Friday, June 25, 2010

Destination: Little Rock - Day 3

Destination: Little Rock Day 3
Today, our last "full" day of work, we spent the morning sorting cans of food at the Arkansas Rice Depot.

The Rice Depot is a hunger ministry that works with a variety of groups including food banks throughout the state, a senior feeding program and a school feeding program.

We sorted two pallets of cans (many donated from Allen Canning) into "sets" of 80 cans - i.e. 80 cans of green beans, 80 cans of white potatoes, 80 cans of hominy, etc.

The kids worked really hard to sort the food - without complaining. I think if we would have tossed them another pallet or two to sort, they would have jumped in willingly.

We sorted enough food so that tomorrow's senior feeding program outreach can happen without extra prep. We also helped sort the remaining food - what wasn't needed or could be made into 80 can sets - so that next month's "sorting" is already started.

--Want to pray for the Depot? They are in need of a larger freezer - to keep protein on hand for the various food banks. They also need more (on a continual basis) the emergency meal kits. These kits are distributed by UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and the American Red Cross during natural disasters in Arkansas. Most recently, the Red Cross distributed emergency meal kits after the flooding in central Arkansas.

After we finished at the Depot, we made an unscheduled visit to the Conference office.
The picture will be posted later, but let's just say, we "invaded" the Bishop's office, and took over his chair!

---
After lunch, and a mid-day TAG time, we loaded up and went to the Splash Zone - an outdoor water park at the Jacksonville City pool. The pool came complete with two LARGE water slides. Those pictures will be coming....let's just say, there's a few humorous ones!

(We also had an underwater camera that the kids used to capture some fun moments - we'll get those developed for future uploading!)

We finished up the evening with supper at Cici's Pizza, and then worship with John and Lali Palmer (and crew!) It was a great time of worship.

Now it's 10:30 and we're trying to "wind" the kids down.

It's been a great week

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Destination: Little Rock - Day 2

Rolling with the experience, is a good way to sum up today's mission trip projects.

This morning we worked at Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock. The church has several ministry outreaches including a food bank, weekly meal on Sundays and more.

We initially thought that we would be sorting items and things in the food bank. However, it looked like some extra volunteers had gotten a jump on next week's "sorting," so our project changed.

This is where the "rolling" with the changes/experiences comes in.

We ended up helping the pastors clean up the outdoor, sunken courtyard.

We raked up leaves and debris that had blown in during the fall/spring storms.

What does this have to do with hunger ministries - well, typically (when it's not horribly hot) people have gathered in the courtyard for "outdoor" seating for meals.

We helped get it ready for use on Sunday morning - during the breakfast or lunch times - or maybe even so a Sunday school class could go outside for their class.

Who knows what will take place because of our efforts. The kids were good sports and great workers. We got the project completed during our two hour time limit.

This was also our first of two "stops" today which involved leaving behind more than our presence. At both Quapaw Quarter and Heifer Ranch, we left checks for $100, as part of our gift to the ministries.

It's not a lot, but it represents part of what the students raised in order to attend the trip. We not only go to serve, but we try to leave them with something to help their ministry in the future.

(Think of it as filling our Methodist "membership" vows - Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness - with the various aspects of our mission trip.)

----
The other part of our day involved traveling to Heifer Ranch.

By the way, Pandora on my iPhone is our new favorite app - we've had our own version of "satellite" radio in the church van thanks to it - it streams Contemp. Christian music via my phone, into the van's stereo with a little help from some adapters!

To say that it's a bit hot in central Arkansas is, well, a bit of an understatement.

Other than complaining a bit (yes, we broke rule 3 a bit today - "no whining"), the kids kept rolling with it, and totally focused on learning more about the ministry that takes place through Heifer Project International.

We watched a video that personalized the ministry, took a hayride/wagon ride through the ranch to look at animals - yes they had two water buffalos - and then walked through the global village.

Everyone stayed hydrated and almost sunburn free.

We finished the evening with a fabulous meal at Leon and Libby Grey's home, and a surprise stop at the Purple Cow for what else, purple ice cream cones.

Worship was again led by John Palmer and Sarah - and was fabulous!

Tomorrow we work at the Arkansas Rice Depot and then go swimming in the afternoon.
We may try to swing by the conference office for a quick tour.

Things are good, your kids are great and thank you for trusting us with them!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Destination: Little Rock - Day 1

What I'm Up To - Destination: Little Rock
A mission experience for older elementary/middle school students.


