Sunday, October 24, 2010

Blog Tour: Emily's Chance (Review)

It may be a small town, but it’s a rung on her ladder to success.

That’s simply how Emily Rose views her work at the Callahan Crossing Historical Museum.

This job, found in the tiny West Texas town of Callahan Crossing, will help her break into the larger, more prestigious curator’s world in a big city museum.

What happens when a cowboy and construction contractor – Chance Callahan – decides that he wants Emily to stay in Callahan Crossing, not only to work in the museum, but also as his wife?

Emily finds herself not only uncovering not only Callahan Crossing’s history, but also how she values love.

What I Thought
This is the second novel in Sharon Gillenwater’s Callahan Crossing series, which focuses on a family living in a small western town. The tales are simple, direct and to the point.

In this novel – Emily’s Chance – Gillenwater unpacks the story of Chase Callahan as he falls in love and courts Emily Rose – even as she chases her dream career.

On a scale of one to five, with five being the highest, I give this novel at least a 3.5 to 4. Gillenwater has created a series of characters that are quite delightful. You may find yourself wishing Callahan’s Crossing truly existed. Gillenwater has definitely captured the reality and joy of living in a small town.

More about Jenna’s Cowboy
Want to read my review of Gillenwater’s first novel, along with an interview? Click here!

More About The Author
Sharon Gillenwater was born and raised in West Texas and loves to write about her native state.

The author of several novels, including Jenna's Cowboy, she is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.

When she's not writing, she and her husband enjoy spending time with their son, daughter-in-law, and two adorable grandchildren. She lives in Washington.

Online Resources
Read an Excerpt from Emily’s Chance
Buy It Amazon
Buy it at CBD
 Find it at Barnes & Noble

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
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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blog Tour: Don't Look Back (Review & Interview)

Jamie Cash is stuck between two men – one who wants to see her dead, the other who is fighting for her life.

Cash is at the center of Lynette Eason’s newest addition to the Women of Justice series – Don’t Look Back.

The story tells how Cash, who survived a brutal kidnapping 12 years earlier, has put her life back together thanks to hours of therapy and prayer. Since graduating from college, she has taken a position as a forensic anthropologist.

But her past – full of brutal and frightening memories – threatens to overtake her new life, as Cash discovers that her attacker is back, with a vengious.

About the Series
Eason crafted the Women of Justice series because of her interest in law enforcement.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the people who catch the bad guys,” Eason said. “I love Kathy Reichs’ books. I'm just amazed that anyone can do what she does and not puke.

“Seriously, I can read in detail how to do an autopsy or work with bones, dead people, etc, but I could never do it in real life.”

Through that interest, Eason developed Cash’s life story – which included a violent past.

“I wondered about the faith journey of someone who'd been traumatized in a really bad way,” Eason said. “We live in a violent world. Unfortunately, stuff like what I wrote about in the book happens. It's not pretty.

“But as ugly as the crime was, I wanted to show how much bigger our God is. How someone who suffered such indignities and horrors and lived to tell about it, could turn it into something that could help others. She could move past it and let God be the one to get her through it.”

Eason said Cash is her favorite character in the series, for a variety of reasons.

“She fascinated me,” she said. “The book required tons of research and I just really got to know my characters well. They became my buddies. I had to fight for them, pray about them, etc.

“Jamie needed the most prayer. I just loved her determination to conquer her fear and the terror of her past.”

Eason admits she puts a little bit of herself in each character – specifically characteristics she would like to have or develop more.

Initially, Eason envisioned two novels for the series. However, editors suggested she add a plot twist in book two – which led to the main heroine in an additional novel.

The next novel will focus on Kit, a young woman who discovered through a twist in book two that she is actually Jamie Cash’s twin sister.

“Kit is a hostage negotiator who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she was put up for adoption while her parents kept the other two children,” Eason said. “ She takes a job in the hometown of her newly discovered birth family and sets out about getting to know them. Unfortunately in doing so, she attracts the attention of a killer.”

Eason said the addition of Kit provides a bit of surprise, a lot of conflict and “shows one more way how God can bring through something ‘bad.’”

