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


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


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


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