Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sooooo funny...

"The hollow banter of these narcissists is about as funny as pre-op jokes from your oral surgeon." The New York Times

Gotta love a guy who can laugh at himself. I'm so doing this when one of my books gets trashed. ;)

Friday, June 26, 2009

My perfect...

A spin-off of Wednesday's post...

My perfect haircut: Carrie Bradshaw in I don't know which season of Sex and the City. Yes, I know, I could find better things to watch on TV. It's my guilty pleasure. Sue me. But you've gotta admit, this hair is awesome. Someday when I muster the courage to chop mine (hasn't been short since I was born) this will be my new 'do.

My perfect vacation: A chateau in southern France. I don't speak the language; I don't want to. I'm here for the wine, the coffee, the crepes, and the sun. I don't need a rental car or a tour guide, just hook me up with a bike, directions to the nearest beach, and a few recommendations for off-the-beaten path farmer's markets and cafes.

My perfect day: A good cup of coffee, a fresh scone (still warm, thank you), and happy kids around the breakfast table. A long, family walk, a stop at the park. Lunch out, just for the fun of it. A quiet afternoon (sleeping kids), writing under the pergola. Then a bottle of chilled white wine, shrimp on the grill and steaks to follow. An evening under the stars.

My perfect house: The one I live in is pretty close to perfection. A little small for our growing family, but it has all the right components: huge windows and lots of light, a large, open kitchen, a great backyard. All we're missing is a big bathroom and a little more living space. Plus, of course, a real wood fireplace.

My perfect long-term plan: I want more children. I hope to write more books. I'd love to win an award. I want to finish a triathlon with my friend, Katie. I want to spend some serious time in Liberia. I want to be a better mommy, wife, and friend every day. And I want to be real and honest and true and loving and good. And I know that God's plans are not my own, but that they are infinitely better. Can't wait to watch him shape my future.

Your turn. What's your perfect...?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If I were...

Since I'm low on blogging ideas right now I spent a little time browsing my friends' blogs and found a neat concept at All in a Day's Thought. Wendy, you're an inspiration. Consider my imitation the highest form of flattery. ;)

If I were a flower I'd be a delphinium.

If I were a song I'd be We Will Not Grow Old by Lenka.

If I were a place I'd be an open field beneath an endless blue sky.

If I were a drink I'd be a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

If I were a food I'd be chips and homemade mango salsa.

If I were a piece of clothing I'd be jeans.

Stay tuned, I'm going to modify this little exercise for Friday. And, leave a comment! What would you be if you were... Don't worry, I won't over analyze. I'm sure this is all very Freudian but we'll pretend it's just for fun. ;)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Fun (& Food)

Okay, honestly. Who has time to blog in the summer? My eldest had swimming lessons this morning (during which the little one and I ran errands), then we had a picnic in the park with friends, now my Baby's napping while my Big Boy plays with the neighbor, and when snooze-time is over we're all headed to the pool. It's 95 degrees today! We might spend the rest of the night there. But then again, I have burgers and brats thawing for supper and I promised we'd go for a bike ride when it cools off since Big Boy just learned to ride without his training wheels. (I see an emergency room visit in our future.) *Sigh.* I love summer. Love it, love it.

Anyway, since I can't think of anything blog-worthy, I'm going to post my favorite summertime veggie recipe. (Still loving our organic vegetables every week! Discovered I'm a sucker for kohlrabi...) I've made this three times in the last week for barbecues, picnics, and just 'cause I love it.

Hope you're having a fabulous June wherever you are! What are you doing to stay busy (and cool) as the weather heats up?