Through it all, Eason said God has taught her a variety lessons while crafting her novels – chiefly perseverance.

“Never give up when you know God wants you to do something for Him,” Eason said, adding she has also learned to pray constantly, always staying in God’s will.

“While I knew all that before writing the books, the experience of writing them has just brought these facts home to me, over and over,” she said.

What I Thought
I liked Don’t Look Back. Gritty at times, and very realistic, Eason has captured the story of a woman who is haunted by her past, but resolute in moving toward a brighter future.

Evil exists in the world. Through Jamie Cash’s story, Eason is able to tell a story of how God can redeem any situation.

On a scale of one to five, with five being the highest. I give this a four. This novel has strong characters, a convincing back story and a strong story line. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.

More About The Author
Lynette Eason is the author of Too Close to Home and three other romantic suspense novels. She is a member of American Fiction Christian Writers and Romance Writers of America.
A homeschooling mother of two, she has a master's degree in education from Converse College. She lives in South Carolina.

Online Resources
Read an excerpt
Buy it at Amazon 
Find it at Barnes & Noble
Get it at CBD
Read my review of Too Close To Home – click here.

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

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.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blog Tour: The Waiting (Review & Interview)

In her newest novel, Suzanne Woods Fisher steps back in time to 1960s to examine life for two Amish families coping with happiness and hardships, all while holding fast to the tie that binds them - their faith.

The Waiting tells the story of Jorie King - who has placed her life on hold waiting for Ben Zook to return to Lancaster County.

It also tells the story of Caleb and Mary Ann, who find themselves waiting for a cure when Mary Ann develops a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.

Delving into The Waiting
The Waiting's plot, grew out of a set of papers that once belonged to Fisher's grandfather, who was once a one-room school teacher in Franklin County, Penn.

"My cousins have collected reminiscences of those years," explained Fisher. "Reading through them gave me an idea about a schoolteacher. Voila…Jorie King!"

The novel's setting - in the midst of 1960s America - came from Fisher's love of history.

"Writing about the Amish creates certain boundaries—the stories are character-driven within limited plot lines," Fisher said. "I think studying the Amish over the last century is particularly interesting. They’ve weathered so many radical changes in society."

Fisher said under the direction of her editor, she found herself researching Amish life in 1965 - which meant setting the novel in the midst of the Vietnam War and the draft.

"A story evolved from that point about the Amish and conscientious objecting," Fisher said. "I didn’t really go too far into the complexities of the Vietnam War - intentionally.

"I wanted to concentrate on how a young man, who was raised with a very sensitive conscience, could cope with the reality of war."

Fisher centers her story around Ben Zook, the Amish man who went off to serve in Vietnam, and the people he left behind including Caleb and Jorie. It shows how they deal with life - especially once they believe he is killed during the war.

Fisher based Caleb Zook on an Old Order Amish bishop whom she admires personally. She deliberately chose to make Caleb a little bit older and wiser, but not too removed from his brothers.She also chose to give him a trial to deal with - Mary Ann's illness - as a way to show his humanity. 

"I wanted Caleb to have a “scar,” Fisher said. "He seems almost perfect, but he was grieving deeply and didn’t know how to get beyond his grief."

After Mary Ann's death, Caleb and Jorie find themselves first relying on each other as friends - then in a deeper way. This new commitment is threatened when they learn that Ben did not die, but is rather quite mentally ill in a veteran's hospital.

Their lives are challenged again, when Caleb decides to bring his brother back to the family farm, rather than rely solely on medical intervention.

Fisher said Caleb's response of skepticism and discerning - to the type of treatments doctors wanted to use on Ben - electric shock and prescription medication - may have been typical of Amish living in the 1960s.

" I think most of the medical community had the opposite response to these new treatments—they were enthusiastic, convinced they held the cure," Fisher said. "In this story, remember it's a story, Caleb understood that Ben’s mental illness had something to do with unresolved guilt. It had a spiritual component to it that treatments would only mask."

Ultimately, Fisher hopes readers discover how the characters of The Waiting cope with unresolved guilt, grief and redemption.

