Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Giveaway on my new blog!

I'm hosting another big giveaway on my new blog! If you're still coming to this site, you're at the wrong place. I've moved! Hate to make you change your bookmark, but I promise I'll stay put now. :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still here...?

In case you missed yesterday's post, I am no longer blogging at this internet address! Sad, I know! But the blog isn't dead, it has just moved... Please join me at: Girls in White. You can read about my vision for this blog here, and browse my new website here.

I don't want to leave anyone behind, so I'll keep posting redirection posts for a few more days at least (especially since I noticed I've gotten some new followers in the last couple of days). I'm so sorry to make you hop around! We'll be all settled soon.

Warmly,
Nicole

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Site!

Girls in White
It's a done deal, people. NicoleBaart.com is officially brand-new, redesigned, and ready for the world. And my blog has a snazzy new location. Please, please come and check it out! I'm so excited! It feels like my birthday! If nothing else, stop by to check out the giveaway. All you have to do is CLICK HERE. Hope to see you there!

Warmly,
Nicole

PS - I promise not to populate my posts with so many exclamation marks on my new blog. I'm just a little excited today! :) So there! And there!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm moving!


I won't lie. It hurts my heart a little to move this blog. But I'm a sentimental girl, and I tend to get weepy over things that need not be wept about. Like websites. Or blogs. So I won't lie to you--my eyes glaze just the tiniest bit when I think about moving this internet home to another address. Will it ever have the same, homey feel? Will my readers and friends follow me or forget about me? Will this be a prelude to a new, exciting season or will I regret the move?

Okay, now I'm getting downright melodramatic. It's a URL address for pity's sake. But I do want to give you time to prepare so that you don't just show up here on Wednesday and find a cold wind blowing through the pixels of my bloggity-blog. Did you catch that? The big moving day is Wednesday, December 1. When you come back in two days, there will be a link to a new blog, a new site, and the first of three big giveaways. I'm hoping to brighten your Christmas season just a little. Consider it a small way that I can say "thank you" for reading. Thanks for the encouragement, the connection, the many ways that we have been able to uphold each other. It's been awesome. And it's my hope that it'll only get better.

Hope you're enjoying the last few days of November! 2010 is drawing to a close...

Hugs,
Nicole

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Preparations...

Happy Saturday! (The day after Black Friday? Cyber-Monday Eve Eve? I can't keep up with all these so-called holidays.)

I'm in the middle of putting up my Christmas tree and trying to clean my house (always a fun endeavor), but I wanted to quick pop in and start getting you all geared up for December. It's just around the corner, you know! I'm not really into the whole commercialized Christmas thing, and my holiday season usually tends to be a little slow. Maybe even just smidge subdued. But this year I have a bunch of things all piling up at once and I'm going to have to go with a more upbeat Advent... My hubby is coming home from two weeks in Liberia, we have a barrage of parties and holiday events on the calendar, I'm launching a new website, preparing for a book release (and a deadline), and making the switch from Blogger to WordPress. Yup, my blog is on the move. It was a tough decision for me to make (I'm not much of a techie and haven't really had a problem with Blogger), but it seemed like the right thing to do as so many other things in my writing world are changing (from website to publishing house to vision).

Sooo... As of December 1, I will no longer be blogging here. :( Sad, isn't it? In fact, I'll be making a clean cut and starting fresh--though I will archive this blog and make it readily accessible from my new site. That way you can still find my Apple Pudding recipe if you need to. (Haven't tried it yet? Oh, you're missing out!)

In an effort to make the move fun, I'm going to be giving away three separate holiday packages on my blog. The first package will feature all of my books, including Beneath the Night Tree (ARC copy), and a sneak peek of the first chapter of my new book, Far From Here. For good measure I'll be tossing in a bag of my favorite creme de menthe chocolates and some bubble bath just for fun. The second package will be a library collection of four wonderful books (Susan Meissner's Lady in Waiting, Inspy Award nominated Lucky Baby by Meredith Efken, the fun and frothy Split Ends by Kristen Billerbeck, and my own The Moment Between.) You'll get a historical, a contemporary story with a little magical surrealism, a chick-lit romp, and something a bit more literary. Oh, and some chocolates and bubble bath. The final package will be all about awareness and include a pair of t-shirts from our non-profit, One Body One Hope, some of our homemade goat milk soaps, and a copy of the book One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World by Julie Ferwerda. And, of course, chocolates and bubble bath.

Stay tuned! I'm excited to launch my new site and new blog and I truly hope that you will join me. I have loved getting to know you through our discussions and interactions, and I hope that we can continue in a new (more conversational) format.

Thanks so much for reading!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!


I'm too exhausted to be creative and come up with some snappy Thanksgiving post. I ain't got no snap right now. However, I do have an eye twitch. Does that count? Anyway, a few of the things I'm thankful for...

-Two amazing college students who came over to my home the other day and just plain blessed me. Being a single mom right now is so hard, and they eased the burden by playing with my kids, vacuuming my house, and engaging in adult conversation with me. I showered. It was bliss.

-Dark chocolate. Oh, and creme de menthe chocolate, too. Mmmmm...

-My grandma. Not only is she an amazing woman of God, she has a beautiful Dutch work ethic. This fall she cleaned my windows, shampooed my carpet, and varnished some of my weather-beaten woodwork. I sound like a slave-driver, don't I? You gotta believe me--she begged to do it! Oh, how I love you, Grandma.

-Modern medicine. As a dear friend undergoes cancer treatment today, I'm thankful for developments in radiation, chemotherapy, and all the other medicines used to treat this horrible disease. I'm praying for a cure.

