Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sick, Sick, Sick

You all know the tune to "Jingle Bells," right? Well, I've written new lyrics. Sing along: Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick!

Argh! The entire Baart family has run the gamut from pneumonia to bronchitis and beyond. Ew! It's been a yucky December. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that none of us have been sick at the same time... There's always someone to take care of you, but then, there is always someone SICK! At least I think we are all (finally) on the mend. We've consumed enough antibiotics to kill virtually anything creepy and crawly that might invade our systems. So, in light of my fledgling health (and as my overtime job as nursemaid slowly begins to wane), I promise to start blogging again. To keep you interested, here's what's coming up:

Reviews! I did a lot of reading this month and I can't wait to talk about Water for Elephants, The Thirteenth Tale, and an amazing book that challenged my ideas about God called The Shack. I so excited to tell you all about it.

News! I'm thrilled to show you the finalized cover for Summer Snow--it's gorgeous. And have I mentioned that I've signed a new book contract? I'll tell you all about it...

Musings! I love the holidays, but they always make me think. I'll blow off some of that steam here.

Sorry it's been so dull around here. I hope that in the interim you have had a beautiful Christmastime with family and friends. It's a snowy wonderland in my neck of the woods and God has been good. May the same be true for you. And, may you have a blessed end to 2007...

Monday, December 17, 2007


Okay, so it's been a very long time since I've blogged. I have good excuses: we've been in BC, we've dealt with sick kids (if you can imagine it, they've had it), and we've ho-ho-hoed our way through a variety of Christmas traditions and expectations. Whew. Though I love the holiday season, and though we're having a ton of fun, I'm sure you can tell that things are a little crazy around here. Wacky. Wild. Maybe the teensiest bit desperate. So instead of adding one more thing to my already full plate and trying to blog about something deep and meaningful, I'm just going to give you a glimpse into the mild desperation I call life right now. Each and every example is taken directly from the last few days of my life. Enjoy. I hope it makes you laugh.

You know you're desperate when...
  • instead of verbally convincing your child to smile nice for the family Christmas photo, you offer him not one, not two, but three boxes of Smarties (the Canadian version of M&Ms). And these aren't snack-sized boxes either. Oh no, they're big. Enough for a 24 hour sugar rush at least.

  • you rely on Facebook to keep you up-to-date on the goings on in your friends' lives. No, not the long-distance friends, the friends that live mere blocks from your house.

  • you eat chip dip off your child's dirty plate with your fingers because there wasn't any left when you had a chance to eat.

  • you convince yourself that taping a piece of banana peel to your foot is a viable option for treating symptoms at home. I cannot believe how ridiculous that sounds. Don't ask, I'm not telling.

  • you make sangria out of dandelion wine and apple juice because it's all you had in the house. It was an appetizing cat-puke orange. Yummy.

  • though you promised yourself you would never, ever, ever spit shine your own child in public, when you realize in church on Sunday morning that you forgot to wipe your son's peanutbutter face, you don't hesitate to madly lick your fingers and go at the offending stickiness with alarming intensity.

  • you don't blog for nearly two weeks because you can't organize a coherent thought, much less an interesting blog entry.

There you have it. It's been a little nuts around here. But don't let the twinge of desperation in my tone fool you--we're loving every minute of it. Just look what we woke up to on Sunday morning...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

On Vacation

I know it's not Christmas yet, but I'm officially off on a holiday vacation! We're headed for Vancouver, BC (our second home) for a week full of family, food, and apparently, snow. Snow?!? Snow is an Iowa thing, not a Vancouver thing! Iowa is equipped for it: snow plows, snow tires, snow saavy drivers... the greater Vancouver area is not equipped for it. Their one little snow plow doesn't cut it, and the last time I was privileged enough to drive on snowy Vancouver roads all the other drivers acted like I was a moving target. Yikes. Say a prayer for me, will ya?

Anyway, snow drama aside, we really are going to be gone. I apologize in advance for the inactivity in blog land. If you're bored, check out some old posts (this is post #63, believe it or not). I'm sure you'll find something worth laughing at. Notice I say laughing at not laughing with. I'm okay with that. You can laugh at me.

As my four year old would say: Peace out, my peeps. Of course, he has no idea what he's saying. He thinks peeps are those yummy little marshmallow chicks you can only find at Easter. Speaking of, I could go for a pink one right about now... :)

Have a happy week!

Advent Hope

It’s Sunday afternoon and, as usual, something Aaron preached about this morning is rattling around in my mind. (You must get so sick of my quasi-theological ramblings… Sorry. But am I sorry enough to stop…? Umm, no.)

Since today is the first Sunday of Advent, the sermon centered around the theme of hope. Usually Aaron likes to preach exegetically rather than thematically, but for the sake of the traditional advent calendar, he was willing to abandon his typical, single-text sermon structure and play a little “Old McDonald Had a Sermon” (with a text-text here and a text-text there, here a text, there a text, everywhere a text, text). He-he-he! Anyway, I’m glad that he did. I got a lot out of his Bible-flipping.

In a nutshell (though much more eloquently than my attempt at summation), Aaron asserted that hope is a process. It is something that exists both NOW and NOT YET. Our hope is secure (the life and death of Jesus Christ), but it is also waiting completion (His second coming). And in this tension of waiting and hoping, of losing the battle but winning the war, we must exist in the balance between knowing our salvation is secure and enduring the suffering that this world has to offer.

This is one of the glorious paradoxes of God that continually confounds spiritual skeptics: “How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?” I can’t help but wonder, “How can there NOT be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?” The suffering isn’t the point, the enduring hope for renewal is. We all know, we all know, that this is not the way things are supposed to be. Nothing is quite right. Even the good stuff--the fantastic relationships, the gorgeous vistas, the moments of clarity--are a dim reflection of what we all know in our hearts they should be. We long for something more. And we can’t help it: we have eternity set in our hearts. So we hope.

What a difficult thing to believe at the edge of our postmodern age. If nothing is universal, if we must lack the optimism for a truth that will finally explain everything for everybody, how can we offer insight into a persevering hope? A hope that will transcend all the sorrow and darkness and disbelief? A hope that can cover us all?

I think we have to abandon the notion that hope is something we can package up and offer as a universal gift, one size fits all. Hope that promises measurable results feels cheap at best. But if we can grasp the concept that we are the people of the second advent, that in the character of our perseverance through the suffering we have endured we will exhibit a glorious, eternal hope, I think we will become a light that shines in the darkness. We are the personification of advent. We are the hands and feet of Christ to this age. We are the hope He has to offer His beloved world.

Wow. What an amazing challenge to Christians. And what a challenge to those of us who consider ourselves artists. Our lives, our words, our paintings, our everything has the potential to offer hope. We get to be a mirrored reflection of the glorious hope that is fulfilled in Christ. What an opportunity. And what a responsibility.

I think the reason why all of this weighed so heavy on me today is because I just finished The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. (Yes, I’ve been reading it forever and a day.) Anyway, I’ve been trying to put my finger on why my initial love of the book turned to a growing dissatisfaction that finally blossomed into a full-fledged dislike of such a critically acclaimed work. Kiran writes beautifully. Her prose is stunning. And her story is gripping. But it’s so hopeless. Utterly and completely hopeless. Yuck. It was ultimately so heavy and so sad that I had to convince myself to keep reading it. I just knew it would end in tragedy. Thankfully, Kiran was kind enough to offer one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny (albeit shallow and unsatisfying) hope in the final page of the book. But it wasn’t enough for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about examining the depth and breadth of suffering. I think that in many ways coming face to face with our need is a healing and even affirming experience. I believe it can deepen our love and appreciation for the God who saves us. But without the promise, without hope, what does that sort of reflection have to offer us? Absolutely nothing.

I desire for my writing to be hope-filled. I want it to be an impetus that drives people to continue to look forward, to look for God in the midst of it all. I ache for people to be able to find meaning and hope woven into the fabric of their own broken lives. I know that I have (that my writing has) a long way to go, but I am holding this objective in front of me. I am (we are) the personification of hope. May I (we) be worthy of the call.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Cool Review

There's another great review of After the Leaves Fall! As if you haven't read enough already. Anyway, more reviews means more exposure so I'm thrilled. This one is from an Aussie--gotta love that, too. Oh how I'd love to go there someday... At any rate, I'll stop babbling and let you check it out. Have fun browsing around RelzReviewz!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Golden Compass

A few years ago, I bought, devoured, and really enjoyed Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Today, The Golden Compass, his first book turned movie, is the topic of a hot debate in Christian circles. My husband (a pastor) asked me to write my own assessment of Pullman's books and the ensuing drama because many of his parishoners were asking him whether or not they should boycott the movie. I figured I'd share my two cents with you. Disagree with me? Leave a comment! I'd love to hear what you have to say...