"There’s a line that Caleb uses: 'Our memories shape us, good and bad,'" Fisher said. "I think there’s much to ponder in that sentence. God is always in the business of redemption. He can use all of our experiences to help us grow more Christ-like."

What's Next
Fisher plans to write two more books in this series.

The first, The Search, (Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011 release) is based upon the same town of Stoney Ridge, but set in 1972 - when a public school crisis for the Amish reaches the US Supreme Court.

Caleb Zook and his daughter, Maggie, appear in the novel, but it focuses on two young women who find themselves in Stoney Ridge - with a secret which bonds them together.

The second, a Christmas novel (Oct. 2011) takes place during a Christmas weekend. It reunites two characters from The Choice (book one) Mattie Zook and Solomon Riehl.

More About Fisher
In addition to "birthing" novels, Fisher has become a grandmother to newborn Blake, who lives with his parents - Fisher's daughter and son-in-law - in Rhode Island. (Which she says, sadly, is quite far from her California home.)

Through her writing for Revell, Fisher said she has become friends with some remarkable Amish families.

"I always hope to honor them with these books," Fisher said. "I really do believe that the Amish, at their best, are seeking the heart of Christ in a way that is an example to us all."

What I Thought
I am continually impressed with the authenticity I find in Fisher's novels, along with the depth of the story lines. Rather than create a "feel good" story, Fisher uses her words to show the good, the bad and the ugly parts of life.

The Amish characters give the novels a different "twist," but Fisher's stories could easily take place using "everyday" people.

Fisher creates realistic characters, who struggle to combine their faith with everyday living. People who strive to not only talk about their faith, but live it - regardless of its consequences.

I think a subplot, in The Waiting, involving Jorie's struggle to help the town's new vet find housing - even while her English neighbors discriminate against him because of the color of his skin - help give the the book's setting a realistic taste.

On the scale of one to five, with five being the highest, I definitely give The Waiting a four. This is a novel you may find yourself reading again, or at least, passing along to a friend.

Want to read my interview with Fisher and the review of book one The Choice? Click here.

More About The Author
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the CBA bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, Amish Peace, and Amish Proverbs. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Penn. Benedict eventually became publisher of Christianity Today magazine.

Fisher is the host of a radio show called Amish Wisdom and her work has appeared in many magazines. She lives in California.

You can read more about her at her website: or by finding her on Facebook.

Online Resources
Read an Excerpt
Find it at Amazon

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

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, October 15, 2010

Blog Tour: Always, A Teen Devo (Review)

Does your faith make a difference in your life?

Does what you hear at church on Sunday affect the rest of your week? Maybe you let your beliefs remain at a surface level, never letting them really change who you are. But when you read and study the words of Jesus, you can't help but grow in your faith.

What I Thought
Always, the third installment in Melody Carson's Words from the Rock series, contains 90 devotions (two pages each in length) that cover a variety of topics including pain, joy, love, faith and more.

Each topic starts with a nugget of scripture or Words from the Rock, a brief devo, a prayer and a final word from the scriptures. It also includes a "Stone for the Journey" or a closing thought that wraps everything up.

In fact, I really believe Carson's words help "unpack" Jesus' message in a way that teens can apply it to their life - in the highs and lows of school, family life, relationships and more.

I chose to review this book, because several young women in my church are fans of Carson's TrueColor's series. I wanted to see how she turned her fiction skills towards devos.

I was not disappointed - in fact, I've already decided to immediately pass this devo along to one of my students. This devo book (or the companion volumes: True or Life) is definitely one that girls can use to grow closer to God.

More About The Author
Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of more than two hundred books, several of them Christmas novellas from Revell, including her much-loved and bestselling book, The Christmas Bus.

She also writes many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, the Diary of a Teenage Girl series, the TrueColors series, and the Carter House Girls series.

Carson  was nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her books, including the Notes from a Spinning Planet series and Finding Alice, which is in production as a Lifetime Television movie. She and her husband serve on the Young Life adult committee in central Oregon. Visit her website at

On-Line Resources
Read an Excerpt From Always
Buy it at Amazon

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

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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Letting go

I have a friend, who is serving at Gitmo as a chaplain. For the past nine months (or so) since he started his deployment, I've tried to figure out what to send as a care package. I wanted it to be good - not a cheesy, package.

