Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday Salon (on Monday): Best Books of the Year so Far

I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the best books I've read so far this year since we're halfway through it. (YIKES)

These will be books that I read this year, not necessarily published this year. I linked to the review if I had one.

A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman
A heartpounding epic romance. Of course I love it!

Trouble the Water by Nicole Seitz
I thought this was a beautiful book of healing. It really connected with me emotionally as well.

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
This man can write. He took a somewhat tired story idea and breathed such reality into it, that you truly felt like you had walked in the shoes of the characters. Outstanding detail and characterization.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
What can I say? I loved every scandalous page.

Names my Sisters Call Me by Megan Crane
I love Megan Crane's writing but feel this book far surpassed the others. At times serious and other times funny, it's a keeper.

And now the BEST books I've read so far this year...

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
I loved this book because it explored some hard questions. Author's intention or not, I feel like she put flesh onto some of the difficult questions we face in our time about the nature of charity and the true definition of poverty. This book and its characters resurface in my mind long after I finished reading and that to me is success.

Silence by Shusaku Endo
This book makes the list of my favorite books of all time. I couldn't put it down while reading, when I did it was only to contemplate the story. I remember that I got goosebumps while reading the last few pages! Like TGWSS, the characters and story have come back to me long after reading. It's accomplished what so few books can do and has become part of the fabric of who I am.

What are your favorite books so far this year? Are you also blogging about it? Leave a link below!

These are Some Contests and Yes I'd Like to Win Them

The most surefire way to get links to your blog (apart from writing stunning in-depth posts) is to have a contest and offer extra entries for the link.

So because I happen to like these blogs anyway, and because I also enjoy winning, here are some contests!

Jen is having her second Movie Madness Carnival tomorrow! Yay! She's really open on what you write about, it just has to be related to movies. You'll be thrilled to know I'm going to tell you all about why I love French Kiss. But wait! There's a contest involved! There's a really awesome movie food basket up for grabs. It includes lots of things that are probably not very good for you. But who cares? It's summer--time to watch a good movie.

Trish of Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin? is having one of those huge 14 book giveaways from Hachette Group USA. In any case, it's really important that you enter this because for each 50 entries they'll give away another lot of 14 books. Up to five. so, um get over there.

So have fun everyone!

Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray



Hidden is the story of a young girl named Anna who is on the run from an abusive, yet powerful boyfriend. She takes shelter at an Amish Bed and Breakfast where she attempts to blend in while she sorts out her life. While there, she also meets a handsome young Amish man and they share a powerful attraction.

If you're a big fan of Amish Christian Fiction, don't expect to find a tremendous amount of detail in this book. It's a very fast and light read. I have to admit that while I enjoyed it, I still found certain aspects of it to be pretty unrealistic. Having said that, you can still get some of the Amish ambiance from the book and it has a nice love story. It's slender in size and very easy to tuck in your purse so you might enjoy reading it while waiting at the doctor's office or something.

The writing style is pretty straightforward as well, no stunning prose to be found, but nothing terribly distracting either.

It does have a gorgeous cover!
Hidden was published by Avon Inspire an imprint of Harper Collins and is available now.

FIRST: When Did My Life Become a Game of Twister? by Mary Pierce



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!






Today's Wild Card author is:





and her book:



When Did My Life Become a Game of Twister

Zondervan (November 1, 2007)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

INSPIRATIONAL HUMOR


Looking for fun and inspiration? Mary Pierce tickles the funny bone as she touches hearts, offering wit and wisdom to corporate and community audiences at women’s health and wellness events, caregiver and senior gatherings, and church retreats since 1996.

She offers an entertaining and positive motivational message, inviting audiences to laugh along and learn with multi-media presentations filled with comic relief, practical teaching, and a powerful message of hope and encouragement.

Mary Pierce is the author of three books of inspirational humor for women, published by Zondervan/HarperCollins:

When Did I Stop Being Barbie and Become Mrs. Potato Head? (2003)
Confessions of a Prayer Wimp (2005)
When Did My Life Become a Game of Twister (2007)

With degrees in education and business (University of Minnesota and University of Redlands), she’s worked as a stockbroker, teacher and corporate trainer, and has co-hosted a radio interview program. She’s met life’s changes and challenges with unfailing optimism, deep faith, and a lively sense of humor. She and her husband Terry share six children and seven grandchildren, and a fox terrorist named Izzy, and they are full-time caregivers for Mary’s 94-year-old mother.

They live in Wisconsin where Mary dreams of getting her act together…someday.

CONTACT MARY to find out how she can help make your upcoming event MOTIVATING, ENCOURAGING AND FUN for all who attend!

Visit her at her website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (November 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310272378
ISBN-13: 978-0310272373

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

PART ONE

THE GAME BEGINS

“Right Foot Red!” Bossy calls.
We laugh and step onto a red circle.
“This is nothing,” we say, “Bring it on!”


Chapter One

Twisted Sister

Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff,” never got a good look at my thighs.

I did the other day. It was not a pretty sight. I was in the sporting goods store at the mall. I didn’t intend to go in there, but I forgot where I parked my car. (I hate when that happens. It happens a lot. Especially lately.)

There I was, wandering through the sporting goods store, trying to get to an exit. That’s not easy. Have you noticed how stores are laid out these days? I’ve been shopping long enough to remember when you could make a beeline from the front door to the department you wanted and back out again. Now walking through a store is like navigating an obstacle course and requires a degree of agility I don’t possess.

Straight aisles are a thing of the past. The art of merchandising is a diabolical plot to trap consumers in the store, expose them to as many displays of goods as possible, and get them so confused and frustrated that they will hand over their wallets gladly, just to be able to escape.

So, trapped as I was, I had little choice but to wander through the displays of camping, skiing, boating, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, treading, kayaking, swimming, lifting, running, scuba diving, fishing, tennis, baseball, racquetball, basketball, football, soccer, lumberjacking, and whaling equipment. Somewhere between the fishing tackle section and the football tackle department, I found myself trapped behind a rack of tiny—TINY—swimsuits. There wasn’t enough fabric there to cover my left elbow, much less the dimpled tundra of my backside.

Even worse, I was sandwiched between the rack of tiny suits and a huge mirror. These stores have mirrors everywhere. I guess the jock-types who hang out at sporting goods stores don’t mind looking at themselves. I try to avoid my reflection but, like those people who slow way down to gawk at a freeway accident, I can’t resist sneaking a peak anytime I pass a shiny surface. (Oh admit it! You do it too.)

This wasn’t just one full-length mirror, but a three-sider. I gaped. I stared. I gawked. The shorts I’d tossed on for this “quick” run to the mall were rumpled and riding up embarrassingly. And there, hanging out like two giant stuffed sausages, were my thighs, glowing under the fluorescents like two gargantuan, pasty-white slugs under a black light. It was obvious why I no longer buy corduroy pants (Aye, there’s the rub!) or anything made of Spandex.

The tiny swimsuits mocked me from behind while the triple mirror tripled my lumps. Tripled my lard. Tripled my dimples. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Triple mirrors do nothing for a sister’s self esteem.

“Who ARE you?” I whined at the three women in the mirrors. “How did this HAPPEN? You used to be in great shape. You were fit and flexible, tight and toned in high school!”

We used to DANCE in high school, they reminded me.


GLORY DAYS

Standing there before the jiggling blobs of my current reality, I drifted back to those glory days of youth, when the lower half of my body actually had muscle.

It was true. I used to dance. Modern dance was one of the physical education electives in our high school. I elected it. We modern dancers worshipped at the bare feet of our teacher, Miss Jeanne, who had worshipped and studied at the bare feet of modern dance maven Miss Martha Graham, HERSELF! Under Miss Jeanne’s skilled tutelage we learned how to dance like the wind, soar like the eagle, wave like a field of wheat, and rise like the sun. All within the confines of the gym at North High.

