Saturday, February 27, 2010

Getting to know you...

I've only ever "met" most of you online, and even if we never get to see each other face to face, I'd love to learn a bit more about you! Take a minute to answer the following one-liners. (My answers are in italics.)

1. Coffee or tea? Coffee.

2. Indoors or outside? Outside.

3. Hot or cold? Hot.

4. Hugs or kisses? Kisses.

5. Morning or night? Morning.

6. Fiction or non-fiction? Fiction.

You can learn a lot about someone from just a few words! Did you get this from my answers? I'm a morning-lover (though my mornings don't begin before 6:30) who starts each day with a hot cup of dark roast, fair-trade Ethiopian coffee. I'd rather be outside in nearly any weather, and insist on having windows open (at least a crack!) even in the dead of winter. I like my summers hot, my food hot, and my coffee has to be, you guessed it, hot. Though I love to fold my boys in a hug, I can't keep my lips off of them to save my life. I'll kiss anything that comes my way, including but not limited to: extremities, fingers and toes, ears, foreheads, exposed necks, elbows, and even cheeks if I'm lucky enough to catch one. When the little ones are in bed, there's nothing I love to do more than read. And you're not likely to find non-fiction on my nightstand. I like stories. Even the non-fiction books I read are usually filled with story... Blue Like Jazz, Jesus for President, The Furious Longing of God, Velvet Elvis, Counterfeit Gods, you get the drift.

Your turn! What can I learn about you? :)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Though there are many things that I love about being pregnant (and some things I'm not so fond of), there is one special side effect that thrills me above all others: fetal movement. I'm twenty weeks now, and for the last half month or so my baby's kicks have gotten more and more regular and pronounced. I woke up this morning to a tap dance, and even as I write I can feel my little one exploring her tiny world. I still have serious panic attacks about this pregnancy and our fragile babe, but feeling those gentle nudgings helps. Thank you, Lord, for small miracles.

I was enjoying my last pregnancy this morning, and it struck me that I wrote an entire passage on "the quickening." A box of Summer Snow resides in my office closet, so I grabbed myself a copy and read the chapter entitled Quicken. Thought I'd share this morning.

From Summer Snow:

I felt the baby move for the first time on an unseasonably warm morning in the middle of April.

At first I didn’t realize what was happening. There was a flutter in my abdomen, a feeling like falling from a great height. A dip and turn deep inside me that caused me to reach out and grab the porch railing as if Iowa had just experienced the tremors of some far-flung, coastal earthquake and I needed to ground myself. I stayed there, splinters of peeling paint digging into the soft palms of my hands, and thought, We really need to put a new coat on the porch this summer.

And then it happened again. There was the faintest, cosmic beat of hummingbird wings at the very center of my being. This time, steadied by the thick cedar rail and quiet in my thoughts, I knew what it was.

I held my breath and waited to feel her once more. She didn’t disappoint, and a grin burst across my face to match the sunrise that I had witnessed only moments earlier. I laughed out loud and pressed my hands to my stomach, hoping to feel her there. Awed that she had finally made herself known to me.

I was twenty-two weeks along, give or take, and Dr. Morales had expressed only mild concern that it seemed to be taking so long for me to become aware of the child growing inside. However, I wasn’t worried. Grandma had bought me What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and it suggested that eighteen to twenty-four weeks was a perfectly acceptable timeframe in which to experience “the quickening.”

The quickening. I was dubious upon reading it, confused at first because I didn’t know what it meant and then downright skeptical because it seemed such a portentous title for something that was surely rather small and routine. But when she first twirled circles inside me, I understood that her inaugural movements were anything but small and decidedly not routine. She introduced herself to me with all the eloquence of a rehearsed speech, all the passion of a lover’s embrace. Surely the earth itself must have paused in its orbit to acknowledge the celestial movement at my core.