Let's face it, I was probably over-thinking the package. I'm learning that sometimes you just have to stop thinking about things, and just "do it" (yes, think Nike!)

So this week, thanks to some help from the kids at Timothy Team & the M&M Day at church (Marvelous & Magnificent Day (camp)) I finally pulled together a package to send to my friend.
The gang who made most of the cards....a few of the Timothy Team kids aren't pictured....
During the last two weeks, I've had the kids at church color "happy notes" for my friend to hand out.
The cards, as created by First UMC kids!
Simple and direct. On the back of the cards, we posted information about the children's ministry and gave the kids a place to write their name on the back.
The back of the card - didn't Henley write his name well!

So Tuesday morning, I went shopping for candy - anything that sounded good and wouldn't melt as it traveled via the military to Cuba - along with a special request from my friend's sweet tooth!
The candy & cards
It took a lot of "packing" (I actually had to get another box) to get all of the candy in a "flat shipping rate" box from the Post Office.
Um, I think I need a new box....
So the box is on it's way to Cuba. Hopefully it will arrive before Halloween.

Here's the deal though. I almost didn't send anything, because I was worried that this wasn't enough.

I mean, really, when you get right down to it - it's a box of note cards and candy. Not much "substance" but instead, a gift mailed with a lot of good wishes and prayers sent by the students.

I've wanted to do something for a long time, but I almost let my fear and indecision keep me from doing something.

If  I waited, I would have missed out on being able to bless a friend, who in turn, can pass along the blessings to people he serves with on the army base. I would have also denied the kids @ church a chance to make cards for a group of soldiers.

Sometimes the church in general is like this. We (collective we) talk about doing things, and even make plans - but somehow our follow-through ends up lacking. We let our indecision keep us in a rut - and miss out on the possible joy and excitement found in the unknown.

So, for once, I've set aside the worry and the indecision, and maybe even fear of being "not quite perfect" in order to do something that will hopefully bless others.

What will you do today to bless someone? What is keeping you from being a blessing?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Makin' Dog Biscuits

One of the service/fun projects at last week's M&M Day involved making dog biscuits.

The plan is to bag up the biscuits and have them available during the Soup Sampler - asking people to make a donation towards the 2011 Destination: Mission trips.

I wish I had pics of the kids rolling them out. I guess I forgot to pick up the camera - we got busy making them, and well, I only have a picture of the finished product.

The biscuits turned out GREAT! The kids loved making them (the dough was a bit "tough" because it was like bread dough), and according to the moms who "test drove" the finished product, it is definitely puppy approved!

So, here's the recipe we used, if you want to try and make it yourself!
Economy Cookies
From MacPherson's K-9 Cookbook: Dog Biscuit Recipes

by Mary MacPherson
1/3 C. Margarine (butter) softened
3 C. Whole wheat flour
1/2 C. Powdered skim milk
1/4 tsp. Garlic powder
3/4 C. Water, room temp.
1 Egg, beaten
Baking spray

1) In a large mixing bowl, cream margarine (or butter) with flour with a pastry cutter. Set aside.

2) In a small bowl, dissolve powdered skim milk and garlic powder in water and wisk in beaten egg.

3) Make a well in the flour mixture and gradually stir in egg mixture until well blended.

4) Knead dough on a floured surface, about 3 to 4 minutes, until dough sticks together and is easy to work with. Then with a rolling pin, roll dough to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thickness.

5) Cut with a cookie cutter and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 50 minutes at 325 degrees.

6) Cool on a rack until hard and store, at room temperature, in a container with a loose-fitting lid.

Want to try a couple of other recipes? 
Here's some "tried and true" treats
made by my friend Mariesa!

Dog Biscuits
2 C. Wheat flour
1 Egg
1 Box of Jiffy Corn Meal
1/3 C. Oil
1 tbsp. Salt,
1 C. Water.

