Monday, September 28, 2009

Shrimp Chowder

It's a cool fall day replete with cornflower blue skies and clouds that look like bits of pulled cotton. Oh, how I love autumn! Our windows are flung open, but I'm wearing jeans and a cardigan--sometimes I take it off to expose my bare arms, and sometimes I button it up tight. It's strange, but I love that feeling of being too hot in the sun, but too cold in the shade. May it last and last!

Anyway, it's a crazy-busy week in the Baart house. I don't have much time to blog, but I thought I'd quick post and share my recipe discovery--it's perfect for this time of year. And it's oh-so-yummy. I've been taste-testing it all afternoon. ;) I actually got the recipe from a Hy-Vee flyer, but I don't usually follow recipes. I've made a few changes. Enjoy!

Shrimp Chowder

splash of olive oil
1/2 onion
1 sweet red pepper
2-4 small potatoes
1-2 cups corn
2 cups water
2 tbsp. chicken bouillon
1 cup half-and-half
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. ground thyme
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 pound shrimp (cooked and peeled)

cheddar cheese

-Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add chopped onion and red pepper. Saute until translucent (5 min.). Stir in corn (I used the corn we froze earlier this summer!) and diced potatoes. Add water and bouillon. Bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for twenty minutes or until potatoes are tender. In a small bowl, combine half-and-half, flour thyme, salt, and red pepper. Slowly pour into saucepan. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Add shrimp and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes or until shrimp is warm. Serve with a sprinkle of crumbled bacon and cheddar cheese.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lucas Hudson

Deleted from Sleeping in Eden:

Lucas Hudson had been a pianist. When he was in fifth grade, his music teacher had taken one look at his unusually long, tapered fingers and declared that Lucas would either be a concert pianist or a surgeon. Mr. Princeton did all he could to mold his protégé into the former. Lucas, who at that time hadn’t come close to growing into his body, and had no idea who he was or wanted to be, warmed to the piano as if his purpose in life was to make music with his hands. It was the only thing that made sense to him for many years to come. He played soccer and won academic awards and was even elected class vice-president his senior year of high school, but he never felt at home in his own body. It was in the keys, in each note and chord and run, that he knew who he was, or wasn’t bothered by the fact that he didn’t.

In medical school Lucas bought an ancient upright, a forgotten relic that took up precious space in a tiny music store in the outskirts of Milwaukee. It was an ornate piece of furniture in its day, complete with scrolled edges and hand-painted flowers that looked like a faded Bavarian canvas. There was a neon-yellow sign on the dilapidated instrument that read: Very poor condition. Unsalvageable. And beneath that, the price: $50. By some stroke of luck, Lucas had the amount in his wallet. He steeled himself for a little bargaining and decided that he would refuse to pay taxes, fifty bucks up front and not a penny more, but the shop owner’s eyes took on a hungry look and he accepted what Lucas gave him without even bothering to count the bills.

For three years Lucas played off-key music on the piano that refused to be tuned, humming the notes for middle C, F#, and a few others that declined to offer even a hint of a note. When given the opportunity to play at the house of the head of the medical department during a formal evening of wine and cheese, Lucas sat at the ebony baby grand, shining like the polished reflection of a moonless night sky, and played a portion of Vivaldi’s Spring Concerto No. 1 in E. The performance was flawless, but Lucas left the dinner party disillusioned; he had missed the absent notes. With each and every tone present and accounted for, the mystery of the music seemed obscenely exposed. He happily went back to the nondescript upright.

When Lucas met Jenna, his hands slowly fell in love with her. The tangle of her hair, the curve in the small of her back, every inch of her face as he explored it, drinking in each angle as if his fingers were his eyes. First it was a day, then two, followed by a week and more until finally the chair that had for so long served as a piano bench became nothing more than a place to inhale a quick breakfast. It wasn’t until they had moved to Blackhawk that Lucas remembered the piano and felt his heart seize as if he had forgotten an old friend.

*Copyright - Nicole Baart, 2009*

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sleeping in Eden

So I'm in a bit of a holding pattern right now. My publisher has my newest manuscript, my until now untitled fourth book that is due for publication late this coming spring. It's exciting. And nerve-wracking, too. I'm crazy about this book, but what if they're not? What if all the hard work and agony (the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears) is for naught? It's amazing how this process never gets old. I have a feeling I'll be biting my fingernails when (if?) my twentieth book ever sits on the desk of a publishing house editor. I suppose that's a good thing.