Destination: Little Rock - Day 1 
As I type this update, the kids (and adults) are starting to wind down and head to bed.
We've had a great first day.

My wifi is limited, so updates throughout the day are going to happen via my twitter account (kaytebug) or facebook (either my own account, if you are my "friend" or on the church's page - www.facebook.com/fumcss)

Today has been a day of traveling - yes, Little Rock is a long way from NW Arkansas in a church van.

It's also been a day where we've learned to work together as a group - the two churches coming together as one group - and we've made a few new friends.

You would have been really proud to see your students, working together in the heat to quickly unload both vehicles and the trailer, and later in the afternoon, the pickup filled with our groceries (thanks to Melissa Freeman from Vilonia UMC - for volunteering to make our "huge" grocery run!) Because everyone worked together, a huge job was completed in mere minutes.

Tonight also debut our "new" worship at the mission trip - thanks to the Rev. John Palmer (UCA Wesley Foundation Director) and his ministry partner - (um, forgive me for not remembering your name tonight - but she's a college student with connections to Springdale) - for coming to help us with our music. It was awesome and we're looking forward to two more nights of listening to John play the guitar!

Each night we're talking about our P3's (Peaks, Pits & Prayers). Most of the students tonight struggled to find a "pit" (something that made them sad or discouraged). They all talked about making new friends, doing new things and well, being excited for tomorrow.

We're off to the Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church food bank in the morning - we're not really sure what we'll be doing, but it should be an interesting experience.

Tomorrow afternoon we'll connect with students from North Little Rock First UMC (where we are staying) and tour/learn more about Heifer International's hunger ministry. The students are really looking forward to understanding more about a ministry we have supported for several years. (We may even see a water buffalo at the ranch!)

In all, it's been a good first day. Thank you for your prayers.

Blog Tour: A Love of Her Own (Review)

It’s here, in Lewiston, Montana, where April McBride travels to attend her brother’s wedding. Still cautious after a broken engagement, she fully intends to guard her heart.

One look around the small mining town convinces April that doing so won't be difficult—just a bunch of dusty shops, bad service, and ill-bred cowboys. But a run-in with horse trainer Wes Owen opens up vast possibilities for frustration, embarrassment, friendship, and . . . love?

Can April and Wes see past their differences to envision a future together? Or are they destined to live the rest of their lives alone?

So What Did I Think?
This is the second "Hearts of the West" book I have read by Maggie Brendan. In the first review - of book 2 - I said Brendan's work could become a "movie of the week" by Michael Landon Jr. I still think that is the case.

In this novel, Brendan has captured the transformation of a spoiled, rich girl - as she moves away from that existence and begins to experience life - and faith in Jesus in a new way.

I do have one suggestion - I really think if you are starting out new to the series - you will get more out of the stories if you start with book number 1. While book 3 can "stand alone," there are subtle themes which weave through the entire series. It's hard to keep up with the "back stories" unless you start out at the beginning of the series.

I was a bit frustrated by April's character - but not because of Brendan's writing. I struggled with her attitude and approach to life. I do think Brendan was successful in showing an "old" way that was transformed into something "new" through April's life.

I also liked how she developed some of the other characters - especially the young boy, Billy. I wish some of their stories could have been developed a bit deeper, but alas, in a limited number of pages, that couldn't happen.

On a scale of 1 to 5 with five being the highest, I definitely give this a 3.5 to 4. It's definitely a good summer-time read!

Meet Maggie Brendan
Maggie Brendan (the pen name for Brenda Lott) is a member of American Christian Writers and the American Fiction Writers Association. She is the author of No Place for a Lady and lives in Georgia.

Brenda chose her pen name because she wanted something that "sounded like an Irish romantic name."

"I also wanted to maintain a way to write non-fiction under my real name," explained Lott. "I almost went with my maiden name, O’Neal, I’m part Irish, but I really like my pen name. Maggie was my mother’s name and my granddaughter’s name is Maggie. I was nicknamed Maggie years ago by sister-in-law and it stuck."

According to her blog (click her for additional info) When Brenda is not writing, she likes to paint, scrapbook and be with her four grandchildren. She is also a member of a large sanctuary choir.

Online Resources
Read an Excerpt Online 
Purchase it at: Amazon, Christianbook.com, Barnes& Noble.com and/or a local bookstore.



The Heart of the West Series
Book One: "No Place for a Lady."
Crystal Clark arrives in Colorado's Yampa Valley amid the splendor of a high country June in 1892. After the death of her father, Crystal is relieved to be leaving the troubles of her Georgia life behind to visit her aunt Kate's cattle ranch.