~ ~ ~

Philip Pullman and his trilogy of books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, are garnering a lot of attention these days. With the movie release of The Golden Compass this Christmas season, many Christian groups are scrambling to denounce Pullman, his books, and the movie adaptation (which stars Nicole Kidman and is stylistically similar to The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia movies). Is all the hype overblown? Or should we be as concerned about these stories as some sources are trying to convince us we need to be?

His Dark Materials, the title of Pullman’s trilogy, begins with a riveting book about a young girl, Lyra, who overcomes extraordinary danger to save orphaned children from an unspeakable fate. The second book introduces another main character, Will. Together, Lyra and Will uncover the secret of a knife that can literally tear a hole between universes, allowing them to experience an endless array of different worlds. By the time the final book rolls around, Lyra and Will are entrenched in the middle of a mighty rebellion, a war that will determine the fate of the living and the dead.

All three books are well written and very compelling; they are full of adventure as well as many unexpected twists and turns. However, these books are not just an interesting story. Pullman is a talented author on many levels, and throughout the entire trilogy he weaves his own beliefs (or lack thereof) into the narrative with increasing blatancy. By the end of the third book, Pullman has asserted through his complex story that there is no such thing as good and evil, and that God (called the Authority) is an irrelevant deception forced upon people to keep them under control. Ultimately, Lyra and Will witness the downfall of the Authority: “Demented and powerless, the aged being could only weep and mumble in fear and pain and misery…” Bottom line: God dies. Or at least a representation of him dies. Of course, the entire thing is highly allegorical and, in many ways, a critique (again) of the Roman Catholic Church. Poor Catholics, they always get the raw end of the deal.

Obviously, the underlying message of these books is in direct opposition to everything that we as Christians believe. (And it is true that Philip Pullman is an avowed atheist.) But do they threaten the bedrock of Christianity? Should we be afraid of Pullman and his glamorous new movie?

Take a moment to think about The Da Vinci Code. Some Christians went to war over this controversial book and movie, and it could be argued that all the extra attention essentially helped to catapult a poorly written book and a boring, bumbling movie to center stage for months on end. As we vilified the book/movie, we continued to draw interest to it. Is the same thing is happening to The Golden Compass? Does it even deserve our attention? Consider all of the other miserable movies out there that promote promiscuity, violence, addictions, and other disgusting behavior. Christians didn’t rage over the vile American Pie. Why are we singling out this one movie among the countless others that are an equally sickening affront to our awesome God?

But we’re not talking about every other movie. We’re talking about The Golden Compass. And the question is: Should Christians take their kids to see The Golden Compass? Only you can decide that. I will tell you that the subject matter is dark and serious, and certainly not suited for small children. But if your kids are older, and if you intend to watch this movie (or read this trilogy of books) with your children and talk seriously about some of the implications of the underlying moral and theological messages, I think you could spark some intense discussions that result in a deepening of your child’s faith rather than a weakening of it. Because even though these books try to end with a bang, what results is actually a sad and empty whimper. The conclusion feels hopeless. It feels wrong.

Even Pullman, entrenched in atheism and convinced that there is no God, allows his characters to mourn when the Authority dies at the end of The Amber Spyglass. The characters weep and feel the loss of what they believed to be love and purpose in their lives. The sad thing is that they’re wrong. And only we as Christians can speak truth into this painful misconception.

Instead of clutching our battleaxes, why not be the beautiful voice of hope and reason to a world that is so desperately seeking? I believe that our message is far more powerful (and, best of all, full of a mighty and glorious redemption) than anything Philip Pullman tries to promote. Instead of shrinking in indignation and horror, why not engage our culture and offer people what they really seek? After all, we have a God who delivers on His promises, who is the supreme and perfect authority and who will not let us down. And hey, we have a God who isn’t afraid of going head to head with a little Hollywood movie. Believe me: He’ll win, hands down.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Naked in Love

Like my racy blog title? I’ll probably get some people trawling the World Wide Web for sexual references checking out my blog! Sorry to disappoint, this post has nothing to do with sex. Oops! I said the S word. Another red flag just went up somewhere in blogland. He-he-he!

Anyway, I had to post this. I was curled up on the couch this evening doing my Bible study as my husband got my four-year-old ready for bed. All of the sudden, said little one comes barreling into the living room buck-naked except for a pair of khaki socks. He proceeds to do a wild jig and then pauses to admire himself. He holds out his arms and studies them. He bends down to check out his legs. Then he hooks his chin over his shoulder and peeks at his backside. After a moment of contemplation he says, “Mommy, I love my bum.” He gives it a resounding smack for good measure and runs from the room.

I laughed my head off. And then I envied him a little bit. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done such a thorough inspection of self and come back with such positive results. Most of my self-evaluation (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual, etc.) is rather harsh and uncompromising. I don’t see a whole lot in myself that I can love as cheerfully as my son loves his bum.

Hmmm. I think I could wax philosophical on this for a long time, but I’d rather leave you to your own deep thoughts. Have fun. I’ve been pondering this for hours… And laughing. I've been doing a lot of laughing... :)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Giving Thanks

I know I'm hardly being original by doing this, but I have to take a minute to express a little gratitude for the fullness of my life. The list goes on and on ad infinitum, but for the sake of brevity, here are a few of my favorite things (raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens go without saying):
  • a warm patch of sunshine in the middle of my living room floor (the kids are asleep and my house is resplendent with afternoon sunlight)
  • Isaac saying, "Mommy, I love you" at least a dozen times today (much nicer than yesterday when he called me a stinky skunkweed over and over and over again)
  • Judah hitting my cheeks as hard as he can (and those chubby little hands are strong!) just so he can kiss them better
  • the bare spot in my living room that will be filled with a Christmas tree by this evening (hand in hand with that pleasant thought is the fun trip we get to make to the local tree farm in just an hour or so!)
  • fresh flowers on my kitchen table
  • a double date with my hubby and our good friends last night (I may have gutter-balled nearly the entire first game of bowling, but I redeemed myself in round two, thank you very much)
  • the thought that one year ago today we were landing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and on the verge of meeting our son
  • a God who continually surprises, upholds, and adores me, though I can't claim to deserve his love in any way, shape, or form

Life is just so beautiful... Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Writing the Third

It's a cool, Monday morning in my quiet little community and I have the unexpected opportunity to write! Usually I write Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, but because Aaron has to preach on Wednesday night for our church Thanksgiving service, he woke up this morning and ushered me out of the house. Yay! I love surprises. And I devour any chance I get to write.

This new project for me is such a learning experience. In some ways, I feel like my first two books were "practice." After the Leaves Fall is an emotive, in-depth character study. Summer Snow is still very character driven, but I experimented a lot more with plot. My family and friends who read earlier copies of the sequel said it was a much more compulsive read than the first because most chapters end with a mini-cliffhanger. There are more twists and surprises. But difference aside, both books were a blast for me to write; I had so much fun discovering what I was capable of.

Now, I've taken off in an entirely different direction with my third book. It is heavy on both character and plot. It is much more complicated than my first two books. It is written from three different points of view. It deals with subject matter that I have to research intensely. Argh! It's incredibly fun, but daunting, too. I guess I could liken it to the difference between training to run a 10k and training for a half-marathon. I'm at the point in training where I'm thinking, "Am I crazy? Can I even do this?"

My agent and my writing partner are fantastic. They are both so encouraging and they both continue to say the same thing: KEEP WRITING! They assure me that it will all work out in the end and that we will be able to fix any significant problems with minimal heartache (i.e. some rewriting). I think therein lies my problem: I've never had to do rewrites. Well, at least not big rewrites. The edits for Leaves and Snow seemed pretty minor to me: change a word here, flip a sentence around there, add a short paragraph or two and bada-bing! we're done. What if, like I know some authors have had to do, I have to go through with a fine tooth comb and change a third person POV to first? I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.

Confession (as if the whole wide world didn't already know): I'm a perfectionist. And I want my first draft to be a hair's breadth from perfect.

Admission (and this is huge coming from me): I don't think I can be perfect this time. Oh! The horrors! Oh, the inner turmoil!