Anyway, I'm currently contract-less and ready to start a proposal for my fifth book. I've never done a full-blown proposal before... So I'm procrastinating. Of course. Or maybe it's not procrastination. Maybe it's just a matter of time, of chewing it over while I think and think and think... Does anyone else work this way?

In an effort to keep my churning mind busy, I'm going to share a bit with you about my fourth book. It gives me something to do, and (hopefully!) gives you something to look forward to. :)

  • Remember the title I tossed around a few months ago? Sometimes Girl. Nah, nixed it. I finally came up with the perfect title for this book and have had great feedback from both agent and editor. My fourth book is titled: Sleeping in Eden. Do you like it?
  • Sleeping in Eden is based on this true crime. Her cold case was reopened when I was in high school and the news stories stayed with me for years. It's funny how the mind warps things... Little details stuck with me, like the friendship ring she wore on her right hand. But my story has little to nothing in common with Wilma's sad tale--it was merely the launchpad.
  • Lucas Hudson, my main character, has no mortal match. Usually I love finding a photo online of my character--and usually he or she jumps off the screen and grabs me by the throat. It's that obvious I've found his/her equal. But I've spent way too much time searching for Lucas, all to no avail. In looks alone, he reminds me a bit of the creepy psychologist from Batman Begins, but that's an imperfect comparison. And he does look a smidge like this guy on the right, too, but less pouty. He's got dark hair, dark eyes, and glasses, but he's much more complex than these pretty boys. Lucas is a small town doctor with a strong sense of right and wrong, but his compassion can sometimes get him in trouble. I think he's fascinating... And I can't find a good representation of him. Can you picture him anyway? I hope so.

Wanna learn more about Lucas? Come back Saturday for a sneak peek at his character... I'm going to share a bit of a scene I chopped from the original book. It'll never see the light of day in print, might as well use it elsewhere!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


So I've been quiet the last few days because I've been busy potty training. Not myself. Whew. That would be weird. No, I've been working hard on my puppy and my Baby, though neither are as little as I'd like to think they are. Sadly, our mini-beagle Lucy Pevensie (nobody guessed it!) has been much better at the training thing than my bright toddler. He can count to twenty in English and Spanish, sing the alphabet, recite his colors, and fix puzzles, but he doesn't have time for such trivialities as training. Sigh. I just hope I'm not following him to kindergarten with diapers and wipes in tow.

Any-hoo, thought I'd share our hilarious conversation this evening as he *successfully* used the toilet. (Warning, not for anyone who finds potty humor in poor taste.)

"Mommy, look! I went poopy!"

"Great job, honey! I'm so proud of you!"

"I went two poopies!"

"I see that. Good for you."

"Do I get a pink peppermint?"

"You most certainly do. But first we have to flush the toilet and wash your hands."

"Okay." Reaches to flush toilet. Pauses with a dramatic sigh. "Well, there goes all my hard work."

Isn't that hysterical? There goes all my hard work. He-he-he! Hope it made you laugh. Stay tuned, in the next few days I'll get back to blogging about writing. I have a title to share, some book details, and a few writing ideas...

Hope you're having a great week!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Grapevine II: Winner!

Congrats to Christy, the winner of our second Grapevine giveaway! Please contact me privately, Christy, with your snail mail addy so Mary can get your book in the mail. As for the rest of you, thanks for entering! And don't worry, you'll get another chance to win a great book. On October 15th I'll feature another author and another giveaway. I'll give you one tiny hint... This time, I'm featuring a guy.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's the little things...

Fall is so busy. I don't know about you, but I'm reeling from the new routine. Between school, Bible study, Kindermusik, writing, fall yard work, and all the "regular" stuff of life (laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.) I'm feeling a little frayed at the edges. Yeeps. But I am the eternal optimist, always looking for the bright side, always willing to paste on a smile until I actually am happy. And you know what? It works for me. Don't know why, but it does.

For me, it all comes down to the little things. Details that make life worth living. I used to go to sleep at night with the thought of cereal in my head... I loved cereal, and just thinking about the Golden Grahams that awaited me at breakfast made me fall asleep with a smile on my face. Lame, I know. But hey, I can't help it if I'm nuts about the simple stuff.

Anyway, at the end of a particularly hectic week, I'm going to take a few moments to remind myself of the little things that made these past five days worth every minute.