Suddenly, I very fully appreciated that there could not be a more perfect term for what I had just experienced than quickening. My breath quickened; my pulse quickened. My fingertips hummed with significance. Even the very life that coursed through me accelerated abruptly toward some distant goal and blurred forward with new meaning and purpose. It was indescribably exhilarating.

And it was the perfect morning for such a momentous event. The horizon was filled with the growing bands of a golden-peach sunrise, like a slice of fresh nectarine with the honeyed sun a glistening pit at its center. The earth below was yielding and warm; a green tractor across the field from where I stood dug a silver disc across its fertile surface and made hillocks and furrows of the rich, soggy dirt. Best of all, the scent in the air was of spring and newness. Everything seemed crisp and clean, ready for renewal.

*Copyright Nicole Baart, 2008

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fruit Pizza

I'm feeling so blah. Like melted ice cream on a hot sidewalk, a puddle of muddy rainwater, a blob of hormones and frustrations and exhaustion topped with cabin fever. Blah. Know what I mean? I bet if you live in Iowa right now you do... ;)

Anyway, in an effort to cheer myself up and crawl out from under the blanket of late-winter despondency that seems so prevalent this time of year, I've been making summer fare. Might as well fool my taste buds if I can't fool my wardrobe (yup, that t-shirt a few days ago was not a wise idea). It started with our Liberian Luau at the end of January. Pork brats, potato salad, and pineapple, oh my! Then my dad wowed us all with perfect ribeye steaks on the grill. True, he had to shovel the grill out from underneath four feet (yes, you read that right--four feet) of snow. But he did it! And we rejoiced. Next I found asparagus in the supermarket, and proceeded to dress it with olive oil and sea salt, then broiled it just long enough to make it hot and snappy. Since then I've scoured the produce aisle for hothouse tomatoes and made my famous bruschetta, stocked up on sundae supplies even though hot chocolate seems more appropriate, and--best of all--I slaved over a giant fruit pizza topped with fresh berries, ripe pineapple, and every other amazing-looking fruit I could scrounge up. I even made filigree chocolate decorations to adorn my February work of art. It was amazing, if I do say so myself.

In the hope that a little taste of summer might be just what you need, too, I'm going to share my top-secret, adapted over the course of a decade, eat it 'till you're sick recipe for fruit pizza. Enjoy!

Niki's Fruit Pizza

1 batch homemade sugar cookie dough (you can also use refrigerated Pillsbury sugar cookies if you don't feel like making it from scratch)
a variety of fresh fruit

First layer:
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1/4 - 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Second layer:
2 small containers raspberry yogurt (or yogurt flavor of your choice)
1/2 container whipped cream (or to taste)


Spread cookie dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or, if you have one, a baking stone) in a large cirle. Make sure the dough is the same thickness from edge to middle. Bake in a 325 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes. Baking time will vary depending on the type of cookie dough you use and how large you make your cookie. Watch the cookie carefully, and remove it from the oven when it is golden brown thoughout. Don't overbake! A chewy cookie is better than a crunchy one for this recipe.

While the cookie is baking, blend softened cream cheese with powedered sugar and vanilla. Set aside. In a separate bowl, stir yogurt with whipped cream. Then carefully clean, dry, and slice fruit. I like to leave my berries whole, and alternate with mandarin oranges, kiwi, or any exotic fruit that is in season. If you have fruit that may spoil, let it soak in orange juice for a few minutes. The citric acid will help even apples retain their nice, white flesh.

When the cookie is cool and transferred to your chosen serving plate, spread with the cream cheese mixture. Top with the yogurt mixture, leaving a half inch of the cream cheese visible along the edge. This pink layer is light and fluffy, the perfect backdrop for your fruit. Now carefully arrange the fruit, paying attention to color and pattern. If done correctly, this dessert is almost too pretty to eat. But trust me, you'll definitely want to eat it. :)

If you're feeling really creative, top your cookie with chocolate filigree. Melt 1/2 - 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl. Pour the melted chocolate into a plastic bag. Cut a very tiny tip off one corner. On a sheet of wax paper, swirl the chocolate into large, lacy patterns. Let it dry completely. When the chocolate is hard, you can carefully remove your artwork. I like to break it into big pieces and stand it up in the center of my fruit pizza. So yummy. And so summery... If only I had the weather to go with my sunshiny dessert...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Charmed Life

I lead a charmed life. Really, I do.