Oh the learning curve. I am learning so much. And though I worry a bit and wonder if I can do what I want so badly to do, I am so grateful for this opportunity. How awesome is this? How blessed am I to do what I have always, always wanted to do? Trials and fears aside, it's worth all I have to give it.

Anyway, I gotta run, I have a messy manuscript to work on.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Leaves" on USA Today!

So I just got a really cool email... Michelle's review of After the Leaves Fall is on USA Today Online! How fabulous is that? I don't know how she pulled it off (magic? friends in high places?), but I sure would give her a bone-crushing hug if I could get my arms around her! Best of all, Michelle's review is littered with the hope of a loving God who longs to make all things new. What a neat message to promote in such a public forum. Anyway, check it out at USA Today. And leave a comment--you can still win a free book!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another Giveaway!

So you didn't win a book? Here's another chance to do so! Michelle at Edgy, Inspirational Author Blog just reviewed After the Leaves Fall. She liked it, she really liked it! Her praise means the world to me because she reviews so very many books. Browse through her blog to see some of the amazing books and authors she has featured. Anyway, Michelle is also giving away a free copy of Leaves. All you have to do is read her review and leave a comment. The comment has to be specific, so make sure you read the review. I believe she'll draw a winner on Sunday, but don't quote me on that. Good luck!

Sorry about the lack of meaningful blogs lately. I've been birthday party planning, book writing, nursing kids back to health, Bible study leading, preschool planning, and just all around being busy lately. That's okay. I've also adopted a little practice from our friends down south... I'm taking a daily siesta! Let me tell you, a ten minute power nap after lunch has doubled, if not tripled my productivity. Never mind my much cheerier disposition. At least, I think I'm cheerier--maybe you need to ask my hubby about that one... He-he-he!

Oh well, for now, sign up for the free book and I promise to write more later.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Book Winners

My baby is four years old today!

I can't hardly believe that it has been four years since the first time I laid eyes on him. I'll spare you the sappy mommmy talk, but suffice it to say, I'm feeling very blessed and very in love today. And that's in spite of the fact that my house is full of preschoolers! Yikes, they can make a lot of noise. Anyway, as they're playing nicely upstairs I thought I'd quick live up to my promise and announce the book winners.

Drumroll... Zam and Deborah Shank! Yay! Please email me privately at and give me your specifics so I can mail a copy of the book to you ASAP. Also, even though I didn't pull his name, I want to send a book to Ron Reffett, too. Though I can't claim that the book is full of wisdom, if nothing else it will get his wife's mind off of daughter issues for a while. I was a headstrong teenager myself, I know what Ron and his wife must be going through! Please email me, too, Ron.

As for my former students who signed up... I'll be in BC from December 4-12. Let's do coffee! Seems like we have lots to talk about.

Thanks to everyone who signed up for a free book! I hope you still pick it up and if you do, I hope you enjoy it. Have a wonderful week.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

National Adoption Month

November is a special month for my family. It marks my oldest son's birthday, our trip to Ethiopia to bring our baby son home, Thanksgiving, of course, and now, an event that is particularly special to us: National Adoption Month. I could write volumes on what adoption has meant to our family, but rather than strike out on my own promote awareness of adoption, I'm going to send you over to Linda Hargrove's excellent website. I'm so excited about what she's doing and I encourage you to spend some time at her blog!

Linda is a debut novelist, an adoptive mother, and an advocate for Biblical racial reconciliation. She's a beautiful woman with an equally beautiful mission. And all month she has opened up her blog for other adoptive parents to post their family stories. Today Linda has posted my adoption story, or at least a part of it. Head on over and check it out. And don't forget to leave a comment and encourage Linda in all the Lord is calling her to do!

Also, you still have a few more days to sign up for the FREE books I'm giving away. Scroll down to the next post and add your comment to be entered!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Free Books!

Well, After the Leaves Fall has been out for over a month now and I haven’t given away a single free copy. Scratch that, I have given lots of books away, but not online. Anyway, it’s time I amended that. Yay! Free stuff! I’m slowly learning that fall is all about giveaways in blog land…? I’m a newbie, be patient.

At any rate, in honor of my two November babies (Isaac was born in November and we picked Judah up from Ethiopia in November) I’m giving away two signed copies of Leaves. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post. Don’t forget to include a way for me to contact you if you don’t have a Blogger account. Next week Tuesday (November 13, Isaac’s 4th birthday!) I’ll draw two winners. Feel free to enter even if you already have the book--it makes a great Christmas present!

You may only enter once, but just to make things interesting, if 100 people comment to this post, I'll give away four signed books instead of two. Good luck!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Final Stop (on the illustrious bloggity blog tour)

My final blog tour stop is this week! Wow, these past ten weeks flew by. Thank you, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to all the lovely ladies who so graciously hosted me on their interesting and entertaining blogs. It has been a real treat getting to know so many people from so many places. Hmmm... No guys though. Interesting, I never thought of that before. Are there any men out there reading my book? Or has it been branded women's lit? Anyway, that's beside the point and I'm getting off track. Bottom line: it's been great. It being all of it: the blog tour, the book, the entire wonderful process. I'm so glad I get to do it again!

This last stop is a fun one for me to end with because Deena didn't mind kicking back a bit when she read After the Leaves Fall. My somewhat ambiguous conclusion wasn't her cup of tea, and she questioned me on it--good for her! I had lots of fun doing this interview because I had the chance to articulate why I did (or didn't do) certain things in the writing of my debut novel. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you can concede that this sort of dialogue is fun. And, I hope you enjoy the interview.

Hey, there's lots going on this week so stop back soon for some fun news and a GIVEAWAY. Don't you think it's time I gave away one (or a few) of my own books? Call me crazy, but I'm thinking that would be fun... :) See you soon!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spirituality Is Sublime, Take II

So I'm still trying to really flesh out my understanding of how God is asking me to use my gift of writing, and I think I've found another touchpoint that will help me articulate my emerging philosphy.

I'm crazy about music. I'm a music-maniac. Sometimes I think this art form must be inexplicably tied to my own creative expression because I can't seem to write without the inspiration of music. Anyway, one of my favorite Christian musicians is David Crowder. Talk about poetry. That man has a soul for God and the words to express it. One of my favorite David Crowder songs is called "Wholly Yours." No joke, the first fifty times I heard that song I would quite literally choke up. My son finally began to ask, "Mommy, why do you cry when we dance to this song?" I never stopped to assess why it so powerful for me. Until now.

These are the lines that get me every time:

"But a certain sign of grace is this: from the broken earth, flowers come up, pushing through the dirt."

"And the truest sign of grace was this: from wounded hands redemption fell down, liberating man."

And finally, I know. It's the beauty of the paradox. It's the juxtaposition of dark and light, dirt and divinity, holiness and wholeness through the most inconceivable of means: Christ made flesh and beauty from ashes. Amen!

What makes the concept of grace so infinitely sweet to me is the fact that it comes to us in our brokeness, at the moment when we could not possibly be farther from God. And he uses our wounds, he works with the dirt and the ashes of our lives. To me, the majesty of the endless grace of God is only made more real by realizing and then accepting the depth of depraviy that existed before he came in and made us holy.

Sometimes, I think Christians would prefer to focus on the flower, the end result of the grace of God rather than the broken earth from which beauty emerged. That's wonderful if you are one of those people. But I'm not. I want to weep over the ruined earth that God decided to use for his glory. It's a reminder for me, an almost unbearable sweetness--sorrow that blossoms into inexpressible joy. But then I've always loved contradictions: from sweet and sour to God made man.

So I'll write about the brokeness before I get to the part about God doing his awesome God-thing. And, because God will surely touch you differently than he chooses to move me, I think I'll leave room for your knowledge of the Lord, your spiritual imagination to fly free.

Am I making any sense at all? I'm still learning to convey all I think and feel on this subject, but for more of an explanation of where I'm at and how I got here, feel free to check out some old posts. The following link will take you to my
writing journal from a few years back. There are eight entries, titled Writing Journal I-VIII. You can also read Spirituality Is Sublime, the first entry. And if you don't agree with me? Leave a comment! I don't claim to have it figured out and I'd love to dialogue with someone on this issue.

And if none of this is your cup of tea, hop on over to
Sally Bradley's site. This is my second-to-last blog tour stop. Sally's lots of fun and a great resource for all things bookish. Enjoy her site! Best of all, she came up with some really different, interesting questions for me. Want to know which Dr. Seuss book After the Leaves Fall is most like? Better check it out!

