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March 12, 2014

Using Dental Floss to Cut Cake, Cheese and...

Using Dental Floss to Cut Cake, Cheese and...

Even with a common kitchen knife, cutting particular foods with a blade can be tedious and rather cumbersome. If you're anything like me, you can rarely get a good cut of anything, let alone a clean piece of cake or a sexy sliver of cheese. Who should you call upon for help next time you're having a wine and cheese night with the ladies? Your hygiene homie  Dental Floss . Make sure to grab an unscented pack, roll out a length of it that'll comfortably sink into whatever you're...


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October 30, 2013

Using Dental Floss to Cut Cake, Cheese and...

Using Dental Floss to Cut Cake, Cheese and...

Even with a common kitchen knife, cutting particular foods with a blade can be tedious and rather cumbersome. If you're anything like me, you can rarely get a good cut of anything, let alone a clean piece of cake or a sexy sliver of cheese. Who should you call upon for help next time you're having a wine and cheese night with the ladies? Your hygiene homie  Dental Floss . Make sure to grab an unscented pack, roll out a length of it that'll comfortably sink into whatever you're...


Sponsored post #PlateFullCoOp
Platefull Co-Op

Giddy Up Poppin’ Fresh The 1972 Pillsbury...

Giddy Up Poppin’ Fresh The 1972 Pillsbury...

Giddy Up Poppin’ Fresh The 1972 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest was held in Houston, Texas. Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy, brought his one gallon hat. 


Sponsored post #PlateFullCoOp
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Smashing First Birthdays!

#bettysbirthdays

Smashing First Birthdays!

Betty's friends and families celebrate their little ONEs first birthdays. Join in the fun, and share your celebration: #bettysbirthdays


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April 8, 2011

Book Review: Home-Ec 101


Looking for that "go-to" guide for tackling all those chores around the house? Look no further than Home-Ec 101 by One2One Member and blogger Heather Solos.


Her tagline says it perfectly: Skills for Everyday Living: Cook It, Clean It, Fix It, Wash It, and whether it's cleaning grout or removing chocolate out of the carpet, Heather covers all the details readers need to know to keep their homes clean and in good repair.

I must say that I enjoyed reading this quirky little informational guide.  I truly wish that I would have had something like this when I "flew the coop".  I went away from mom and dad's home knowing absolutely nothing about housecleaning, cooking or doing laundry!  I think anyone can benefit from this book...even those seasoned domestic divas out there!

I think this is a MUST READ for ALL who are leaving the confines of home and heading out into the world of independence.  This book will walk you through all of the ins and outs of the domestic side of life.  I really loved, loved, loved this book!

You can buy this book at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.

**I am a member of One2One Network and was offered a digital version of this book to read in exchange for my honest opinion on my blog.**

February 25, 2011

Book Review: A Billion Reasons Why

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


A Billion Reasons Why

Thomas Nelson; Original edition (February 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Kristin Billerbeck was born in California to an Italian father and a strong Norwegian/German mother. Her mother tried to teach her to do things right, how to cook, clean, sew, and budget accordingly—all the things a proper girl should know in order to be a contributing member of society. Yet Billerbeck said she “failed miserably,” although her grandmother must still hold some hope since she gave her a cookie gun for her 40th birthday.

Billerbeck has authored more than 30 novels, including the Ashley Stockingdale series and the Spa Girls series. She is a leader in the Chick Lit movement, a Christy Award finalist, and a two-time winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year Award. She has appeared on The Today Show and has been featured in the New York Times. She lives with her family in northern California.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

There are a billion reasons Kate should marry her current boyfriend.

Will she trade them all to be madly in love?

Katie McKenna leads a perfect life. Or so she thinks. She has a fulfilling job, a cute apartment, and a wedding to plan with her soon-to-be fiance, Dexter.

She can think of a billion reasons why she should marry Dexter…but nowhere on that list is love.

And then in walks Luc DeForges, her bold, breathtaking ex-boyfriend. Only now he's a millionaire. And he wants her to go home to New Orleans to sing for her childhood friend's wedding. As his date.

But Katie made up her mind about Luc eight years ago, when she fled their hometown after a very public breakup. Yet there's a magnetism between them she can't deny.

Katie thought her predictable relationship with Dexter would be the bedrock of a lasting, Christian marriage. But what if there's more? What if God's desire for her is a heart full of life? And what if that's what Luc has offered all along?


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; Original edition (February 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595547916
ISBN-13: 978-1595547910

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


A Fine Romance


Katie McKenna had dreamed of this moment at least a thousand times. Luc would walk back into her life filled with remorse. He’d be wearing jeans, a worn T-shirt, and humility. He’d be dripping with humility.


That should have been her first clue that such a scenario had no bearing on reality.


“Katie,” a voice said.


The sound sent a surge of adrenaline through her frame. She’d forgotten the power and the warmth of his baritone. A quick glance around her classroom assured her that she must be imagining things. Everything was in order: the posters of colorful curriculum, the daily schedule of activities printed on the whiteboard, and, of course, the children. All six of them were mentally disabled, most of them on the severe side of the autism spectrum, but three had added handicaps that required sturdy, head-stabilizing wheelchairs. The bulk of the chairs overwhelmed the room and blocked much of the happy yellow walls and part of the large rainbow mural the kids had helped to paint. The room, with its cluttered order, comforted her and reminded her of all she’d accomplished. There was no need to think about the past. That was a waste of time and energy.


Her eyes stopped on her aides, Carrie and Selena. The two women, so boisterous in personality, were usually animated. But at the moment they stood huddled in the corner behind Austin’s wheelchair.


Carrie, the heavyset one in the Ed Hardy T-shirt, motioned at her.


“What?” Katie pulled at her white shirt with the delicate pink flowers embroidered along the hem and surveyed the stains. “I know, I’m a mess. But did you see how wonderfully the kids did on their art projects? It was worth it. Never thought of the oil on the dough staining. Next time I’ll wear an apron.”


Selena and Carrie looked as though there was something more they wanted.


“Maddie, you’re a born artist.” Katie smiled at the little girl sitting behind a mound of colorful clay. Then to the aides: “What is the matter with you two?”



Selena, a slight Latina woman, shook her head and pointed toward the door.


Katie rotated toward the front of the classroom and caught her breath. Luc, so tall and gorgeous, completely out of place in his fine European suit and a wristwatch probably worth more than her annual salary, stood in the doorway. He wore a fedora, his trademark since college, but hardly one he needed to stand out in a crowd.