Despite being raised as a proper Southern belle, Crystal is determined to hold her own in this wild land--even if a certain handsome foreman doubts her abilities. Just when she thinks she's getting a handle on the constant male attention from the cowhands and the catty barbs from some of the local young women, tragedy strikes the ranch.

Crystal will have to tap all of her resolve to save the ranch from a greedy neighboring landowner. Can she rise to the challenge? Or will she head back to Georgia defeated?

Book Two: The Jewel of His Heart
Their future is as wide open as the Montana sky.

Juliana Brady is alone in an 1890s Montana mining town, with few prospects for making a living. But she is determined not to be dependent on the charity of others.

Josh McBride is trying to scrape up a living from his sheep herd while he builds his ranch. But when he discovers some rare stones on his property, he's tempted by the prospect of fast money.

When their paths cross, Juliana and Josh must make a choice--the world's riches and promises, or the eternal value of love.


Click here for my review of The Jewel of His Heart.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell Publishing. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blog Tour: The Plan A Woman in A Plan B World (Review)

Live - Laugh - Love. Through humor, stories and more, Debbie Taylor Williams has crafted a book examining what happens when life doesn't go according to plan.

In The Plan A Woman In A Plan B World, Williams breaks down some of the myths and more than women often fall prey to - including the dream of the perfect soul mate, a fulfilling career and the elusive obedient children.

Through a variety of chapters, Williams examines some of the fears, discouragements and bitterness which often hold women back from discovering the plan that God has in store for their lives.

What I Thought
I think Williams has an "easy to read" writing style. She mixes Biblical truth with "real-life" examples to help explain how you can live out your life, even when it isn't your original "Plan A."

The book wasn't exactly what I expected. It never really captured my attention span (which, I'll admit at times, is equal to a preschoolers). I tried really hard to "click" with the book.

Maybe it was because many of her initial stories were all related stories with a marriage theme. My "Plan A" that didn't come true didn't revolve around a spouse or children - it was the career/ministry that just never "clicked" leading me to live the "Plan B."

Is my Plan B wrong, nope. It's just not where I thought I'd be 10+ years after seminary. I had a plan, God had another.

I think Williams book is good, and with the study guide (and additional helps on her website), a women's Bible study/small group may find this to be a great resource/study.

Unfortunately, the book just didn't "click" for me.I'll probably wait a while and give it another chance. Maybe this just isn't the right season in life.

Meet The Author
Debbie Taylor Williams, founder of Hill Country Ministries, a non-profit 501© 3 dedicated to spreading God's Word and love, is a sought out Christian speaker and author.

Best known as a passionate Biblical expositor, Williams uses humor and practical illustrations to communicate spiritual truths to women throughout the nation.  She has written and produced numerous books and video driven Bible studies, including The Plan A Woman In a Plan B World, Pray With Purpose, Live With Passion; Prayers of My Heart; If God Is In Control, Why Do I Have A Headache?; If God Is In Control, Why Am I A Basket Case, Discovering His Passion, and co-authored Trusting God's People Again.

She is a religion columnist for the Kerrville Daily Times and is published in P31 Woman magazine. Married for more than 35 years, Williams and her husband, Keith, live in Kerrville, Texas. They have two married children and one grandson.

Online Resources
A Plan A Woman Book Club
Debbie Taylor Williams Website
Buy It Online

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Kathy Carlton Willis Communications. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blog Tour: Out of The Spin Cycle (Review)

Motherhood is crazy - often spinning out of control like an over-filled washer/dryer.

Jen Hatmaker hopes she has created a way to stop the spinning. In her new book - now a 2010 MOPS International resource - called Out of the Spin Cycle: Devotions to Lighten Your Mother Load, she has created a resource filled with stories and humors to help a mom possibly overwhelmed with life, reconnect with her faith.

The devos feature Hatmaker's humor and are designed to help a young mom find Jesus' "grace and encouragement" in through a variety of subjects including worry, marriage, priorities, money and the comparison trap.

What I Thought
I thought Hatmaker's writing style was refreshing, and this book provides a good resource especially for new moms wanting to do a simple, yet effective Bible Study. (Which is probably why MOPS, International has tabbed it as a resource.)

The 40 devos are short, yet meaningful. Most include a question or two, to help moms think about the subject of the devo. Each devo includes a practical, yet simple way a mom can "step out of the spin cycle" and apply it what they are reading in their life.