Also, Carrie just informed me that she is giving away another free copy of After the Leaves Fall! Want to win a copy? Head on over and sign up!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wild Week

What a wild week it has been! From houseguests to house showings, Aaron and I have been kept so busy (and so separate) I hardly remember the sound of his voice. When he got up to preach yesterday, I was so captivated by how handsome he looked that I completely tuned out his words in favor of simply admiring him. Oops. Guess I'll have to download that sermon.

Anyway, things don't get any better this week. On the top of our priority list is: SELL THIS HOUSE! We have three days to do it. The couple that we bought our new (hope-we-still-get-it) home from called us to tell us that they've sold it to someone else. Sigh. Since we bought it on the contingency that ours would sell, this no-strings-attached offer trumps ours if we can't seal the deal on the house we are currently living in. And fast! Did you follow all that? At any rate, it's enough to give anyone an ulcer. Shoot up a prayer for us if you think of it. We fully trust that God knows what he's doing, but we're still going to knock on the doors of heaven like mad for the next 72 hours and pray God's will is the same as our wishes!

Another thing on my plate right now is an opportunity that cropped up through our weekend houseguests... It looks like I'm on my way to Liberia in January! We had an amazing family stay with us this weekend and we spent hours talking about our role as Christians in a global community. Peter, our guest, has been to Liberia and knows Robert (the pastor of Abide in the Vine) and Immanuel (the caretaker of Christ Is Our Hope), the men who are our contacts in Liberia. As it turns out, Lifewater International is taking a trip to Monrovia in January and they have room for a few people from our own fledgling Liberia team. Long story short, January is not a good time for Aaron to go, but it works great for me. It seems that I'll be heading over in a few months to pave the way for a team to go and work in November of 2008. Crazy, eh? I'm excited, but nervous, too. It didn't help when Peter mentioned something about machete attacks on white people... I'm sure I'm taking that way out of context! Besides, Lifewater knows what they're doing. Right?!

With all this going on, my book life seems to be slowing a bit. I think things are going well with After the Leaves Fall. I don't really know. Now that the official launch has come and gone, I guess it's just a matter of waiting to see what happens from here. And I have no new news to report on Summer Snow. It's in the works! If something fun develops, I'll let you know. Other than that, I'm still writing my third book. Not sure what's going to happen with that either, but I am having fun. It helped to have Peter and his family around this weekend as they are Catholics and Catholicism plays a role in book #3. Truthfully, this book is much slower going for me after writing my first two. It's just so ambitious, so full of gravity, twists and turns, that I'm finding it much more daunting to give it all the attention to detail it deserves. But I do know that I'll finish it, and if I can finish it like I've started it, I'll be pleased with the results. Hopefully I'll continue to grow and improve with each book I write.

Have a blessed week, wherever you may be. And stop back in a few days for info on my second-to-last blog tour stop. Later on this week I'll be popping in at Sally Bradley's site. You don't want to miss her!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Spirituality Is Sublime

I was blessed to participate in a powerful worship service today.

You know how sometimes everything just seems to click, and the result is take-your-breath-away spiritually charged? For some reason, church this morning was an awe-inspiring experience for me. Sadly, corporate worship is not always that way (surely this is my own fault--a matter of the state of my sinful heart), but when it is, it leaves me raw and tingling. Open to the Spirit.

Maybe it was the music. Or the sermon. Maybe it was the spiritual pulse of the room: racing and excited, thrilled and ready to be filled. Whatever it was, there came a point where I realized that I was crying. There was actually a tear making a warm path down my cheek. I can’t describe it, I could never recapture it, but it assured me of something that I have known all along: spirituality is sublime.

As an artist, I have always believed deep in my soul that there is much to this world that will forever elude our grasp. Even as we try to capture the essence of spirituality on paper (or in our sculptures, through our films, amidst the lines of our paintings, etc.) we know that anything we portray is merely a dim shadow of the depth of the reality that we experienced only moments before when we, for a moment, met God. Who can explain what happens when your soul clefts to expose that secret place created specifically for the One who knows your inmost being? Who can encompass the height and breadth of such startling clarity when this world shimmers for a second and we glimpse the eternal? Who can claim to even have the capacity to hold this truth, this significance, in our insignificant minds?

I’m beginning to realize that this is exactly why I avoid an obvious spiritual journey with a predetermined destination in my writing. We can dissect the physical, emotional, intellectual, and psychological aspects of ourselves. We can take these inner workings apart and reconstruct them scientifically. We can--in as much as God has allowed us to know--understand them. But I believe spirituality is something wholly other. Apart. Surreal, even. Transcendent, unknowable, an endless mystery. Sublime.

I can’t pinpoint the moment I was saved. I’m not able to explain in logical terms the path my life has taken from destruction to deliverance. Nor do I want to. It is something so intimate, so otherworldly, that I hold it as a treasure close to my heart and meant for me alone. Because it is meant for me--carefully constructed just for Nicole by the lover of my soul. Your journey looks different; it’s a journey he walks with you. Maybe that’s why I balk at formulaic conversions and easy answers. Maybe that’s why nothing measures up when it tries too hard to recapture the magic that is God.

Though this is something I’m still deconstructing and trying to wrap my mind around, I think my philosophy of spirituality in art is this: art should reveal, not dictate. Too often I think artists who are also Christians think their art must blatantly exhibit God. “Here he is! Dissect him, understand him, watch him move.” And I don’t think we can do that. He is too much for us. And instead of feeling defeated, I hope this makes us feel overwhelmed with wonder. How awesome is this? God is wholly above us, indescribable, and capable of moving in ever-miraculous ways that defy explanation.

Instead of trying to script God and our responses to his work in our lives, I think it makes more sense to allow our work to reflect his majesty without pinning it down. I want to say through my art: “Isn’t this lovely? Isn’t it true? Doesn’t it speak to you? Now, where do you see God in it?” And every response that my art evokes will be a different one. I love that about God. He is powerful enough to touch each one of us in a million, a trillion, an infinite amount of ways. And he doesn’t need me to be carefully walking people through a prescribed set of events or emotions in my writing to accomplish whatever his will may be for that piece.

I fully realize that this philosophy of Christianity and art is not necessarily representative of what most Christians believe. I’m okay with that. Please see my thoughts as a work in progress, an attempt to describe what I think and feel, though certainly not as well articulated or complete as it could be. Nor do I think I have achieved this subtly powerful spirituality in my art of which I speak so passionately. But, hey, I’m going to keep trying. And to that end, I hope the Lord continues to manifest himself in increasingly majestic and inexplicable ways in my life (and yours). Amen and amen.

Blog Tour: All Week

Only three stops left!

This week I'm sticking close to home at the blog of a woman whom I have known for years. Miriam sewed me a gorgeous, little red dress for my senior prom, and we've been friends ever since. Who wouldn't love a woman who could make a dress like that? Anyway, Miriam is a real gem of a woman and I am so blessed to know her! She's fun and talented and, best of all, she makes me laugh.

Miriam is doing something a little different for her stop on the tour. Instead of posting one big interview, she is going to post one question a day. The questions are a little more in-depth so I've spent a bit more time on them. Check back every day for a new question. Click here for Miriam's blog. Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nearing the end...

There are only a few stops left on my blog tour! I can't believe October is half over--what happened to fall?

Anyway, before I get too depressed thinking about the eventual advent of snow (hey, that sounds like a book title to me: The Eventual Advent of Snow), I should let you know that this week I am at Novel Journey. Ane Mulligan reviewed After the Leaves Fall last week at Novel Reviews and now she's posted our interview. There are so many interesting interviews on this site! Have fun browsing around.

Ane and I have a neat connection. She picked up the Advance Reader Copy of ATLF at the International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta this summer. She read it and loved it! Isn't that cool? Then she contacted me via email and we've been in touch ever since. She's a real sweetheart and a writer, too. Ane's encouragement has meant the world to me!

Happy reading! Oh, and I have to slip in a little disclaimer... I did the interview with Ane over three and a half months ago, so when I read it this morning I had to laugh a bit. There are things that I definitely would have said differently today! I think I sound like a bit of a dork. But hey, so it goes. I'm sure I'll look back on all these interview and cringe in the not-so-distant future. Argh. All my stupid thoughts saved for posterity in the bowels of the illustrious World Wide Web. Now that's even scarier than the eventual advent of snow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Global Warming

This weekend, as I was on my way to a book signing, I came across something that has me a little wound up. Normally, I can let this sort of thing go. But for some reason, this particular affront is still bothering me days later. So, in honor of Blog Action Day (a day late--drat!), and because I want to get this off my chest, I’m going to blog about it.