While 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day, I happily blow double that amount in one lunch out.

25,000 children die every due to extreme poverty while my sons complain about bathing, eating their vegetables, and taking the icky medicine that they are prescribed when they're sick.

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their own name, but I spend my days agonizing over the many nuances of twenty synonyms for "beautiful."

Millions of women structure their entire lives on the collection of water (usually from sources that do not meet basic sanitary requirements). However, when I'm thirsty, I walk to the kitchen and turn on the tap. If I'm refreshed before the glass is empty, I pour it down the drain as if it's "only" water.

Half the world's population lives in cities. In 2005, one out of every three urban dwellers was living in slum conditions. Yet my ("tiny") home boasts four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a gorgeous, green yard where my kids run and play.

1.6 billion people live without electricity. I often forget to turn off my lights.

It would cost 6 billion dollars annually to provide basic education for all. A staggering number, until you consider that Americans spend 8 billion dollars a year on cosmetics. I just placed an order with Mary Kay.

It's so easy sometimes to want what I don't have: a bigger house, nicer clothes, new furniture, a car that doesn't have a screechy heater, a vacation to some warm, tropical destination... The list could go on and on and on. But when I start feeling entitled, as if I deserve more, I'm in desperate need of a reality check. Just look at my beautiful home. It features cupboards full of food, air-conditioning when it's hot, heat when it's cold, warm clothes and blankets, a stocked medicine cabinet in case someone gets a headache, cough, or sniffly nose, electricity that works 24/7 365 days a year, running water that I use for everything from bubble baths to drinking, happy, healthy children, and even a spoiled dog. In the summertime, we sit beneath this pergola and indugle in wine, conversation with friends, and lazy stargazing...

There's no doubt about it. I lead a charmed life. Do you?

*Stats taken from

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Fever

I'm not a TV watcher. Frankly, I find it boring. And I get sick of sitting. It's hard to keep still through an entire program... But every two years, I suffer through two straight weeks of intense television addiction. Why? I love the olympics. Any sport, any time, anywhere. I'll watch curling and snowboarding moguls (one of my all-time favorites) and figure skating--even men's figure skating which I have to admit seems like an oxymoron to me. I'll cover my eyes during the downhill skiing and cry when a speed skater falls. The olympics are awesome.

Last night, as I was glued to the pairs figure skating finals, I couldn't help but wonder why the olympics have me so enthralled. I'm no athlete. (Okay, my friends and family are laughing at the severity of that understatement.) And I have no particular interest in sports beyond the olympic games. (Besides, of course, my six-year-old son's hockey games.) But I'm wide-eyed and transfixed as the world competes... Why?

It struck me last night for the very first time that my love of the olympics has little to do with sports and much to do with story. Imagine that. Me. An author. Interested in story. ;)

Have you ever noticed that every single athlete in the olympics has a story? I mean a really compelling, often heart-wrenching, potentially life-changing story. There's Alex Bilodeau, the freestyle mogul skiier who won Canada's first olympic gold on home soil. His inspiration? His older brother, a young man who has struggled with cerebral palsy his whole life. I dare you to look at a photo of the two of them together and not tear up. Then there's the Chinese pairs figure skating duo Shen and Zhao. Their 18-year long tale is filled with romance (they fell in love and got married), twists (they retired and then re-entered competition), and a happily-ever-after ending (they won gold!). Best of all, they're considered the "grandparents" of the sport--who knew that at 31 and 36 you could be considered over the hill? Of course, there are also the sad stories. I wept over Nodar Kumaritashvili and his fatal accident. I'll never look at luge quite the same way, nor will I ever take for granted the fact that these athletes--all of them--risk much in an effort to wow the world.