This book will definitely go on my "resource" shelf for moms. I could also see giving this book a new mom as a post-baby shower gift.



Online Resources
Available at:
--Amazon,
--Christianbook.com,
--Barnes & Noble.com
-- local bookstore.
Also, bulk discounts on orders of 20+ available from www.direct2church.com

Read an online excerpt.

More About The Author
Jen Hatmaker is the author of seven books and Bible studies, including A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study. With a heart for the women of her generation, she speaks at retreats and conferences around the country. Hatmaker and her husband, Brandon, reside in Texas with their three children, and lead the ministry work at Austin New Church.Find more info about Hatmaker here: http://www.jenhatmaker.com/

About the Publisher
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit http://www.revellbooks.com/.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blog Tour: Scars & Stilettos (Review & Interview)

Harmony Dust could have kept moving forward, putting aside the pain and agony of her past life as an exotic dancer.

Married and pursuing a career in social work, Dust’s new “life” looked very different from the time she spent dancing in a totally nude strip club.

Instead of running away, Dust chose to face her past head on by telling her story - the good, the bad and the downright ugly – in order to pass along the hope and encouragement she found in her faith in Jesus Christ to women working within the sex industry.

“I have always believed that story is a very powerful tool in reaching and impacting others,” Dust explained. “From early on in my walk with God, I knew that He wanted to use my story.  I knew that it was something that I would not just ‘overcome’ and then keep silent about. 

“When I first started Treasures [her outreach and support to women in the sex industry,] I didn’t want to go into the strip clubs and start preaching at the women, but I wanted them to begin to ponder God’s love for them and the purpose He has for their lives.”

Dust said she knew the best method included relating her own story – which she now been expanded into her memoir “Scars And Stilettos: The Transformation Of An Exotic Dancer.”

In her memoir, Dust recounts the choices and circumstances, which led to become an exotic dancer. It also details how she found hope through faith in Jesus.

“This is a book about overcoming,” she explained. “You don’t have to spend time working in a strip club to relate to it.  It is a story of God showing up in all of my pain and desperation and showing me the way out.”

She also sees her story as a way to humanize the women “on the other end of the dollar” in the sex industry.

“If you see the humanity in someone, it becomes difficult to objectify and sexualize them,” Dust explained. “It also becomes difficult to judge them.”

Relating Painful Memories
“[Writing the story] has been a process of surrender for me,” Dust said. “At the end of the day, this is not just my story…it’s God’s.  This isn’t about seeing my name on blog sites or in bookstores, but about letting God use the pain from my past to impact others and encourage them that there is hope for them (and their loved ones) too.”

Dust said the hardest aspect of her story to talk about related to her mother.

“I didn’t want to write my story at the expense of the healing that is taking place in our relationship,” she said. “I wanted to tell the truth without making myself into a martyr.”

She also doesn’t believe her story is complete.

“If you ask me, my story isn’t finished and I fully believe that the best is yet to come. I am a girl on a journey with God,” Dust said. “It is my hope that readers will see themselves in my story and will be encouraged that there is no place too far from God’s reach.”

Reaching Into The Darkness
Dust believes that more women than ever are becoming part of the sex industry, for a variety of reasons, including the growth of the internet and the accessibility of porn, which has created a huge demand for woman to work in the area.

“Culturally, we not only condone the objectification and sexualization of women, but we glamorize it.  This is evident in magazines, music videos, tv etc.,” she said. “We have become comfortable with, and really quite good at, ‘selling sex.’

"Through the media, women are taught that their sexuality is a currency and a profitable commodity. In other cases, in a world where women are still oppressed globally and denied access to education, it is often a matter of survival.”

Using her experiences as a base, Dust formed Treasures (www.iamatreasure.com). In the ministry, volunteers work together to reach out and help restore women.

“Our core message to the women is that they are loved, valued and purposed,” Dust said. “This message is so powerful that many women collapse in our arms and weep at hearing it.  We believe that true transformation is the result of a heart changed by the love of God.”

Through the ministry, teams of volunteers go into more than 150 strip clubs annual around Los Angeles area. Volunteers take gift bags filled with cosmetics, jewelry and the simple message that the women working in these clubs are “loved beyond measure, daughters of a King.”

Additionally, each woman who contacts Treasurers receives an individualized care package with books and resources intended to bring inspiration and to encourage her in her faith.

Trained volunteers follow up with women who contact the ministry, providing lay counseling and life coaching. Support is offered in forms of employment referrals, professional counseling and additional services to help a woman flourish “into the woman that God created her to be.”