What has me so bummed? A sign. A sign in front of a church. A sign that read: “Don’t worry about global warming in this life. Worry about it in the afterlife.”

Is anyone else cringing???

I have so many problems with this sentiment that I could write a couple of essays about it, but I'll curb my enthusiasm and stick to the environmental factor since Blogger is trying to promote awareness of environmental issues. Maybe I'll tackle the rest another day.

Whether or not you believe in global warming, I can't imagine that there is a person on this planet that would dare to assert that humans are not exacting a dire toll on our world. From pollution to the extinction of rare and beautiful species of animals, we are abusing our planet in ways that are downright shameful.

The earth is an incredible gift from God, it is his creation, the work of his hands, and we have been given a mandate to care for it and protect it. I get so frustrated when Christians (who should be on the forefront of the environmental revolution) act as if our world is something disposable. God created it and it is good. How can we possibly honor him when we don't treat his masterpiece with respect?

I can't help thinking about the scandal when a rowdy band totals their hotel room after getting drunk or high. We are horrified when we hear such stories. How disrespectful! How wicked and selfish! And yet, how is it any different when we abuse our earth because we believe a new one will be provided for us?

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not an radical environmentalist or even a tree-hugger (though I love the term and wish it could be applied to me). But I do take my responsibility to this earth seriously. I do worry about global warming in this life. And I do what I can. My kids and I walk or bike when the weather is nice, and when it's not we drive a car that gets excellent gas mileage. We recycle. We try to reduce and reuse as much as possible. We compost. We wouldn't dream of littering. I know most of you do exactly the same things--and more. I just think that we should continually be looking for ways to protect and preserve this incredible gift that we have been given.

And I hope that Christians will think twice before they publicly disregard the world that God has blessed us with. I believe such thinking is an insult, a slap in the face, to the Creator of heaven and earth.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Keeping Busy

Well, my house hasn't sold yet and my kids are still being kids (the nerve), but my week has improved considerably since Monday. Sorry about that downer of a post. Anyway, I have lots going on and not much time to blog, so I'll keep it simple and just give you a quick run-down of how I'm keeping busy.

I'm watching:
The Office, season three. A friend got us hooked on it and now Aaron and I are like junkies--we can't wait for our next Office fix. Dwight's my favorite character to watch, but like every other woman who's addicted to the goings-on at Dunder-Mifflin, I have a crush on Jim. Fess up, you do too.

I'm reading:
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. I am in love, love, love with this book. I'm reading it while I re-read Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Hardy. Both books are literary dark chocolate. I adore each little bite I get. So far, here's my favorite line from The Inheritance of Loss: "Romantically, she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself." Wow.

I'm doing:
An absolutely ridiculous amount of cleaning and laundry. Keeping the house spic and span for the realtors is not a whole lot of fun. Never mind the piles of dirt I have to keep cleaning up because my baby insists on eating it from our potted plants. Why, oh why?

I'm writing:
An as-of-yet untitled book that is a real departure from After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow. I'm crazy about it and having so much fun writing it. I'm doing a lot of research for it and learning lots about bi-polar disorder, mania, depression, and oddly enough, the Catholic Church. Not that those things are related in any way, they are merely the things I have to research to make this novel work. One of my favorite lines so far: "I wanted to imprint her on each scribbled page of my memory so that when they took her away I could remember how her collarbones rose in mirrored harmony and almost met in the shadow of her long neck."

I'm feeling:
Old. Can I still be in my twenties? Please, please, please?

I'm promoting:
After the Leaves Fall, of course. Tonight I have a signing at the Christian bookstore in my hometown. Saturday I'll be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a brand-new library. Next week Wednesday I have another signing and giveaway in conjunction with a chamber of commerce fall promo. And next Thursday I'm doing my first reading at another public library.

I also want to take this chance to promote an awesome book I just finished reading. My Hands Came Away Red is Lisa McKay's debut novel and I thought it was absolutely amazing. Check it out!

I'm eating:
Fall food! Homemade tomato sauces, ooey-gooey pumpkin bars, crisp apples, and red wine. I'll miss summer, but it's so much fun to haul out cool-weather clothes and shelve my summer bottles of Viognior and Riesling. Have I mentioned I love fall?

Speaking of fall... I'm going to go play in the leaves. Now there's a pick-me-up.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Simple Peace

I'm wound too tight. This isn't a new revelation for me, it's something I've always known. But for some reason there are seasons in my life when I seem to wrap myself in even more complicated knots than normal. These past two weeks would qualify for a lifetime achievement award in the annals of my often nail-biting life. Literally and figuratively--I do actually bite my fingernails. Yuck, I know. I can't help it and usually don't even know I'm doing it. I figure we're all allowed a minor vice or two. Or three...

It's not that I'm uptight; I'm actually quite easy-going. But being the perfectionist that I am, I am very hard on myself when perfection is not acheived. And, to make matters worse, I worry about perfection long before any verdict has been reached, causing myself lots of unnecessary worry and stress.

My women's Bible study is working through "Breaking Free" by Beth Moore. This week we learned the five benefits that God wants to bestow on all of his children. One in particular really struck me: to experience God's peace.

I hate to get all philosophical/theological, but what is God's peace? Is it the ability to remain calm when my boys are jumping all over each other? Is it feeling perfectly at ease and content while a prospective buyer for our home mulls over our counter-offer? Is it ignoring bitter words from a friend because I know her anger isn't really directed at me? If it is any of those things, or all of them, I need a little more peace in my life.

Sometimes I hate living in the tension that is, by definition, the Christian life. We are to be in the world but not of it. We are to be continually made new, transformed, and yet never conform. We are to love the law, but never fall into the trap of legalism. We are to love peace, but to also understand that peacekeeping is not the same as peace-making. Argh. Am I the only one who sometimes finds it just plain hard?

I don't feel very peaceful right now, and I'm only making matters worse by getting angry at myself for not being able to perfectly exist in the balance. I want to surrender my control, and yet I know I can't lose control because God expects a whole, sentient woman to fulfill the call he has placed on my life (and yours).

Sometimes, like today, I just want it to be easy. I want my kids to stop breaking things, my house to sell quickly, my friendships to be hassle-free, and the list goes on and on. Usually, I'm all for adventure. I want my life to be a challenge, my experiences to be complicated and varied. And God's peace in that context is multi-layered and resoundingly deep--satisfying and quenching and sometimes months, if not years, in the making. But just for today, I'd give about anything for one of those great, big EASY buttons. I'd love a little simple, straight-forward peace. I don't want peace like a mighty, churning river. I want peace like a puddle of rain: calm, safe, maybe even shallow.

Deep breath.

Sorry if this was a bummer of a post... For a little pick-me-up (or if you are feeling peaceful and can't relate at all!) I am at Becky's Christian Reviews this week. At the end of the interview there is a link to the review she did of After the Leaves Fall. I believe she posted the review last week. Also, Novel Reviews has released their review of After the Leaves Fall. A few months ago I did an interview with reviewer Ane Mulligan, but I'm not sure when that will be posted. I'll keep you updated...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Halfway through the blog tour...

One of the best things about this new writing gig is all the incredible people that I get to meet. I suppose it started nearly 18 months ago when I got an email from the lovely Becky at Tyndale. She liked the first 50 pages of my book! Can you imagine? Since then I've had the opportunity to fly out to Chicago to meet many more people at Tyndale (they are all so amazing), as well as "meet" online numerous reviewers, critics, agents, and people I totally consider newfound friends. How fun is that?

I guess I'm getting a little carried away reminding you that the next stop on my blog tour is Amanda's website, A Patchwork of Books. Not only is Amanda adorable, but she loves books--loves, loves them. Is crazy about them. Her reading lists astound me! Oh to be able to devour books like this girl can... Anyway, Amanda was sweet enough to make room for After the Leaves Fall in her schedule, and I am honored that she was willing to host me this week. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her through email and her blog. Check it out! She's a sweetheart, you don't want to miss this one.

Also, I have to post a link to Carrie's site again. I had a booksigning in a nearby town this past Friday and Carrie dropped by! It was so much fun to meet her in person after all our internet correspondence. What a wonderful woman. Anyway, someone snapped a photo of the two of us at the signing. I'll have to print that one off and save it forever. It's my first booksigning picture!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Aaron and I have been married for nearly eight and a half years now and I thought I had him all figured out... Then last night he sprung a HUGE surprise on me and suddenly I'm falling for him all over again. Who knew he was capable of such lovely deviousness???