Mix together and roll teaspoon full of dough into balls and place on the greased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. Bake for 20-25 minutes @ 350 degrees until browned. Mariesa said a batch makes approx. 80 small (pecan ball) sized biscuits.

Liver Biscuits
1 lb. Liver, pureed.
1 C. Flour,
1 Box of Jiffy Corn Meal
1 tbsp. Oil
1 Egg

Mix ingredients together, and spread in a 13 x 9-inch pan lined with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 mintues.
Mariesa said that she likes to cut them into 1-1/2-inch squares, kind of like brownies.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Makin' Cupcakes - budget style!

When I first saw Amanda’s recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes, I was planning the snacks for last week’s M&M Day.
Amanda's yummy cupcakes
I thought – yum, the best of all worlds – cupcakes with icing AND cookie dough – I mean, how can you go wrong.

While Amanda’s recipe sounded, well, amazing, We (my partner in crime – Lane and I) decided that a recipe that called for EIGHT (yes, eight) sticks of butter (between the cookie dough, cupcakes and icing) might get a bit pricey for a kid-treat.

So, we decided to make the cupcakes using a kid-friendly budget.

So this is the “Budget”
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake Recipe!
Instead of homemade cookie dough, I purchased frozen dough from Sam's Club, and made frozen cookie dough balls the night before.
Dough Balls Modeled by Biz
Then we sacrificed the “homemade” cupcake mix for good old Betty Crocker cake mix, Halloween Funfetti icing and mini chocolate chips.

After mixing the cake mix as directed, we poured them into “plain jane” cupcake holders.
Isn’t Lincoln doing a good job filling the holders!
Next we put the frozen balls of dough into the cupcakes.
Lane helps Jonathan put the dough into the cupcakes.
Ready for the oven.
After the cupcakes baked we let the kids ice them – yes they liked the sprinkles. (We forgot to put the mini chocolate chips on them.)
Finished Cupcakes
Here’s a look at how our cupcakes looked when it was broken open….
Not as pretty as Amanda's, but still yummy!
Not as pretty as Amanda's....but the kids definitely loved them...
Hannah eating her treat.
The Ultimate "Budget"
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes
Supply List:
1 large tub of frozen cookie dough (we purchased it at Sam's Club)
2 boxes of vanilla cake mix (we used Betty Crocker)
Eggs and oil, as required by cake mix
3 tubs of packaged vanilla icing
1 pkg. (48-50) count cupcake liners
1 pkg. mini-chocolate chips (optional)
Sprinkles (lots!)

Amanda’s ultimate recipe
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes 
with Cookie Dough Buttercream Frosting
For the cookie dough:
2 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips
(For the frozen dough, to go in the cupcakes, she substituted milk for the egg....) 

For the cupcakes:
3 sticks softened butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:
3 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the cookie dough, combine the butter and sugars in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 mins.

Beat in milk and vanilla until incorporated and smooth. Beat in the flour and salt until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Using a 1.5 tbsp scoop, shape the dough into balls or tubes. Freeze on a parchment lined baking sheet overnight.

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners (24 total).  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and brown sugar.  Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir together to blend.  Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl on low speed, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, mixing each addition just until incorporated.  Blend in the vanilla.

Using a 3 tbsp scoop, fill the prepared cupcake liners 2/3 full with the cupcake batter. Place a frozen cookie dough ball on the top center of each cupcake.
Bake at 350 for 16-18 mins.

To make the frosting, combine the butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.  Beat in the salt, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth and combined.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips!
Makes 24 cupcakes.

Cookie dough adapted from Picky Palate. Cupcake and frosting adapted from Annie’s Eats.

Want to check out the original post that started this all? Complete with her awesome pictures.
Click here!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy 10-10-10 Day

It's 10-10-10 (also known as Sept. 10, 2010)!

Today's date is one of those fun quirks of the calendar that causes me to smile!

So, in honor of 10-10-10, what are 10 things that make you smile?

