn't have a copy to give away. So, I emailed the generous author and requested a copy to give to the lucky person whose name will be drawn at my Writers Group Meeting next Monday. Well, not only did she send me a's a hard-cover copy. That is truly a first for this blog. How exciting is that!

Here's the blurb:
Orphaned in a tenement fire, three Irish immigrant children, hoping to be adopted, are sent to Missouri aboard an orphan train. Despite eight-year-old Maelle's desperate attempts to keep her siblings together, each child is taken by a different family. Maelle vows that she will never stop searching for her siblings and that they will be together one day. Sixteen years later, Maelle is still searching. So are her brother and sister. United by blood, divided by time, will they ever be reunited?

And my take:
Ummm....I loved it. 'Nuff said. Seriously, there are moments in this book when you'll be just breathless.

My Heart Remembers is all set to be my birthday gift to one of you. So, tell me, what's a favorite birthday gift that your heart remembers?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Most Trusted Dinner Guest in Our Home

Flipping through what passes for TV journalism today makes me long for those simpler times when our family gathered to watch Walter Cronkite every night. And, I mean every night. If mom's dinner was ready to hit the table at 5:30, we ate silently with that familiar soft baritone in the background. No hitting "pause" on the DVR, no catching the later re-broadcast on another cable network. And absolutely no thought of not watching. Today, we have the screaming vitriol of Bill O'Reily, the smug indignation of Keith Olbermann, the vapid non-presence of Katie Couric. Once, a few months ago, I got all nostalgic and decided I wanted our family to watch the evening news together like we did when I was a kid. Just 30 minutes of our time, and enough of a snippet of everything to feel informed. I went with Brian Williams on NBC because I think he's rather delightful. Long story short, my kids stretched and sighed and yawned and begged for dinner--even though we were having broccoli. Some things go out of style for a reason, and the ratings for network news evening broadcasts show them to be as popular as courdory shorts.

But I think that's because we have so much choice--so many distractions. A little something for everybody means that nobody rallies around anything. Cronkite was the voice for a nation in need of stability and comfort following the assassination of President Kennedy and the devastating mire of Vietnam.

He is, of course, remembered for his signature sign-off phrase: "And that's the way it is..." Like, you know what, America? This is what's happening, and there's not much we can do about it, and there's no reason for me to rant and blather on, so take it and go. I have to say, that's an attitude I'd love to see spilled all over the shiny sets of other "news" programs. It reminds me of one of my favorite "edgy" Bible verses:

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. [Psalm 135:6]

Because sometimes, when we get caught up in the why, why, why, why of the world, all you can do is step back and realize the sovereignty of God. Sometimes, that's the way it is.

...The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. [Psalm 93:1]

Some people might see this as fatalistic, but I choose to see it as faithalistic. How comforting it is to know that the world, as terrifying and terrible as it can be at times, is in the hands of a loving, just, righteous and sovereign God--one who loves me unconditionally and wishes only the best of blessings in my life.

That's the way He is.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chill Out and Return to Love

Eileen will be cooling off with Colleen Coble's Cry in the Night...but this week's give-away is just as cool. In fact, it's a romantic summer treat from brand-new author Betsy St. Amant.

Return to Love by Betsy St. Amant is a delightful read featuring two of my favorite creations: Penguins, and hunky musicians. Ah--nice. There's also a nice shot of Christmas to give an escape from the summer heat, and a little bit of romance to heat it right back up again.

Here's the blurb:

"I'm Not The Man I Used To Be!"
If only Gracie Broussard could believe that! Years ago, Carter Alexander broke her heart and betrayed her. Now, just when she needs him most, he's back—asking her to believe he's changed. But this time, it's not just Gracie who'll be hurt if he disappears. A penguin keeper, Gracie urgently needs to find a new home for her beloved birds. Carter is the only one who can help. He promises that she can trust him, that he's not the rebel he once was. And that he needs Gracie as much as her birds do.

I had the chance to meet Betsy a few months ago at a writers conference in Shreveport, LA, and what a treat she is! No offense to my fellow authors (myself included), but we are not by-and-large a fresh-faced lot. I mean, take a bunch of Christian novelists to a bar, and not many of us would get carded. (We might get reprimanded by our pastors, but that's a different story...) So how exciting it is to see not only a new author on the scene, but one coming with such a fresh voice, and to see that the values and faith that permeate Christian literature is not just something we'd like to see our young women embrace, but something embraced by young Christian women.

So, I cornered Betsy to ask her a few questions about her book and this journey she's on:

Let’s face it—you are much younger than most of us in this writing business. So, what do you think your youth brings to the field of writing Inspirational romance?

I hope readers will tell me!! haha. Seriously though, I hope to bring a new viewpoint on romance, romance that is young and fresh. I married early, had kids early, (married at 20, first baby at 24) which is so rare for my generation. I hope to draw in a new batch of romance readers by relating to that generation.

You have such a lovely family! How are you balancing writing, hubby and baby?