Why Reach Out To Those In The Sex Industry
“I believe that the church has an irreplaceable role on this planet to reach and serve hurting and broken people,” Dust said. “This ministry is important because the women working in the sex industry are important.  They are God’s beloved daughters and we are called to care about what He cares about.”

She said regardless of whether a woman enters the sex industry by choice, force, fraud or coercion – as in the case of human trafficking – every woman is valuable.

“I would encourage people to educate themselves by reading their stories and allow their hearts to be softened,” Dust said. “Our website, www.IAmATreasure.com has an entire section dedicated to the stories of these women.”

For Dust, this ministry has allowed her to turn her own personal pain into purpose.

“It is an honor to be a part of the work that God is doing in the lives of His daughters,” she said. 

What I Thought
Wow. This is a powerful story. Simple, direct and to the point, Scars And Stilettos: The Transformation Of An Exotic Dancer

From the very beginning, Dust's story drew me in. Painful at times to read, I found her style to be authentic. She said she didn't want tell her story and seem like a martyr. I think she accomplished this and more.

I love what Craig Gross said in the forward. Dust had a choice. She could have made a choice to move on with her life and put her painful past behind her.

Instead she chose to dive back in the the strip club scene (with support of her church) in order to provide life preservers for women and men drowning in the sex industry.

She also told to tell her story. I believe she is right, stories have power - and her story in particular reminds people that God can and will transform painful things from our past into ministry opportunities.

As someone who works with students - I asked Dust what she would tell herself if she could go back in time and talk frankly with her "younger" self.

She said first off, she would tell herself that "love truly doesn't hurt."

But more importantly, Dust said she would be a "safe person" who would show up and be present in her life.

"Keep 'showing up,'" Dust said. "Your time and presence are an invaluable gift.  Love without agenda."

I truly hope that this book serves two purposes: 1) that it reaches women living in the sex industry trenches, providing them with hope. 2) I hope it shows "average churchgoers" why they need to reach out to people living this lifestyle.

I pray God will use Dust's story of hope and redemption in amazing and unexpected ways.

More About The Author
Harmony Dust is founder of Treasures, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that reaches out to women in the sex industry to show them they are loved, valued, and  purposed.

Find out more about Treasures, Harmony and  her book at www.IAmATreasure.com  or http://www.ScarsandStilettos.com. Check out Dust's Press Page for magazine articles and videos about her work with women in the sex-trade industry.

Want to read more about Dust? Visit her website www.scarsandstilettos.com.

Online Resources
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
An Autographed Copy From Dust
An Online Excerpt
The Oasis - Harmony Dust's Church
Harmony's Blog

From The Publisher 
Fear of being abandoned keeps nineteen-year-old Harmony Dust trapped in an abusive and cruel relationship. She thinks she has hit bottom-tens of thousands of dollars in debt, struggling to get by, and so controlled by her boyfriend that she doesn't protest when he begins openly sleeping around. Things can't get worse . . . until someone tells her how much money she can make as an exotic dancer. For the next three years, Harmony lives a double life as Monique, a dancer in a fully-nude strip club.

Scars and Stilettos is Harmony's stark, honest, and ultimately hopeful story of how God found her in that dark, noisy place and led her out. She has since married, completed an MA in social welfare, and now leads Treasures, an organization helping women in the sex trade discover their true worth.

"Harmony wrote her story so that you and your friends may get help out of whatever dark tunnel you find yourself in. . . . once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down and you will want to get a copy for every person you know." -Holly Wagner, from the preface


"The thing that blows me away about Harmony’s story is that she showed back up. How easy would it be never to set foot in a strip club ever again? The pain, the memories, the past, were all right there, but she decided that this was not about her, but about the hundreds of women that remained in the clubs." Craig Gross, founder http://xxxchurch.com from the preface.

Join The Blog Tour
Want to see what others think of Scars & Stilettos? Visit the blog tour page for additional information and reviews.

It's A Contest
Kregel Publishers is graciously donating a $50 Amazon.com gift card for the Litfuse Blog Tour Contest! All you have to do to enter is either tweet (see TWEET THIS below) or share the book on Facebook using this link: http://www.litfusegroup.com/Blog-Tours/scars-and-stilettos-blog-tour.html

TWEET THIS: (and be sure to use the hashtag #HarmonyDust to be entered into Amazon.com gift certificate drawing) Scars and Stilettos-story of ex-stripper #HarmonyDust & her work now to reach out to those still in the sex industry. http://ow.ly/1WrGD

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blog Tour: The Homecoming (Review & Interview)

"No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he is called upon to serve his country in another way--as a speaker on the war bond tour. .....  Shawn just wants to stay home with his son Patrick and the aging father with whom he has finally reconciled. When Shawn taps Katherine Townsend to be Patrick's nanny while he's on the road, he has no idea that she will be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart."