-Bargain bin wine at Fareway.

-The fact that I get to write for a living. Sometimes I get lost in the deadlines and business end of things (never mind marketing and publicity--two things I hate), but I love my job. Love, love, love it. I feel so blessed.

-Good books. Most notably (or most recently?): The Likeness, The Historian, Stieg Larsson's trilogy, and  Neverwhere.

-All the usual stuff that everyone always says but also always means with all their heart and soul: family, friends, warm clothes, a roof over my head, food in abundance... and the list goes on.

Your turn: What are you thankful for?

PS - I'm thankful for YOU! So much so that I'm giving away an Advanced Reader Copy of Beneath the Night Tree on my Facebook author page. All you have to do is follow the link and leave a comment.


PSS - Do you know why I chose the photo above to be my Thanksgiving graphic? Brownie points and bragging rights if you do!

Monday, November 22, 2010

You know you're a mom if...


After a long and beautiful (sunny and warm) autumn, winter has finally hit the midwest. We woke up this morning to a wonderful world of ice--and no school. Apparently the roads are better suited for ice-skating than driving. Anyway, in addition to my three boys, I'm watching a friend's kids this morning--and marveling at the amazing women who have five or more kids. Kudos to you! My mommy hat is off to you.

So far this morning we've baked muffins, read books, played Playmobil, made a train, danced to Go Fish, and fed our stuffed animals a morning snack (and the kids, too!). Right now I'm enjoying a little break as we're all cuddled on the couch watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Do you know the hot dog dance? You should. It would enrich your life in ways you can only begin to imagine. ;)

In case you haven't already picked this up, I've got motherhood on my mind today. And thanks to The Mom Song by Go Fish, I'm thinking about all the things that motherhood is. So, this is my version.

You know you're a mom if...

-Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy is a part of your everyday vocabulary.

-The "S" word and "F" word are banned in your home. Of course, the "S" word is "stupid" and the "F" word is "fart."

-You sometimes go an entire day without peering once into a mirror. And when you do, it's downright scary.

-A shower is a mini-vacation.

-You're so exhausted you could sleep through a fire alarm, but if your infant so much as rolls over in his crib, you're wide awake and at his side in two seconds flat.

-You spend more time talking about the frequency, consistency, and ease with which your child goes poo than any other topic of conversation in your repertoire.

-You get more hugs, kisses, snuggles, and love in one day than all the years before you became a parent combined.

-You wouldn't trade it (all of it--the moments when they're sleeping like angels and the ones when you wish a traveling band of gypsies was wandering past your front door) for anything.

Your turn! Finish the sentence: You know you're a mom if....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Story-telling

People write for a thousand different reasons. But I believe that when we as storytellers distill everything down, we can all say that we write (tell stories) for the same basic reason: passion. We're passionate about our characters or the message or the words themselves. We want to say something. We want to be heard. We feel something fervently and life just can't go on until we share.

This little sweetheart knows how to spin a story. And it's obvious that she's pretty passionate about her subject matter. I hope this makes you smile today.


The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.


Question for you: What sparks your passion???

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Toot-toot!

No, I'm not gaseous. This is me tooting the horn of some pretty amazing people. They're talented, creative, and just plain wonderful. And I think you should know about them.


Randy Ingermanson is a "deranged physicist and award winning author." He's brilliant and artistic, and he's one of the kindest, most selfless people I know. I deeply respect him. And I'm excited to let you all know that Randy's best-selling book, Writing Fiction for Dummies, is a FREE Kindle download right now. Got an e-reader? Wanna write a book? Go download it now!


I was first introduced to Laurell's music via a Facebook link. One of my former students and his wife own an agency called Streetlight Creative that produced one of her music videos. Anyway, I followed the link and found I really love her music. It's bright, happy pop for the most part, but her vocals have a certain folksy feel that I'm a sucker for. What can I say? Gotta love Canadian music. And while I'm at it, let me toot the horn of Adrian and Heidi, the brains behind Streetlight Creative. Wow, are they ever amazing. I bet it was the influence of their high school English teacher. ;)


The guys behind Brand New Graphics are a duo of brilliant, market-saavy men who take your web-design needs seriously. They're the masterminds of my current website, and they're in the process of redesigning NicoleBaart.com. Not an easy task, let me tell you. It's hard to create a one-dimensional website that embodies everything you are and hope to be, but Jamin and Brady work hard to make that a reality. Need a website? I can't think of a better place to go.


Last but not least, let me introduce you to the board of One Body One Hope. Well, some of the board members anyway. This is an exciting week for OBOH because our Capital Campaign is finally coming to a thrilling conclusion. Our container is in Monrovia, our team leaders will be landing in Africa tonight, and the rest of the crew leaves on Saturday. Many people both on our board and beyond have been working tirelessly this past year to raise $60,000 and prepare Christ Our Hope orphanage for a new dormitory, a drinkable water line, a new latrine, a library, steel windows and doors, and much, much more. Would you take a moment to say a prayer for our team and the kids at Christ Our Hope? God is moving in big, big ways and it just takes my breath away to see it all coming together.

Your turn: Whose horn do you want to toot today? Everyone deserves a little woot-woot from time to time. :)

PS - Want to win one of the One Body One Hope t-shirts you can see in the photo above? Well, I feel like giving some away! Just go to our blog and become a new follower. You will be automatically entered in a drawing for a t-shirt. They have our logo on the front and a really cool Spend Yourself graphic on the back. I'll be drawing two names one week from today (next Wednesday). Tell your friends!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Far From Here


So I'm working on my sixth book. Yup, you read that right. My fourth book, Beneath the Night Tree, will hit stores in the new year. And my fifth book, a quasi-mystery called Sleeping in Eden, is cooling its heels awaiting the completion and publication of the manuscript I'm currently working on. I feel like I have my little fingers in a bunch of different pots right now. But only one book is consuming my every waking minute (and much of my nighttime dreams as well).