(Here are a few of mine, in no particular order)

1) Jessica Sprague @
Jessica is hosting a sale in honor of 10-10-10 on her website on her Photoshop Friday mini-tutorials. If you've been wanting to try to increase your photoshop knowledge or if you've wanted to try doing digital scrapbooking, then check out these tutorials. (You can get 10 of the 21 available for just $10 today only!) Correction - as long as you order 10, everything in your cart will be $1 each! Woot woot!

2) Amanda @
Amanda has the most lovely fonts, that always make me smile. I even used two to create my happy graphic.

3) Kate Hadfield @
Kate's happy designs, always make me smile. I use her stuff to design my children's ministry blog. The link above is her "new" digi home (she sells exclusively at the Lily Pad).

4) The Designers @ 
My digi home on the internet. I love all of the designers at this store. I use a TON of their creations in my stuff.

5) Friends
Friends always make me smile - especially a few that I'm blessed to live by. I'm very thankful for all of my friends.

6) Family
Family always make me smile (OK, some more than others - but isn't that just life?). I'm grateful for the family who put up with my antics on a regular basis!

7) DevoZine @
I'm very grateful and thrilled to be writing for this wonderful teen devo mag on a somewhat regular basis again. They gave me my first "foot" in the publishing world door oh so many years ago, and it's almost like coming home. Looking for something for your teen? Why not check out DevoZine.

8) Facebook
Yes, it sounds silly, but Facebook makes me happy. I'm able to connect with friends literally all around the world. It helps me stay in contact with people I care about.

9) Yellow Flowers, Fat Red Robins & Frog Rings.
Ok, I confess. I love yellow flowers (especially Gerber daises) for two reasons. I love the simplicity of the flower and yellow makes me think of my friend Nicole, who now lives in England. (We also had a running joke about fat red robins - a sure sign of spring!)

I also love looking at my finger and seeing my frog ring - which reminds me of my friend Betsy in Texas. Both were extremely important to me in Seminary, and these small reminders often encourage me to pray for them.

10) My Blog
Yes, sounds self-promoting, but I love how this blog is giving me a creative writing outlet. I've had it since 2006, and it's changed and grown with my interests. I love how I can use it to ramble, review books and more.

So what are you happy about today?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Blog Tour: The House on Malcom Street (Review)

When tragedy steals her future, can Leah learn to trust again?

It is the autumn of 1920, and Leah Breckenridge is desperate to find a way to provide for her young daughter. After losing her husband and infant son, she is angry at God and fearful about the days ahead. Finding refuge in a boardinghouse run by her late husband's aunt, Leah begins the slow process of mending her heart.

Is it the people who surround her--or perhaps this very house--that reach into her heart with healing? As Leah finds peace tending to an abandoned garden, can she find a way to trust God with her future?

What I Thought
 I liked about the book - I think the author, Leisha Kelly, is very skilled at creating novels set during the early 1900s. She uses words to draw you into a simpler time, when families (those by blood and by friendship) pull together to help others.

I thought she created a novel that shows how redemption can come in the midst of tragic grief. She also created a novel with strong characters, who struggle with issues that people can relate to in today's world.

What I didn't like - but it's common for several novels - is that the point of view "jumps" between Leah and the main male character. I really dislike books that do this, because it breaks up the flow, and my train of thought.

However, if you do not mind all of the transitions, then you'll probably like how Kelly weaves together the two characters thoughts into one novel. It's crafted quite similarly to her previous three novels.

On a scale of one to five, with five being the highest I give it at least a three. While it's not my favorite read this fall, it's good enough to pass along to a friend.

About The Author
Leisha Kelly is the author of several bestselling historical fiction books, including Emma's Gift, Julia's Hope, and Katie's Dream.

She has served many years on her local library board, continuing to bring good reads and educational opportunities to her community.

Once a waitress, cafe manager, tutor, and EMT, Kelly is now a busy novelist and speaker who is active in the ministries of her church. She lives with her family in Illinois. Read more about her at

Online Resources
Barnes & Noble
and local bookstores
An online excerpt - House on Malcom Street

About Revell, 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

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.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bring On The Pets!

Last night, a friend invited me to a pet blessing, organized by the pastoral staff at First UMC – Springdale.