* * *

Vegetable Pizza

1 tube Pillsbury crescent rolls
1 envelope dry Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing
1/2 block (4 oz.) cream cheese (I use neufchatel cheese)
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use mayo made with olive oil)
sliced, diced, or chopped fresh veggies
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

-Unroll the crescent rolls but do not separate. Press lightly onto a baking sheet, sealing all the seams so that you have an even rectangle. Bake according to package directions, though you may need to adjust the time slightly. Watch closely. While the crust is baking, microwave the cream cheese for 20-30 seconds to soften. Add the mayo and dry salad dressing. Mix well. Wash and slice veggies. I use whatever is in season, though I do love vegetables with good crunch and color variation. Radishes, carrots, green, red, or yellow bell peppers, broccoli, etc. When the crust is cool, spread with dressing mixture and top with veggies. Finish with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately or refrigerate.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Okay, I'll admit I wanted to get your attention with that post title. But I do have gifts for you! There's just one little catch... Keep reading.

I have recently acquired a nice stack of bookplates and bookmarks that feature all three of my books. And I want to share. :) Not familiar with bookplates? Essentially, a bookplate is a sticker approximately the size of a deck of cards. Mine are brown with ice blue stripes (they'll match After the Leaves Fall perfectly) and they feature Tyndale's logo. Best of all, there's space for a short note and a signature--it's a nice way to get a "signed" book without ever driving across the country for one of my little booksignings. And the bookmarks are gorgeous. What can I say? Tyndale has amazing designers.

Anyway, like I said, I'd love to share these goodies with you. So, here's what you have to do. Post a review of any one of my books on Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, Christianbook.com, or Goodreads (or any combo of the above!), and send me the link. If you'd be so generous as to help me out with a review, I'd love to send you a little package with bookplates, bookmarks, and a note of thanks. After all, they say word of mouth is still better than any expensive marketing campaign. Wanna help me get the word out? ;)

Monday, June 15, 2009

One Body, One Hope

Last week I posted a video from Christian World Adoption, our adoption agency. Okay, might be a bit presumptuous to call it our agency... We don't own or operate CWA in any way, but they did help us bring home our son. We love the agency and are inspired by their vision to care for orphaned children around the world. We are especially excited by a new project they're spearheading called Acacia Village. I can't encourage you strongly enough to take a few minutes and check it out!

As for those of you who have read my bio in my book or on my site, you know that Aaron and I are also the founders of a non-profit that works with orphans in Monrovia, Liberia. One Body, One Hope began two and a half years ago when we were in Ethiopia picking up our son. Aaron and I stayed at the same guest house as a wonderful Liberian pastor named Robert Bimba. We became great friends and left Africa promising to support him in any way we could. Our little project has grown into a non-profit that has far exceeded our big dreams.

Robert and his congregation at Abide in the Vine (just outside of Monrovia) support an orphanage called Christ Our Hope. The 53 kids at Christ Our Hope depend on the generous monthly donations of our sponsors for their food, education, medical care, and other needs. It has been such an awesome experience to be involved in the lives of these beautiful children. There's more to the story, but I'll let you read it for yourself on some of my older posts. Or, you can just click on the One Body, One Hope icon under labels in the right hand column. Sadly, all my photos from those posts are AWOL, and though I've done everything in my power to contact Blogger and try to figure out how to get them back, I've had no luck. (Side note, Blogger is un-contactable. Did you know that? Very, very frustrating.) Anyway, happy browsing, even if it is photoless. I'll leave you with a few adorable ones from my husband's recent trip to West Africa. Aren't these kids gorgeous?

PS - We do have a website, though it is very rudimentary and in desperate need of updating. Check it out at OneBodyOneHope.org. Know any web designers who'd be willing to work with us? 100% of our funds go directly to the kids (and we're dedicated to keeping it that way) so we have no operating budget to speak of. Right now our board consists of 8 very committed people who donate their own time and resources--printing out newsletters, paying for stamps, and promoting the ministry with our own out-of-pocket funds. Thus the bare bones website.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sitting Down

I've been trying to come up with something fun and exciting to blog about for the last several days. But I'm pulling a complete blank. My lack of creativity is due partly to the fact that we're in full-fledged summer mode (i.e. we're outside from dawn 'til dusk playing and working so hard that I'm too tired at the end of the day to do much more than fall asleep standing up in the shower). But I think I'm mostly having a hard time blogging because it's been a very difficult week. Twice in the past few days Aaron has said, "Honey, I have some bad news." And when I asked, "Do I need to sit down?" he answered, "I think so." That's never a good sign.