Don't you just love it? Such life, such raw humanity and expectation and even faith all contained in one moment-by-moment experience! I find it absolutely riveting.

People often ask me where I get my ideas for my books. I gotta tell you: it's right here. Not necessarily at the olympics, but maybe. It's in the stories of other people, those moments when life is so real and beautiful and full of hope and possiblity that your soul swells in awe of it. And in those moments that break your heart. That make you realize how short and fragile and fleeting our lives really are. Like a vapor, a mist...

Looking for a story idea? Open your eyes.

Question for you: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Grapevine: Chris Fabry

Well, it’s the 15th today, and though I’m excited to be sharing about another new and exciting author, I have to tell you right off the bat that this is my first Grapevine without a giveaway. Boo. Sorry about that. But, hey, I didn’t start this monthly feature to give out free books--I merely wanted to introduce you to some fabulous authors that you may not have read before. Believe me, in this economy, authors could use a sale or two! If Chris’s work sounds interesting to you, support a struggling artist and buy one of his books. Or go borrow it from the library… Either way. ;)

Chris Fabry is the dedicated father or nine (yup, you read that right--five girls and four boys), the radio host of an award winning program (called Chris Fabry Live!), and the author of more than 60 books (all of which were published after 1995). Yikes. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? He’s also collaborated with Focus on the Family, written scripts for Adventures in Odyssey, speaks daily on Love Worth Finding (another radio broadcast), and has narrated audio books by Dr. Gary Smalley, Ted Dekkers, and Francine Rivers (to name just a few). And all of this is just a sampling of his remarkable resume!

If credentials make a good author, Chris Fabry is one of the best. And I can say in all honesty that his full-length, adult novels (recently published by Tyndale House) comprise some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking Christian fiction I’ve ever encountered.

June Bug, Fabry’s most recent novel, is a modern-day retelling of Les Miserables. Since Les Mis is one of my favorite stories of all time, I really enjoyed this new interpretation. But I have to admit that Fabry’s first book, Dogwood, was my favorite. From the back cover:

In the small town of Dogwood, West Virginia, Karin has buried her shattered dreams by settling for a faithful husband whose emotional distance from her deep passions and conflicts leaves her isolated. Loaded with guilt, she tries to raise three small children and "do life" the best she can. Will returns to Dogwood intent on pursuing the only woman he has ever loved--only to find there is far more standing in his way than lost years in prison. The secrets of Will and Karin's past begin to emerge through Danny Boyd, a young boy who wishes he hadn't survived the tragedy that knit those two together as well as tore them apart. The trigger that will lay their pain bare and force them to face it rather than flee is the unlikely figure of Ruthie Bowles, a withered, wiry old woman who leads Karin so deep into her anger against God that it forces unexpected consequences.

Dogwood is a compelling, page-turning read filled with surprises that left me breathless. Though it was a smidge farfetched toward the end, I was willing to suspend belief because the story was so gripping. A thoroughly enjoyable read that kept me on the edge of my seat until the final pages.

At any rate, I invite you to spend some time getting to know Chris. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him on a couple of different occasions, and he’s a wonderful man with a great sense of humor and a deep passion for his family and his God. His website is full of interesting information and some neat resources, and, of course, you can find him on the radio. Happy hunting!

Friday, February 12, 2010

How I Met My Hubby

A few weeks ago I invited my readers (you!) to ask me anything... And I promised to answer your questions in blog posts for all to see. Well, I believe I've more or less addressed all of your personal questions over the course of the last month. It's been so fun to interact with you in this way! If you ever have a question for me (about my life, my books, my publishing experience, whatever), please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. I'm pretty much an open book. (Pardon the cheesy author pun.)