  • Two words: I'm sorry. They're magic, don't ya know? And best of all, they work both ways--they're great to give and receive.
  • A new puppy who loves to nap on my lap. Scratch that--who loves to nap on my chest, as close to my heart as she can get.

  • Spontaneous kisses from my five-year-old.
  • "Mom, I love you to the moon and back. Oh, and you're so so so so so so beautiful." From my three-year-old.
  • New shampoo. Crazy, I know, but I love the scent of new shampoo. Mine is apple and ginseng. Yummy.

  • Sunshine. This week has been resplendent with the warm stuff. Loving it.
  • A new book. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I'm starting it this afternoon.
  • Raisin-almond toast, a local bakery favorite. You take your run-of-the-mill raisin bread and run a thread of ooey-gooey almond paste right through the middle. Divine.

Okay, your turn. What little things made your week? I guarantee, once you start thinking about them, the list goes on and on and on... ;) BTW, as of noon tomorrow, one of you will be able to say that a fun little thing in your week was winning a book giveaway! Still haven't entered your name? Leave a comment on this post--it's not too late.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Mary DeMuth...

My take on Daisy Chain:

When his best friend and self-proclaimed future wife disappears, it's up to fourteen-year-old Jed Pepper to find her. But as even as the trail begins to cool, Daisy's disappearance uncovers a minefield of dark secrets in the small, Texas town of Defiance. Before long it seems as if everyone must shoulder some of the guilt for her alleged kidnapping. Emory Chance, Daisy's mother, deals with accusations of alcoholism and neglect. Ouisie Pepper, Jed's mother, is haunted by dreams. Even Jed himself is consumed by regret for not protecting Daisy the way he feels he should have. And the secrets don't stop there... A prophet, a madwoman, a child, and a seemingly soulless preacher all play an integral part in Mary DeMuth's haunting tale.

Daisy Chain is filled with unforgettable characters and a gripping plot. I was so anxious to uncover the mystery behind Daisy's disappearance that I had to remind myself to read, not skim. And when I took the time to savor the words, I was completely drawn in to the world of Defiance, Texas. Written in a comfortable, down-home style that invites you in, Daisy Chain brings up tough issues and examines them beneath the lens of scripture. Though the ending may not be nice and neat, it is hopeful--and it left me wanting more.

My take on A Slow Burn:

In A Slow Burn, Mary E. DeMuth explores the depth and breadth of tragedy with deft sensitivity and raw honesty. She deals unflinchingly with murder, adultery, drug abuse, and more, yet she weaves heartbreak and hope in the same tapestry. Her book will both rend your heart, and then soothe it. A must read for anyone who has hit the proverbial rock bottom and longs to turn around and look up.

Preview of Thin Places:

Did you watch the trailer? Did you cry? It's amazing, isn't it? Anyway, it's not too late to win one of Mary's books. Leave a comment on yesterday's post. Winner will be drawn on Saturday at noon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Grapevine: Mary DeMuth

So did the fifteenth sneak up on you? It pounced on me! Where has the last month gone? I can't believe it's been four weeks since I introduced you to Tosca Lee. But here we are, halfway through September, and it's time for another introduction and giveaway. How exciting!

Today I would like you to meet a lady after my own heart. She has a deep passion for ministry (her family served as missionaries in France), a photographer's eye, and an optimistic take on life. I love her smile and her boundless energy!

Mary DeMuth is the author of seven published books, three of which are non-fiction. Her eighth book, a memoir titled Thin Places, releases in January of 2010. In addition to writing, Mary speaks about parenting, building strong families, and overcoming past trials. If that wasn't enough to keep her busy, she also mentors writers on the road to publication at her blog So You Want To Be Published. Oh, and did I mention she's a wife and mother of three? It's either caffeine or the Holy Spirit... ;)

I've only had the pleasure of reading two of Mary's books, the first two books in her Defiance, Texas Trilogy. But from what I've read, Mary's writing is honest, raw, and unflinching. She willingly tackles subjects that many books avoid. Sexual abuse, murder, hypocrisy, alcoholism... Mary addresses it all with tenacity and grace. I applaud her pioneer spirit and her obvious empathy for people with a long history of brokenness.