Last night we went out for supper with friends. Totally standard Friday night routine. Well, sort-of. It's not always easy to get sitters for the kids. But last night we had babysitters and glorious freedom! Until the girl who was babysitting our friend's kids called to say one of their sweethearts was throwing up everywhere. Of course, it stood to reason. All the other kids had the stomach flu this week except for him. So, off for home. Sigh. Fun night out cut short. But then Aaron had to stop at the new Holiday Inn Express and Suites to drop off a deposit check for a spiritual gifts seminar. It was right on our way home... It would only take a minute... I've never seen it before and I was more than willing to accompany him inside to check out the decor... Imagine me: totally oblivious and innocent of his deceit until I catch a glimpse of a huge poster with--what's that? An upside down chick? I'd know that baby blue cover ANYWHERE! Aaron had to drag me the rest of the way to the conference room.

Oh my goodness, a book launch/birthday party. Up until last night Aaron has never surprised me with anything. Instead, I always hear a few days before my birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day (pick your holiday/event): "I just have to tell you what I got you!" And against my arguments otherwise, he proceeds to tell me. It's so endearing. But he didn't do that this time. No, this time I got serenaded with "Happy Birthday" and "Happy Book-Launching" by 75ish friends and family. 100? I lost count. Thanks, Dad, for that well-timed glass of wine. I needed it.

And though I sound sheepish (I am!), I'm also so thankful and so overwhelmed by such a fun, fun night. A good friend of ours catered amazing tapas and finger-foods including baked brie, smoked salmon on ciabatta bread with capers and herbed cream cheese, steak flatbread, dark chocolate covered in macerated berries, and other amazing delicacies. I'm still nibbling olives and proscuitto from our refrigerator. My Dad kept everyone's glass filled with a wonderful Chardonnay/Viognior or Pinot Noir. My Mom made the room beautiful. All my friends and family made it so much fun. And Aaron surprised me like I have never been surprised before.

To say I had a wonderful time would be a ridiculous understatement. So instead of trying to express how amazing it was, I'll just say: Thank you. I am so blessed.

PS - It's not my birthday yet! Aaron threw me a party two weeks early so I wouldn't suspect a thing. And I didn't--but don't you dare call me 30 just yet. I think I've decided I'll be eternally 29...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Exciting Stuff

Well I now have two book signings under my belt. Don't mean to sound like a downer, but I'm actually glad they are over! I had lots of fun, but I was so nervous beforehand that I practically gave myself an ulcer. I just can't get over this creepy feeling that I've got everyone snowed. Someone is eventually going to see through the facade and alert the rest of the world to the fact that my signature on a book is nothing special. I felt sheepish every time I signed a book.

But, my own inhibitions aside, I did have fun at both events. The first booksigning was at the store of a dear woman who happened to be my group leader at a recent women's retreat. What a sweetheart! She sold 80 books before I showed up on Wednesday, and while I was in-store we sold a bunch more. There are a couple in stock yet, but I think 120 books were sold in total. Yikes. That seems like a lot to me. The second event was the grand opening of a really cool bookstore in a nearby town. I just loved the eclectic feel of the store. And I got to hobnob with the big stuff because my signing was right after the ribbon cutting ceremony. Lots of fun. It was great to chat with different people. And I'm continually surprised by how many people are aspiring authors themselves. So cool.

In other news, we got the house! YAY! Imagine me dancing around my living room because that's exactly what I did. I suppose I shouldn't get my hopes up too high, though, because we have to sell our house yet. Shouldn't be too tough to do. However, I am still having a hard time at the thought of leaving our home. If this does all go as planned, I will miss our backyard terribly. Check out the photo. Isn't it cute? The upside is Aaron promised to outdo himself on our new yard. I love my husband!

Well, I've got lots to do... Better keep a move on. Did I mention that both of my boys had the flu this week? Projectile puke from my three-year-old and hands-in-the-mouth, why-is-this-happening-to-me shock from my one-year-old. I can't begin to tell you how awful it was. Funny thing, I got puked on numerous times and I feel fine. On the other hand, my brother stopped by the other day and guess who's throwing up now? I swear, mommies have tummies of solid steel. Knock on wood. I suppose I'm next now, aren't I?

Da-da-da-dum... (my attempt at melodrama)

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Feeling Blessed

It's a chilly fall day in my neck of the woods and I'm loving it. I adore fall. It's just so crisp and fresh... I look forward all year to the days when the leaves begin to change colors and the temperature dips enough to turn the sky a brilliant robin's egg blue. You should see the tree right outside my kitchen window (windows, actually, my kitchen and dining room are nothing but windows). I don't know what kind of tree it is (wish I did) but it is so incredibly yellow right now. Sunflower yellow. Canary yellow. It's amazing against the backdrop of the sky. So amazing that I'm waxing poetic. He-he-he.

Anyway, feeling poetic as I am, it somehow seems fitting that Aaron and I chased a little dream today: we put a bid on our dream house. Okay, it's not quite Aaron's dream house yet, but it is pretty darn close to mine. It was built in 1897 and recently renovated by a really neat man with an incredible vision for restoring the home to it's original grandeur. I'm drooling over the refinished hardwood floors, original oak moldings, sweeping staircase, nine foot ceilings, and windows big enough for four people to walk through abreast. It's gorgeous. There are some temporary drawbacks, but we are hoping that if we get the house we can someday make it just the way we want it. I'm so excited! But I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high... Now they have to accept our offer (or we have to negotiate) and we have to sell our house. I don't think our home will be a hard sell--it's super-cute and we've done a lot of work to it--I'm more concerned about how I will feel about selling it. We have so many memories here! This is our home... Oh well, we are leaving this situation completely in God's hands. Wherever he wants us to be we will be. As he opens and closes doors we will follow willingly. And hey, even if we don't end up moving into this beautiful old home, at least I'll be able to admire it from my living room windows--it's right next door to the house we're currently living in! How's that for an easy move?

I'm feeling so blessed today... Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the possibility of the house. Maybe it's the awesome email I got from a sweet girl who is partway through After the Leaves Fall. Maybe it's because I have my first booksigning tomorrow... Or maybe it's because I have fantastic friends...

Laurel Wreath is the next stop on my blog tour and I can't possibly say enough good things about her. We met when she received my novel to review for her column in Christian Women Online. We've been close ever since. She is an incredible woman with a passion for God and I am so thankful to know her! Check out our interview here and her review of After the Leaves Fall here. You don't want to miss Laurel's interview because she is giving away a FREE BOOK! Who doesn't love a freebie?

Hope you're having a beautiful fall day, wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Apple Recipe

Okay, I realize this is very out of the ordinary (much like my random post earlier this week), but I just had to share.

In Summer Snow, the sequel to After the Leaves Fall, a small apple orchard on Nellie's farm plays an important role. You won't read about it in After the Leaves Fall, but since it is autumn and since the apple orchard in question was inspired by the apple trees in my parents' backyard (we're up to our eyeballs in apples right now), I thought I'd share my favorite apple recipe with you. This is my grandmother's recipe and it's something that I am just sure Julia grew up on, as I did. I can imagine her eating spoonfuls of the caramel sauce, something I was caught doing on more than one occassion. And if you don't like pudding, don't let the name of this dessert fool you--it's actually a dense cake.

Anyway, enjoy. It's amazing...


2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup of butter
2 eggs
2 cups of flour
2 tsp. baking soda
10 medium sized apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Stir in the apples. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then add the flour mixture to the apple mixture. Stir well. Pour in a 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cake springs back in the center when lightly touched. Serve with warm caramel sauce.


1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup half & half or sweet cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the vanilla and cream. Heat through and serve warm, drizzled over apple pudding.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I feel like I am so busy right now, so caught with my fingers in every little pot I can stick them into, that I can’t form a coherent thought. Much less a coherent blog. Thus I am going to go with it. Welcome to random musings…

-Last week marked my first “back to work” day. I made myself comfy in a corner of my favorite coffee shop and turned on my I-pod so loud I’m sure I annoyed passers-by. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Nearly twelve pages in just over two hours to be exact. It was SO FUN. So fulfilling and rewarding, and a great reminder of why I write: because I love to do it. Best of all, my head was bent over my computer and my mind in another universe when I was startled by a sunflower poking in my eye. I looked up to see Isaac clutching a bouquet of flowers that was almost as big as him. As I’m pulling out my headphones I hear him say: “These are for you, mommy, because we love you! Happy birthday!” It’s not my birthday, but Aaron later explained that when he asked Isaac what he wanted to do with his “boys only” morning, Isaac answered: “Buy flowers for mom.” What a great kid! Can he stay three forever?