Anyway, I do have one last question to answer, but I've been saving it for this weekend. Lori at Beaumont Butterfly asked me something that seems perfect to share this Valentine's Day (or close to it): How did you meet your husband?

I love this question because it's so much fun to turn back the clock and remember those first few interactions with the man I can't imagine living without. Isn't it funny how a stranger can so quickly become an extension of your own soul?

Aaron and I met on a double date. Except, he wasn't my date. His roommate was. He-he-he!

It's actually a cute story... At the end of my sophomore year in college, I was in the library studying for exams. Unbeknownst to me, a boy named Aaron Baart happened to be in the library at the same time--and, according to his colorful storytelling, he fell in love at first sight. I don't remember anything about that night, but apparently I was wearing a green sundress (a dress I still have--and still fit into!) with my hair pulled back. Aaron watched me the entire evening, and when I got up to leave he grabbed his own books and raced to the door. He loves to recount how he leaned against one of the library pillars, lit up a cigarette, and casually waited for me to pass. When I did, he gave me a nod and a super-cool, "Hey." I ignored him. (Don't you love it?!)

Fast forward several months. In September of my junior year I snagged a date with a guy I had been crushing on for most of my college career. He was funny, sexy, perfect... but kind of shy--he suggested we each take our roommates along on the date. Of course, I wanted time alone with him, but I agreed to the arrangment all the same. That night, as we were all heading to my car (I was the only one of my friends who had a--very crappy, mind you--car), I held up my keys and asked who wanted to drive. My date, the shy guy, hung back. And his roommate, this spiky haired blond kid from Vancouver, British Columbia (the same one who watched me for hours in the library) snatched the keys right out of my hand and took his place at my side.

That night, Aaron told his roommate that he was going to marry me.

Believe it or not, it wasn't all chocolate and roses from there... I had to be convinced that this stranger was the man for me. But rough roads, roommates, and differences aside, we were married 18 months later. I've never looked back. And even after all this time, I couldn't be more in love.

Awww... isn't that sweet? ;)

Your turn: How did you meet your significant other? And if you're single, what are you looking for in "the one"?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'd rather be...

Don't get me wrong. I love my home. I love Iowa. I love small town life. I even love snow. At least, a little. But this winter is soooooo long... and dragging on. We have snow piled waist-high, roads that have been sheets of ice since the end of November, and more of the white stuff in the forecast. Sigh. Enough is enough.

Since we don't have the dough for a fabulous trip, and since I'm a dreamer, I'm going to take a moment to indulge my fantasies. It might be -5 outside, but in my mind I'm somewhere warm and sunny. If I had my way, I'd rather be... Curacao. A month or so ago, a local doctor was unable to find a fetal heartbeat in my little one. I was over 12 weeks along, so the heartbeat should have been easy to locate... Aaron and I spent the weekend in a haze, sure that we had lost yet another baby. One of the things that I did to comfort myself was plan a trip to Curacao--something we had promised ourselves as a pick-me-up if God chose to take our baby home. But He had other plans! Our little one was merely hiding, and now, at nearly 18 weeks, all is well. Praise the Lord! And come to think of it, maybe I don't want to be in Curacao. ;) Vancouver. I shared a video with you last week that highlighted my gorgeous second home. Well, as I'm sure you all know, the Olympics are about to begin in beautiful British Columbia and I wish I could be there! Especially because my sister-in-law is also pregnant right now. She's due one month before me, and I'd love to spend some quality time with her comparing baby bumps and other "fun" pregnancy symptoms. the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing. Oh, wait a sec. I am going to be there--but not until April. This bi-annual event is one of the highlights of my writing life. I look forward to the speakers, the inspiration, and the time with fellow authors. I'm meeting my writing BFF Lisa McKay for a weekend of book talk and wine. Oops. Skip the wine this year. Fruit juice and water for me.