Thank you! I'm quite fond of them too. The balance is sometimes tricky but I've learned to always be thinking on my WIP so that when it comes times to actually grab a spare 10 minutes and write, I'm ready to go. It takes away from the keyboarding-twiddling-thumbs stage every writer goes through when first sitting down to work. Family will always come first and thankfully my Hubby is super supportive. He's waiting for me to make the big time so he can quit work and "drive my tour bus". Gotta love hubbies with big dreams =)

Two words: Why penguins?

Two more words: Why not? =P I collected penguins growing up, they're just a fun animal and have always been my favorite! I have no idea what started that trend but it lingers regardless! So it seemed only natural that Gracie, the heroine in RETURN TO LOVE, would work at the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans as the penguin keeper. The fun part was researching for this story. I spoke frequently with the current penguin keeper in New Orleans, Tom Dyer, and he gave me lots of useful info, and even let me use the current residing penguin's names in my story. =)

So, in doing your research for this book, did you spend more time hanging out with penguins, or musicians?

I wish I could have hung out with my birds, but did my research on the phone. Obviously the penguins weren't very involved. =) I did speak with an old family friend and singer/songwriter, Dallas Caine Weeks, who lent me the lyrics to one of his songs to use in the story. Its such a beautiful song, I'm working on marketing with him to sell CD singles with the story at book signings. He deserves the shout out!

Tell us a little about what’s coming out next from you. Is there going to be a follow-up to this book?

Yes, there is a sequel titled A VALENTINE'S WISH releasing February 2010. It is the story of Gracie's best friend Lori, who goes to work in an upscale chocolate boutique in the French Quarter, and begins receiving gifts from a secret admirer. Is the secret admirer the handsome Italian chef, her youth pastor best friend, or her ex-fiance back for a second chance? Find out in February! =)

So, not to penguin you to death, but like I said, they are one of my favorite creations--like something God gave us just for fun. What species to you see out there that makes you marvel at God's imagination? Leave a comment and be entered to win a signed copy of Return to Love.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Charlie!

This week, my son Charlie turns 11. It's a rather anticlimactic birthday. It lacks the first double-digit excitement of turning 10, and it doesn't have the cache of 12. It's a bridge year. One more year of elementary school, one more year before church youth group. A non-age, really. Eleven. The most syllables he'll have until he turns seventeen, but that's really reaching for something positive.

I have to say, our family has never been one to do the big birthday parties. I lack the hostess gene, and beyond that, I could never get past the idea of spending hundreds of dollars to formalize the spending of other hundreds of dollars. The party is something we have just never done. Instead, the birthday person in our house gets to simply rule for the day. On his birthday, Charlie will get to decide where we go to dinner. And--wahoo!!--we'll all get to order beverages instead of our usual dining-out water. He'll spend the afternoon at the water park with his brothers at his beck and call to carry the tubes up the steps.

There's another reason why I avoid the big party beyond the financial concerns, though. The video here was taken during the July 4th celebration at my sister's house. This was to be the grand-finale fireworks explosion. The really really big one the boys had been eyeing all evening long. And if you take time to watch the clip, you'll see the result. Kind of a fizzle, you know? Something I could smile at clear up until you hear my Charlie say--in all of his tween indignation--"That cannot be it!" Sometimes the bigger the firework, the bigger the fizzle...

Now, just a few minutes ago, Charlie came stumbling out of bed and I told him "Happy Birthday." He lifted the cover and saw his kind of lop-sided chocolate cake with Ding-Dongs on top. "It's a 'Lego' brick!" he exclaimed, a new squeak to his voice--like it was the coolest thing in the world. Then I got a hug and a kiss. I think 11 wil be a great year after all!

The Grass IS Greener...(Notes from the road...)

I spent last week visiting with my sister, Roi, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. We were there for the 4th of July (an evening of swimming and fireworks and luscious bbq ribs, mmmmmm). She has a lovely home overlooking a lovely yard with velvet-green grass and a sapphire-sparkly pool. The house itself sits in a neighborhood built on the far edge of town, smack in the middle of what can only be affectionately and accurately called: desert.

One of my favorite memories is from an evening long ago, when I was on her balcony. I looked down and saw a little family of rabbits foraging for what they could find to nibble on amidst the dry sagebrush of the desert. Little did these bunnies know that, right on the other side of the fence, another family of rabbits was grazing on the soft, velvet green grass of Roi's lawn. Just think, those poor desert bunnies probably had such a negative outlook on life, cursing their environment, thinking what a rotten, dry, desolate world they were forced to live in. If only they could somehow look to the other side of the fence--what a different world they would know!

It reminds me of those people who go around in life without knowing the Lord. Think about it--how many truly jolly, content, pleasant Atheists do you know? The world is full of poeple who see only the dry shrubs of life--who nick their lips trying to seek sustenance on life's tumble weeds--all the while ignorant of the vast, lush, delicious blessings that come with a life in Christ.

Faith in Christ is the fence that separates the bunnies of the world--those who dwell, lost, in the desert; those who revel in the glory of His grace. Take time this week to lift a bunny up--show him or her the sweet green velvet that comes with grace.