As she stared across the space between them, suddenly the classroom she took such pride in appeared shabby and soiled. When she inhaled, it reeked of sour milk and baby food. Her muddled brain searched for words.


“Luc?” She blinked several times, as if his film-star good looks might evaporate into the annals of her mind. “What are you doing here?”


“Didn’t you get my brother’s wedding invitation?” he asked coolly, as if they’d only seen each other yesterday.


“I did. I sent my regrets.”


“That’s what I’m doing here. You can’t miss Ryan’s wedding. I thought the problem might be money.”


She watched as his blue eyes came to rest on her stained shirt. Instinctively she crossed her arms in front of her.


“I came to invite you to go back with me next week, on my plane.”


“Ah.” She nodded and waited for something intelligible to come out of her mouth. “It’s not money.”


“Come home with me, Katie.” He reached out his arms, and she moved to the countertop and shuffled some papers together.


If he touches me, I don’t stand a chance. She knew Luc well enough to know if he’d made the trip to her classroom, he didn’t intend to leave without what he came for. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.” She stacked the same papers again.


“Give me one reason.”


She faced him. “I could give you a billion reasons.”


Luc’s chiseled features didn’t wear humility well. The cross-shaped scar beneath his cheekbone added to his severity. If he weren’t so dreaded handsome, he’d make a good spy in a Bond movie. His looks belied his soft Uptown New Orleans upbringing, the kind filled with celebrations and warm family events with backyard tennis and long days in the swimming pool.


He pushed through the swiveled half door that separated them and strode toward her.


“That gate is there for a reason. The classroom is for teachers and students only.”


Luc opened his hand and beckoned to her, and despite herself, she took it. Her heart pounded in her throat, and its roar was so thunderous it blocked her thoughts. He pulled her into a clutch, then pushed her away with all the grace of Astaire. “Will you dance with me?” he asked.


He began to hum a Cole Porter tune clumsily in her ear, and instinctively she followed his lead until everything around them disappeared and they were alone in their personal ballroom. For a moment she dropped her head back and giggled from her stomach; a laugh so genuine and pure, it seemed completely foreign—as if it came from a place within that was no longer a part of her. Then the dance halted suddenly, and his cheek was against hers. She took in the roughness of his face, and the thought flitted through her mind that she could die a happy woman in those arms.


The sound of applause woke her from her reverie.


“You two are amazing!” Carrie said.


The children all murmured their approval, some with screams of delight and others with loud banging.

Luc’s hand clutched her own in the small space between them, and she laughed again.


“Not me,” Luc said. “I have the grace of a bull. It’s Katie. She’s like Ginger Rogers. She makes anybody she dances with look good.” He appealed to the two aides. “Which is why I’m here. She must go to my brother’s wedding with me.”


“I didn’t even know you danced, Katie,” Selena said. “Why don’t you ever come dancing with us on Friday nights?”


“What? Katie dances like a dream. She and my brother were partners onstage in college. They were like a mist, the way they moved together. It’s like her feet don’t touch the ground.”


“That was a long time ago.” She pulled away from him and showed him her shirt. “I’m a mess. I hope I didn’t ruin your suit.”


“It would be worth it,” Luc growled.


“Katie, where’d you learn to dance like that?” Carrie asked.


“Too many old movies, I suppose.” She shrugged.


“You could be on Dancing with the Stars with moves like that.”


“Except I’m not a star or a dancer, but other than that, I guess—” She giggled again. It kept bubbling out of her, and for one blissful moment she remembered what it felt like to be the old Katie McKenna. Not the current version, staid schoolmarm and church soloist in Northern California, but the Katie people in New Orleans knew, the one who danced and sang.


Luc interrupted her thoughts. “She’s being modest. She learned those moves from Ginger and Fred themselves, just by watching them over and over again. This was before YouTube, so she was dedicated.”


Katie shrugged. “I was a weird kid. Only child, you know?” But inside she swelled with pride that Luc remembered her devotion to a craft so woefully out-of-date and useless. “Anyway, I don’t have much use for swing dancing or forties torch songs now. Luc, meet Carrie and Selena. Carrie and Selena, Luc.”


“I don’t have any ‘use’ for salsa dancing,” Selena said. “I do it because it’s part of who I am.”


“Tell her she has to come with me, ladies. My brother is having a 1940s-themed wedding in New Orleans. He’d be crushed if Katie didn’t come, and I’ll look like a hopeless clod without her to dance with.”


Katie watched the two aides. She saw the way Luc’s powerful presence intoxicated them. Were they really naive enough to believe that Luc DeForges could ever appear like a clod, in any circumstance or setting? Luc, with his skilled charm and roguish good looks, made one believe whatever he wanted one to believe. The two women were putty in his hands.


“Katie, you have to go to this wedding!” Selena stepped toward her. “I can’t believe you can dance like that and never told us. You’d let this opportunity slip by? For what?” She looked around the room and frowned. “This place?”


The cacophony of pounding and low groans rose audibly, as if in agreement.


“This may be just a classroom to you, but to me, it’s the hope and future of these kids. I used to dance. I used to sing. It paid my way through college. Now I’m a teacher.”


“You can’t be a teacher and a dancer?” Selena pressed. “It’s like walking and chewing gum. You can do both. The question is, why don’t you?”


“Maybe I should bring more music and dancing into the classroom. Look how the kids are joining in the noise of our voices, not bothered by it. I have to think about ways we could make the most of this.”


But she hadn’t succeeded in changing the subject; everyone’s attention stayed focused on her.


“You should dance for the kids, Katie. You possess all the grace of an artist’s muse. Who knows how you might encourage them?”


Katie laughed. “That’s laying it on a bit thick, Luc, even for you. I do believe if there was a snake in that basket over there, it would be rising to the charmer’s voice at this very minute.”


Luc’s very presence brought her into another time. Maybe it was the fedora or the classic cut of his suit, but it ran deeper than how he looked. He possessed a sense of virility and take-no-prisoners attitude that couldn’t be further from his blue-blood upbringing. He made her, in a word, feel safe . . . but there was nothing safe about Luc and there never had been. She straightened and walked over to her open folder to check her schedule for the day.


Tapping a pencil on the binder, she focused on getting the day back on track. The students were involved in free playtime at the moment. While they were all situated in a circle, they played individually, their own favorite tasks in front of them.


“Carrie, would you get Austin and Maddie ready for lunch?”


“I’ll do it,” Selena said. “And, Katie . . . you really should go to the wedding.”


“I can’t go to the wedding because it’s right in the middle of summer school.”