-We went to the county fair on Friday and had way too much fun. My dad has been taking me to the fair since I was a little girl… We always go on the last Friday of the fair and we always make a date out of it. When I was in high school I even got to skip my afternoon classes just so we wouldn’t have to miss the Arabian horse show. Dad and I would try to pick the best of class (sometimes we were even right) and then we’d eat junk food until we were sick. Nothing can beat a bag of Tom Thumb Donuts! For the past three years, Isaac has come along, and this year Aaron and Judah also joined us. Isaac had to watch the Big Cats show twice and he laughed just as hard the second time as he did the first. Dad and I decided the whole troop can come along next year, but we’re still going in the horse buildings--too bad if Aaron is afraid of horses. He’ll get over it.

-I have lots of readings/booksignings coming up and I have to admit I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t want to be unnecessarily sensitive, but something feels very weird about autographing my books. My cousin’s sweet little son came up to me the other day and said, “May I have your autograph, Auntie Niki?” He had been prompted to do so, and it was terribly cute, but it also felt strange. Why would anyone want my illegible signature in their book? It just messes up the nice first page.

Well, that’s a taste of all the things that are running through my mind right now. I’ll write more soon about Christ Is Our Hope, and I’ll post a list of the bookstores and libraries that I’ll be visiting in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let me leave you with a link to the next stop on my blog tour:

Amy has graciously agreed to host this week. I only know her though the emails we’ve shared recently, but she seems like an amazing woman. I hope you enjoy reading our interview and browsing the rest of her blog!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Book Is Out!

So Aaron and I went out on a date yesterday and guess what we found? My book!

We had stopped in a local bookstore to drop off an ARC for the manager, and afterwards we stuck around to do a little shopping. All of the sudden, Aaron grabbed my arm and swung me around. “Look,” he said, in one of those low voices that I know better than to argue with. And there it was, in all its baby-blue glory. Four of them to be exact. All pretty and facing outward and begging to be bought. He-he-he!

What a bizarre feeling. But very, very cool. A little strange, too, that we had stood only five feet away from the book while the manager oohed and aahed over the Advanced Reader Copy. The real thing was on his shelf!

Well, I was a little confused, so I emailed my marketing manager today and that’s it, the books are out. Wow. I thought I had a few more weeks to sit on this. But how exciting! After the Leaves Fall could be in a store near you even as you read this. I guess that means those of you who ordered it via Amazon or Target could get it any day now…? Oh, and I have to tell you this since we’re talking about pre-ordering the book--Aaron stumbled across some bizarre stat the other day that told him After the Leaves Fall is the 197th most pre-ordered Christian book of 2007. Yeah baby, now there’s an honor! Too funny…

Anyway, the wait is over. Who knows what God will do from here.

One last thing. As promised, the unabridged blog tour list:

1 ~ Sept. 3-7 (
Carrie at “With all I have been given…”)
2 ~ Sept. 10-14 (
Becky at “In the Pages”)
3 ~ Sept. 17-21 (
Amy at “Pretty Shiny”)
4 ~ Sept. 24-28 (
Laurel Wreath at “Laurel Wreath’s Reflections”)
5 ~ Oct. 1-5 (Amanda at “A Patchwork of Books”)
6 ~ Oct. 8-12 (Becky
at “Becky’s Christian Reviews”)
7 ~ Oct. 15-19 (Novel Reviews)
8 ~ Oct. 22-26 (Miriam at “In His Grip”)
9 ~ Oct. 29 - Nov. 2 (Sally Bradley)
10 ~ Nov. 5-9 (
Deena at “A Peek at My Bookshelf”)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Next Blog Tour Stop

Time for another stop on the blog tour! This week I am hanging out with Becky at "In The Pages." Though Becky is a librarian and book lover, we actually did not meet via our shared bookish world. Instead, we first ran into each other at a support group meeting for adoptive parents! Becky is the mother of a beautiful daughter from China (with another one on the way). I admire her as a mom and as an amazing woman of God. One of my favorite things about her is that I keep running into people who say to me, "Do you know Becky? You would just love her--she's so great!" And it's true. Head on over to Becky's blog and check out our little chat. But don't stop there, be sure to spend some time perusing her book picks. She has a brilliant mind and a great eye for a good read. (And I'm not just talking about After the Leaves Fall!)

PS - Tomorrow I'll have the complete blog tour list up and running!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Blog Tour: First Stop

Guilty admission: I'm scrambling a bit to put together this blog tour.

Truth is, I've never done anything like this before, and I just don't know what it should look like. But my first "stop" on said illustrious book tour is coming up tomorrow!

I suppose I'd better point you in the direction of the wonderful Carrie, lover of "small world" coincidences and all around fantastic person. We "met" online via one of those small world connections, and though we live all of twelve miles apart I'm a little embarrassed to admit that we have not yet met in person. But plans to get together are in the works!

Anyway, I'm babbling. Pop on over to Carrie's website tomorrow for a review of After the Leaves Fall, an interview with me, and a chance to win a copy of the book! I'm not sure how many she has, but Carrie will be giving away a few copies of After the Leaves Fall. Be sure to stop by and enjoy her thoughtful blog.

And check back here tomorrow. I hope to have the complete list of sites and dates for the blog tour.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Blessed to be a blessing...

Well, I've sold my first few books. What a weird feeling. Technically, the release date isn't for a few weeks yet, but as soon as my friends and family heard that I had a box of books (oops, I blogged about it and let the proverbial cat out of the bag) the phone started to ring. My favorite request was: "I want five copies and I'll pay anything." Anything? Interesting... He-he-he. :)

So I gave in. A couple copies are in the hands of trusted relatives and they have been given strict instructions not to lend them out! Of course, I let people borrow my books and I don't care if After the Leaves Fall is passed around, but I do want people to at least have the opportunity to buy it when it hits stores. Wouldn't that be nice? If people would buy the book? Oh I'd love that.

And since we're on the topic of book-buying, I suppose I should tell you what Aaron and I intend to do with some of the proceeds from After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow (the sequel). But before I do, I feel I need to let you in on what a difficult decision this was for us.

For almost a year (since I signed the contract with Tyndale last November), Aaron and I have been praying about this and seeking God's will. There is a passage in Matthew that says, "... when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." We have struggled over this passage, wondering if we should keep our plan to ourselves. But then we would think about the potential for good, the amazing results that could come about if people knew what we intended to do. And so we started to share our idea with a few close friends and family members. Their response was so positive and so overwhelming that we decided this gift is something we can all participate in together.

15% of the proceeds that we receive from the sales of After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow will go to support the children and workers at Christ Is Our Hope orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. It's not enough, it could never be enough, but we are excited to do what we can. We are blessed to be a blessing--what else is there in life? And if I'm not doing my math wrong (which I could be, I was never very good at math), we've already raised $37.65! Some of that money was straight-out donations when people heard that we were contributing to Christ Is Our Hope, but still. Do you know what $30 can do in Liberia? It can feed, clothe, educate, and provide basic medical care for a child for one month. Wow.

Buying books is not the only thing you can do to get involved. We are also in the process of setting up a child sponsorship program for the kids of Christ Is Our Hope. So far we have about fifteen sponsors, but we need 70. Or better yet, 150. There are many street kids that the orphanage would like to enfold but they simply don't have the money. Anyway, for only $30 a month you can support a child. How awesome is that?

Stay tuned for more information. Our website will be up and running soon. In the meantime, if you would like to sponsor a child, please email me and I can send you everything you need to know. And if you would like to know more about our relationship with Christ Is Our Hope, feel free to browse old posts:

Feeling Pressured
What I've been up to...

One last thing. Here's one of the boys from Christ Is Our Hope. I dare you not to fall in love... :)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Real Deal

So I am sitting in the middle of my living room floor surrounded by the real deal. Real books, the ones that people will hopefully buy and read (and love!). For some reason, they are very different from the Advanced Reader Copies... Glossier, brighter, real-er. Okay, so realer is not a word, work with me here. They're REAL! What else is there to say?

I should be so excited, and I am, but I also can't believe how nervous I am. These things are going to start hitting stores in the next few weeks and then what? Oh yeah, did I mention they will be sold at Christian bookstores everywhere as well as Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks? You can already pre-order on Amazon, Target's website, and all the websites for the above listed stores. Crazy.