Far From Here is a story that began with a picture. When I was a little girl my dad kept a photograph in his bedroom of a young man in front of an airplane. He's a handsome guy with longish, dark hair and a dimpled half-smile. He's standing almost shyly in front of a small red and white aircraft, the glint in his eyes at once awe-filled and somehow tinged with disbelief. He seems very happy (and a little surprised) to be exactly where he is: standing on a tarmac in some tiny Alaskan town.

Apparently, I met him once. I was a couple of days old and my dad's best friend stopped in to hold the baby (me) and say congratulations. Then he took off for Alaska where he had just accepted a job as a bush pilot. On his first ever solo flight, he disappeared out of Kotzebue and was never seen again.

Doesn't that just send a shiver down your spine? Me, too. I think it's so true what they say: truth is stranger than fiction. And though I never, never want to take advantage of anyone's pain or loss, I can't help but see stories wherever I look: in relationships, tragedies, joys, and even the mundanities of life. So that dog-eared, much beloved photograph was a starting point for me, a launchpad for my next book, Far From Here. It really has nothing at all to do with my dad's best friend, but my imagination was sparked, and this book has been weaving itself in my mind for over a decade. I can't wait to tell you more about it. Stop back later this week as I share my slant on a story of love and loss.

Your turn: What life event from your own history could you see turning into a book or movie? I'd love to hear where you draw inspiration!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random Thoughts...


I'm in a weird mood, so you're stuck with a bizarre rant today. Remember Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey? Any SNL fans out there? Well, consider this my take on his surreal one-liners. Without further ado, random thoughts, fears, observations, trivialities, and musings...

- Cryptic Facebook status updates suck.

- I love British slang. Bollucks, codswallop, and whinge... scrummy and snookered and twee, oh my!

- Believe it or not, Shel Silverstein is even funnier as a parent. My kids adore him, but for me it's true love.

- "Getting in shape" is a slippery, impossible thing that ranks down there with "achieving self-actualization." Sorry, never gonna happen.

- I'm not sure life would be worth living without chocolate. And steak and warm cookies and beer.

- I think my children are smarter than me. I still add on my fingers...

- I don't doubt God, but sometimes I doubt his love for me.

- Everyone needs a little silence in their day. Five minutes without background noise--no television, radio, cell phone, chatter, the rhythmic clicking of your fingernails on the keyboard... Just stillness.

Your turn. What random thought is stuck in your craw today? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Million Miles: The End!


It's Monday, Monday, Monday... And I'm loving it. I'm one of those strange people that actually digs Monday. It's a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance once more to get one week right. Granted, I've never achieved that goal yet, but I'm always up for giving it another shot. This week feels clean and bright and full of possibility. It might have something to do with the forecast for today: 70 degrees in November, thank you very much.

Anyway, it seems fitting on such a lovely morning to finally draw our A Million Miles in a Thousand Years discussion to a close. It's been a fun journey, and I've enjoyed your participation so much. Some of those early posts logged comments worthy of publication. Your stories and heartfelt musings were a beautiful thing to behold. But it's time to lay this baby to rest.

Instead of directly discussing the final chapters, I want to share a bit of what I've gleaned from the past months of digging deep into this book. We've already talked about so many things, and I'm sure some of wisdom that I'm taking from Miller's words are the result of our own wrestlings instead of his penned insight. Either way, I truly believe I can say this book changed the way I look at my life. I'm so grateful for that.

So, what have I taken from this book, this discussion, this period of wrestling with life and what it means to live abundantly? I've learned that the little things matter: unexpected snowfalls, conversations with strangers, a shared plate of fruit. I've discovered that if I want to live a meaningful life, all I really need to do is be present for it--to not forsake people for my favorite television show, or moments with my children for a couple extra minutes checking Facebook. I believe a meaningful life is in the details, in surprising yourself, saying "yes" when you want to say "no," being kind, opening your heart and your life and your home. It's about allowing yourself to experience every day with the sort of wide-eyed awe of a child, to laugh when God sings over you and take delight in the unexpected. And when life hurts, when it's hard and miserable and broken, I think you have to embrace that, too. Press it tight against you and hold with all you've got until you push through to the other side where you can accept that the light is brighter because of the darkness around it. I think most of all I learned that I don't have to make my life meaningful--it's already full of significance--all I have to do is open my eyes.

How about you? What have you ultimately taken away from this book? Any parting words or wisdom? Also, would you be interested in doing something like this again? Any suggestions for books or other ideas you'd like to throw out there for conversation? I really enjoyed doing this and would be open to doing it again. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

E-Books vs. The Real Deal


Hi, all. I'm conducting a little online survey. My interest is both personal and professional... I have an idea rolling around in my head that I'd like to explore a bit with you. This is the first step. Would you be so kind as to take a moment and answer the following question?

Do you have a Nook, Kindle, or other e-book reader? Do you like it?

And for those of you who are dyed in the wool paper book fans (like me!), here's a site you might get a kick out of. Thanks to Sherry for providing the link. Too funny!

Monday, November 1, 2010

This is a test...

...of the emergency broadcast system. The Nicole Baart Blogger emergency broadcast system. Apparently it doesn't work because nothing was broadcast here while I was in emergency mode. System failure.