Modern dancers, Miss Jeanne showed us, could isolate their rib cages from the rest of their torso, elevate any given body part, and stretch in ways that seemed humanly impossible (to say nothing of painful). Modern dancers had steely thighs and elastic hamstrings that allowed them to float across the floor with power and grace.

And six of the modern dancers in our class were chosen to be the horses in the merry-go-round when the senior class put on a production of the musical, Carousel. Each of us was assigned a position and a color. I was the pink pony.

Upright in pastel leotards and matching tights, we six pranced proudly, each holding in her pony forefeet a length of wide pastel ribbon. The opposite ends of the ribbons were attached to a tall center pole.

The tall pole was a girl named Jane. The least graceful horse in the class, Jane held the ends of the ribbons high as we swifter ponies trotted around her. She raised and lowered the ribbons as we raised and lowered our steely thighs in a graceful canter, moving around and around with us, faster and slower, higher and lower. At times we even reversed direction, in a dazzling feat of merry-go-round marvel.

Opening night came. Around and around we pranced. No one noticed that Jane, who’d performed her part flawlessly during rehearsals, had decided not to wear her glasses in front of the live audience. (Vanity of vanities!)

Jane, blinded and dizzier by the minute, evidently lost track of whether the pastel blur surrounding her was moving clockwise or counter-clockwise. Unable to judge the speed or direction of the herd, Jane did the only thing a pole could do. She stood still.

We ponies cantered on, not noticing until it was too late that the pole was frozen. Soon poor Jane was mummified in pastel ribbons and we horses were falling over each other as we wound ourselves closer and closer to the center. The carousel ground to a halt. So did the play. So did my dancing career.


REALITY

Snapping back to the reality of the sports store’s three-way mirror, I shuddered to realize how far my body had deteriorated—from the glorious days of fresh, lean youthfulness to the flabby nag, sagging like a feed sack of cellulite, staring back at me. The old gray mare just wasn’t what she used to be; she looked ready to be put out to pasture. Neigh.

I slunk away from the mirror, hoping no other shoppers had seen me there, in triplicate. One of me was bad enough.

Depressed, I wove my way through the rest of the store, avoiding the mirrors and focusing on the merchandise instead. I wondered why they call the stuff “sporting goods.” Most of it seemed neither “sporting” nor “good.”

Think about it. Who in her right mind binds her stiff-booted feet onto flat fiberglass slats and hurls herself down a frozen mountain, protected only by her fluffy pink jacket and matching fluffy pink headband? Wouldn’t a fluffy pink crash helmet be a good idea?

Who in her right mind wedges her oversized bottom into an undersized kayak and paddles alone out into the middle of a lake? Doesn’t she know that when the thing capsizes—and it will. It will!—her smaller top half will never be able to counterbalance the centrifugal force created by the larger ballast of her bottom in motion? She’ll be trapped there under the water, waiting to drown. Upside down!

Sporting? Good? I think not.

“What’s a girl to do?” I asked the handsome mannequin modeling the latest in Spandex exercise wear. He had no answer. He may have been a dummy, but he looked good. Everyone, it seemed, was in better shape, thinner, more fit, doing more, going faster, and running farther than I was. I wanted to scream, “Where is the stuff for girls like me?” Girls who are a little long in the tooth. A little short of breath. A little wide in the angle. A little narrow in motivation.

Just then, as if to answer my question, a peppy girl in a store uniform, bounced up to me. She was young enough to make me wonder if the child labor laws were still in effect.

“Can I, like, help you?” I could tell from her tone she thought I was beyond help. I wanted to ask her to escort me to the nearest exit and maybe help me find my car, but I suddenly felt the need to make her think I had something on the ball.

“I need to start working out. What do you suggest?” She gave me an appraising once-over and led me down a nearby aisle. She plucked a book called Walk Yourself Fit from a rack and handed it to me.

How had she guessed walking was my sport? I had decades—over 20,000 days so far—of walking practice. I was good at walking. A quick glance at the book’s back cover assured me that I could quite literally walk my way to fitness and good health. I didn’t need to do anything but walk. No need to change my diet. Walking would automatically, over the course of time, cause my thighs, indeed all of me, to shrink miraculously and painlessly.

Walking I could handle. The price of the book—$9.95—I could also handle. I was ready to head to the huge sign that said CASHIER—they make sure you can find those—when the nice young lady said, “You’ll need some walking shoes. They’re right over here...”

A hundred-and-eighty-seven dollars later, I left the store with the book and its accompanying CD of walking music. I had new shoes—a dynamically-engineered, air-cushioned, shock-absorbing pair that specialized in walking. (Did they even need me?) I had air-cushioned socks that were guaranteed to absorb the shocks the shoes missed, even if I had trouble absorbing the shock of forking over twelve bucks for a pair of socks.

I had new shorts and a matching shirt that were guaranteed never to shrink, fade or wrinkle, no matter how much abuse I subjected them to. (Oh, for a body with that kind of guarantee!) And the shorts were friendly; they promised not to pinch me, squish me, or ride up and wedge themselves into uncomfortable places. My new sports bra was positively aerodynamic and designed to hold me firmly with no sagging for five years or fifty thousand miles of bounce, whichever came first.

And with it all, le pièce de résistance: new undies that breathed. How could I resist? They BREATHED, for goodness sake! (How had I made it all these years wearing suffocating undies?)

I was set. The cashier pointed me to the exit, I eventually found my car and drove home with the sort of radiance that only a good day’s shopping can bring. I glowed all night. I was still glowing the next morning, when, headphones pumping CD motivation into my brain and clad in my new shorts, shirt, bra, shoes, and socks, and with my undies breathing the fresh morning air, I set out to walk myself fit.

Five minutes out, halfway up the first hill, my formerly-elastic hamstring twisted itself into a knot the size of my fist. I hobbled back down the hill before the first song ended on the CD, limped into the kitchen, where I sat and sipped a double café mocha with extra whipped cream for consolation.

Life is full of twists, isn’t it? It’s hard sometimes to navigate from one spot to another without getting trapped or hurt or lost. Life doesn’t seem to have clear wide aisles that allow us to flow easily from one place to the next. Lots of the things that happen to us are not what we’d call “good” or “sporting.”

And sometimes we just plain forget where we left the car, or our minds, or our hearts.

We can get ourselves all twisted up trying to keep it all together physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Sometimes we’re like the merry-go-round horses; around and around we go, faster and faster, high-stepping and showing off for all we’re worth. Sometimes we don’t notice what’s happening until we’re all twisted up in the ribbons of living and come to a crashing halt. Sometimes we don’t notice the pole standing there nearby, paralyzed and blinded by the chaos we’ve created with all our whirling around.

When we compare our lives and ourselves to what we see around us—and we so often do that—we end up feeling we’re not good enough, fit enough, young enough, smart enough, old enough, thin enough, pretty enough, spiritual enough—whatever enough—to be worth loving. Worth anything.

I’ve struggled with my physical image much of my life. I’ve often felt awkward, clumsy, or just plain ugly. Sitting there in my kitchen I could hear, in my mind, all the names I’d called myself, and all the names I’d imagined or heard others calling me, over the years.

Thunder Thighs. Whale Woman. Blubber Butt. Flat Chested. Slope Shouldered. Squinty Eyed. Flat Nosed.

What have you heard? How have you felt?

God has another perspective.

As I sat there, with my leg propped on the chair next to me to stretch my twisted muscle, I remembered something from the Bible about me being “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Are you serious, Lord? I asked, gazing down at my cheesy thighs. This is fearfully and wonderfully made? This body?

Yes, I heard him whisper to my heart. This.

Is it possible? Can it be? “I created your inmost being…I knit you together in your mother’s womb…You are fearfully and wonderfully made…” he says. Can it be true?