So now the books are in hand, judgement day is fast approaching, and I'm scared to death. I googled (funny how that became an accepted verb) my own name the other day and was shocked to see what came up. I even found a website where someone I've never heard of gave my book a C+. That's the first negative feedback I've heard. Ouch. I wasn't ready for it. I guess someone didn't tell her that I've always been an A student. He-he-he!

Oh well, whether I'm ready for this or not, here we go! It's going to be a fun ride. If you're my friends and family and you're reading this, pray for me. I feel like I could use it. And (prepare yourself for my one and only pathetic stab at self-promotion) go buy my book!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Countdown Begins (sort-of)

As we are getting closer and closer to the release of After the Leaves Fall, things are really starting to pick up. It seems like something happens every day, whether it's a review, an opportunity for promotion, or simply a friendly email from someone who has read the ARC and enjoyed it. Anyway, in an effort to try and keep my head above water, I've enlisted the wonderful guys who manage my website to update a bunch of things. Keep checking my website in the coming weeks for more contests and news. September is going to be a fun month!

  • Click here for the NEWS feed. Do you belong to a book club? Be sure to check out the neat book club opportunity!
  • Click here to read the early buzz about After the Leaves Fall. Select: "Read the Feedback!"
  • Click here to watch a promotional video about After the Leaves Fall.
  • Click here to send me an email. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

House Guest Wisdom

Ever since Aaron and I moved into our very first home, it has seemed to have a revolving door. People come and go, stay for a day or stay for a week (or two), hang out over a coffee, and learn to treat our refrigerator like their own. (Anything you find in it is yours, but beware old Tupperware with unidentifiable contents!)

Anyway, we love having people over. And though it often seems like our guests are on the receiving end of the bargain, we don't feel this is the case at all. We get as much from them as they do from us. Particularly in the way of great conversation. We LOVE to talk, and we have so much fun staying up late with people from all over the US and Canada (and soon from Liberia!) chatting the night away.

One such conversation has really stuck with me...

This morning we said goodbye to a wonderful couple who had crashed in our basement for a few days. As we were having breakfast together we were talking about art and creativity, especially about the absolute need creative people have to be creative. Our friend told us something he had heard from a person he respected: "Creative people must have an outlet for their creativity or it will become destructivity."

Destructivity. The concept really struck a chord with me. And since I've often found that truth resonates deep in my soul long before my mind accepts it, I've been mulling over the idea of destructivity all day. I've decided that it is definitely true for me. If I'm not creating, if I'm not channeling all this energy that I have into something that is purposeful and lovely, I very quickly become someone that I would rather not be.

I haven't been writing much lately and it's killing me. I've been snarly and short, tripped up by little things that should be easily dismissed, and feeling unfulfilled in different areas of my life. I need to start carving out time in my busy schedule so I can put that creativity in me to good use. Summer has been too... summery. Lazy, fun-filled, littered with vacations... I'm ready for fall. And I've decided that no matter what the season, as much as I need to spend time with God, I also need to spend time doing what he created me to do.

I guess now that my house guests are gone, it's time to put their wisdom to use.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good stuff

I'm learning about myself as a blogger and so far I've discovered two things about my blogging style: 1) I tend to write looonnnggg blogs. Poor you. 2) I seem to write a lot about serious things. I guess that means I'm deep! Ha-ha! Or maybe I'm boring... :)

Anyway, life has lightened up a bit in just over 24 hours and I thought I'd share.
  1. Our bathroom is done! Well, almost. It's functional anyway and far more gorgeous than I imagined it would be. Who knew Venetian plaster could change a room so much???
  2. My kids are awesome.
  3. Our car is fixed! After 7 weeks of sitting in the body shop, the mechanic finally called us to say, "It's a goner." Aaron and I almost cried yesterday afternoon because we couldn't think of a way out of this jam. No $$$ makes it a little hard to buy a new car. Anyway, a few hours later the mechanic called us back to say, "Your car is working!" What a miracle! Apparently he decided to take one last look at it and suddenly discovered that something had been wired together wrong. Imagine that.
  4. I'm not sick anymore! In fact, I feel great. Gotta love modern medicine.
  5. I'm excited to dive into my redline manuscript.
  6. My kids are gorgeous. Have I mentioned that already?

Anyway, have a happy Thursday! I am...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Feeling Pressured

I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but frankly, I have been so busy! I keep thinking my life is going to slow down someday soon, but the elusive soon only seems to be receding on the horizon as fast as I approach it. It’s incredibly frustrating. And either I’m getting worse at dealing with the pressure, or the pressure is intensifying…

A quick run-down:

  1. I'm sick and have been for days.

  2. We are remodeling our main bathroom and must therefore use the only other bathroom in the house: the basement bathroom.

  3. We have houseguests (and will for the next few weeks) and must share said bathroom with six people.

  4. Our family has been without a family car for six weeks now. I’m not sure Aaron’s ’77 Chevette counts as a car… Well, at least not a family car--we can’t fit the car seats in it.

  5. My redline manuscript is coming today.

  6. I’m bogged down in emails, phone calls, and a seemingly never-ending list of To-dos.

  7. Mothering two toddlers is getting the best of me! Who knew parenting was this hard???
The list goes on… I need a vacation!

Well, that was cathartic. And kind of whiny. And, as always, God’s not letting me get away with it. Let me explain…

Just when I’m starting to feel really sorry for myself, really pressured by all the responsibilities that fall on my shoulders, I’m reminded that I am blessed beyond belief. Aaron spoke with Robert (our friend from Liberia) on the phone the other day. Remember my last post and our fears that a child in the orphanage had died? Well, this call confirmed our fears, though it wasn’t a child who had passed away. Lucia (Robert’s wife) lost her aunt last week. She died unexpectedly and it was very hard on their family. Aaron, completely devastated and trying to comfort his friend in some small way, asked: “How did she die, Robert?”

The answer: PRESSURE.

Excuse me? How does one die of “pressure”?

Apparently, Liberians are very familiar with this term and it’s meaning. It’s relatively common to die of pressure. But it’s not what you think. Pressure is not the result of an over-busy life. It’s not some crazy physiological consequence of West African heat and humidity. It doesn’t even have to do with pressure as North Americans understand it.

Lucia’s aunt died of the crushing weight of horror. The memories, the sorrow, and the sheer terror of Liberia’s civil war are still fresh in the minds of many Liberians. Many of these people saw their families killed, their wives and daughters raped, their children stolen and forced to fight in rebel armies, and their country destroyed. Some of the survivors have never recovered. They die of the “pressure.” Who knows, maybe it’s post-traumatic stress syndrome. Maybe their deaths are completely unrelated to the mental and emotional anguish they are experiencing. Or maybe our hearts and minds are far more powerful than our earthly bodies. Maybe dying of pressure makes more sense than heart disease, cancer, and AIDS combined.

At any rate, I don’t need a vacation, I need an attitude adjustment. Let’s try this again:

  1. Last night I was able to go to a walk-in clinic and receive medicine for my illness. I feel better already.

  2. We have the wonderful opportunity to turn our dinky little bathroom into something gorgeous and functional. Venetian plaster, bamboo flooring, and new mirrors and fixtures are just a few of the improvements.

  3. Our home, though small, is well suited for houseguests and we love having our friends and family stay with us. Besides, we’ll only have to share a bathroom for a few more days.

  4. Though we don’t have a usable car, my family lives nearby and they are more than generous in allowing us to borrow theirs when we truly need it. The rest of the time, I put the kids in the bike trailer and use pedal power! What’s wrong with that?

  5. My redline manuscript is coming today! I love the editorial process and I’m excited to see what my editor thought of my second book. Never mind the fact that this just serves as a reminder that my lifelong dream is coming true…

  6. I have a telephone, a computer, and all the accoutrements of a lavish life. I am rich beyond measure.

  7. I get to mother two toddlers! They are the sweetest, cutest little boys I’ve ever seen. And I’m doubly blessed that I don’t have to go to work and leave them in day care.

The list goes on… I have NOTHING to complain about.

And I’m starting to wonder if all the “pressure” in my life is nothing more than the consequences, the byproducts, of all the blessings that have been heaped on me. How backwards is that?

Anyway, to keep myself grounded, I’ve been sneaking peeks at this photo. It’s of a soldier walking through the streets of Monrovia, Liberia at the end of their last civil war. Look closely. He’s not walking on gravel.

I don’t know the meaning of the word pressure