Oh, well. Sorry I've been absent. Last week was one of the hardest I've ever experienced. No, I can't really tell you about it; it's not my story to tell. But I cried more tears than I thought possible, and there was honestly a day when I believed, "We won't get over this. We will never get over this." And you know what? We won't. It'll always, always be with us, but I am starting to feel in tiny glimmers that we just might be better people on the other side. Softer, more compassionate. Capable of deeper love.

Anyway, thanks for being patient with me as I cried myself to sleep and ignored my computer for a week straight. I'm getting back into the swing of things. Slowly. Stay tuned this week for our final Million Miles post and some more thoughts on hurt and waiting and hope. It's there, isn't it? I have to believe that it is...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 29-31


Okay, so there is such a thing as beating a dead horse. I think our little Donald Miller pony is breathing his last. It's been a fantastic discussion and I have loved your contributions, but I've been feeling for a while now that things are getting repetitive. I didn't notice that the first time I read the book...? Maybe I was so enthralled with the overall message that I missed the redundancy. Either way, I still believe it's an awesome book, and I'm so grateful that you've joined me in walking through it. Your insights have added immeasurable depth and wisdom to the ongoing conversation.

But we can't just stop. So here's what we're going to do. Today we'll discuss three more chapters just like we've always done, and then next Monday we'll finish the book in one fell swoop. I don't know how many chapters that gives us to finish, but if you're reading along, polish off the book for next Monday.

So, something fresh and new out of the book...

Chapter 30 is called Great Stories Have Memorable Scenes. Why yes they do. Right now I'm completely enmeshed in a story that has been brewing in my mind since I was a teenager. No joke. It's so exciting to finally be able to write this book! Anyway, one of the things that I'm actively working on is creating taut, unforgettable scenes. You know the ones, the sort of scene that keeps you up reading just one more chapter. And then, just one more.

Miller says: "I don't think memorable scenes help a story make sense. Other principles accomplish that. What memorable scenes do is punctuate the existing rise and fall of the narrative." I totally agree. The underlying action of my book will go on with or without the sorts of scenes that make my readers hold their breaths. But, oh, what would a book be without them? (Or a movie, a play... your life?)

I believe heart and soul that memorable scenes happen every day--it's just a matter of taking the time to acknowledge them. Sunday afternoon I took a long, hard walk all by myself. It was kind of dark and drizzly, and I was utterly alone on the walking trail. I could have been the last person in the world, and I felt exactly that way as I pounded out mile after mile. At first, I was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that all I really noticed was the cement beneath my feet. But at the top of a little rise I stumbled a bit and slowed enough to notice my surroundings. I happened to be directly beneath a towering sugar maple, a brilliant conflagration of crimson and citron that quite literally glowed against a gunmetal sky. I hadn't been praying or even really thinking about much of anything, but all at once it was like I came face to face with God, and from behind his back he produced the most amazing bouquet. Just for me. I stood rooted to the spot, grinning and tearing up at the same time, and feeling like this was one of those precious moments when I was gifted with the ability to truly realize that God sings over me. Wow. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Is that scene beneath a maple central to the unfolding of my personal narrative? No. But I wouldn't want to live a story without moments like that. And I don't want to write one without that either. So, here's my question for you: What is one of the most memorable scenes you've ever read/watched/experienced? What makes a scene unforgettable to you? Care to share? I'd love to hear what you have to say on this second-to-last discussion on A Million Miles in a Thousand Years!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grace


Though I love being an author, I would definitely say that my motherhood defines me more than any other aspect of my life (well, after being claimed, saved, and sealed as an adopted child of God). Someone once said that being a mom is like giving your heart permission to exist outside of your body, and I could not agree more with that sentiment. Every day when my eldest takes off for school and my preschooler packs his backpack for a morning of playtime and learning, my heart follows them out the door. And when I lay my baby down for a nap, I can almost feel the ache of the distance between us. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's true. I wonder if that's why I sit on the far side of the couch in the living room--the side that is closest to his bedroom. Or why I turn up the monitor so loud I can hear every breath he takes.

However, as much as I love my children, I never quite feel confident as a mom. I fail them so much. Yesterday (after hours of hearing them whine and cry--it must have been a full moon), I yelled at my kids so loud I'm sure the neighbors heard. Actually, I am sure the neighbors heard--they were gardening in their backyard and all our windows were open. Bad mom. And sometimes I'm tired and I just can't handle another "Why?" question. Why do we put gas in the car? Why can't I have a friend over? Why aren't we having something good for supper? Why did you put puppy seeds (translation: poppy seeds) in those muffins? So I put on PBS Kids and plunk them in front of the TV for half an hour. Bad mom. And though I try to feed my children healthy food, teach them good habits, read to them every day, and be Jesus for them in each and every situation, sometimes we have Macaroni & Cheese with hot dogs, I let them burp at the table, we watch Funniest Home Videos, and I fall short, fall short, fall short. Bad mom.

But the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. He takes my meager motherly offerings and infuses them with his own amazing grace in ways that I will never understand. How can I be such a failure of a mom and still continue to watch my children grow in beauty and grace?

This morning my 1st grader was writing in his journal before school. He forgot it on the counter when his carpool showed up in our driveway, and I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to pick it up for him. It was open to a page with this written on it:

God has a plan for me. And I know it. God tolkt (talked) to my dad. And I thank (think?) God will tolk to me. My dad and mom love God.

Oh. My. Goodness. Wow. That's better than hitting #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Better than a trip around the world or a million dollars. Better than... well, anything. Thank you, Lord, for moving in wonderful, mysterious ways. And thanks for whispering your grace into my children's hearts even when I yell.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Keepin' it real...