“You could get a substitute,” Carrie said. “What would you be gone for, a week at most? Jenna could probably fill in. She took the summer off this year.”


“Thanks for the suggestions, ladies,” Katie said through clenched teeth. “But I’ve already told the groom I can’t attend the wedding for professional reasons.”


The women laughed. “I’m sorry, what reasons?” Carrie asked, raising a bedpan to imply that anyone could do Katie’s job.


It was no use. The two women were thoroughly under Luc’s spell, and who could blame them?


“Maybe we should talk privately,” Luc said. He clasped her wrist and led her to the glass doors at the front of the classroom. “It’s beautiful out here. The way you’re nestled in the hills, you’d never know there’s a city nearby.”


She nodded. “That’s Crystal Springs Reservoir on the other side of the freeway. It’s protected property, the drinking water for this entire area, so it’s stayed pristine.”


“I’m not going back to New Orleans without you,” he said.


Apparently the small talk had ended.


“My mother would have a fit if I brought one of the women I’d take to a Hollywood event to a family wedding.”


Katie felt a twinge of jealousy, then a stab of anger for her own weakness. Of course he dated beautiful women. He was a billionaire. A billionaire who looked like Luc DeForges! Granted, he was actually a multimillionaire, but it had been a long-standing joke between the two of them. Did it matter, once you made your first ten million, how much came after that? He may as well be called a gazillionaire. His finances were too foreign for her to contemplate.


“And who you date is my problem, how?”


“If my date tries to swing dance and kicks one of my mother’s friends in the teeth, I’ll be disinherited.”


“So what, would that make you the fifth richest man in the United States, instead of the fourth?”


“Katie, how many times do I have to explain to you I’m nowhere near those kinds of numbers?” He grinned. “Yet.” He touched his finger to her nose lightly. “My fate is much worse than losing status if you don’t come. My mother might set me up to ensure I have a proper date. A chorus line of Southern belles. And I guarantee you at least one will have the proverbial glass slipper and think her idea is so utterly unique, I’ll succumb to the fantasy.”


“Wow! What a terrible life you must lead.” She pulled a Keds slide from her foot and emptied sand out of her shoe. A few grains landed on Luc’s shiny black loafer. “To think, with courtship skills like that, that any woman wouldn’t be swept off her feet—it’s unfathomable.” She patted his arm. “I wish you luck, Luc. I’m sure your mother will have some very nice choices for you, so go enjoy yourself. Perk up, there’re billions

more to be made when you get back.”


“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Katie.”


e was right, but she didn’t trust herself around him. She’d taken leave of her senses too many times in that weakened state. Since moving to California, she’d made it her goal to live life logically and for the Lord. She hadn’t fallen victim to her emotions since leaving New Orleans, and she’d invested too much to give into them now.


“I’m sorry,” she said. “I only meant that I’m sure there are other nice girls willing to go home and pretend for your mother. I’ve already done that, only you forgot to tell me we were pretending. Remember?”


He flinched. “Below the belt.”


A pencil fell from behind her ear, and she stooped to pick it up, careful not to meet his glance as she rose. “I’m sorry, but I’m busy here. Maybe we could catch up another time? I’d like that and won’t be so sidetracked.” She looked across the room toward Austin, an angelic but severely autistic child in a wheelchair. He pounded against his tray. “The kids are getting hungry. It’s lunchtime.” She pointed to the schedule.


Luc scooped a hand under her chin and forced her to look at him. “Where else am I going to find a gorgeous redhead who knows who Glenn Miller is?”


“Don’t, Luc. Don’t charm me. It’s beneath you. Buy one of your bubble-headed blondes a box of dye and send her to iTunes to do research. Problem solved.”


He didn’t let go. “Ryan wants you to sing at the wedding, Katie. He sent me personally to make sure you’d be there and sing ‘Someone to Watch Over Me.’ I’m not a man who quits because something’s difficult.”


“Anyone worth her salt on Bourbon Street can sing that. Excuse me—”


“Katie-bug.”


“Luc, I asked you kindly. Don’t. I’m not one of your sophisticated girls who knows how to play games. I’m not going to the wedding. That part of my life is over.”


“That part of your life? What about that part of you? Where is she?”


She ignored his question. “I cannot be the only woman you know capable of being your date. You’re not familiar with anyone else who isn’t an actress-slash-waitress?” She cupped his hand in her own and allowed herself to experience the surge of energy. “I have to go.” She dropped his hands and pushed back through the half door. “I’m sure you have a meeting to get to. Am I right?”


“It’s true,” he admitted. “I had business in San Francisco today, a merger. We bought a small chain of health food stores to expand the brand. But I was planning the trip to see you anyway and ask you personally.”


“Uh-huh.”


“We’ll be doing specialty outlets in smaller locations where real estate prices are too high for a full grocery outlet. Having the natural concept already in these locations makes my job that much easier.”



“To take over the free world with organics, you mean?”


That made him smile, and she warmed at the sparkle in his eye. When Luc was in his element, there was nothing like it. His excitement was contagious and spread like a classroom virus, infecting those around him with a false sense of security. She inhaled deeply and reminded herself that the man sold inspiration by the pound. His power over her was universal. It did not make her special.


“Name your price,” he said. “I’m here to end this rift between us, whatever it is, and I’ll do the time. Tell me what it is you want.”


“There is no price, Luc. I don’t want anything from you. I’m not going to Ryan’s wedding. My life is here.”


“Day and night . . . night and day,” he crooned and then his voice was beside her ear. “One last swing dance at my brother’s wedding. One last song and I’ll leave you alone. I promise.”


She crossed the room to the sink against the far wall, but she felt him follow. She hated how he could make every nerve in her body come to life, while he seemingly felt nothing in return. She closed her eyes and searched for inner strength. He didn’t want me. Not in a way that mattered. He wanted her when it suited him to have her at his side.


“Even if I were able to get the time off work, Luc, it wouldn’t be right to go to your brother’s wedding as your date. I’m about to get engaged.”


“Engaged?” He stepped away.


She squeezed hand sanitizer onto her hands and rubbed thoroughly.


“I’ll give a call to your fiancĂ© and let him know the benefits.” He pulled a small leather pad of paper from his coat pocket. “I’ll arrange everything. You get a free trip home, I get a Christian date my mother is proud to know, and then your life goes back to normal. Everyone’s happy.” He took off his fedora as though to plead his case in true gentlemanly fashion. “My mother is still very proud to have led you from

your . . .” He choked back a word. “From your previous life and to Jesus.”