Can God really mean that about me? About you?

Yes. This timeless truth is the beginning of our healing, our deliverance from the worry and doubt that plagues us. This is the beginning of new life, of a powerful sense of self—realizing that it is God—Almighty Creator of the Universe God—who created us—you and me—and God who loves us. That this physical body, whatever its size or shape, whatever “flaws” we think we have, is a work of genius.

If God thinks you’re a work of art, who are you to argue?

Fearfully and wonderfully made, dimply thighs and all—I am a masterpiece of his design, beautiful in the eyes of my Creator. He’s called me by new names. To him, I am Beloved. To him, I am Delightful. To him, I am Wonderful.

And so, dear reader, are you.


For everything God created is good…

1 Timothy 4:4


POINTS TO PONDER

Powerhouse or Powder Puff? Describe your experience as a “student athlete.” What do you remember about gym or physical education classes?

Have you ever been called a name? What did the experience teach you? Have you forgiven the name caller? If not, when will you let it go?

God loves you and he delights in you, according to Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Which truth from this verse is most meaningful to you today?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Burning of Uncertainty

Friday was the last day for almost one hundred people at my work. They were part of what is expected to be a first wave of lay-offs. They were given (in what my opinion was very generous) two months notice, so for the past two months we've all been walking around very carefully so as not to say the wrong thing. I've been diving into hiding to avoid the many hostile glares because I managed to keep my job. I am thankful the company values what's happening in my little room. That's all I can say.

The same week the lay-offs were announced, the house I rented in got notice of foreclosure. I suddenly felt like all the problems with the economy were coming to visit me. I started to worry about my job, about finding a good place to live, all of it.

So far it's worked out for me. But I know that next week begins a very uncertain time for some of my former students.

I feel like everyone is a bit uncertain at the moment. Brewing underneath the surface of acting like we are going on with life as normal, business as usual fear and worry and uncertainty have taken up residence in our lives. The news is never good, the presidential candidates are not offering any particular hope, hunger continues to sweep through the world, and violence seems to escalate with every passing second. It's the very best time to believe in God.

The title of this post comes from a Sarah McLachlan song. I love the phrase because it's such an unusual way of putting those words together and yet so true. Uncertainty does burn and is terribly uncomfortable. And slowly, if we are not careful, it can erode our faith in God, and feed the fire of our doubts and insecurities until we use fear as our motivator, neglecting faith and forgetting to trust.

The whole song is beautiful and so even though it doesn't exactly have anything to do with this post, I've attached it for your enjoyment.

Read-a-thon Debriefing

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Strangely enough, about two hours before the end. I was reading Dedication, which while being a good book, was not a keep you up all night to finish book.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I don't think any of the books I read were high interest! I recommend really light, short, or page turning like Harry Potter or something.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? I thought it was great.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I think having plenty of mini-challenges that aren't too challenging. Of course, part of the reason I participated is because I wanted to see what it would feel like to read for that long and how much I could accomplish. The truth is, it's impossible to just keep reading. You need to check in on every one else's progress for encouragement and obviously you need to eat, and sometimes I also felt like I needed to blast some music. :)

5. How many books did you read? Only 5. My goal was 6. I'm bummed.

6. What were the names of the books you read? Act Two by Kimberly Stuart, Dirty Girls on Top by Alicia Valdes Rodriguez, Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray, These Boots Weren't Made for Walking by Melody Carlson, and Dedication by the Nanny Diaries people.

7. Which book did you enjoy most? Either Act Two or These Boots Weren't Made for Walking.

8. Which did you enjoy least? Dedication...too serious. (why does the blurb say it's hilarious????)

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'd like to participate again, but next time I might sleep. I'm wondering what sort of shape I'm going to be in tomorrow. I might try to convince a friend to do it with me next time. I need more friends who like to read.

Ok, got some cleaning up to do, and then I think I'm going to watch a movie!!!!!! :)

Last Check-In

This might be my last update as I have a feeling I will be closing my eyes as soon as I finish my current book, which while interesting, isn't necessarily a page turner. I'll post my wrap-up later tonight, when I'm refreshed.

Finished 4th book

Just finished up my fourth book. Looks like I'll only be able to finish five. I'm a slower reader than I thought!

I'm not too tired either, so I think I'm going to make it! :) And then sleep all day!

Update and Revising my Goals

Ok, I've ditched the non-fiction goal. Just. Not. Happening.

I moved onto some chick lit, and might stay there till the end. I brought the wrong Graham Greene book with me and besides, I think that's a bit too heavy for my Diet Mt. Dew saturated, sleep deprived brain.

By the way, thanks to the cheerleaders and commentors you are guys are the best!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Only Poem I have Memorized

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. --Robert Frost

I still love this poem. I know the challenge was to find a poem, but I wanted to share one of my favorites. I have bits and pieces of other poems memorized, but this one I know in its entirety.

Thanks to N.Vasillis for hosting this mini challenge.

Mini Challenge Hour 12 Mid-point survey

1. What are you reading right now? Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray

2. How many books have you read so far? 2 finished and this is my third

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I haven't decided what else to read! I want to choose carefully.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Actually, this weekend worked perfectly, I'm housesitting and all by myself.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not many, just a neighbor dropping by.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How I'm sort of craving watching a movie right now! I read so much in my daily life (it's also part of my job) and have actually fantasized about having a solid day to read the many books I want to that I didn't realize how tired I would get!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope, I think it's super fun the way it is!

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I might stock up on YA books with tons of angst, and leave the books that must be reviewed out of it.

9. Are you getting tired yet? YES! It's only 8:30 but I've been reading since 9 this morning. Reading always makes me sort of zone out and sleepy, so it's not surprising. (by the way there is no way I'm telling my students this is what I did this weekend....they never read for pleasure and already think I'm a huge nerd!)

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Um, nope, ask me again at the end. :)

Second Book Finished!

I finally finished Dirty Girls on Top, it seemed to take forever. ;) But it was longer than the first book.

I'm taking a little breather now, much as I love reading, 24 hours is pretty intense!

Update

Ok, it's going to take me a bit longer to finish my current book, Dirty Girls on Top, which I received as Library Thing Early Reviewer. It's funny but has a bit more sex in it than I generally like.

I just fixed myself a huge veggie plate and a big glass of Diet Mountain Dew. I visited a few readers as part of a mini challenge and now I'm ready to get back to reading!

Finished a book!

I just finished my first book, Act 2 by Kimberly Stuart, which was very delightful and laugh out loud funny.

It took a little longer than I expected because I kept checking blogs. So I'm going to need to stop that if I want to meet my goal. ;)

Readathon: Introductory Meme

This is my first mini challenge! It's an introductory meme hosted by Reading Derby.

Where are you reading from today? I'm housesitting and reading from there.

3 facts about me:
1) I work in a literacy and English language acquisition program.
2) I've lived on both coasts and the middle of this country.
3) I bought 3 2 liters of Diet Mt. Dew to make it through the readathon!

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I have 18 books in my TBR, but realistically expect to finish 6.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
6 books. 1 non-fiction. 1 for my 1% well read challenge.

Any advice for people doing this for the first time? This is my first time!

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Note to My Readers

I am participating in the 24 hour Read-a-thon this weekend, and I was planning on just using one post to update my progress and editing throughout the 24 hours.

However, a special feed has been made for participants and in the interest of community I will be posting each update as I finish a book.

I just wanted you to know in advance what's going on. Feel free to ignore the posts if they just don't interest you. I won't be hurt.

Next week things should be back to normal. It's funny, I was reading through my hall of fame posts the other day and I thought, I never write like this anymore. I kind of miss it. So be prepared in case I unleash all of my deep thoughts on you the next few weeks. :)

What are all of you doing this weekend?

What Makes a Book Good?

Curious to hear your thoughts.