For those of you who think being an author is all fame and fortune (HA!), here's a sampling of some of the reviews, emails, and conversations that have kept me humble.
*     *     *     *
"An intriguing beginning, but the plot soon sinks into predictability and the characters become more shallow and underdeveloped as the story progresses."
A conversation:
Her: "How much did you have to pay the publishing house?"
Me: "Actually, they paid me."
Her: "Well, I know you might get royalties and stuff, but how much did you have to pay to get your book printed? Like, a couple thousand dollars?"
Me: "No, they paid me."
Her: "I don't think you understand my question."
"Boring and depressing."
"Your main character (Julia) has no integrity. I felt nothing for her."
"I bought your book because one reviewer compared you to Lisa Samson. You are nothing like Lisa Samson." (Well, I know that! Who could compare?)
"I will never read another one of your books."
*     *     *     *
Ouch! And yet, I can't help laughing. Don't get me wrong, I didn't always laugh... In fact, some of the above comments brought me to tears and made me think I should quit this writing gig altogether. But hey, maybe three years in the business (my first book came out in the fall of 2007!) has toughened me up a bit. Or helped me to realize that not everyone is going to love what I do. But I love doing it, and as long as they'll keep publishing me I'll keep writing!
And for those of you who are aspiring writers, start toughening up that elephant skin! We can compare bad reviews someday. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 26-28


Is it just me or were the chapters for today a bit heavy? Okay, a lot heavy. Miller talked about conflict and pain and thoughts of suicide and understanding that our life stories are not about us. Yikes. Heady stuff. And yet so true; so important for us to understand even if the knowledge comes at a high cost.

These chapters are timely for me today. I found out this afternoon that one of my best friends is about to embark on a life-changing crossing. I wept for her this afternoon. I felt hurt and cheated and asked God why, and then I got good and angry. The sort of angry that's helpful--the sort that screams, "You're gonna kick this thing, and I'll be by your side the whole way." I clung to Miller's words in chapter 27: "There is no conflict man (woman) can endure that will not produce a blessing." We will wring a blessing out of this trial if we need to wrestle it from God like Jacob beneath the tree.

And I'm afraid that's all I've got for you today. I'm a bit raw. But I'd love to hear any words of encouragement you have. How do you find joy and blessing in trials? Or do you think that sort of understanding can only come after you've crossed to the other side?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

I got a lot of responses about my cookie photo from Wednesday, so I thought I'd post the recipe. They're pretty yummy! Give half the batch away unless you want to eat them all yourself. :)




Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

4 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. butter flavored shortening
3 oz. baker’s chocolate, melted
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
2 cups chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In large bowl cream butter, shortening, sugars, and chocolate until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat well. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture until well blended. Mix in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just set.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Home is where...

As many of you know, the Baart family has recently moved into a new house. I love it, truly I do. But there's a part of me that believes deep down that a house cannot be a home until it has a history. I still wake up in the morning and feel like I'm on a wonderful vacation. I'm in awe of the spacious kitchen, the whirlpool bathtub, the garage where I can actually park and have space to get out of my vehicle. It's fantastic... but it's still becoming home.

I'm a details girl and I love the little things. So this morning I wandered around my house that is yet becoming a home and took some pictures of things that I love--the things that are slowly beginning to transform this space into ours.

Home is where...


my favorite chair invites me to cuddle up...



cookies cool on the counter...



my son's blanket is bathed in sunlight...



my bathtub beckons...


puppy pajamas play on the floor...


Your turn to finish the sentence: Home is where...

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 23-25


I know that I've said this before, but one of my absolute favorite stories from this book is contained in the chapters we read for today. In case you haven't read the book, I've just got to recap a bit. Miller and his friends are kayaking up the Jervis Inlet in British Columbia (woot-woot for my second home!), and they come upon a mansion in the wilderness. Turns out it belongs to this amazing guy Bob Goff and his equally amazing family of Christ-lovers, philanthropists, and revolutionaries. They've hosted politicians and dignitaries, and they didn't hesitate to reach out to some sweaty, dirty strangers in kayaks. Wow. My kind of people.

Anyway, I butchered the story (it's so cool, you really do have to read the whole thing) but I want to talk about what I consider to be the heart of it. Though Bob and his family possess many qualities, the one that inspires me the most is their selfless extravagance. Much in the same way that God loves us lavishly, richly, and undeservedly, so do the Goffs give of themselves to friends and foreigners alike. When Miller and his friends show up unexpectedly, Maria offers them plush towels and heaps the table before them with fruit and cheese, crackers and fresh bread. They talk for hours like old friends, and--best of all, I think--they send off Miller and his friends with a memorable farewell. "...to our amazement, we saw all of them, fully dressed with shoes and jackets, take three steps together and jump into the water, coming up and waving and shouting their goodbyes." Isn't that gorgeous? Don't you just love it?

I want to talk today about abundance, about heaping joy and unexpected kindnesses on each other. How beautiful is it when we love lavishly. How like God. Unfortunately, I tend more toward the miserly than the extravagant. I'm a bargain-bin shopper and cling to my Dutch heritage when I go out with friends. Yes, the term "going Dutch" definitely applies to me. But I've been the recipient of wild graces, and I'd love to be the sort of person that loves unsparingly in tangible and intangible ways.

A few ways that people have spoken love over me in extravagance... A friend bought and shared a $50 bottle of wine with me just because. Some mentors of ours opened their vacation homes in Florida and Minnesota simply because they wanted to bless us. Knowing how much it meant to me that I was finally pregnant after five years of waiting and trying, my cousin prepared a gift basket filled with things to pamper both me and the baby. A good friend "borrowed" my children for the day so that I could luxuriate in an afternoon nap. Though we don't buy presents for our anniversary, my husband eschewed that particular tradition this year and bought me a beautiful Pandora bracelet with charms to match all the important dates in our shared history. Wow.