With that premise, Dan Walsh opens his newest novel, The Homecoming, at the end of his first book - The Unfinished Gift.

Initially, Walsh did not plan to write The Homecoming, but things changed and he realized there was another story to tell.

"I realized I wasn’t ready to leave these characters behind; they had become almost like an extended family to me," Walsh said. "I could see there was at least one more story to tell. This time, a love story.

"Almost every one who’d read the manuscript of the first book (test readers, my agent, editor, etc.) all asked me the same thing: 'Sure hope Shawn and Katherine get together somehow in the next book.' ”

Using that input, Walsh began to craft a story that hopefully included an "enjoyable love story."

"I also wanted to communicate something of the goodness of God, and how God’s love and goodness to us is still present and working, even during dark and disappointing times," he said.

The Homecoming picks up shortly after Shawn Collins' return to the states. The story line follows the remaining years of the war - and encompasses Collins' relationship with Katherine.

Walsh said it natural to conclude The Homecoming at the end of World War II.

"It just fit," Walsh said. "I needed an adequate length of time for the necessary elements in the story to come together. It worked for that reason. But it also worked in terms of providing a big backdrop for the story’s climax."

In the novel, Collins goes on a bond tour - to appear with Hollywood "royalty" in an effort to raise money for the war effort. Walsh said he tried to authentically portray this piece of history with his descriptions of the tours.

"This was perhaps the most challenging section of research for the book," Walsh said. "I read at least a dozen books about life on the homefront during WWII. All of them spoke of these War Bond tours, but none in detail.

"Once again, the internet came through. It’s an amazing resource for research. I found numerous articles, even whole sections of books no longer in print, about these tours. What you see in The Homecoming is as accurate as I could make it, given it is still a work of fiction."

Walsh said the War Bond tours were an absolute necessity for the American war effort.

"America has been a superpower for so long, it’s hard to fathom that we were once a minor player on the world’s stage," Walsh explained. "Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, we had almost no money devoted to defense in our national budget. No way to pay for all the manpower, weapons and equipment needed to fight the war.

"Raising money was the primary reason for these tours, not stirring patriotism, although it accomplished both. I don’t see it happening again, mainly because defense has become a huge and permanent part of our national budget."

During the novel, as a sub-theme, Walsh has Katherine experience a worship service while taking Patrick to a church. Again, he utilized research to help portray what life was like during WWII.

"I know my readers go to a wide variety of different Christian churches. I didn’t want to feature one over the others, so I decided on a church that simply got the main things right: Loving God, sharing the gospel and caring for others," Walsh explained. "My research showed that, unlike today, the overwhelming majority of Americans attended church regularly during WWII. Faith was a very common aspect of social life."

Having Katherine explore what it meant to be a Christian, Walsh said, was an important aspect of The Homecoming. 

"It was apparent in The Unfinished Gift that Katherine―though a wonderful lady―was not a Christian and faith was not a big part of her life," Walsh said. "But it was for Shawn and Patrick. Someone like Shawn, whose faith was central to his life, would have resisted opening his heart to pursue someone who had no interest in the Christian faith."

In all, Walsh hopes readers not only enjoy The Homecoming, but become "totally immersed in the lives of the characters" he has come to love.

"After reading the book, bestselling author Colleen Coble called it, 'One of the most touching and delightful love stories I’ve ever read.'" Walsh said. "I hope every reader feels the same thing Colleen said when they finish the last page.

"On a more spiritual level, there are some strong themes in the book about the goodness of God and learning to trust Him again when your hopes and dreams have been shattered."

Portraying WWII In Novels
Walsh believes readers are drawn to novels set during WWII for a variety of reasons.

"I think it’s because our country is in a mess right now, polarized, divided, complex and filled with uncertainty," Walsh said. "Books about WWII transport us back to a simpler time when our country made a whole lot more sense.

"The war created a great deal of uncertainty but, as a country, we faced the challenges it created together."

Random Facts From The Novel
--There really is an Eagle at Wanamaker’s in downtown Philadelphia. (The store is now owned by Macy's). You can see a photo of the statue by clicking here.

