Thursday, February 26, 2009

Early Reviews

"A taut, engrossing story about familial love and redemption."

"Haunting and evocative... a stunning literary work."
-Tosca Lee, author of Demon and Havah

"This book is a treasure, and not to be missed."
-Angela Hunt, bestselling author

"A heart-wrenching story, beautifully rendered..."
-Francine Rivers, bestselling author

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


So after all the hoopla and melodrama of making the decision to get Lasik surgery, I've changed my mind. Yup, you read that right, the surgery is off. I cancelled it five minutes ago and I have to admit, I feel pretty good about it. Crazy, eh?

I suppose the biggest reason for my change of heart is the shift in perspective that happens when a much agonized over decision becomes a reality instead of merely a possibility. When I was only thinking about Lasik, the idea of removing a thin cross-section of my cornea wasn't alarming. But when I had the surgery date scheduled, it seemed more like an amputation to me. When I was only thinking about Lasik, the 95% success rate sounded high. But when I had a surgery date scheduled, I suddenly realized that I could be one of the 5%. Could I live with halos? Eye pain? Chronic dry eye syndrome? Poor night vision? Would I be happy if the surgery was only a little successful? What if I still had to wear glasses (albeit, with much thinner lenses)? What if my eyes regressed and I ended up back in glasses after 3, 4, or 5 years anyway?

Okay, so I'm probably a little nuts. A little over-analytical. But I know now that I can't do it, no matter how good it sounds. Maybe I need more time to think about it. Or maybe I'll sport contacts and trendy glasses for the rest of my life. Either way, I'm feeling pretty grateful right now for the gift of vision. Even if it comes packaged with wire frames and fat bottles of overpriced contact solution.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

12 days and counting...

Well, it's booked. The big chicken took the big plunge. And it's in less than two weeks! I'll let you know if my eyeballs fall out...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Back on track...

It's been almost three weeks since we first discovered the clogged pipes in our basement, and our lives are finally starting to return to normal. What a nightmare. At least it's almost over.

We still don't have the bathroom vanity and sink restored to their proper place in the downstairs bathroom, and last night a strong north wind blew sewer gases all through our house. I freaked. Aaron was gone to a meeting and my kids were asleep... I called my mom and cried like a baby. But, apparently, all I had to do was plug the pipe. The nice man from the city gas department who came to check things out was very kind to me--might have had something to do with my mascara-streaked face and desperate air.

Any-hoo, the final pieces are being put into place today. Grout between the bathroom tiles, baseboards and moldings, doors and furniture properly aligned. Praise the Lord. I like my life ordered and the chaos of this last month has been hard on me.

Thankfully, in one week Aaron and I are leaving the madness to attend a conference in Chicago! Hooray! I can't wait to get away for a while, even if it's more or less a "work trip." The hotel is beautiful, the company will be great, and I get to spend a few nights away from the headache and decision-making of life in our sweet but aged house. Did I mention no kids? ;)

Have a fantastic Wednesday!

P.S. This is the hotel we're staying at, NOT our basement. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009


Aye caramba, it only gets worse. Our basement water problem has evolved into a biomedical hazard. Apparently our headaches, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, short-term memory loss, general malaise, and my son's perpetually runny nose can all be attributed to the nasty mold behind the baseboards of our rotting basement. Ewwww. Sick, sick, sick.

Okay, as you already know, I skew towards the melodramatic, but all the same, get a load of these:

Yes, that black stuff at the bottom of the wall is MOLD. Gross. And the second photo highlights the nasty gooey-ness of our subfloor. You can't imagine the stink. Anyway, I probably won't be blogging for a while as there is even more to do in the Baart house than we originally thought. Sigh. Oh well, at least my house smells like bleach now.

I'll leave you with a photo of me all decked out in my working grubbies. The flour sack around my mouth and nose is so that I don't pass out from the fumes. I swear, if you look really close you can actually see the bleachy goodness wafting through the air... Ooh, and take a good look at the bottom picture--I'll post updates as we re-finish the entire basement. From flooring to fixtures, it's getting a total makeover.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Starting Again

I'm in the process of writing my fourth book for contract, and I'm humbled to find that I still have much to learn. Of course, I don't assume that there will ever come a time that I'll stop growing, but all the same I am routinely startled by my own relative youth and inexperience in the midst of this wonderful writing world. Don't think that just because someone is published means that they've got it all figured out.

About six months ago I started book #4. After the emotional upheaval of writing The Moment Between, I was looking to pen something a little less profound with a little more creative direction from page one. The Moment Between was a wild journey from first to last sentence--I wanted a more leisurely drive with a detailed roadmap. So I spent a few weeks prepping. I researched, did extensive character sketches on all my main players, plotted chapters, and drew a painstaking story arc for the entire book. It was beautiful. In fact, it still is beautiful. The characters are exquisite, the story is interesting, and the plot is well-crafted. But I can't write this book. I've been trying and trying...