FIRST: The Molech Prophecy by Thomas Phillips





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!









Today's Wild Card author is:





and his book:

The Molech Prophecy

Whitaker House (July 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Thomas Phillips grew up with a reading disability. He did everything possible not to read. It wasn't until he was in seventh grade that he finally read a book from cover to cover. Now a voracious reader and prolific writer, Phillips uses his accomplishments as a motivational backdrop for speaking at school assemblies.



Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Phillips has worked as a freelance journalist and currently works full time as an employment law paralegal. When he isn't writing, Phillips plays his guitar, is active in his church, coaches his children's Little League team, and plots his next story. The Molech Prophecy is his first published Christian novel.



Visit him at his MySpace, ShoutLife, and blog.



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



The first things I noticed when I pulled into the church parking lot were the two police cars. Instinct wanted to kick in, but I stopped myself from turning my car around. The police weren’t there for me—couldn’t be there for me. I’d done nothing wrong. I wasn’t the same man. My days of running from the police had ended when I became a Christian. I reminded myself of this simple fact and felt a grin play across my lips. Thankfully, my days of running from the police ended four years ago.



On any given Sunday, I have come to expect many things from Faith Community Church. And why not? I have been attending weekly services for years. I expect smiles from Faith’s Greet Team—from those helping direct cars in the parking lot to those handing out programs and pencils at the sanctuary doors. I expect powerful worship music, a variety of jokes from Pastor Ross—some funny, some not so funny—and I expect, each week, a message that will impact the way I live the rest of my life.



But what I did not expect this morning was what I saw next: the complete defacing of the church building. Black spray paint covered the pecan-colored bricks in horrific graffiti.



After parking, I sat silently in the car, taking it all in. A large pentagram—an encircled, upside-down, five-pointed star—was displayed at the center of it all. Painted on every other available surface were words like “Death,” “Die,” “Faggots,” “Hypocrites,” and “God Is Dead.”



Seeing all of the graffiti felt like a punch to the gut. Faith Community was like my second home; the people who attended were like my second family. It was impossible not to take this attack personally.



Slowly, I climbed out of the car, ignoring the early November morning chill. The wind blew relentlessly all around me, howling and moaning as if it too was furious and saddened and confused by the desecration.



Other cars pulled into the lot. The people get-ting out of them emerged as slowly as I must have. I could see the stunned expressions on their faces—dropped jaws and wide eyes that surely matched my own.



Who would vandalize a church like this? I wondered as I walked toward the entrance. As I stopped in front of the pentagram and took in the mess that attempted to dirty my church, I realized that who-ever did this was hurting—hurting badly. That thought did not stifle the anger—the righteous anger—I felt boiling deep inside.



I nodded a grim good morning to the greeter who held the front door open as I walked into the church. The atrium is usually packed with people mingling before the start of the service. Free coffee, hot cocoa, and doughnuts set out on a table each and every week encourage people to arrive early for fellowship.



This morning, however, only a few people lin-gered in the atrium. Whispers were all I heard. As I entered the sanctuary I saw that this was where everyone had gathered. I usually sit toward the back, far right, as if there were assigned seating. The things I’d seen outside left me feeling hollow and alone. Today, I sat closer to the front, middle row.



I nodded hello to people here and there. Many sat with heads bowed, deep in prayer. I decided praying would be a good use of the extra time before the service.

I tried to cope with a flood of mixed emo-tions, such as anger, sadness, confusion, disbelief, and then, once again, anger. Instead of praying, questions ended up filling my mind: Who could do such a thing? Why would someone do such a thing? How are we going to get that filth off the bricks? If I ever get my…. I broke off the last thought before it got out of hand. I’m in a church, I reminded myself. There is no place for thoughts like that, but especially not in a church.



The service did not start the way services nor-mally did. The church band usually opened wor-ship with a fast-tempo song, one that got those present up on their feet, clapping and singing along, and one that brought those lingering in the atrium into the sanctuary.



Today, in dead silence, Senior Pastor Ross Lobene walked out and stood center stage, grip-ping the podium. He seemed at a loss for words. I think he knew what he wanted to say but was afraid that if he tried speaking too soon, he might lose his composure. I wouldn’t blame him.



As usual, roughly two thousand people filled most of the available seats. Two large projection screens hung on the wall at either side of the stage. Both showed a close-up of the pastor’s face. He could not hide his red eyes—or stop his quivering lips.



Pastor Ross opened a Bible, and when he finally started to speak, his voice was weak and shaky, as if he were on the verge of crying. “I want to read Matthew, chapter five, verses ten through twelve: ‘God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.’”



He bowed his head.



I felt sorrowful pain in my chest.



“Shock. Pure shock,” Pastor Ross said. “You don’t think stuff like this will happen here. It will happen elsewhere, like in run-down, gang-ridden areas, so we think. But from what I know of human nature, it happens everywhere, because people can be dark-hearted everywhere. God is always in con-trol, and He wants us to learn to deal with prob-lems in God-honoring ways. I have come to realize through this incident, and through other incidents that have occurred in our church family, that our enemy, Satan, attacks those churches that are a threat to him and his evil ways.”



I nodded in agreement, listening intently and watching as Pastor Ross released his white-knuck-led grip on the podium and began to come into his own. He paced back and forth on the stage, addressing the congregation, righteous fire heating this impromptu sermon.



“Jesus tells us in Revelation three, verses four-teen through seventeen, that He will spit out of His mouth the church whose people are lukewarm in their faith, because they are neither hot nor cold. It is my desire for Faith Community Church to be a church that is hot, making a difference for Christ and His kingdom in Rochester and the surround-ing area.”



As Pastor Ross paused, he stroked the sandy-colored goatee that covered his chin and used a handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that formed on his bald head. “This, friends, this is a great opportunity for us to love our enemies as ourselves.” He pointed out at us and then pointed back at himself. “It is my desire to see everyone at Faith truly model this command from Christ and not become bitter by this incident. I pray that we have an opportunity to minister to the needs of the person or people responsible, so we can share the life-changing message of the gospel with them.



“I have known many people who have been enslaved in the bondage of satanism and witch-craft, and although the hold these things have on them is strong, it is no match for our all-powerful, all-loving God. It will take time, but if we can be models of Christ’s love to this person, I have full confidence that he will become a child of the light instead of a slave to the darkness.” A second, brief pause followed. Then Pastor Ross added, “Don’t get me wrong. I also hope that the person who did this crime is caught and processed fairly through our justice system.”



I tried to let my own anger subside. If Pastor Ross could move on, so could I. All I needed now was help unclenching my hands, which had been rolled into solid fists since the beginning of service.



Used by permission of the publisher, Whitaker House (www.whitakerhouse.com/ ). All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The 24 Hour Read-a-thon

As I've stated before, I decided to participate in the 24 hour read-a-thon being hosted by Dewey at the Hidden Side of a Leaf. I encourage you to consider it if you don't have any plans yet, you can read some FAQ here.

The truth is, I haven't had really any time at all to read this week. And I have a lot of books I really want to read, so I think this will be fun.

My goals:

To read one non-fiction book. I really want to get better at reading non-fiction. I know it has tremendous value and there are several books I want to read, I am just too easily distracted by fiction.

To read one book for the 1% Well Read Challenge. I've been wanting to read Graham Greene ever since I saw him compared to Shusako Endo. Silence has been one of the best--if not the best--books I read this year so I look forward to reading his work.

To have a lot of fun!

In my mind I can imagine reading tons of books, but realistically I'll be lucky if I read 6. And don't fall asleep.

I won't update every hour, but will try to update when I finish a book. But obviously I'll be saving real reviews for later. I think I'll just keep editing one post so that the blog doesn't get more cluttered than it already is.

It just so happens that this is the perfect weekend for this. I have no other plans! If you are interested in sponsoring me for the read-a-thon, the charity is Reading is Fundamental. It all goes along with my 40 day fast cause for the year.