"Actually, if you Google “Wanamaker Eagle” there are dozens of sites about it," Walsh said. "The main reason I chose it as a landmark is that I needed a place for Shawn and Katherine to rendezvous in downtown Philly.

"My mother met and fell in love with my Dad in downtown Philly. I simply asked her if she and my Dad were going to meet somewhere downtown, where would it be? Without hesitation, she said, 'We’d meet at the Eagle.'"

---Originally, Walsh thought he might call the book "Meet me at the Eagle," thinking to use it the same way the Empire State Building is used in Sleepless in Seattle and An Affair to Remember.

"My editors felt that the title wouldn’t work, because no one would know what I’m talking about unless they lived in Philly," he explained.

So What's Next?
The Deepest Waters - Walsh's next novel - should appear on bookshelves in the spring of 2011.

The novel begins a new storyline, set in 1857, about a couple separated by a shipwreck on their honeymoon voyage from San Francisco to New York. While it is a fictional tale, Walsh said more than half of the things that happen in the book are true - "and they are amazing."

"My wife loved The Deepest Waters even more than my first two books," Walsh said. "Revell has just sent the cover for the book for my approval. It is incredible. I can’t wait for it to come out."

As of now, The Deepest Waters is the first of a new three-book deal, Walsh has with Revell. "While not ruling out a sequel, right now, they are asking me to write 3 stand-alone novels."

His fourth book - a work in progress right now - is tentatively titled The Book Nook, and is another Christmas novel, this time set in 1980 in an "enchanted little bookstore" owned and operated by Art and Leanne Bell. It, he said, contains a "host of charming and eccentric characters, whose lives have been forever changed…at The Book Nook."

What I Thought
I really liked The Homecoming. Walsh said readers may be drawn to novels set during WWII because the books draw us back to a simpler time.

I think one of the things I like about The Homecoming (and The Unfinished Gift) is that life was simple, but yet contained enormous depth.

Ok, let's face it, I "knew" as soon as I read the "pre-release" info, that this book would include a love story between Shawn and Katherine - so it was a bit like knowing what the "last pages" said before you start the book.

However, the storyline was enjoyable and frankly, peaceful. In a world filled with TV shows & novels with themes "ripped from the headlines" the story was like a refreshing drink of cold water on a hot day.

I think I described The Unfinished Gift like a cup of "written" chicken soup. If that's the case, then The Homecoming is a bit like a slice of my grandma's chocolate cake - sweet and rich, yet incredibly simple and delicious.

On a scale of one to five, with five being the highest, I'd give this book at least a 3.5 to 4. I think you'll enjoy Walsh's writing style and how he develops his characters. You may find yourself reading the descriptions of the war bond tour and wanting to find out more of this piece of history.

(I would definitely recommend reading The Unfinished Gift first, before picking up The Homecoming. I think reading the books in order, will provide a richer reading experience.)

Online Resources
Find it at Amazon,
Christianbook.com,
Barnes & Noble.com
or your local bookstore.

Read An Excerpt

Download A Reading Group Guide

More About Dan Walsh
Dan Walsh is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, a church he helped found 23 years ago. He is the author of The Unfinished Gift and lives with his family in the Daytona Beach area. 

"I am an author who loves solitude but needs and likes people," explained Walsh. "I love quiet but also a roomful of friends. I love to laugh, make others laugh and even be laughed at (to a point). But I'm also a sap; I cry way too easily watching movies and inspirational shows.

"But I also like to watch action movies with my son. I eat just a little too much but don't exercise near enough. Finally, I'm nothing without my wife and my Savior's love."

In recent family news, Walsh's daughter is now married, and his son recently became engaged.

"[My wife and I are] looking forward to the possibility of becoming grandparents in the next few years," Walsh explained.

His Favorite Character in this series?: Mrs. Fortini, the Italian grandmother who lives next door. If you read the book...how can you not like her?

Want to read more about The Unfinished Gift? 
Click here for a review and earlier interview.

The Unfinished Gift is set in 1943, a week before Christmas. Patrick’s mother has recently died in a car accident and he is being sent across town to stay with a grandfather he’s never met while the Army tries to locate his father, a bomber pilot in England.

Patrick’s father and grandfather haven’t spoken since before Patrick was born. The book explores the surprising things God uses to affect powerful changes in our hearts; like a little boy’s prayers, a shoebox full of love letters, and an old wooden soldier collecting dust in a grandfather’s attic.

About the Publisher
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit http://www.revellbooks.com/.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blog Tour: Momology (Review & Interview)

What does it take to be a good mom? What could make a mom go from "good" to "great"?