(Don't forget to leave a comment to be eligible for the book drawing for Colleen Coble's Cry in the Night)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Take a Winter Break with This Week's Give-Away...

Whew! I'm a few days late posting for the give-away this week, since I've been out of town on a stay-ish-cation in my hometown of Las Cruces, NM. Great visit--lots of fun--but sketchy internet access at my parents' house. I'll have more observations from the road in the coming days. But, with no further ado...the winner of Speak Through the Wind is Edna! Congrats!

This week's book is like a literal breath of fresh air--for me, anyway, and for anyone else living through one heatwave of a summer. It's Cry in the Night by Colleen Coble. Here's the blurb:

A mysterious crying in the night leads search-and-rescue worker Bree Matthews and her dog Samson to an abandoned baby in the woods outside of Rock Harbor, Michigan. Against objections from her husband, Bree takes the baby girl in. Quickly she begins a search for the mother-presumably the woman reported missing just days earlier.
While teams scour the wintery forests, Bree ferrets out clues about the woman. Where is she and why did she leave the child behind? And how does that connect to Bree's first husband's mysterious death yars ago in the Upper Peninsula? Everything Bree thought she knew about her life is turned upside down with the sound of a Cry in the Night.

And, my take:
This was my first Colleen Coble novel--I don't naturally gravitate to suspense, save for a few writers who I know won't disappoint me. Well, Miss Colleen is soon to be added to that list, because this was a great read. Twists and turns, yes, but also a great story in a lovely seting of Rock Harbor, Michigan. Coble's writing is so crisp, I felt like I was crunching around in the snow with Bree and Samson. Great details made this a chilling read--in more than one way. One of those where you'll be up late into the summer night, or escaping the heat during those long summer afternoons.

So, Cry in the Night gave me a few hours respite from the oppressive summer heat. What's your escape plan when the temp's too hot to handle?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Desert Rain--Notes from the Road...

We're traveling in New Mexico this week, a bit of a family vacation. Thought I'd bring you all along on a few hi-lights and insights of the road.

The drive from San Antonio to Las Cruces, NM is a very familiar one to us. We make it 2-3 times a year. I have every last rest stop memorized. Besides one little mishap a few years ago when high wind resistance resulted in running out of gas (now, THERE's a story!), the drive has always been one without much drama. Basically, you hit I-10, pop in a good book on CD, and go. For this drive, we listened to Bob Newhart's I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This. Part memoir, part comedy routines--all wonderful.

So, there's this stretch of road right in the dead middle between Fort Stockton and Van Horn where, I kid you not, it is always raining. Always. Every trip. Sometimes a little rain, sometimes hail storms. But you can smell it coming on--nothing quite like the smell of rain in the desert, lovely. You see a grayish sky approaching--if you're driving it an sunset there's some purple--and that rain is every bit as much a landmark as the Tee-Pee KOA and Allison Road.

For me, this year, that rain was such a welcome sight. We've had such drought in San Antonio--nary a drop in what seems like months. But I think about the people who live there. Granted, I don't think there are many, but there are a few little bits of human occupancy off in the distance, and I wonder if the rain is as constant as I imagine it to be? Yet, what for them might be a never-ending drudgery is such a moment of refreshment for those that travel past their little spot in the world.

Think about this--we all have a little something raining around our life, and what we see from day to day might not seem all that special. But trust me. There will always be others that come traveling through, looking for refreshment. Be aware of what you have to offer. Be somebody's rain in the desert.

I'll let you all know if it's raining there on the way home...

Friday, July 3, 2009

My Sister's Birthday

Today is my sister's birthday--Happy Birthday, Barbara!!! Now, chances are she'll never read this, as she's living the country life in Wyoming, but she deserves a shout-out anyway...

She and I have an on-going joke stemming from the fact that she doesn't like to own up to her age. Like, at all. She's a few years older than I am, but every year we decide that we're drifting closer and closer. Pretty soon, we say, she'll pass me up and become the new baby of the family!

The picture here is from last Christmas, when our family went up to Wyoming to spend Christmas with her family. It was an amazing time, and this moment captures the two of us being towed up a mountain, only to tube down it at lightning (well, pretty fast) speed. Barb's in the foreground. She lives in this wintry climate, so she's wearing the cute jacket and stylish headband. I'm further back, and if you could see me, you'd see me in my dad's winter coat, an ill-fitting hat, brand-new snowboots. She's the snow bunny, I'm the slope ragamuffin. A better picture of my life with Barbara would be one of us spinning down the mountain, though. She was a teenager when I was playing with dolls. She was building her life and family while I was trudging through puberty, and now--well, life just goes by to quickly for the both of us. She spins in her circle; I spin in mine.

But, every now and then--never often enough--one of us picks up the phone and calls. We'll giggle within the first 2 seconds of the conversation, and laugh often throughout. She's always been a spark in my life--beauty to aspire to, values to emulate, and the best cook I know!

So, Happy Birthday, Barbara! Here's wishing you a Red Velvet Cake!