The announcement of her engagement seemed to have had little effect on Luc, and Katie felt as if her heart shattered all over again. “My previous life was you. She was proud to lead me away from her son’s life.” She leaned on the countertop, trying to remember why she’d come to the kitchen area.


“You know what I meant.”


“I wasn’t exactly a streetwalker, Luc. I was a late-night bar singer in the Central District, and the only one who ever led my reputation into question was you. So I’m failing to see the mutual benefit here. Your mother. Your date. And I get a free trip to a place I worked my tail off to get out of.”


She struggled with a giant jar of applesauce, which Luc took from her and opened easily. He passed the jar back to her and let his fingers brush hers.


“My mother would be out of her head to see you. And the entire town could see what they lost when they let their prettiest belle go. Come help me remind them. Don’t you want to show them that you’re thriving? That you didn’t curl up and die after that awful night?”


“I really don’t need to prove anything, Luc.” She pulled her apron, with its child-size handprints in primary colors, over her head. “I’m not your fallback, and I really don’t care if people continue to see me that way. They don’t know me.”


“Which you? The one who lives a colorless existence and calls it holy? Or the one who danced on air and inspired an entire theater troupe to rediscover swing and raise money for a new stage?” Luc bent down, took her out at the knees, and hoisted her up over his shoulder.


“What are you doing? Do you think you’re Tarzan? Put me down.” She pounded on his back, and she could hear the chaos he’d created in the classroom. “These kids need structure. What do you think you’re doing? I demand you put me down!”

February 24, 2011

Book Review: A Promise of Forever Love

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


A Promise of Forever Love, Book Three in the Second Chance at Love Series

Whitaker House (April 5, 2011)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Vanessa Miller is a best-selling author, playwright, and motivational speaker. She started writing as a child, spending countless hours either reading or writing poetry, short stories, stage plays and novels. Vanessa’s creative endeavors took on new meaning in 1994 when she became a Christian. Since then, her writing has been centered on themes of redemption, often focusing on characters facing multi-dimensional struggles. Readers and critics alike have responded with overwhelming affirmation with her work topping several bestsellers lists and receiving numerous awards including “Best Christian Fiction Mahogany Award” and the “Red Rose Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction.” The first two books in her Second Chance at Love Series, Yesterday’s Promise and A Love for Tomorrow, debuted at #1 on the Black Christian News Network’s Bestsellers List.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Since her husband’s death two years ago, Yvonne Milner has been serving as sole pastor of the church they pastored together, but she’s embroiled in a battle with the church board who wants to fire her. Just before a pivotal meeting, her husband’s former best friend Thomas Reed, a handsome and world-renowned motivational speaker, steps back into her life. Thomas is a widower and understands the pain she’s going through on many levels. When a different kind of threat targets both the church and her daughter, Yvonne turns to Thomas and long-buried emotions arise between them. Yvonne is hesitant to get involved, not wanting to break her promise to her husband to love him forever

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (April 5, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603742093
ISBN-13: 978-1603742092

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

On days like this, Yvonne Milner wondered why she even bothered to pray. She had yelled, screamed, begged, and cajoled, yet the doctors still couldn’t make eye contact with her when they came into her husband’s hospital room. There were no more talks of surgery or chemotherapy. They’d told her that nothing more could be done for David. But, as far as Yvonne was concerned, the doctors didn’t know diddly. David Milner was the senior pastor of one of the most notable churches in Detroit. He was the father of two beautiful daughters, and he was her beloved husband. So, she wasn’t just going to throw in the towel and believe the doctors’ doom-and-gloom predictions. She and David had been married for thirty-four years, and he had promised her a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. “We’ve got sixteen more years to go, David,” she urged him. “Don’t give up now.”

A vicious cough shook his fragile, cancer-racked body as he attempted to sit up in his hospital bed.

“Don’t, sweetheart. Just lie down.”

“No…I need…to tell you…something.” David labored to get each word out.

It was killing Yvonne to see her husband weak and bedridden like this. He had always been so strong, had always been her hero. She had admired this man, even when they hadn’t seen eye-to-eye about her role in the ministry. Early in their marriage, Yvonne had known that she was destined to preach the gospel. However, David wouldn’t hear of it. They had fought, and Yvonne had prayed for years that God would change her husband’s mind. Finally, David had accepted the fact that his wife had been called by God to be a preacher. Yet, even through those tough years, Yvonne couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else but with the man she loved. “You can say what you need to while lying down, honey. You need your strength to get better.”

David shook his head. “I’m going home, baby.”

“I know that, David. You just need to regain your strength so they will let you out of this hospital.”

He shook his head again and then pointed heavenward. “Home…with Jesus.”

Yvonne’s eyes filled with tears. “Don’t say that, David. You and I have a lot more living to do.”

He patted her hand. “Call Thomas.”

Thomas Reed was David’s best friend. The man traveled the world building churches and ministering to God’s people. He’d recently lost his wife to the same evil disease that was threatening to take David’s life. “Call Thomas right now? Why? What do you want me to tell him?”

“If you need help, call Thomas. He promised me—” A coughing fit cut him off.

Yvonne took the cup from David’s bedside table and filled it with water from the pitcher, then held the glass to his lips for him to drink once the coughing subsided. “Here, baby, drink this.” When he had taken a few sips, she said, “Now, just lie here and rest. Our girls will be here soon, and you need to save your energy for them.” Toya, twenty-nine years old, was their firstborn, a self-assured attorney with political aspirations. Tia was their twenty-six-year-old “baby.” Whereas Toya was analytical and ambitious, Tia’s strength was creativity, yet she was introspective and reserved. She could paint and write poetry from sunup till sundown and be perfectly at peace.

It had been difficult for Yvonne to manage her daughters’ very different personalities while raising them, but David had convinced her to relax and let God work out His perfect plan for each girl’s life. If it hadn’t been for David’s wisdom and prayers, Yvonne was sure that she would have broken Tia’s spirit. She had needed more time than David to understand their daughter’s passion for writing and painting. What was she going to do if he didn’t survive this illness?

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than Yvonne tried to banish it. But that was also the moment when she noticed that David’s breathing sounded funny. And then she understood why none of the medical professionals who had come into the room today had been able to look her in the eye. They had heard it, too—the death rattle.

“No, baby, no—don’t leave me!” she begged him.

“Remember…Thomas promised…love you.”

Tears were running down Yvonne’s face as she heard her husband’s last words. She put her arms around the man she had loved for a lifetime—and yet not long enough—and whispered, “I love you, too, baby. Always and forever.”