...curled up on my couch with a cup of mint tea and a good book. Why am I blogging? 'Cuz I love you guys and I want to say "hi." But it is book and couch time. ;)

Question for you (on this miserable, icy day): Where would you rather be? Or are you happy just where you are?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tebow Ad

Did you see the Super Bowl last night? My team (the Vikings) wasn't in it, but we watched on the edge of our seats all the same. Go Saints! I was hoping they'd win--such an awesome morale boost for a downtrodden city (and state).

Anyway, running a close second behind Bowl-fever is Tebow-buzz. And a lot of it isn't positive... Do you know Tim Tebow? The Heisman trophy winner, football phenom, and all-around spectacular guy? He's an outspoken Christian, a self-professed virgin until marriage, and a survivor of the pro-choice debate: his mom chose life. Great stuff. During the Super Bowl, Focus on the Family ran a 30-second ad featuring Tebow and his mom. It was cute, funny, and beautifully done. I loved it. But lots of people didn't. How dare they run an ad promoting life?

Though I could rant and rave about the controversy ad infinitum, I'm going to step back and let you check out this article. It's a sports feature in the Washington Post written by Sally Jenkins, a decidedly pro-choice woman--who just so happens to have the most honest, fair, and levelheaded assessment I've come across regarding Tebow's "offensive" ad. Do yourself a favor and read it! You'll come across gems like this:

"Pam Tebow and her son feel good enough about that choice (the choice of life) to want to tell people about it. Only, NOW says they shouldn't be allowed to. Apparently NOW feels this commercial is an inappropriate message for America to see for 30 seconds, but women in bikinis selling beer is the right one. I would like to meet the genius at NOW who made that decision. On second thought, no, I wouldn't."


Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I've been asked this year to be one of the judges for a local film festival. For the last week or so, I've been wading through twenty-some entries, enjoying the variety in genre, style, and even talent. There's something almost fun and campy about the below-average homemade films... And, of course, it's a pleasure to be impressed by the shorts that are really well done. An unexpected camera angle, an actor that has obvious talent, a script that makes me think...

Anyway, immersing myself in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking has made me consider some of the movies I've seen recently. We settle for some really crappy "art" don't we? I'd say that Aaron and I only come across a movie that we'd consider great once in a blue moon. The rest are just a way to kill a couple hours on a weekend night.

In the hope that one of these movies might save you from a ho-hum viewing experience, here are a few movies that we've really enjoyed in the last year.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

I know, we're way behind the times, but we just watched this movie. I loved it. I knew I would. It's a beautiful story, beautifully told. A must-see if you haven't already.

Keeping Mum

This British film had us in stitches. The comedy is dark but handled with grace and a light touch. We especially loved the amazing Biblical truths hidden in plain sight. It's rated R for a reason, and it might not be everyone's cup of tea (nice British allusion there, don't you think?) but we adored it.

Star Trek

Yeah, I know, it's Star Trek. Aaron hates alien/space/sci-fi stuff, but we both loved this movie. It's action-packed, but it... wait for it... has a story. Unbelievable, I know. We were also blown away by the camera angles, the special effects, the atmosphere of the whole film. Lots of fun.

The Dark Knight

Should have watched this one in the theater. Instead, we rented it nearly a year after it released in DVD format. We were completely blown away. Amazing movie. Raw and angry and dark, but ultimately about good and truth and beauty. Okay, that's a huge oversimplification. Just watch the movie.

Julie & Julia

Such a fun movie. Lighthearted, sweet, and entertaining, but with underlying themes of identity, fulfillment, hope, and ambition. We really, really enjoyed it. And then were disappointed the very next day when we heard of Julie's new book, Cleaving, that's all about her extramarital affair due to the success of her Julia Child blog. Boo. But the movie is still good.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I miss my other home!

I love my little corner of Iowa, but there is something about Super, Natural British Columbia that stirs the soul. I'm missing my second home today... Someone, quick: remind me why we moved!