I don't feel at liberty to share what we, our family, and our friends have been going through because they're not my stories to tell, but prayer would be appreciated all the same. At this point, everything could work out okay, or the next few months could be unbearably difficult. Either way, I'll pull myself together and write more soon.

Have a lovely week.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In Good Taste

After posting about books I disliked, I've decided I need to redeem my bookish self by posting some good reviews. I've read some awesome books lately... Enjoy!

Prayers for Sale - Sandra Dallas

A few months ago I posted a review of Sandra Dallas's Tallgrass. She was a new author to me, but since we share an agent I thought I should check her out. Turns out, she's one of my new favorite authors. I love her voice. I love her perspective. I love her work. And I adored her newest offering, Prayers for Sale. It's sweet and soft and slow moving--in a wonderfully poetic way. It reminded me of listening to my grandma tell stories about her childhood and youth. Barnes & Noble recently chose it as one of their recommended picks, and Prayers for Sale deserves the distinction. I hope it sells by the trainload.

From the back cover:

Hennie Comfort is eighty-six and has lived in the mountains of Middle Swan, Colorado since before it was Colorado. Nit Spindle is just seventeen and newly married. She and her husband have just moved to the high country in search of work. It's 1936 and the depression has ravaged the country and Nit and her husband have suffered greatly. Hennie notices the young woman loitering near the old sign outside of her house that promises "Prayers For Sale". Hennie doesn't sell prayers, never has, but there's something about the young woman that she's drawn to. The harsh conditions of life that each have endured create an instant bond and an unlikely friendship is formed, one in which the deepest of hardships are shared and the darkest of secrets are confessed. Sandra Dallas has created an unforgettable tale of a friendship between two women, one with surprising twists and turns, and one that is ultimately a revelation of the finest parts of the human spirit.

The Painter from Shanghai

I picked up this book on a whim because I'm crazy about books that are set in the East. (The Good Earth, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Memoirs of a Geisha...) I wasn't disappointed. Pan Yuliang's story is at once sad, gripping, and triumphant. I devoured this book so quickly, I was so eager to see how her story turned out, that I'm sure I missed some of Jennifer Cody Epstien's beautiful prose. It's worth a re-read.

From the back cover:

Down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River and into the seedy backrooms of "The Hall of Eternal Splendor," through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of 1920s Paris, and back to a China ripped apart by civil war and teetering on the brink of revolution: this novel tells the story of Pan Yuliang, one of the most talented—and provocative—Chinese artists of the twentieth century.Jennifer Cody Epstein's epic brings to life the woman behind the lush, Cezannesque nude self-portraits, capturing with lavish detail her life in the brothel and then as a concubine to a Republican official who would ultimately help her find her way as an artist. Moving with the tide of historical events, The Painter from Shanghai celebrates a singularly daring painting style—one that led to fame, notoriety, and, ultimately, a devastating choice: between Pan's art and the one great love of her life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Matter of Taste

In my last post I admitted that I'm a bookaholic. A book worm, a word junkie, a literary addict. I was the nerdy girl in high school who tripped over her own two feet because her nose was buried in a book. Wish I could tell you that I was cool and athletic, the perfect Renaissance woman with an eye for art and a wicked hook shot, too. But that would be a terrible lie.

For me, books are relaxing, entertaining, fun, challenging, inspiring... The list goes on. But I have to admit that books are also perplexing. Or, at least, they can be.

If you've ever visited my Goodreads profile, you may have seen that I've rated 46 books and my average rating is 4.50. Apparently I like a lot of books! A rating of 4.50 means that I really liked it or I thought it was amazing. Am I just a kind reviewer? Nah, I think the truth of the matter is that I inherently know within the first few pages of a book whether or not I want to read it. The ones that don't hold my interest I simply abandon. That's why although I love to buy books, I'm very careful to read the intro before I put my money down.