One

Eighteen months later

Yvonne Milner collapsed into her office chair and heaved a sigh. Pastoring Christ-Life Sanctuary by herself was far from easy, and it seemed that her situation was only getting worse. For years, the church had grown and thrived, even reaching megachurch status with more than five thousand members. But since David’s death, two thousand of their “You can count on me” members had left the ministry. The head elder, Ron Thompson, had broken away to start his own ministry, taking another two hundred church members with him. Tithing was down, charity fund expenditures were up, and Yvonne knew that the church’s board of directors blamed it all on her.

Several of the board members had challenged her authority to her face and as good as said that they wouldn’t be having those problems if David were still around or if their senior pastor wasn’t a woman. Yvonne acknowledged that some people could not accept having a female in the highest position of church leadership, but she also knew that not all twenty-two hundred members had left for that reason.

Sighing again, she stood up and stepped over to the bay window to gaze out at the new Family Life Center—or, rather, what was supposed to be the new Family Life Center, the final phase of their latest building project. The Family Life Center had been Yvonne’s vision. After the sanctuary had been expanded to make room for their growing congregation, Yvonne had convinced David that they still needed to do more. She envisioned a brand-new facility that would provide space for recreational activities, especially for the children and young adults, as well as a cafĂ© and a bookstore. In addition, she intended for one of the rooms to be set up theater-style, with tiered seats and a movie screen, where they could organize movie nights or perform stage plays.

Five years ago, when Yvonne and David had first proposed the building project to the board, they had developed a financial plan based on the church’s finances and projected that they would have more than enough funds to cover each phase of the project. But Yvonne hadn’t foreseen the death of her husband or the annihilation of Detroit’s economy. How could she have known that General Motors and Chrysler would go crying to the government for a bail-out and then lay off thousands upon thousands of workers, many of whom attended church at Christ-Life Sanctuary?

Now Yvonne was stuck staring at a half finished Family Life Center, as it would probably remain. After all, the coffers were empty. She really couldn’t blame the board of directors for asking for her resignation. When her husband was alive, Yvonne stood side by side with him as they built this church from the ground up. She had installed three of their seven board members herself. And she knew that God wasn’t finished with her yet. The work He had begun in her—and in the church through her ministry—was far from over, and she would be dead and buried before anyone took her out of the pulpit permanently. She just needed a plan, needed to pray about knowing the right things to say at the board meeting tomorrow in order to convince the members to give her more time to turn things around.

A knock at her door drew Yvonne’s eyes away from the window. She turned toward the door. “Come in.”

The door opened, and in walked Thomas Reed. Actually, he didn’t walk; he swaggered like a man who had the keys to the kingdom. If she hadn’t known Thomas for almost thirty years, Yvonne would have thought he swaggered so confidently because he was a millionaire several times over. But Thomas had strutted like that even when he had been as poor as a man carrying a “Will work for food” sign.

Thomas had a way about him that caused men and women to stop and stare. He was one of those fine, chocolate, Denzel-Washington-types of brothers, with wavy black hair and heavenly hazel eyes.

David had met Thomas thirty years ago in seminary and had joked about marrying Yvonne to keep her away from pretty boys like Thomas so that he didn’t have to worry about her running off. But David never had reason to worry; he had always been her prince, and she’d never wanted anyone but him.

When Thomas got married, David became less worried about his friend’s captivating charm. The four of them—David and Yvonne, Thomas and Brenda—had settled into their own ministries yet maintained a lasting friendship. David and Yvonne opened Christ-Life Sanctuary a year after David graduated from seminary, and the church had thrived from its inception. Thomas, on the other hand, was forced to close the doors to his church after struggling for five years to make a go of it. He hadn’t let that stop him, though. Thomas became a Christ-centered motivational speaker and took his ministry on the road. He now pulled in fifty thousand dollars per speaking engagement and had written nearly a dozen New York Times best-selling books.

“Thomas!” Yvonne gave him a hug and stepped back to admire his suit. “Look at you, dapper as ever on this hot summer day.”

“You don’t look so bad, yourself,” he said with a grin.

“I can’t believe you came all this way.”

“I wouldn’t miss this board meeting for anything in the world. And besides, I have a promise to make good on.”

Just before David died, he had told Yvonne to call Thomas if ever she needed help. She’d seen Thomas at the funeral, where he had asked if she needed anything. No, she’d said, and for eighteen months, she hadn’t bothered her husband’s best friend for assistance, even though he’d called her from time to time to check in. But today, she was finally calling in a favor. Thomas had been installed as a board member of Christ-Life Sanctuary about ten years ago but rarely showed up for meetings. The board had always been in accord with David, so he’d never needed to rely on his friend for a tie-breaking vote.

Yvonne had no such luck, and so she’d asked for Thomas’s help on this vote. Yet she hadn’t expected him to make an appearance—not when he could have simply phoned in with his vote.

“Please, sit down,” Yvonne said, gesturing to the couch. “Before we talk about church business, I want to know how you’ve been doing.” It had been months since they’d caught up, and she was eager to hear about his speaking ministry and his family.

Thomas unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down on the couch next to Yvonne. “So, what do you want to know?”

“For starters, you haven’t been traveling as much lately. Has the world received all the motivation it needs?”

Thomas laughed. “I’m still getting more speaking engagements than I can accept, but I guess I’ve kind of lost my wanderlust.”

Yvonne knew that for years, Brenda had asked Thomas to spend less time on the road and more time at home. It seemed strange that now, more than two years after Brenda’s death, he was finally willing to limit his travels. “What brought this on?” she asked.

“Since Brenda died, I’ve spent a lot of time putting things into perspective. I want to spend some time reconnecting with my son, which is going to be hard since he has his own career now.”

Yvonne understood exactly where Thomas was coming from. She and David had spent many years on the preaching circuit, and then, one day, they looked up and saw that Toya and Tia were grown. She wished she could take credit for the woman Toya had become, and she definitely wished that she had spent more time helping Tia mature. If life didn’t turn out right for Tia, Yvonne knew she’d be tempted to blame herself. “I should have spent more time with my girls as they were growing up, too.” She slapped her hand against her thigh as she sat up a bit straighter. “But, hey, I figure I’ll get a second chance when they give me some grandchildren.”

“Speak for yourself, Granny,” Thomas said, nudging her arm. “I’m not trying to become a poppa for at least another five years. We didn’t have Jarrod until I was thirty, so I figure he can at least return the favor and not have his first kid until he’s at least thirty, maybe even thirty-five.”

Yvonne chuckled, then laughed outright, so hard that she doubled over. When she finally regained composure, she sat up again and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Okay, maybe I don’t want to be a granny so soon, either.”