I'd like to mention another giveaway going on at J.Kaye's book blog for the book Janeology by Karen Harrington. It seems the book blogoshere is abuzz for this book, and I would love to read it myself! Head over to J. Kaye's Book Blog for your chance to win.

Blog Tour Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Patillo


Beth Pattillo (Heavens to Betsy and Earth to Betsy) knows how to follow a dream—even with a pile of publishing industry rejection slips to her name. She spent seven years on the path to her first publishing contract, and the characters in her newnovel, The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, embrace Pattillo’s persistence.

Eugenie, Ruth, Esther, Merry, and Camille are not perfect women. They each struggle with love in their own way—unrequited love, forbidden love, overwhelming love, even lost love. Yet they battle on, meeting every month in the Pairs and Spares Sunday school room to knit, discuss that month’s book selection, and puzzle out their lives.
When Eugenie throws neglected and abused teenager Hannah Simmons into their midst, however, walls decades in the making come crashing down. With secrets thrown on the table amid the tangle of yarn, needles and books, one thing becomes certain: The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society will soon discover what’s most important in the complicated lives they lead.

About Beth Patillo: Beth Pattillo is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and holds a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University. She and her family make their home in Tennessee. Her novel, Heavens to Betsy, won the prestigious RITA award from the Romance Writers of America. TheSweetgum Knit Lit Society is her fourth novel. To learn more, visit www.bethpattillo.com

Q&A with Beth Patillo:

Q. What was your inspiration behind The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society?

The book was inspired by the knitting group at my church. I loved the way a group of diverse women, from their teens to retirement age, bonded over knitting and prayer. I think book clubs experience a similar phenomenon. Something about knitting or reading together really helps to create authentic community. One of the things I enjoyed most about writing this book was looking at the world from such different points of view. Each of the women in the novel is unique. And the variety of ages and life experiences kept things interesting.

Q. In the book, troubled teen Hannah Simmons has seen her share of neglect and abuse before meeting the ladies of the Knit Lit Society. Do you see many teens like Hannah in the course of your work as an ordained minister? If so, what is your philosophy in helping them find healing?

Unfortunately, I've met a number of teens over the years that were neglected by their parents. I'm a strong believer in youth ministry because I know it can provide guidance and care that's often missing in a teenager's home. In the novel, Hannah happens to be poor, but I've found that income level, however high or low, doesn't always correlate to the quality of parenting. The love and attention of a youth minister and/or youth sponsor can often keep a teen from making bad choices with disastrous consequences. Teenagers need to feel competent and valued. A strong youth ministry provides an opportunity for young people to find their spiritual gifts and use them. It also makes God's love tangible and powerful.

Q. Since not every town has a Knit Lit Society, what would your advice be to anyone who has a "Hannah" in their life or knows of a teen in a similar situation?

Most teens need someone to listen to them without judgment or agenda. Mentoring, serving as a youth sponsor, teaching Sunday school and Bible study – these are all great ways to reach out to teenagers. As a minister, in a particular situation, I have to assess whether a teenager needs the help of social services in addition to the love and care of a church family. All ministers are required by law to report suspected abuse. Neglect, though, can be a bit trickier. Ideally, a minister can reach out to the parents as well as the teen to try and help the family become more functional and caring. I always appreciated my church members letting me know if they thought a particular teenager needed help. I think it's better to get involved and ultimately find that the situation wasn't as serious as you thought than to ignore something until a crisis occurs.


Q. Do you knit in your spare time?

I love to knit! I'm into hand-tied yarn right now, taking eight or nine different yarns in a particular color palette and tying 2-3 yard sections end to end. The result is wonderfully shaggy scarves or shawls that have real depth of color and texture. (I was inspired by the owner of The Shaggy Sheep in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas – a terrific yarn store!) I'm afraid I have numerous unfinished projects around the house, but one day, I hope to finish them all.

Q. You spent seven years waiting to publish your first book and now The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society is your fourth book. What advice do you have for novice or aspiring writers?

Aspiring writers have to persevere. For that matter, so do published authors. The publishing industry is a rejection-based business. Work hard, acquire a thick skin, be open to good criticism, and revise, revise, revise. As writers, we take our work personally, but the publishing industry doesn't. Rejection is a business decision, not a critique of our value as human beings!

My other piece of advice is to write every day, even if it's only a small amount. I run an email loop called Club 100 For Writers. The challenge is to write 100 words a day for 100 days. I've seen this practice transform people's lives. Instructions for joining the group are on my website, http://www.bethpattillo.com/.

Calico Canyon by Mary Connealy

Let yourself be swept away by this fast-paced romance, featuring Grace Calhoun, an instructor of reading, writing, and arithmetic, who, in an attempt to escape the clutchs of a relentless pursuer, runs smack dab into even more trouble with the 6R's - widower Daniel Reeves, along with his five rowdy sons. When a marriage is forced upon this hapless pair - two people who couldn't dislike each other more - an avalanche isn't the only potential danger lurking amid the shadows of Calico Canyon. Will they make it out alive? Or end up killing each other in the process?

Running from her Abusive foster-father, a man intent on revenge, the prim and perfectly proper Grace Calhoun takes on the job of schoolmarm in Mosqueros, Texas.

As if being a wanted woman isn't bad enough, Grace has her hands full with the five rowdy and rambunctious Reeves boys─tough Texan tormenters who seem intent on making her life miserable. When, in an attempt to escape from the clutches of her pursuer, Grace is forced to marry widower Daniel Reeves, father of the miniature monsters, she thinks things couldn't get any worse. Or could they?

Daniel Reeves, happy in his all-male world, is doing the best he can, raising his five boys─rascals, each and every one. Since his wife's death in childbirth, Daniel has been determined never to risk marriage again.

When God throws Grace and Danielt together─two people who couldn't detest each other more─the trouble is only beginning.

Will this hapless pair find the courage to face life together in the isolated Calico Canyon? Or are their differences too broad a chasm to bridge?

My copy of this book hasn't arrived yet, so I can't say much about it, but I've heard it's really funny.

What is a Reader? (Booking Through Thursday)

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?


In general, I think a reader is someone who can't live without reading. Reading is a natural part of their life. They don't have to read as much as I do (I understand that not everyone has as much time), but reading books is something they do regularly, and they don't have to force themeselves to do it. When asked what their hobbies or interests are they will list reading. (by the way, this reminds me of that scene in the movie Zodiac when the Robert Downey Jr. character asks the Jake Gyllenhall character what his interests are and he says, "I like reading" "I enjoy books" and RDJ cuts him off, "Those are the same things." For some reason that really makes me laugh. Probably because that's totally me) When you read a lot, you naturally take in a lot of information. Even reading commercial fiction expands your world. What happens is that when you are having conversations, you find you know about a lot of things. This can often be explained as (or has been in my case) as.."oh she's a reader."

Now, of course, if you are a reader of this blog, I think of you as one my readers. And I thank you and appreciate you.

How about you all? What do you think of as a reader?

Expensive Travel

Flights have really gone up in price. It's been awhile since I've gone anywhere, sadly. Last night, I was trying to catch up with people on facebook and saw that my friend Jen wanted to see the Counting Crows in September. I thought...hey I'll fly out and go with her. I know you're thinking that's quite an ordeal for a concert (from California to St. Louis), but I've been trying to figure out a time to go visit everyone anyway. Besides, my high school ten year reunion is this year and I'm not going, but I still want to see the people I care about. (except for a few, most of close friends in high school were at my church)

Unfortunately, United doubled the required miles needed for domestic flights. I had been saving mine (foolishly) for a trip to St. Louis or Denver so I'm just shy of what I need to take that route. The flights are 400 dollars!

To put this in perspective, I bought round trip airfares from LA to Tokyo for 450 dollars just a few years ago.