Wanna win a book? Of course you do! Mary has graciously agreed to give away one of her books to Grapevine readers. You know the drill: leave a comment. If you want more chances to win, spread the word about the contest. For every social-networking thing you do (posting on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) you may have one more "entry." Just leave a second comment with the link-up. Good luck! And come back tomorrow for my take on Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn, Mary's first two books in the Defiance, Texas trilogy as well as a teaser for the upcoming release of her memoir.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The newest member of the Baart family! She's two months old, and her name is Lucy. My oldest son named her last night, and I'm curious to see if you can figure out what her full name is... I'll give you a hint. She's a literary figure who factors into a famous series of books. I'd tell you more, but anything else would be a dead giveaway. Someone's got to be able to guess her full name by that one clue! We call her Lucy __________ Baart. Happy guessing. :)

Lucy is a mini-beagle, though that's kind of a misnomer. There are no miniature versions of a beagle, only beagles over 13 inches and under 13 inches. Lucy's the runt of her under 13 inch litter, so we think she'll stay pretty small. Anyway, she's a great little breed... Affectionate, playful, great with kids, and, blessedly, yapless. I like the toy dogs because they're cute, but I can't stand all that yip-yip-yipping. Lucy's a hound dog so she'll likely howl, but we hope to train her well. Time will tell!

Well, this has absolutely nothing to do with writing, but I thought I'd share. We're pretty smitten right now, especially because she slept through her first night without a single whine. We figured the first week would be sleepless as she settles into her new life. Keep your fingers crossed for tonight! And wish me luck with housetraining... I think I'll need it.

PS - The picture is not of Lucy. I haven't had a chance to photograph her yet, so I'll post the real deal as soon as I can. In the meantime, the sweetie above is a pretty close approximation!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

I picked up this movie on Sunday night because I was feeling pressured at the RedBox. Do you ever use RedBox? It's a nerve-wracking experience, let me tell you. Basically, it's a vending machine for movies, but in order to choose a movie you have to scroll through a dozen screens with tiny jpegs of video box graphics and try to make a decision on how to spend the next two hours of your life while an entire line-up of people behind you tap their feet and clear their throats in impatience! Yikes. Okay, it's not that bad, but I do feel pressured when someone is waiting in line behind me. And that's how I happened across Sunshine Cleaning. It was a quick pick because I couldn't stand to make the gentleman behind me wait another second.

"From the makers of Little Miss Sunshine" is the tag that caught my eye, and though I didn't have very high expectations for this Sundance crowd pleaser, I ended up loving it. It's touching and sweet, filled with moments of humor and enough tear-jerking power to make me reach for the Kleenex box more than once. I loved Rose and Norah (actually, all the characters), and how they willingly entered into the pain of strangers, using their own past sorrows to bring hope and comfort in heartbreaking situations. A beautiful, beautiful movie.

Have you seen it? If not, I hope you check it out! And if you do, let me know what you think.

A synopsis:
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) finds herself a single mother attempting to support her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) and her unreliable sister Norah (Emily Blunt) while working a mundane job as a maid. Once the head cheerleader in school with plenty of prospects, Rose now has little to show for her years, and while she still sees the former lead football player (Steve Zahn), it is little more than a despondent affair. When Oscar is expelled from public school, Rose takes a job as a bio-hazard crime-scene cleaner to help pay for a private education, and brings Norah on to help in her steadily growing business. As the sisters work to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they must learn to reconcile their own differences and overcome a troubled past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Weekend Fun

It's been another lovely couple of days. How I love fall. Too fun to blog--and too busy even if I wanted to. But I'm going to sneak in a few quick highlights... And then I fear it's back to life as normal in the coming days. Life as normal? Does that even exist?

Any-hoo, some highs and lows:

*Hiking the trails at a state park near our home. Iowa woodland is full of acorn trees, and when the nut separates from the husk you have a fairy cup. I love it that my kids are young enough to believe that the woods are full of fairies.

*Climbing my dad's pear tree in search of those unreachable beauties. I was probably 25 feet in the air before I realized how high I was. (The pears are now lined up on my counter.)

*Suffering the unbelievable pain of a corneal abrasion (from climbing the pear tree). The optometrist had to extract a piece of bark from the soft tissue of my upper eyelid. Yuck.

*Being told by my eldest that I have a "butt shake" when I walk. "Mom, why do you have a butt shake? I sure am glad my butt doesn't wiggle like that." LOL.

*Baking my favorite apple recipe for the first time this fall. It's awesome. You can find the recipe here.

*Watching an unexpectedly good movie. I'm usually pretty picky, and this movie was a surprise treat! I'll post a review on Wednesday, it was that good.