The event, which coincides with the anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s death on Oct. 3 (his feast day is celebrated on Oct. 4), brought together a variety of pet owners and animals alike for an outdoor worship service & ice cream social.

It was fun to see how a United Methodist church conducted the blessing event (the last one I saw took place at an Episcopal church when I was covering lifestyle stories for the Carthage Press.)

The pet blessing was a great community-building activity, that gave pet owners and an eclectic assortment of animals - mostly cats and dogs, with a couple of horses tossed in - a place to unite their faith and love of animals.

It was a bit noisy, and even smelly at times – and there were a few “rough and tumble” moments as a few dogs tried to stake out some territory, but overall it was a great way to minister to a variety of people, regardless of age. 

I took a variety of pictures, and well, “hit a home run” on at least one picture. In my previous life, working for a community newspaper, I’d call this pic a “front page” worthy pic – definitely an “above the fold” picture.  I mean, how many times do you see a dog, petting a horse?  This photo just makes me smile.

Here’s a few other pictures I snapped at the event.
I love this one, because it’s almost a “double blessing” (Steven Coburn blessing a pet in the foreground, with David Freeman in the back of the picture.)

I also liked these pictures of David Freeman, blessing two little girls’ puppy, and Judy Van Hoose, posing for a photo, as she blessed a friend's puppy.

We’ll have more on this event, along with a ton of pictures (my other pics and some taken by Karen Swales) as a Pulpit Stories feature later this month (they appear on Wednesdays) on (Blush, the error is fixed now.)

Deep Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude

“Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for nothing.” – Philippians 2:14-16 (The Message)

A week ago, as I returned to “reality” after a multi-day retreat, I started a “gratitude” journal on the advice of a friend.

My friend told me how she has kept a  journal for the past year, to help her focus on the good things taking place in her life - even when the “blecky” stuff came crashing down around her.

Since I’ve been trying to SEE life HALF-FULL this year, I decided keeping a gratitude journal might help me, well, adjust my attitude.

I’ll admit, it’s been an interesting first week. Some days, it was much easier to find something to be grateful about, than others.

Monday, my gratitude revolved around finding my “circle of children” ring, I lost the night before in Denni’s back yard.

I was tremendously grateful for a friend who helped me search (for more than an hour) in the grass, for a priceless (because of sentimental reasons) ring.

- My aunt gave it to me when I finished my master’s degree. It’s been since discontinued by James Avery. -

I was also grateful for a friend who loaned me a metal detector, to help jumpstart the search, and Denni’s kidlets, who helped search for the ring – in between playing on the swing set.

The first day helped set the tone for my week. Other days I found myself grateful for a great brainstorming session revolving around the spring mission trip, a long phone conversation with my cousin, and a four-hour nap (yes, apparently I was tired) on Saturday.

I know I’ve only been journaling my gratitude for a week, but I think it’s already helping me “adjust” my attitude, and see life differently – half-full, rather than empty. I know it’s helped me go to bed each night focusing on something positive, rather than the usual worries.

My friend said looking back over her gratitude journal helped paint an interesting picture of her life over the course of the last year. I know she’s still processing the impact of this effort.

I’m not sure what God is teaching me, by keeping a gratitude journal, but I’m open to the lesson. I guess you could say I’m grateful for the chance to have this life lesson.

So what are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Several months ago, because of "small world" connections, I was given the opportunity to review Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxes.

I was intrigued by the book after discovering Metaxes' previous biography - Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. This book, and subsequent movie, moved rapidly up my "keep and read (watch) multiple times."

A chance to listen to a podcast presentation Metaxas made at Asbury Theological Seminary (my alma mater), helped confirm that I wanted to read his newest work.

I'll admit. This biography of Bonhoeffer is no mind-candy offering. Instead of plowing through it within a few days, it took me more than a month to absorb Metaxes' story of Bonhoeffer's as a pastor, and later as a spy and martyr. 

In fact, several months later, I still find myself thinking about the book and Bonhoeffer's story. A recent news story that former President George W. Bush is currently reading this biography reminded me that this review/post is long overdue.