And they also want to charge me to bring my clothes! And some airlines are going to start charging for drinks, too.

Anyone else trying to plan a trip?

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin


Matrimony is a character driven book. While there are certainly events that happen, it doesn't have a pulse pounding plot. But it is very enjoyable. I happened to love the character of Julian, which is a relief since he was the main one!

The book starts out during the college days of our two main characters, Julian and Mia. Julian is enrolled in a creative writing course and I have to tell you, that was one of my favorite parts of the book because it was just so funny. I laughed out loud while reading it. Julian and Mia meet, fall in love, and stay together. The rest of the book is the story of them.

They travel around to a few different places throughout their marriage as Mia works on becoming a therapist and Julian works on his writing. Admittedly, I loved the parts about writing and Julian struggling with his writing because writing to me is the finest art. So that held a lot of interest to me personally, and I think that anyone struggling in a career in a creative pursuit would be able to relate to some of Julian's struggle.

There is also a college friendship that plays a significant role in the book, and there's a scene toward the end that I felt I could have written some of the words it felt so real to me. I can't say much more because I don't want to give anything away, but college friendships are different aren't they?

I'm not married so I'm no expert on marriage. But while this book's central relationship is a marriage, Henkin also explores friendships, adult child/parent relationships, and sibling relationships. It's a story about growing older and the passage of time and the ways in which your relationships and evolve along the way. It's a great read, but one to take your time on and savor. I have a feeling these characters will stay with me for awhile. Recommended.

Matrimony was published by Random House Pantheon Books and is available now.

Visit Joshua Henkin.
Buy the book.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Anyone else looking forward to this? (Joss Whedon!!!)


Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

Things I Do That Annoy Me

I was thinking today about two things I do when writing emails/blog posts/comments that annoy me.

Overuse of exclamation points. I think this actually flows directly out of my job. I try to create a really positive environment and so I'm always super upbeat at work. I mean seriously, I see 6-8 people a day, and they always come in dragging their feet. Surprisingly, it works to rub all of that cheer off on them. So trying to convey enthusiasm at work flows into being overly enthusiastic in emails, etc. and I end up annoying myself when every sentence ends that way.

Overuse of smiley faces:You can't say, this is me in a gentle tone, or this is me in a kind tone, or don't read this as angry, so I use a smiley face. And then I'm smiley facing all over the place. My best friend in high school, Jen, brought this up about notes I wrote back then. So I've always had this problem, I guess. (by the way, Jen remembers EVERYTHING--she's awesome and a little scary that way)

So what do you do that annoys you?

Blog Tour: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver


About Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: An invitation for every woman who's ever felt she isn't godly enough, isn't loving enough, isn't doing enough.

The life of a woman today isn't really all that different from that of Mary and Martha in the New Testament. Like Mary, you long to sit at the Lord's feet…but the daily demands of a busy world just won't leave you alone. Like Martha, you love Jesus and really want to serve him…yet you struggle with weariness, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy.

Then comes Jesus, into the midst of your busy life, to extend the same invitation he issued long ago to the two sisters from Bethany. Tenderly, he invites you to choose "the better part"–a joyful life of intimacy with him that flows naturally into loving service.

With her fresh approach to the familiar Bible story, Joanna Weaver shows how all of us–Marys and Marthas alike–can draw closer to our Lord: deepening our devotion, strengthening our service, and doing both with less stress and greater joy.

Some Thoughts from Me: I always hear women talk about how they are a Martha who wishes they could be a Mary. This is the kind of book where you read the first few pages, and you think, wow someone gets me! It's a fantastically easy book to read that will also meet you exactly where you're at. Recommended for all women in our crazy busy society!

More Stuff: Joanna's Blog
Joanna's Website
Buy the Book
Lastly, to win a copy visit Joanna's blog here and leave a comment!

FIRST Wild Card: Along Came a Cowboy by Christine Lynxwiler



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his/her book:


Along Came a Cowboy

Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Award-winning author and past president of American Christian Romance Writers, CHRISTINE LYNXWILER has numerous novels and novellas published with Barbour, including Arkansas, Promise Me Always, and Forever Christmas. She and her husband, Kevin, along with their two daughters, four horses, and two dogs live in the foothills of the beautiful Ozark Mountains in their home state of Arkansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597898961
ISBN-13: 978-1597898966

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Babies complicate life, but the human race can't survive without them. Maybe I should write that on the dry erase board out in the waiting room—Dr. Rachel Donovan's Profound Thought for the Day.

Ever notice how some months are all about weddings? When you turn on the TV or pick up a magazine, everything is white tulle and old lace. Then there are what I think of as baby months. Unlike June and December for weddings, baby months can pop up anytime.

And here in Shady Grove, Arkansas—just in time for summer, when the irises are pushing up from the ground, the new leaves are green on the trees, and the crepe myrtles are starting to bloom—we're smack dab in the middle of a baby month.

I finger the latest birth announcement on my desk. One of my patients just had her fifth child. You'd think, at this point, she'd be sending out SOS messages instead of announcements, but the pink card proudly proclaims the arrival of her newest bundle of joy.

The front door chime signals the arrival of our first patient, so I send up a silent prayer for the baby. Then my eyes fall on the family picture on my desk.

Lord, please be with Tammy, too, in her pregnancy.

My thirty-eight-year-old sister was so thrilled when she called a couple of months ago to tell me she was pregnant and so scared yesterday when the doctor put her on temporary bed rest.

While I'm on the baby thread, I mention my friend Lark who is desperate to adopt. I say amen, steadfastly ignoring my own out-of-whack biological clock.

My receptionist, Norma, sidles into my office like a spy in an old movie, softly shuts the door and turns to face me, her brown eyes wide. "Whoever warned mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys," she whispers, "never saw the man in our waiting room."

"What?" I absently flip through the small pile of files on my desk. Not long ago I remodeled my entire clinic—repainted the walls with calming blues and browns, added new chiropractic tables and new waiting room chairs, and even got solid oak office furniture with nifty little cubbies. For about a week I could find things.

And did she just say the word babies? What did I tell you? It's one of those months. "Do you know where Mrs. Faulkner's file is? I thought it was here, but I can't find it."

Norma raises her eyebrows. "You saw her after hours Tuesday night, didn't you? I think it's on my desk waiting for charges."

Now I remember. "No charge," I say automatically.

She puts her hands on her hips. "C'mon, Doc, you can't fall for every sob story you hear."

I grin. "We make it, don't we? If I can't help out a sixty-two-year-old woman who lifts and bathes and cares for her grown son around the clock, then I'd just as soon not be in practice."

She shrugs. "You're the one who has to worry about paying your bills. I get my paycheck regardless." Her round face lights up and she motions to me. "Now come look."

Norma's always slightly out of sync with reality, but today is shaping up to be odd even for her.

"At the man in the waiting room," she clarifies, as if I'm a little slow. "You have to see him."

"I usually do see everyone who's in the waiting room, don't I? Eventually?"

She blows out her breath and folds her arms. "It'll only take a second."

"Who is it?"

She shakes her head, her short brunette curls springing with the movement. "I'm not telling. You'll have to see for yourself."

I sigh. I know I'm the boss, but once Norma has something in her head, it's easier just to go along with her. She turns to lead the way out to her desk where a large window overlooks the main waiting room. I promise she's tiptoeing.

"Hey, Nancy Drew," I say quietly.

She jumps and spins around. "What?" she hisses.

I grin. "Let's try not to be so obvious."

She presses her back against the wall and motions for me to go ahead of her. I saunter to her desk. Right on top is the file I was looking for. At least this wasn't a wasted trip. I retrieve it while I give the waiting room a cursory glance. The cowboy chooses that moment to look up, of course. A slow grin spreads across his face.

I fumble with the file and almost drop it.