“You certainly don’t look like any granny I know. I mean, look at you. You’re fifty-two, but you don’t look a day over forty.”

Yvonne had been told that her looks were what Olay would want to advertise its facial products. Fifty was definitely the new forty where she was concerned. With her long, coal-black hair, light skin, and eyes that sparkled and danced, she could have passed for a relative of Lena Horne. “We’ve known each other entirely too long. There’s no way you should know my real age.”

Thomas lifted his hands in surrender. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take your secrets to the grave with me.”

Yvonne felt her droll mood depart. “I don’t want to hear anything about you going to your grave.”

Thomas put an arm around Yvonne’s shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”

With his arm still wrapped around her, Yvonne took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She had seen two deaths too many in the past two years, and she didn’t know if she could make it through funeral number three so soon. With David and Brenda gone, Yvonne felt that she should have fulfilled her quota of homegoings for a lifetime. “Don’t say stuff like that. I don’t consider it funny.”

“Again, I’m sorry,” Thomas said as he stood up. “Are you ready for the meeting tomorrow morning?”

Yvonne shook her head and leaned back in the couch. “I’ve been in ministry for thirty years, copastored Christ-Life for twenty, and now some board that my husband and I formed wants to vote me out. I don’t know how to get ready for something like that.”

“But I’m here to cast my vote in favor of you staying senior pastor of Christ-Life,” Thomas reminded her. “And I believe several others will vote in your favor, also.”

Yvonne pushed herself to her feet and planted a kiss on Thomas’s cheek. “God love you for what you’re doing, Thomas. But I don’t know how much good it’s going to do. If Deacon Brown has his way, I might need to take on a few of those speaking engagements you’ve cancelled.”

“Don’t worry,” Thomas said. “This meeting is in the Lord’s hands. He knows that you’re meant to pastor this church, and I plan to do everything in my power to make the other board members realize that.”

February 21, 2011

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Havah

B&H Books; 2 edition (August 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Julie Gwinn, Trade Book Marketing, B&H Publishing Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tosca Lee is author of the critically acclaimed and extensively-awarded novels Demon: A Memoir and Havah: The Story of Eve. A sought-after speaker and former Mrs. Nebraska, she continues to work for local charities and as a senior consultant for a global consulting firm. Tosca holds a degree in English and International Relations from Smith College and also studied at Oxford University. She enjoys travel, cooking, history, and theology, and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.



Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: B&H Books; 2 edition (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433668793
ISBN-13: 978-1433668791

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


A whisper in my ear: Wake!

Blue. A sea awash with nothing but a drifting bit of down, flotsam on an invisible current. I closed my eyes. Light illuminated the thin tissues of my eyelids.

A bird trilled. Near my ear: the percussive buzz of an insect. Overhead, tree boughs stirred in the warming air.

I lay on a soft bed of herbs and grass that tickled my cheek, my shoulders, and the arch of my foot, whispering sibilant secrets up to the trees.

From here I felt the thrum of the sap in the stem—the pulsing veins of the vine, the beat of my heart in harmony with hundreds more around me, the movement of the earth a thousand miles beneath.

I sighed as one returning to sleep, to retreat to the place I had been before, the realm of silence and bliss—wherever that is.

Wake!

I opened my eyes again upon the milling blue, saw it spliced by the flight of a bird, chevron in the sky.

This time, the voice came not to my ear, but directly to my stirring mind: Wake!

There was amusement in it.

I knew nothing of where or what I was, did not understand the polyphony around me or the wide expanse like a blue eternity before me.

But I woke and knew I was alive.

A rustle, a groan practically in my ear. I twitched at a stir-ring against my hip. A moment later, a touch drifted across a belly I did not yet know I owned, soft as a leaf skittering along the ground.

A face obscured my vision. I screamed. Not with fear—I had no acquaintance with fear—nor with startlement because I had been aware of the presence already, but because it was the only statement that came to lips as artless as mine.

The face disappeared and returned, blinking into my own, the blue above captured in twin pools. Then, like a gush of water from a rock, gladness thrilled my heart. But its source was not me.

At last! It came, unspoken—a different source than the voice before—and then the words thrust jubilantly to the sky: “At last!”

He was up on legs like the trunks of sturdy saplings, beating at the earth with his feet. He thumped his chest and shouted to the sun and clapped his hands. “At last!” He cried, his laughter like warm clay between the toes. He shook his shoulders and stomped the grass, slapping his chest as he shouted again and again. Though I did not understand the utterance, I knew its meaning at once: joy and exultation at something longed for suddenly found.

I tried to mimic his sound; it came out as a squawk and then a panting laugh. Overhead, a lark chattered an extravagant address. I squeaked a shrill reply. The face lowered to mine and the man’s arms wrapped, wombtight, around me.

“Flesh of my flesh,” he whispered, his breath warm against my ear. His fingers drifted from my hair to my body, roaming like the goat on the hills of the sacred mount. I sighed, expelling the last remnants of that first air from my lungs—the last of the breath in them not drawn by me alone.

He was high cheeked, this adam, his lower lip dipping down like a folded leaf that drops sweet water to thirsty mouths. His brow was a hawk, soaring above the high cliffs, his eyes blue lusters beneath the fan of his lashes. But it was his mouth that I always came back to, where my eyes liked best to fasten after taking in the shock of those eyes. Shadow ran along his jaw, like obsidian dust clinging to the curve of it, drawing my eye to the plush flesh of his lips, again, again, again.

He touched my face and traced my mouth. I bit his finger. He gathered my hands and studied them, turning them over and back. He smelled my hair and lingered at my neck and gazed curiously at the rest of me. When he was finished, he began all over again, tasting my cheek and the salt of my neck, tracing the instep of my foot with a fingertip.

Finally, he gathered me up, and my vision tilted to involve an altogether new realm: the earth and my brown legs upon it. I clutched at him. I seemed a giant, towering above the earth—a giant as tall as he. My first steps stuttered across the ground as the deer in the hour of its birth, but then I pushed his hands away. My legs, coltish and lean, found their vigor as he urged me, walking far too fast, to keep up. He made for the orchard, and I bolted after him with a surge of strength and another of my squawking sounds. Then we were running—through grasses and over fledgling sloes, the dark wool of my hair flying behind me.

We raced across the valley floor and my new world blurred around me: hyssop and poppy, anemone, narcissus, and lily. Roses grew on the foothills amid the caper and myrtle.