What about you? When was the last time you were "spoiled"? When was the last time you "spoiled" another person just for the sake of showing the depth of your love?

Friday, October 8, 2010

10-10-10


It's not the 10th today, but that date is on my mind all the same. Guess who's going to be 33 on Sunday? Yes, it hurt to type that number. I almost deleted it. I contemplated lying. But it is what it is... I'm an old woman. Do you remember when you were 20? My twenties are crystal-clear in my mind, and one of the biggest things I recall is the feeling that my life would officially be over the day I turned 30. Women in their thirties have baby hips and mom jeans, dark circles under their eyes and "practical" haircuts. If life is like climbing a mountain, 29 is the peak and everything else is downhill from there.

Whatever. I used to believe that. But guess what? Life just keeps getting better and better.

My early thirties have been marked by a sense of contentment, of peace in my life. For one of the first times ever, I feel like myself. I'm comfortable with who I am and who I still hope to be. My joy comes from outside of my own successes and failures--it's less dependent on circumstances and much more stable. My kids bring me joy. My friends and family. A hot cup of coffee and a cold bowl of ice cream. Clean sheets. Believe it or not, I actually like my laugh lines and the fact that my friend's kids come to me for a quick cuddle and a bit of comfort. I love preparing meals for my family, folding my husband's boxers, and going to bed at 10:00 instead of 2 a.m. But I also adore getting dressed up, discovering a new band, and laughing so hard it hurts. (See the photo above? I was actually laughing so hard I fell down. Pathetic, I know.)

You know, I think I love my thirties. Yup, I do. And 33 is such a nice, whole number. It seems complete somehow. Fitting that I would turn 33 on 10-10-10. This may very well be the best year yet. Happy birthday to all of you who turn thirty-something this year. Or forty-something or eighty-something. And a very happy birthday to those of you who fall below that special line. Enjoy every minute of it. Whatever you do, don't believe it when someone tells you that it doesn't get any better than this. It does.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Extraordinary


I've been feeling kind of blah the last few days. Not blue, just blah. You know, a little flat, bored, unmotivated. Which is ridiculous because the sun is shining and the sky is clear and perfect. I should be spinning cartwheels all over this gorgeous creation. But I'm not.

My son's chapel theme for this year is "Ordinary People, Extraordinary God." I've been thinking about that this morning, and realizing that my "ordinary" life is starting to feel dull. God forbid. Seriously. My existence (YOUR existence) is extraordinary, and filled with touches of the divine even when we are too apathetic to acknowledge it.

So, in an effort to help myself remember that beauty and wonder exists even in the mundane, I'm going to come up with five things in this morning alone that were ordinary, and yet rare and beautiful. Think I can do it?

1. As my son was leaving for school this morning I caught him for a quick hug and kiss. "I'm too old for kisses, Mom," he complained. And yet when I bent to press my cheek to his hair, he let me kiss him again and again and again.

2. I was up with the sunrise this morning, and through the east-facing window in my baby's bedroom the sky was cotton candy pink.

3. My friend posted a new profile picture on Facebook and I was reminded again of just how lovely she is, and how blessed I am to call her friend.

4. While my baby was nursing this morning, he looked up and made eye contact with me. The grin that came over his face left no doubt in my mind that he knows who I am and that he loves me.

5. The trees outside my window are golden. When the breeze lifts the leaves they look like a handful of tumbling coins.

What a gift to be alive! Lord, don't let me waste a moment.

How about you? What was ordinarily extraordinary in your life today?

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 20-22


Happy Monday! I'm actually blogging on time. I should get an award or something. ;)

It's short and sweet today... I was captured by Miller's story about hiking to Machu Picchu. Partly because I was a Spanish teacher in another life (or maybe a mere six years ago) and I've always wanted to visit Peru. But I also loved the fact that he finally did something totally unexpected and out of character--he went and had a grand adventure.

So, here's my question: What is one wild and crazy, totally-not-you thing you've done in your life?

I'm going way back to answer my own question, but one of the most atypical Nicole things I have ever done is try out for the cheerleading squad. When I was in elementary school I was a very shy, quiet girl. There is no Christian high school in my small town, so when I graduated 8th grade I had to choose between two different schools in neighboring towns. I made my choice with the hope of starting fresh--giving myself the freedom to reinvent Niki, at least a little. One of the first things I did was put my name on the sign-up sheet for cheerleading try-outs behind at least 30 other girls. There were two slots that first year and I was sure I didn't stand a chance. Timid me? Are you kidding? But the day of try-outs I gave it my all. It was like I was a different person. I was wearing a mask... Or maybe just allowing myself to be the person I didn't dare to be before. I will never forget the feeling when they posted the results and my name was the last one on the list. Yup, I was a cheerleader, and for better or worse it was one of the most shaping experiences of my entire life.

Your turn! I just admitted that I used to wear a short skirt and scream Be Aggressive! at the top of my lungs. Don't leave me hanging out here all on my own... ;)

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Site

So my website is undergoing a redesign. Seems like I do that a lot. But in this digital age (and in this depressed economy when the publishing industry is taking a hit), you have to stay current and engaging or you quickly become just another voice lost among the billions. And hey, I'm okay being just another voice. But this voice would love to keep getting book contracts and the only way that's going to happen is if my books actually sell. It's a vicious cycle.