*Re-writing one more chapter in my book. Now I'm done. I have to be. But I think I could pick and pick and pick at this book ad infinitum.

*Enjoying the light through the trees in the morning, the cool breeze in the afternoon, and the scent of wood fires in the evening.

Hope you're having a lovely week wherever you may be!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Family Photos

I think this must be one of the most beautiful weekends on record. I'm sorry if it's not as lovely wherever you are, but we have enjoyed absolutely gorgeous weather this past week. Bike rides, backyard barbecues, hiking, butterfly catching, time with family and friends... It's been perfect.

Best of all, it was perfect for family photos--something we haven't done since we brought our youngest home from Ethiopia nearly three years ago! Shocking, I know. Anyway, my good friend is in the process of starting her own photography studio, and she spent a few hours using the Baarts as her guinea pigs on Friday. She's amazing and I love the pictures.

You know me, I won't share photos of my kids on-line, but from what you can see, aren't they sweet?

Have a blessed weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Along the Way

So I've been kind of quiet about the fact that for the past month (six weeks?) I've been editing my fourth book. There are a ton of reasons for this... But I think it comes down to the hard truth that I've never had to edit like this, and it's been a bit of a humbling experience for me. With my first three books, the editing was fairly light--scrap this paragraph, change this word, insert a comma here. I used to tell people: "I love editing!" Of course I did. I didn't know what editing was.

But when my agent saw this manuscript, she suggested some serious edits. Characters needed to be revamped, plot lines needed backbone, the ending had to be fleshed out. It's been an adventure, let me tell you. Hard at first, a learning experience in the middle, and great as I approach the end. At the risk of sounding proud, I have to say that I think this is going to be a fantastic book. I'm really, really happy with it. But it's been a long, hard road...

I'd like to share a few things with you that I've learned along the way.

  • Critique is important. Handling it well is even more important. (It's easy to get defensive when someone sees problems with your work. But once I got over myself, I discovered that most of the criticisms were right on. I believe my book is infinitely better for this.)

  • In the midst of serious critique, encouragement is a balm to the soul. (I literally scoured my manuscript for hints of positive feedback. Emails, comments, and notes from readers kept me from giving up altogether. You played a big part in this--thank you!!!)

  • My celebrity look-a-like is Grace Kelly. (Yup, sometimes editing means surfing the net while you try like mad to reconcile your vision with other people's--very valid--input.)

  • Just like no man is an island, no author ever works solo. (A book is a collaborative effort--anyone who tells you otherwise is--conveniently?--forgetting the people who contributed heart and soul to the project. Friends who encouraged, spouses who took care of children or did extra loads of laundry, critique partners who made story-altering suggestions... the list goes on.)

  • Sometimes, an editor can be wrong. (Or at least, not understand your vision for your work. When that happens, you have to politely do your thing. It is, after all, still your book.)

  • Magic Eraser will take permanent marker out of light gray counter tops. (Hey, life goes on, even when you're editing. Thank goodness I caught my little one before he decided to decorate more of our house.)

  • We should always, in everything we do, strive for excellence. (I'm embarrassed to admit that with all these edits staring me in the face, I honestly felt for a moment, "Ah, come on. It's good enough." I'm horrified to think that thought ever crossed my mind. No, it wasn't good enough. And I'm so thankful for my incredible agent who told me so. I want to give myself 110% to everything I do, even if it means more work. Even if it means admitting that it wasn't perfect the first time through... Even though it's hard.)

I'm going to leave you with a few stats about my edits. I hope that this encourages you in whatever you may do (writing or not). We may not get it right the first time, but I believe the hard work is worth it every time.

-I scrapped two chapters. Not a sentence remains.

-I completely re-wrote two chapters. Major scenes were reworked and changed.

-I wrote two brand-new chapters.

-I restructured a secondary character from the ground up. He did a 180 degree personality shift.

-I amped up my love scenes (see yesterday's post).

-I wrote an epilogue.

Was it worth it? For both the experience and the book, YES. I have learned so much in these last several weeks. And, I can't wait to share this book with you. I'm so excited about it. I don't want to give anything away, but this book has it all... Mystery, romance, tragedy, comedy... And the most loose-ends-tied-up ending I've ever written. For a girl who grew up reading nothing but postmodern literary fiction, that's saying a lot. ;) I guess I really am learning something along the way.