Jack Westwood.

I don't believe it. Alma Westwood could give the-little-engine-that-could lessons in persistence. I return his grin with a quick professional smile and—holding the file high enough that he can see I had a valid reason for being there—walk back to my office.

Norma is right on my heels. She closes the door. "So? What did I tell you? That's Alma Westwood's son. The rodeo star."

"I know who he is." I toss the file on my desk and plop down in my chair to look at it.

"You know him?"

I shake my head. "We were friends when we were kids, but I don't know him really. I've just seen his picture in the paper like everyone else." And since he moved back a few months ago, I've seen him around town enough to know that women fall all over themselves when he walks by. Definitely not my type. Which is one reason I've avoided him.

"Oh yeah. His hat was shading his face in that picture." Her brows draw together. "Which is a cryin' shame."

I look up at her cherub face. "Hey, remember old What's His Name? The handsome guy you're happily married to?" I grin.

She shrugs. "Doesn't mean I'm blind. Besides, you aren't married."

Thanks for the reminder.

"So when Alma signed in, she said she brought her son to see her new X-rays."

"How nice." Not that I'm falling for her flimsy excuse. Alma is just one in a long line of Mama Matchmakers. My patients with unmarried sons seem to take my singlehood as a personal affront. Ever since Rodeo Jack moved back to run his family ranch next door to my parents, Alma has upped her efforts
to make me her daughter-in-law, or at least reintroduce me
to him.

Don't ask me why Jack needs his mama to fix him up with someone in the first place. Norma is not exaggerating. He was passably cute back when we were kids, and he's one of those men who gets better-looking with age. If he's lost any teeth or broken his nose riding in the rodeo, he's covered it well. Not only is he a real cowboy, but he could play one on TV. Last week at the diner, I was two tables away from him when he smiled at the waitress. For a moment I was jealous that the smile wasn't for me. But only for a moment.

Then common sense kicked in. Me and Jack Westwood? Not likely. Which is just as well, because on a less personal note. . .a chiropractor and a rodeo star? What a combination. I'd spend the rest of my life trying to fix the mess he makes of his body. Besides, I can't imagine myself with someone whose belt buckle is bigger than his IQ. And even though he seemed smart when we were in school, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who'll willingly climb on a bucking bull over and over is a few calves short of a herd.

Still, it's my job to educate patients and their families about their health. I turn back to Norma. "After you put them in a room, pull Alma's X-rays for me, okay?"

Norma starts to leave then smacks her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Oh, I almost forgot. Lark Murray is on line one."

I glance at the phone. Sure enough, line one is blinking. "Thanks."

Never mind that we let Lark sit and wait while we sneaked a peek at Alma's cowboy son. Norma marches to her own drummer, and I run along behind her trying to stay in step.

I reach toward the phone, and for a split second, I consider having Norma take a message. Lark is one of my three closest friends. I'm a few years younger than the rest and came late to the Pinky Promise Sisterhood group they formed in childhood. But ever since the night they found me crying in the bowling alley bathroom, the Pinkies have been family to me. We share our deepest secrets and craziest dreams and—now that we all live in Shady Grove, Arkansas, again—regular face-to-face gabfests.

And any other day of the year, I'm happy to hear from any of them. But this particular anniversary day is always filled with awkward conversations. They never know what to say, and neither do I.

I snatch the handset up before I give in to my cowardice. I'll just make it short and sweet. "Hey, girl."

"Rach, I'm so glad I caught you. I was afraid you'd already started with patients."

"No. Sorry you had to wait." Here it comes. The gentle "You okay today?" Or the "Just called to say hi and wish you a good day for no particular reason."

"I can't take this anymore." Her voice is trembling.

Okay, I wasn't expecting that. "What?"

"The waiting. Why do they make us go through an in-spection worthy of a Spanish Inquisition if they're not going to give us a baby?"

I release a breath I didn't know I was holding and sink back onto my chair. Lark is focused on one thing and one thing only these days, so thankfully this call isn't about me. "They're go-ing to give you a baby. They'd be crazy not to. These things just take time."

"You sound like the caseworker." She sighs. "I called her last night even though Craig didn't think I should."

"Lark, honey, I know it's hard to wait now that you've finally decided to adopt. But you're going to have to. God has—" My throat constricts, but I push the words out. "God has the perfect baby for you."

"It doesn't feel like it." She must be upset, because that's definitely a bit of a whine, something she never does.

"Has He ever let you down?"

"No. But maybe I was right before. Maybe it's just not His will for me to be a mom."

I thought we'd settled all that a few months ago when she showed up on my doorstep late one night with a suitcase because her husband wanted to adopt. Still, I can totally relate to old insecurities sneaking back in when you least expect them. "You're going to have to think about something else for a while, Lark. Are you helping Allie today?"

"I'm supposed to. I was thinking about seeing if she can make it without me though."

"How are y'all coming along?" Our Pinky friend Allie Richards recently won the Shady Grove Pre-Centennial Beautiful Town Landscaping Contest and consequently landed the town landscaping maintenance contract for the year. She has some real employees now, but during the contest her crew consisted of Allie's brother, Adam, Lark, me, and our other Pinky, Victoria Worthington. So we all have a vested emotional interest in TLC Landscaping.

Lark sighs. "We're swamped trying to get everything in perfect shape before the centennial celebration really gets going. I guess I really should work today. I know Allie needs me."

Good girl. "You know what your granny always said—a busy mind doesn't have time to worry."

"You're right. I'm going to have to trust God to handle this and go get ready for work. Thanks for talking me down off the ledge."

"Anytime."

"See you tonight, Rach."

"I'll be there." When the connection is broken, I close my eyes.

Lord, please give me strength to face today.

I open my eyes and push to my feet. Time to cowgirl up.

v


As soon as I walk into the adjusting room, Alma stands. "Dr. Donovan, I'm sure you remember my son, Jack."

Jack holds his cowboy hat in his left hand and offers me the right. I promise I expect him to say, "Ma'am," and duck his head. "Dr. Donovan," he drawls, and from the boy who used to pull my braids, the title sounds a little mocking. "Nice to see you again." As we shake hands, he flashes that heartbeat-accelerating smile again.

"You, too." His hands are nice. Slightly calloused. Working hands, but not so tough that they're like leather.

I look up into his puzzled brown eyes and then back down at his hand, which I'm still holding. Behind him, his mother beams as if she has personally discovered the cure for every terminal illness known to humankind. I jerk my hand away. Should I tell him that I always notice hands, since my own hands are what I use most in my profession? Or would he think that was a pickup line? I'm sure he's heard some doozies.

Better to ignore it. I slap the X-rays up on the view box then focus my attention on Alma as I point out the key spots we're working on.

When I finish, Jack crosses the room in two steps and points to the X-ray. "This increased whiteness is arthritis, right?"

My eyebrows draw together. "You've had experience with X-rays?"

He shrugs and gives me a rueful grin. "Occupational hazard."

Of course. "In any case, you're right. It is arthritis, but no more than normal for someone your mother's age."

"Thankfully, Dr. Donovan keeps me going. Otherwise I'd be like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz," Alma pipes up from her chair in the corner.

"To hear Mom tell it, you're the Wizard of Oz," Jack mutters, still standing beside me. He turns to Alma. "Your X-rays are normal?"

Her eyes open wide. "Yes."

"Totally normal?"

She blinks at him. "Isn't that wonderful?"

"Yes, but—"

"I thought you'd be pleased to know your old mom was going to be getting around without a walker for a few more years." Alma's voice is soft and sweet.

He frowns. "You know I am. But since Dr. Donovan has apparently already explained these X-rays to you, you could have told me that on the ph—" He stops, apparently realizing that I'm like a reluctant spectator at a tennis game, watching their verbal volleying.

"But this way you can see for yourself," Alma says with a satisfied smile.