Anyway, my current site (though absolutely lovely) is rather tied to my book The Moment Between. Which would be great if TMB was a bestseller on the New York Times list. Since it's not, I need my site to be more about my books (and my vision) as a whole.

A while back I asked my readers (you!): Who are you? And I wasn't surprised at all by the answers. In my estimation (and according to your answers) we are a group of intelligent, often educated women who are strong and independent but who embrace our femininity. We're students and professionals, mothers and grandmothers. We accept the reality of a broken world, but we are not jaded. We love beauty, and although we accept that life is messy, we refuse to stop wearing white. I think this description encompasses my books as well, and highlights what I attempt to do with each of my novels--show one small way that the light shines brighter because of the darkness around it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I need your help. My good friends (Brand New Graphics and Ellenvelde) are working on the website redesign, and part of the process was taking some photos that visually capture the essence of my books (and me, I suppose). We're looking for something that balances harsh with feminine, hope with grit. A marriage between idealism and reality. We had a whirlwind photo shoot that took place in a soybean field, in the shadow of grain elevators, and even on a car compacter. My question is this: Which background/pose/facial expression/attire/etc. best represents our vision? Bear in mind that for every setting represented below, we have close-ups, shots where I'm smiling, pensive, or not looking at the camera at all. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Photo 1


Photo 2


Photo 3


Photo 4

Photo 5


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 17-19


Okay, so this is starting to sound like a refrain with me: I'm sorry I'm late. Yuck. I'm sick of saying it. And you're probably sick of hearing it. Let's just leave things like this... I'm busy, you're busy. Sometimes I just won't get my posts up on time and sometimes you won't have a chance to read and respond. Grace, grace, all around grace. Thanks for your patience.

So my tardiness has nothing to do with my desire to discuss these chapters with you. I've felt like the last pages of the book have been a bit repetitive, but I think we break new ground in our reading for today. I'm going to go in a bit of a different direction, though, and solicit your stories instead of dissecting Miller's words. In How to Make Yourself Write a Better Story he says:

Here's the truth about telling stories with your life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it. It's like that with writing books, and it's like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.

Ouch. So hard to hear and yet so true. I think he's totally right, and I think most of us can relate. I know I can... My life is littered with times that I haven't had the courage to step out and sacrifice a little. And, thankfully, there are a handful of instances when I actually manned up and did something totally beyond myself. I won't bore you with the long list of failures, but I'd love to share one small miracle in my own life.

When Aaron and I were trying to decide whether or not the Lord was calling us to adopt, I was a wreck of emotions. I had always felt called to adoption, and I desperately wanted a baby, but I also wanted my motives to be pure and God's will for our lives to be evident. I went in circles trying to tease God into writing it out in a contract for me. Yes, I want you to adopt. Yes, I will make the funds available. Yes, I will bless your family... But, of course, nothing is quite that clear cut. One afternoon as I was wading through information packets from five different adoption agencies, I spread the papers out on the floor and laid on top of them, face down. I know, I'm dramatic. But my heart was broken and I was confused, and it felt like God was being very distant and uncaring. So I prostrated myself and cried like a baby until everything seemed distilled down to one all-important issue. "God," I said, sitting up. "If you want us to adopt you need to show me that you will provide for us financially. You know full well that we don't have $20,000." And though I can't claim to have heard the voice of God, he spoke so clearly to my soul my heart stopped beating. His reply? "If you want to walk on water, you better get out of the boat."

And we did. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was a huge, terrifying, life-altering step of faith that was filled with complications, second-guessing, and strife. But we got out of the boat, and God did provide in a hundred unexpected, wonderful, and downright miraculous ways. Oh, how he has blessed us. Our son is pure joy. (And yes, that's him in the photo above. Beautiful child...)

Your turn: Would you share a time when you learned that joy costs pain? Or, is there a time that you didn't dare to take the plunge that you deeply regret? I think we can learn so much from each other... Our stories, like Millers, are our testimonies--our chances to encourage, sustain, and uplift. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 13-16


I'm throwing you a bit of a curveball this morning by including chapter 16 in our "three chapters a week" routine. Sorry 'bout that. It just made sense to include that little mini chapter (the conclusion to Part II) in our discussion today. Though I'm going to talk about something that came up in chapter 13...

Right now I'm going through my annual fall make-over. No, this isn't a physical make-over (though I did buy a pair of skinny jeans in a moment of pure insanity this past weekend), it's more of a total life overhaul. I tend to do this every autumn. I don't know why. Maybe it's the back-to-school routine or the obvious changing of the seasons. Either way, September seems to be a bigger "new start" to me than January 1. Everything feels fresh and ready, ripe for resolutions and refinements that I've been putting off for months.

This year my goals have much to do with simplicity. I want to spend more time with my kids, enjoy long conversations with my husband, go for walks in our new neighborhood. I want to eat less packaged foods and feed my family home-baked breads instead of Oreos. I plan to work out more, get my core in shape, and sweat my way through high-impact cardio. I intend to make one personal connection (email, phone call, coffee chat) every day. I want, in short, to be a better me.

Which is exactly where I think Miller is at by this point in the book. He's trying to find a good story, an ambition, anything that will drive his character to do something meaningful with his life. And at the beginning of chapter 13, that translates into "getting up a little earlier," and "going to fewer movies."

Hmmm. It's a start, I guess. Much like my autumn resolutions are little more than scraping the surface of a more "meaningful" life. Is doing extra sit-ups really going to make my life better? Not likely. And yet these sorts of goals give me structure, something to shoot for even if it seems somewhat inane.