So what happens when I finish a book and don't like it? I feel terrible. Really, I do. It's strange, I know, but I have a theory on this too... I believe that art is, at its deepest root, a conversation. The artist has something to say and she longs for an audience to hear it. So she writes, paints, makes music, whatever, and sends it out into the world in the hope that someone will read it, see it, hear it and say: "Yes. I get this. It touches me." And when I read a crappy book, I feel like there's been some sort of miscommunication. I want to email the author and say, "Let's talk about this. What were you trying to do here that I missed?" Okay, it's not always that extreme, but twice in the last little while I've had this experience and it bugs me.

Recently I've read two books that, let's be honest, I very much disliked. One is climbing the bestseller charts and receiving amazing reviews--I thought it was obnoxiously sentimental, poorly written, and terribly plotted. Oh, and I hated the ending. The other got a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is considered by many to be a literary masterpiece--I had no connection whatsoever to the characters, didn't believe the story arc, and went batty from all the overused words (How many times can you use ubiquitous in two pages? Four apparently.) And every time I see another rave review, I can't help wondering: What's wrong with me? Why did I hate this book when the rest of the world thinks its better than warm creme brulee? Is it all just a matter of taste? Or did I miss something? Of course, there are just plain bad books out there... Maybe I'm making too much of it.

Oh, that was cathartic. I can't bring myself to write a bad review (my mom always said if I didn't have something nice to say I shouldn't say anything at all!), but I hated those books and it feels good to say so. Now it's your turn. Have you ever read and hated a book? You don't have to disclose the title if you don't want to, but I'll throw out another book that I thought stunk: The Da Vinci Code. It was entertaining but nearly impossible for me to read because I thought the prose was so terrible. Dan Brown has made millions off it so I don't think he'll care too much that little old me wasn't impressed. And if he does care: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I'm sure you're a wonderful person. ;) Whew. Old habits die hard.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Life in Books

I love to read. I have since... well, forever. When I was a little girl I was diagnosed with vesicoureteral reflux and proceeded to endure same-day surgeries every six months from the ages of three to sixteen to make sure that my kidney was continuing to function properly in spite of the birth-defect. The only thing that made those days okay--IVs, blood tests, and all--was that my mom and dad took turns reading to me. Book after book after book. Hour after hour after hour. Talk about escape. I can still see the pictures of my favorite book in the children's ward: it was a Sylvester and Tweety story, a little squat box of a book that I made my dad read and re-read.

That early love for reading never let go. I still devour a couple books a week, and I don't feel at all guilty about it because I consider it research! And now, in addition to reading books for my own enjoyment, I have the distinct pleasure of reading to my kids.

It started with Sandra Boynton's silly tales. Then Laura Numeroff's adventures in cause and effect (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...). And now my kids' bookshelf rivals my own because I can't stop myself from buying books. There's something so special about owning them, reading them again and again, loving the corners to tatters and the staining the covers with morning chocolate milk and two-year-old drool. I know, I'm nuts. But I can't stop.

Yes, I love the picture books, the funny stories that rhyme and make my kids laugh. But now that my oldest has crossed the threshold of preschool, I'm starting to read chapter books to him. And to my delight, he loves them! We've made it through Stuart Little, a dozen Magic Treehouse books, Stink: the Amazing Shrinking Kid, the original Robin Hood, C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and we're halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Our latest book seems a bit over his head, but he's loving it all the same. Best of all, as we read we're delving into some heady topics: slavery, oppression, what it means to be a man of integrity... Oh, books are much, much more than simply a diversion.

Anyway, what about you? Are you are a reader? If so, what (or who) got you hooked on books? And, if you'd be willing to share, what was your favorite childhood read? I adored Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. If you've never read Over Sea, Under Stone, you simply have to pick it up. Skip the library this time--buy it. Stain it a little. And then pass it on to your kids. They'll thank you for it.