If you compare books to food (I often find the analogy helps put things into context for the students I  work with), this book is not "cotton candy" for your brain. It is premium "steak and potatoes," and it definitely will take some time to digest.

Reading Bonhoeffer's story of struggle - and his desire to serve God no matter what - left me convicted. It made me question what I would do if found in his situation. It also left me struggling to view current issues within his framework of social justice and personal holiness.

I am struck how scarily similar some of our current political situations mirror pre-WWII Germany - especially the polarizing and anger-filled political arena. In fact, Metaxes has written a few posts on his website, including this one, that might indicate American politics are sliding down a slippery slope once traveled by the German people. (Click here to read more.)

In the end, as I finished reading this biography, I was left with several questions. (I originally hoped to include an interview with Metaxes with this post, but scheduling changes - his book is a hit on the national scene - made that impossible.)

So, what can we learn from Bonhoeffer? I think we can learn that sometimes "black and white" answers don't work. Sometimes a person must rely on their faith, rather than what the world says is right. I think sometimes we have to go against popular opinion to do the right thing. I also think that we have a moral and social obligation to take stands on issues, regardless of popular/cultural opinions.

I also think we need to remember that even as Bonhoeffer worked to overthrow Hitler, he steeped his life deeply in prayer and personal devotions. He never turned his eyes off of the "main" thing - God - and because of that, he never lost focus on what was most important.

He also asked tough questions related to who/what was the church and what was the church's response to the blatant abuse of minorities (his neighbors) by a government.

I also think, just like Bonhoeffer asked the "Jewish" question (what should a Christian church/pastor's response be to how Hitler's government treated Jews), we, as Christians need to look at how minorities - specifically illegal and legal immigrants, alike - are treated.

I think ultimately, Bonhoeffer's tale, published on the 65th anniversary of his death, is a timeless tale of how one man (among many) stood up for his believes, regardless of the consequences.

I'm still learning a lot from Bonhoeffer. I hope his words continue to resonate in my mind. He definitely reminds me that one person can make a difference.

More About The Author
In a decidedly eclectic career, Eric Metaxas has written for VeggieTales, Chuck Colson, and the New York Times, three things not ordinarily in the same sentence. He is a best-selling author whose biographies, children’s books, and works of popular apologetics have been translated into Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, and Macedonian.

Metaxas has been frequently featured as a cultural commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel; and has discussed his own books on C-Span’s Book TV and Hannity & Colmes. He has been featured on many radio programs, including NPR’s Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation, Hugh Hewitt, the Bob Grant Show, Janet Parshall’s America, Monica Crowley, and The Alan Colmes Show.

He is the founder and host of Socrates in the City: Conversations on the Examined Life, a monthly event of”entertaining and thought-provoking discussions on ‘life, God, and other small topics’” that features such speakers as Dr. Francis Collins, Sir John Polkinghorne, Baroness Caroline Cox, Dana Gioia, Os Guinness and Peter Kreeft, and which was mentioned in a front-page story in the New York Times. The New Canaan Society, of which Eric is a founding and current member, was also mentioned in the article.

His acclaimed biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery was published by HarperSanFrancisco, and is the “official companion book” to the feature film, also titled Amazing Grace. The book was #23 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and has been lauded by Stanley Crouch (”…a superb history of the British fight against slavery”; Former NYC Congressman Floyd Flake (”magnificent… will stand as a living landmark…”); John Wilson (”a crackling bonfire of clarity and truth.”); Rudy Giuliani (”better than the movie!”), and many others.

Metaxes' Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask), came out in 2005, and was praised by Ann B. Davis, Alice on The Brady Bunch (”I am absolutely smitten with this book!”), Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (”The difficulty is not to gush.”). The sequel, titled Everything ELSE You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask) was published in 2007.  A new book in the series titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (The Jesus Edition) was published in hardcover by Regal in January 2010.

Metaxes attends Calvary/St. George’s Episcopal Church, and lives in Manhattan, New York, with his wife and daughter.  Read more about him at:

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Eric Metaxes. 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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