I think that in spite of my best efforts to do things "by the book" this time around, I've killed the story for myself. Writing Bridgewater (the tentative title of book #4) was like cooking with a recipe--something I rarely do and wholeheartedly resent. Oh, it's fine to have the recipe nearby in case I need a reference. But I've found that my best dishes emerge when I taste something I love in a restaurant and then come home to do a little interpretation. A little interpretation, a lot of imagination.

So it is with books. At least, so it is with books and me. I've abandoned Bridgewater for the time being. I love the story and I hope to still write it someday, but I need some distance from the prescritive planning I originally did. It just didn't work for me. Anyway, I'm not much for giving advice, but if you're looking for a writing tip, this would be mine: do what works for you. Experiment, try your hand at anything and everything, listen to the experts, and then ditch it all if it's not your thing. There, I've given you permission to be a literary rebel. Use your freedom wisely.

As for what I'm currently working on... I'm in love with writing again. This new book (very creatively called Untitled) has captured my imagination. Maybe that's the key--I'm still imagining it, present progressive tense. It's an ongoing thing. Works for me. At any rate, stay tuned. I'll give clues, hints, and sneak peeks as the story progresses.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's raining...

It's pouring. Both literally and figuratively. Northwest Iowa is experiencing a rare February event--a soft, winter rainstorm. It's lovely, actually. I couldn't be happier. This morning, as I dug my milk gallon out of a melting snowbank (yes, you read that right--more on that later), I admired the warm wetness and the sound of the birds in the trees. It feels like spring to me, but I know that the real thaw is still weeks (hopefully not months) away. Sigh. I'm not complaining; I'm just wishing that it was April.

But I said it's raining literally and figuratively. Remember I posted last week about our basement? Well, it's official: everything needs to go. We have a contractor coming tomorrow to rip up the laminate and sub-floor, as well as the entire bathroom. Oh, it's a mess. But it gets worse. On Saturday (when Aaron and I were taking a little break from a one-day conference that we were both participating in), we came home to find a pink puddle on the floor in front of our refrigerator. I figured it was just spilled juice from the boys, but when I opened the freezer to make sure everything was okay, a melty mudslide of popsicles, thawed berries, and oozing packages of wrapped meats slid out. Gross. We threw away more groceries than I care to tally, then checked and double-checked the refrigerator. It seemed okay. Well, a few hours later we came home to find the refrigerator tepid at best, and proceeded to junk more spoiled food. Right now I have essential items stuffed in a snowbank just outside of our back door. I feel like a pioneer woman trudging down the steps in my robe to dig my son's amoxicillin from its little snow-cave. As much as I love the rain, it isn't helping my outdoor refrigerator situation... Argh.

I'm not the type to over-spiritualize things, but I have to admit that I'm feeling a bit attacked these days. But for some incomprehensible reason, it's not getting me down. Usually I'm not so cheerful in the face of even the slightest inconvenience to my normal smooth-sailing routine. Hmmm. Makes me wonder what secret store of optimism my subconscious is feeding on and if I can bottle this happy-go-lucky-ness for later use. Maybe I could sell it and make enough to re-do our basement and replace our refrigerator. Any buyers? :) It could be my rainy day fund...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Books I Loved

I've just finished up a whole slew of books that I absolutely loved. I wish I had the time to prattle on about all of them, but instead I'm going to give you a few mini-reviews. Read these books! They're amazing...

Havah ~ Tosca Lee

Words can't describe the heartbreaking beauty of this book. Told from the perspective of Eve, the story winds through creation, fall, and near the end blesses us with hints of redemption. It's painful to read, but hopeful too, and filled with such lovely imagery there are sections you will read and read and read again. Lee transformed the first several chapters of the Bible for me.

Fieldwork ~ Mischa Berlinski

Set in Thailand, Fieldwork is part mystery, part anthropological tale, part social and religious criticism. If that doesn't interest you, ignore my one-sentence summary! This is a fascinating book that kept me turning pages late into the night. The world Mischa creates among the hill tribes of Thailand may be fictitious, but his story rings so true you can't help but mourn and rejoice with the characters.