He opens his mouth then closes it and nods.

Game, set, match to Alma.

I turn back to her. "Any questions?"

She smiles. "Not a one. Thank you so much for taking the time to go over this with us."

"I'm always glad to help you understand your health better."

"I'm going to go freshen up before we head home," Alma says. And just like that, she's gone, leaving me with her son. No doubt the whole point.

"Jack," I say in what I hope is a coolly professional voice, "thank you for coming by."

He nods. "I'm sorry we wasted your time. I don't know why I'm surprised this was a setup. Our mothers have been singing your praises ever since I got back in town."

"Our mothers?" My mother and I barely speak, and I'm certain she's never sung my praises a day in my life. At least not since I was a teenager.

"They make you sound like Mother Teresa and the Alberts all rolled into one."

I raise a brow. "The Alberts?"

"Einstein and Schweitzer."

I can't keep from laughing. "Now that's an appealing combination. And don't forget the Wizard of Oz."

"They're probably not far off, actually. It's just that—" He runs his hands around the brim of the hat he's still holding. "Thanks for being a good sport." He grins. "And at least now when we see each other at the diner, we can say hello."

A hot blush spreads across my face. The curse of being a redhead. I blush easily and at the oddest times. It's not like he knows I was admiring him the other day while I was waiting for my food. At least, I sure hope not. "True." I open the door and step back for him to go through.

"I guess I'd better go. I'll just wait for Mom out here," he says dryly and saunters down the hall.

"Not a moment too soon," I mutter under my breath and retreat to my office for a few minutes. The last thing I need is a blast from the past. Especially in the form of a rugged, sweet-smiling cowboy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just One of those Things...

For some reason, this reminds me of those churches that give iPods for attendance.

Another Day of Fasting

Tonight I am going to bed on an empty stomach.

And I will be praying specifically tonight for Shampa.

She wasn't part of my "cause" today, but she's part of my heart.

She's one of my sponsored children through Compassion International. She lives in Bangladesh, an area of the world that is being hit hard by our current global food crisis. In Bangladesh, there are reports that the children feel guilty for eating one meal a day when their families don't even have that.

That is not a burden I want Shampa to carry.

Compassion International is having a day of fasting today to pray for the those most severely affected by the Global Food Crisis in the areas they work.

I'd love for you to join in. If not for the whole day, will you at least consider fasting a meal?

Learn more about it here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

40 Day Fast 2008: The Gift of Reading


Until five years ago, I took my ability to read for granted. But five years ago I went to Japan to teach English and my life changed a little bit.

I could no longer read. I mean, obviously I could still read anything in English, but I couldn't read billboards. Or signs in stores. Or ingredients in food. Or train station signs. Or notices and bills that showed up in my mailbox. For someone who is totally accustomed to getting the vast majority of their information through reading, it was a very hard transition.

That experience gave me a tiny glimpse of what life is like for the person who cannot read. For the past three years, I have been brought much deeper into that reality working in an adult literacy and English language acquisition program. Illiteracy or poor reading skills are strongly tied with poor self-esteem, crime, poor nutrition, and poverty.

There are over 860 million illiterate adults globally, two-thirds of which are women. Many believe that literacy is the key to advancing societies and improving job prospects. I know this to be true. I have watched adults with little to no reading skill complete their studies with me having gained new self-confidence, the ability to participate in new ways with life (choose greeting cards, help their kids with homework, read their mail), and receive promotions at work.

Did you wake up this morning and read your Bible? Did you check your email? Did you write a check, or look over your children's homework? Please take a moment and enjoy the gift that just being able to read this blog post is!

I believe that not only will literacy for the world improve the prospect of jobs for those trapped in the cycle of poverty and self-defeat, I also believe that it will lead to a more peaceful earth. When we read, we broaden our world.

I have chosen to highlight the organization Proliteracy Worldwide. Proliteracy works in 65 developing nations around the world. If you visit their website, you can learn how to donate to their cause, about their advocacy program, and even find a program to volunteer your time to help others learn to read.

Join me today in praying for those who have limited opportunity and are trapped in a cycle of poverty because of their illiteracy. Pray that God would provide opportunities and willing workers to meet this need in their lives. I believe that words are close to the heart of God. He created us with fantastic brains that can read stories of Him. I wish for everyone to have that chance.
I will be twittering today during my fast. Follow me if you wish!

April is blogging today for Team 2! She has chosen to tell us about the Mocha Club (I can't have a mocha today) go on over and read her post!

Just a Little Reminder

In addition to being the first day of the 40 Day Fast, it's also the first day of The Summer Reading Extravaganza at the Friendly Book Nook. Just write a post of what you plan to read this summer or your favorite beach reads! It's been fun getting to know some new bloggers this way.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

40 Day Fast 2008: Day 1

One of the interesting things about blogging is that you discover new favorite writers. Some bloggers you love because they develop a great community, some you love because you know them personally, some you love because they make you laugh or think. And then some, rarely perhaps, you love because they have such a gift with words you feel lucky to be able to read their fine writing for free.

One of my favorite bloggers is like that although he often makes me laugh and think as well. He is our first faster and I hope that you will go read his post today. While you're at it, read his post from last year, too. I still think about that post from last year from time to time. Incredible.

Preparing for the 40 Day Fast

I'm not as big of a fan of Brooke Fraser as Kat is, (is anyone?) but I do think this song is brilliant. Something about the combination of beautiful sad music and the words...even today, I found tears streaming down my face while listening to it. (this also tends to happen during "Oh my God" by Jars of Clay and "I Saw What I Saw" by Sara Groves)

The line that got to me today was this: "And I am on a stage, a thousand eyes on me. I will tell them Albertine"

Not all of us have the chance to be on a stage with so many people watching, but this week over 60 bloggers are going to use their platform-their blogs-to tell the world about what is on their hearts. Instead of blogging about how cute their kids are, or their struggles with modern Christian life, or their latest read (blush) they are going to take one day to turn the spotlight on something that is breaking their heart in the world and they are going to tell us all how we can choose love. Won't you follow along?

Sunday Salon

I read some interesting books this week, The Hunted by Mike Dellosso, The Memory of Water by Karen White, and now I'm reading Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. These books are all quite different from each other and very enjoyable.

Today I went to Barnes and Noble to browse and spotted a book shelf they were selling that you use to hold a book while you read. I thought about it for my students, because some of them like to prop the books up as they read and this would make it easier. Then I wondered (of course) if maybe I would like to have it. Generally, I don't have a problem with just holding a book, but I thought it might be interesting.

I broke down and bought The Host by Stephanie Meyer I've been eyeing this book for awhile and decided to take the plunge. But the store clerk said...oh I need to try to read this again. I almost wanted to put it back immediately. She said she found it slow and hard to get into. I really don't think store clerks should say such things if they want to sell books! But worst is that I read so much that a slow book just isn't going to cut it unless I'm terribly committed to it.

So have any of you read The Host? Was it good or slow and hard to get into? Need feedback! By the way, I haven't even read Twilight yet!

Sharing the Love



Krista at Welcomed to Married Life gave me this fantastic bloggy award! It's fantastic because it's all about love! In short, it was created to help raise awareness about organ donation. Read the original post here.

She gave the award to some of her commenters, and I want to do the same. Those of you who comment (who also have a blog) make the hobby of blogging so much fun. It's nice to hear your thoughts. So a big fat thank to you those of you who take the time to comment! Consider yourself loved!
Christel
Jen
Thomas
Heather
J. Kaye
Texas in Africa
Angie

Here are the official rules:
The rules of this award are: SHARE THE LOVE!!! Share this award with all those blogs out there that you love. All the people who make you smile. All those that make you laugh. All those that make your day. All those that leave uplifting comments on your blog. **All I ask, is that you include a link to this post with the award and ask your recipient to do the same**