Shelly Radic, chief of staff at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers, Intl)  hopes provide the answers in her newest book "Momology: A Mom's Guide to Shaping Great Kids."

The book focuses on four, interconnected areas which Radic believes - based upon research - that develop and shape "great kids" and develop "healthy, resilient moms and kids": core, finesse, circle and grandscape.

"The research being done on parenting and families is extensive," Radic said. "To shape the content and better understand what moms are most concerned about, we spent several months reviewing research done by agencies and organizations such as the YMCA, Search Institute and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as reviewing the thinking of multiple parenting experts, current university and government research as well as mom websites and blogs.

"About 1,800 moms of preschoolers also responded to surveys specifically for Momology. Momology is also based on what MOPS has learned in over 35 years of working with moms."

Exploring The Four Areas
Radic said the process of developing great kids (and moms) actually beings when the mom create her "core."

"To be healthy and resilient, a mom needs to know and grow who she is, her personality, experiences, passions and potential," explained Radic.

Once the core is cultivated, Radic said, a mom then develops her "finesse" or the ability to successfully interact with her children "caring for them, disciplining them and shaping who they are becoming."

"Circle" the third aspect, explores how a mom needs to develop a "circle of relationships" for support.

Radic said those people often include service providers, neighbors, friends, extended family and most importantly, if married, a husband.

"If [the mom] is not married, having a parenting partner makes a huge difference," Radic continued.

The circle is complete, Radic said, as the mom strives to develop her relationship with God, engaging in His "grandscape" or plan for her life.

This relationship helps the mom develop purpose and hope for both the present and future.

"That relationship positively impacts her core," explained Radic. "You can see how the four areas are both critical for success and interconnected with each other."

The final aspect - developing a "grandscape" - may be one of the key areas for moms.

"There are quite a few studies which support the idea that children who are engaged in a spiritual community have healthier outcomes educationally, emotionally and spiritually," Radic said. "Some I utilized were Search Institute’s Asset research, YMCA’s Building Strong Families study, Promoting Healthy Families in Your Community study by the US. Department of Heath and Human Services and Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability.

"According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, resilient parents and children are likely to feel that they are important and valuable to someone who cares for and about them; life is basically good even when bad thing happen; and there is meaning to life that is bigger and greater than “me” and “now”. In my experience, those things happen best when a healthy church community is supporting both a mom and her child in growing a relationship with God."

Radic believes several things, including the extensive research which went into Momology, sets this book apart from other resources currently available.

"One thing that’s different is that Momology was written in a community of moms, to be lived out within a community of moms," Radic explained. "Not only did I utilize a team of novice and experienced moms to shape the content, I incorporated stories from about 30 very different moms throughout the book.

"Knowing a circle of relationships is critical for mom success, I wove that concept into the content. There is an online community, mom-ology.org, as well as information on joining a mom group.

"Moms are encouraged throughout the book to talk through the concepts with a mentor, peer, friend or within a mothering group. No mom should mother alone."

Another difference, she continued, is that there is no single expert in Momology.

"Moms are encouraged to consider research, opinions and best practices of other moms to become the expert for her own family," Radic said.

Through it all, Radic said, its important that a mom remember to remain confident that she is "uniquely designed to mother her children."

What I Thought
I liked this book. As a "minister to families with children," one of the things I strive to do is find resources that  moms can not only read, but utliize in their families.

Considering how many things bombard moms for their time and energies, most of my moms are looking for practical resources that can make a difference - and well, are realistic and not just "book smart."

I think Radic has created such a resource.

The four areas highlighted in the book: core, finesse, circle and grandscape, provide tangible ideas and ways moms can strengthen not only their children, but also their own lives.

I think Radic's idea that moms develop their own spiritual foundation first, before striving to impact their child's spiritual development is crucial. Faith development begins at home, and it's not just limited to children - parents play a vital role in helping their children grow in the faith.

In all, I believe this is a strong "keep around" resource, that moms will refer to in a variety of ways.

More About The Author
Shelly Radic is Chief of Staff at MOPS International, author of The Birthday Book, and a regular contributor to MOPS publications. Her writing is informed by her education, mothering her four children, and twenty years of MOPS experience. She lives in Colorado.

Read An Excerpt Online:
Click here!

Buy It Online:
Amazon,
Christianbook.com,
Barnes & Noble.com
or your local bookstore.
Bulk discounts on orders of 20+ available from www.direct2church.com

About the Publisher
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit http://www.revellbooks.com/.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 
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