The Stones Cry Out ~ Sibella Giorello

This award winning book by debut author Giorello has it all: a great plot, interesting characters, and gorgeous prose. I'm usually not much of a mystery reader, but this FBI thriller was sensitive and well-written. Raleigh Harmon is an FBI agent in Richmond, Virginia when two men plummet from the roof of a building to their death below. 600 people witnessed the incident, but no one is talking...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

15 Random Things

My post is a big cheat today. Someone on Facebook tagged me in a note about 25 random things about yourself. It's a busy week, so I'm going to post my list here--Minus ten things so you don't get bored to tears.
  1. I will read anything I can get my hands on, including soup cans, shampoo bottles, and appliance instructions in any language. I was a Spanish minor in college and love finding lingual connections between languages.
  2. I would love a big family--4 or more kids.
  3. My favorite sound in the morning is my coffee perking.
  4. I like my showers so hot that I look like a burn victim when I get out.
  5. My middle name should be Grace. Not because it's true; because it would be ironic.
  6. I like a peanut butter and pickle sandwich about once a year, pregnant or not.
  7. I still bite my fingernails after twenty years of trying to quit.
  8. I think men who do dishes are sexy (I'm talking about you, Aar).
  9. My hair is long because when I was a little girl my daddy always said it was pretty. Now my husband does and I can't bring myself to cut it.
  10. My favorite movies are in French. I love subtitles. And I'd love to watch Pan's Labyrinth (I know, it's in Spanish) but I can't bring myself to do it because I HATE scary movies.
  11. I worked on a dairy as a ranch hand for several years. For inexplicable reasons, most people don't believe this about me...
  12. I have a crush on Obama. And Jon Stewart.
  13. I have TMJ (my jaw locks occasionally) and once when my jaw locked for several days I had to go to a maxillofacial surgeon. After trying for 1/2 an hour to unlock my jaw, he finally said, "Hold really still. I'm going to put my tongue in your mouth now." He meant thumb, but I laughed so hard he had to leave the room. He didn't come back for about 10 minutes.
  14. I hum when I eat and have to try very hard not to do it in public. Mmm-mmm. So good. I really like food.
  15. I had four different majors in college before settling on English, Spanish, ESL (English as a Second Language) and Secondary Education. The four discarded choices were: Veterinary Medicine, Political Science, Law, and Journalism.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Flooding & Finances

On Saturday morning our basement flooded. We live in the "old" part of our small town, a beautiful neighborhood with big trees, miles of sidewalks, and lovely houses dating back to the early 20th century. Our little two-story was built in the 40s, and while we love the hardwood floors, big windows, and quaint design, some things are, well, old. Like the pipes. This is the fourth time we've had water in our basement and the third time our pipes have been roto-rootered. But this is the first time we endured raw sewage beneath our floors and the the first time we'll have to make use of our homeowner's insurance. Sigh.

Before you get horrible pictures of standing water, drenched carpet, and thousands of dollars damage, you should know that though it was a mess, our basement is ideally designed for this sort of catastrophe. The basement floor is laminate (not carpet) and it's suspended a few inches above the cement on a sub-floor. The water just flowed beneath it. All we'll have to do is peel back the laminate, clean, assess the damage, and, if necessary, lay new laminate. I'm remarkably calm about the whole thing. It's so unlike me.

It's also very unlike me to be so nonchalant about the financial crisis (dare I say recession?) facing our country. And yet, I'm cool with it. Of course I don't want my husband to get fired. I don't want my friends to face hard times. I certainly don't want to lose my house or watch our entire country tank. But I can't help secretly cheering for all the things that this sort of financial environment unwittingly promotes. Like frugal living. A return to simplicity. Less travel, more family time. Less consumerism, more self-sufficiency. It means nights around the table playing cards with friends instead of weekends throwing money at restaurants, movies, and entertainment. It means reading more books, turning off the lights, and snuggling in bed at night because the heat is turned a few degrees lower than normal. I'm okay with all that.

It also means less individualism, and that probably excites me most of all. This society ranks the rights of the individual above all else, and if things start to change, we simply won't be able to live like that anymore. On Saturday, when our basement fiasco was in full swing, Aaron stopped by my brother's house to ask if he could borrow a tool. As soon as Andrew, my brother, realized what was happening, he laced up his boots and went up to his elbows in the basement muck. Four and a half hours later, he was still there, wrestling with the roto-rooter and cracking jokes amidst the unbearable stench. I love that. And I wonder what this country will look like six months or a year from now--if we'll step up to the challenge with as much selfless optimism as Andrew displayed when he was crouched in our basement. He helped, no questions asked.

What will we do? Share a meal? Give away clothes that don't fit us anymore and furniture that we don't need? Save pennies in a jar and use them for something other than a new toy? Trade babysitting with our friends instead of spending $5 an hour on a babysitter? Downsize our gas-guzzling SUV and embrace something more financially and environmentally responsible? I think the possibilities are endless. And I think this crisis has the potential to be utterly transforming. I hope so.