A flash beside me: the long-bodied great cat. I slowed, distracted by her fluidity, the smooth curve of her head as she tilted it to my outstretched hand. I fell to the ground, twining my arms around her, fingers sliding along her coat. Her tongue was rough—unlike the adam’s—and she rumbled as she rolled against me.

Far ahead, the adam called. Overhead, a hawk circled for a closer look. The fallow deer at a nearby stream lifted her head.

The adam called again, wordlessly, longing and exuberant. I got up and began to run, the lioness at my heels. I was fast—nearly as fast as she. Exhilaration rose from my lungs in quick pants in laughter. Then, with a burst, she was beyond me.

She was gone by the time the adam caught me up in his arms. His hands stroked my back, my hips, my shoulder. I marveled at his skin. How smooth, how very warm it was.

“You are magnificent,” he said, burying his face against my neck. “Ah, Isha—woman, taken from man!”

I said nothing; although I understood his meaning, I did not know his words. I knew with certainty and no notion of conceit, though, that he was right.


At the river he showed me how he cupped his hands to drink and then cupped them again for me. I lowered my head and drank as a carp peered baldy from the shallows up at me.

We entered the water. I gasped as it tickled the backs of my knees and hot hairs under my arms, swirling about my waist as though around a staunch rock as our toes skimmed a multitude of pebbles. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders.

“All of this: water.” He grunted a little bit as he swam toward the middle of the river where it widened into a broad swath across the valley floor. “Here—the current.”

“Water.” I understood, in the moment I spoke it, the element in all its forms—from the lake fed by the river to the high springs that flow from the abyss of the mount. I felt the pull of it as though it had a gravity all its own, as though it could sweep me out to the cold depths of the lake and lull me by the tides of the moon.

From the river I could see the high walls of our cradle: the great southern mount rising to heaven and, to the north, the foothills that became the long spine of a range that arched toward the great lake to the west.

I knew even then that this was a place set apart from the unseen lands to the north, the alluvial plain to the south, the great waters to the east and far to the west.

It was set apart solely because we dwelt in it.

But we were not alone. I could see them after a time, even as we left the river and lay upon its banks. I saw them in sidelong glances when I looked at something else: a sunspot caught in the eye, a ripple in the air, a shock of light where there should be only shadow. And so I knew there were other beings, too.

The adam, who studied me, said nothing. We did not know their names.


The first voice I heard urging me to wake had not been the man’s. Now I felt the presence of it near me, closer than the air, than even the adam’s arms around me.

I returned the man’s strange amazement, taken by his smooth, dark skin, the narrowness of his hips, his strange sex. He was warmer than I, as though he had absorbed the heat of the sun, and I laid my cheek against his flat breasts and listened to the changeling beat of his heart. My limbs, so fresh to me, grew heavy. As languor overtook me, I retreated from the sight of my lovely, alien world.

Perhaps in closing my eyes, I would return to the place I had been before.

For the first time since waking, I hoped not.

I slept to the familiar thrum of his heart as insects made sounds like sleepy twitches through the waning day.

When I woke, his cheek was resting against the top of my head. Emotion streamed from his heart, though his lips were silent.

Gratitude.

I am the treasure mined from the rock, the gem prized from the mount.

He stirred only when I did and released me with great reluctance. By then the sun had moved along the length of our valley. My stomach murmured.

He led me to the orchard and fed me the firm flesh of plums, biting carefully around the pits and feeding the pieces to me until juice ran down our chins and bees came to sample it. He kissed my fingers and hands and laid his cheek against my palms.

That evening we lay in a bower of hyssop and rushes—a bower, I realized, that he must have made on a day before this one.

A day before I existed.

We observed together the changing sky as it cooled gold and russet and purple, finally anointing the clay earth red.

Taken from me. Flesh of my flesh. At last. I heard the timbre of his voice in my head in my last waking moment. Marvel and wonder were upon his lips as he kissed my closing eyes.

I knew then he would do anything for me.


That night I dreamed of blackness. Black, greater than the depths of the river or the great abyss beneath the lake.

From within that nothingness came a voice that was not a voice, that was neither sound nor word but volition and command and genesis. And from the voice, a word that was no word but the language of power and fruition.

There! A mote spark—a light first so small as the tip of a pine needle. It exploded past the periphery of my dreaming vision, obliterating the dark. The heavens were vast in an instant, stretching without cease to the edges of eternity.

I careened past new bodies that tugged me in every direction; even the tiniest particles possessed their own gravity. From each of them came the same concert, that symphony of energy and light.

I came to stand upon the earth. It was a great welter of water, the surface of it ablaze with the refracted light of heavens upon heavens. It shook my every fiber, like a string that is plucked and allowed to resonate forever.

I was galvanized, made anew, thrumming that inaugural sound: the yawning of eternity.

Amidst it all came the unmistakable command:

Wake!



MY REVIEW:
I can not say enough about this book!!!!!!! My FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITE!!! I have already been in contact with Tosca Lee to communicate with her and let her know what a fabulous book this is!! She is so very kind!

I love to read historical Biblical fiction books. Do you ever really sit and think very much about Eve? Do you think about how she felt? How life was in the garden? How life was outside of the garden? How the earth flourished? These are questions that I just didn't sit and ponder on a regular basis. I now have a new and deeper appreciation for Eve. WOW - what they endured! Tosca Lee writes so vividly that you feel you are living in and out of the garden with Adam and Eve. This is a MUST READ!!

She also has another book written called Demon and is presently editing her next book Iscariot (I CAN'T WAIT FOR THAT ONE!). A great author!!!!!

February 3, 2011

Snowpocalypse 2011

As some of you may know, Oklahoma has experienced a Blizzard of a storm! We have literally been snowed into our homes since Tuesday. 21" of snow (with ice/sleet underneath) and anywhere from 3' to 10' drifts. So much fun!!! A little cabin fever?? Well, not yet for me! You might say that today my sanity left my body for a few moments but it quickly returned after I did this:
video
Yes, I did!!  We had a challenge put out to us from our church and a TON of us did it!!  hahaha...just a little fun to pass our time!

I have been keeping myself SUPER busy since the snow came in.  I had hubster take me to Lowe's on Monday night to stock up on paint and supplies so I could start painting inside my home.  It hadn't been painted in 13 years.  Soooo, I knew it would be a huge job and this "snowed in prediction" would be the greatest opportunity for me.  Here's what I've done:
BEFORE

AFTER
What a difference!!!  I have lots more that I've painted but will let you see that on another post!  Teaser alert!!

More things to come later!