So, here's my question. In our search for meaning, do you think there is value in striving for personal betterment? Do resolutions build character that eventually results in the sort of integrity that prods us to change the world? Or does focusing on our own story insulate us and make us individualistic? In looking at my own list, I can't help noticing that most of the things I hope to accomplish this fall don't extend beyond the borders of my home and family. Somehow that doesn't feel right to me...

What do you think? Are you, like me, constantly in the process of "bettering" yourself? If so, what things drive you? Do you think this is healthy? Or is our culture influencing our understanding (or misunderstanding) of God's desire to write our stories?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pumpkin Bread


Autumn is my favorite season for so many reasons, and I won’t pretend that one of them isn't the yummy fall fare. I’m an amateur foodie, what can I say? At any rate, this is one of my favorite fall recipes. It’s perfect for breakfast or snacking and makes a dense, moist, delicious bread. You’ll love it!
Pumpkin Bread
Ingredients:
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 butter
2/3 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup applesauce
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water, sugars, and applesauce until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. You’ll have to watch the loaves rather closely at the end of the baking time. Ovens vary greatly and you don’t want to over bake this wonderful bread!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sneak Peek: Beneath the Night Tree



In the hope of getting you all excited for the upcoming release of Beneath the Night Tree, I'm going to regularly offer sneak peeks into the story. Don't worry--I won't give too much away. There are lots of surprises in this book and I don't want to spoil any of them! But a few paragraphs won't hurt. :)

From the very first chapter, Songbird:

Daniel hummed in his sleep. It was an unconscious song, a midnight lullaby, as familiar to me as the sigh of my own breath. I fell asleep at night listening to the cadence of his dreams, and when I woke in the morning, his quiet melody was a prelude to birdsong.

I opened my eyes in the darkness and strained to see an imprint of peach on the horizon beyond my open window. It was coming, but when I blinked at the black reflection in the glass, dawn was nothing more than a promise, and Daniel’s every exhalation seemed tuned to charm it into being. I pictured him in his bed, arm flung over the pillow and palm opened toward the sky as if God had set an orchestra before his still-chubby fingers. As if God had chosen my son to coax light into our little house.
Maybe He had.
If there was one thing I had learned in five years of being a single mom, it was that the Lord did exactly that: He used the small, the inconsequential, the forgotten to shame the wise. He worked in contradictions, in the unexpected. And I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if He hovered over my Daniel, drawing music from the curve of his parted lips with the gentle pull of divine fingers. 
The thought made me smile, and for a moment I longed to tiptoe across the cool floorboards and be a part of it all, to slip into the tiny attic nook that was my son’s bedroom. I wanted to feel my way through the shadows, stretch out beside him, and kiss the sugared-sweet little boy mouth that puckered like a perfect bow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 10-12


Welcome back! It's been a wild week, but everyone in the Baart household is happy, healthy, and loving our new home. Space! Oh, glorious space! We feel so incredibly, undeservedly blessed.

Anyway, I'm excited to jump right into the chapters for this week. So much in these pages spoke to me (especially the part about feeling like a loser in your own life), but I'm going to focus on one passage in particular. From Writing the World:

I've wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don't want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don't want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn't remarkable, then we don't have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.

To me this entire passage can be summed up in a sentence: We don't want to live a life that requires us to accept the bitter with the sweet. Because really living--really truly investing ourselves in our life, the people around us, our community, our story--requires sacrifice. And let's face it: sacrifice sucks. It makes us dive down deep into ourselves, to the places where we are insecure and vulnerable and capable of being wounded. It's a whole lot easier to live life on the surface.

But it's also a lot less beautiful. It's less fulfilling. More mundane. I think Shauna Niequist puts in perfectly in her book (aptly named) Bittersweet: "...we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the callouses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy." Amen. I choose a bittersweet life.

Which is easy to say right now when my life is sprinkled with sweet. And not some sort of light dusting of confectioners' sugar. We're talking a baking catastrophe--an industrial-sized bag of the good stuff spilling out all over me. It's not always like this... I've known loss and heartache, and even now amid all the good there are bitter pills to swallow. Feelings of isolation that creep in and cuddle up next to the contentedness. Distance from my husband as he puts in crazy-busy weeks at his new job. The knowledge that even though I do my best as a mother I fail and fail again. But even in the midst of this, I can see opportunities for growth and change... the possibility of a better me, a better life, a better story on the horizon.

What about you? Is your life more bitter or sweet right now? Are you afraid to accept the responsibility inherent in acknowledging that life is brilliant? Or do you accept the remarkable (and your role in it) with arms wide open? Anything else in these chapters you would like to discuss? I'd love to hear from you...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vomit and Beyond...


Hello all. Sorry I didn't keep us on-track with a Million Miles blog on Monday. The good (bad?) news is I don't have a good excuse... I have a GREAT excuse. ;)

We moved on Saturday (woot-woot!) and are living in utter chaos. To make matters worse (actually, better in the long-run) we hired someone to help us out with our painting and he started first thing Monday morning. Nothing is where it belongs--instead, it is all piled in the middle of the great room. See the photo above? That's me with all our junk in the background. Sigh. I don't like living amid clutter, but puked-on clutter is unimaginably worse... Yup, my middle child got sick on Monday and ended up throwing up on my favorite chair, our couch, and the carpet. You'd think I would have wised up after it happened the first time and attached a bucket to his chin. But I don't think it would have helped... projectile vomit is never easy to contain.

At any rate, I hope you'll forgive me for taking a week to catch my breath (and pray that I don't get sick, too!). I'll be back on Monday with another post about Miller's book (we're up to chapters 10-12). I'll also be sharing an awesome recipe later in the week and a little insight into my upcoming release, Beneath the Night Tree.


Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 2, 2010