Book Review: Words

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Words

B&H Books (February 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Julie Gwinn, Trade Book Marketing, B&H Publishing Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Ginny L. Yttrup is an accomplished freelance writer, speaker, and life coach who also ministers to women wounded by sexual trauma. Her blogs include Fiction Creator, My Daily Light, and Crossings Life Coaching. She has two grown sons and lives in California. Words is her first novel.



Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

“I collect words. I keep them in a box in my mind. Whenever I wanted, I’d open the box and pick up the papers, reading and feeling the words all at once. Then I could hide the box. But the words are safer in my mind. There, he can’t take them.”
Ten-year old Kaylee Wren doesn’t speak. Not since her drug-addled mother walked away, leaving her in a remote cabin nestled in the towering redwoods-in the care of a man who is as dangerous as he is evil. With silence her only refuge, Kaylee collects words she might never speak from the only memento her mother left behind: a dictionary.

Sierra Dawn is thirty-four, an artist, and alone. She has allowed the shame of her past to silence her present hopes and chooses to bury her pain by trying to control her circumstances. But on the twelfth anniversary of her daughter’s death, Sierra’s control begins to crumble as the God of her childhood woos her back to Himself.

Brought together by Divine design, Kaylee and Sierra will discover together the healing mercy of the Word—Jesus Christ.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (February 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433671700
ISBN-13: 978-1433671708

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


“In the beginning was the Word.”

John 1:1


“All those things for which we have no words are lost. The mind—the culture—has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel. With these we bluster about the continents and do all the world’s work. With these we try to save our very lives.”

Annie Dillard


Chapter One


Kaylee


I collect words.

I keep them in a box in my mind. I’d like to keep them in a real box, something pretty, maybe a shoe box covered with flowered wrapping paper. I’d write my words on scraps of paper and then put them in the box. Whenever I wanted, I’d open the box and pick up the papers, reading and feeling the words all at once. Then I could hide the box.

But the words are safer in my mind. There, he can’t take them.

The dictionary is heavy on my lap. I’m on page 1,908. I’m reading through the Ss. When I finish the Zs, I’ll start all over again.

Su-per-flu-ous.

I like that word. It means something extra, something special, something you don’t need. It’s super. But you don’t need super. You just need good enough.

How does it sound when someone says it?

I didn’t really think about how words sound until I stopped talking. I didn’t mean to stop talking, it just sort of happened.

My mom left.

I got scared.

And the words got stuck.

Now I just read the words and then listen for them on the little radio in the kitchen, the only superfluous thing we have.

As I read, my hair falls across my eyes. I push it out of the way, but it falls back. I push it out of the way again, but this time my fingers catch in a tangle. I work for a minute trying to separate the hairs and smooth them down.

When my mom was here, she combed my hair most mornings. Our hair is the same. “Stick straight and dark as soot.” That’s what she used to say.

It hurt when she pulled the comb through my hair. “Kaylee, stop squirming,” she’d tell me. “It’ll pull more if you move.”

Sometimes I’d cry when the comb caught in a knot and she’d get impatient and tell me to stop whining.

Maybe that’s why she left. Maybe she got tired of my whining.

That’s what he says. He tells me she didn’t love me anymore—that she wanted out. But I don’t believe him. I think something happened to her, an accident or something.

She probably has amnesia. I read that word in the dictionary.

That’s when you hit your head so hard on something that you pass out and have to go to the hospital and when you wake up, you don’t remember anything. Not even your name.

Not even that you have a daughter.

I think that’s what happened to my mom. When she remembers, she’ll come back and get me.

So I just wait. I won’t leave. If I leave, she won’t know where to find me.

And when she comes back, I’ll be good. I won’t whine anymore.

I was nine when she left. Now, I’m ten. I’ll be eleven the day after Christmas. I always know it’s near my birthday when they start playing all the bell songs on the radio. I like Silver Bells. I like to think about the city sidewalks and all the people dressed in holiday style. But Jingle Bells is my favorite. Dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh sounds fun.

It’s not near my birthday yet. It’s still warm outside.

As the sun sets, the cabin gets dark inside, too dark to read. He didn’t pay the electric bill, again. I hope he pays it before Christmas or I won’t hear the songs on the radio.

Before I put the dictionary away, I turn to the front page and run my fingers across the writing scribbled there. “Lee and Katherine Wren. Congratulations.

Lee and Katherine are my parents. Were my parents. Are my parents. I’m not sure.

My mom told me that the dictionary was a gift from her Aunt Adele. Mom thought it was kind of a funny wedding gift, but she liked it and kept it even after Lee left. We used it a lot. Sometimes when I’d ask her a question about what something was or what something meant, she’d say, “Go get the dictionary Kaylee, we’ll look it up.” Then she’d show me how to find the word, and we’d read the definition. Most of the time she’d make me sound out the words and read them to her. Only sometimes did she read them to me. But most of the time when I asked her a question, she told me to be quiet. She liked it best when I was quiet.

I miss my mom. But the dictionary makes me feel like part of her is still here. While she’s gone, the dictionary is mine. I have to take care of it. So just like I always do before I put the book away, I ask a silent favor: Please don’t let him notice it. Please don’t let him take it.

I put the dictionary back under the board that makes up a crooked shelf. The splintered wood pricks the tip of one finger as I lift the board and shove the dictionary under. The shelf is supported on one end by two cinderblocks and by one cinderblock and three books on the other end.

I remember the day she set up the shelf. I followed her out the front door and down the steps, and then watched her kneel in the dirt and pull out three concrete blocks she’d found under the steps. She dusted dirt and cobwebs from the cracks and then carried each block inside. She stacked two blocks one on top of the other at one end of the room and then spaced the last block at the other end of the room, under the window.

“Kaylee, hand me a few books from that box. Get big ones.”

I reached into the box and pulled out the biggest book—the dictionary. Then I handed her the other two books. She stacked them on top of the block and then laid a board across the books and blocks.

Even at seven, I knew what she was doing. We’d move in with a boyfriend and Mom would get us “settled” which meant she’d move in our things—our clothes, books, and a few toys for me. She’d rearrange the apartment, or house—or this time, the cabin—and make it “homey.”

After she made the shelf, she lined up our books. Then she placed a vase of wildflowers we’d collected that morning on the end of the shelf. She stood back and looked at what she’d done. Her smile told me she liked it.

The cabin was small, but of all the places we’d lived, I could tell this was her favorite. And this boyfriend seemed nice enough at first, so I hoped maybe we’d stay this time.

We did stay. Or at least I stayed. So now I’m the one arranging the shelf and I’m careful to put it back just as it was. Our books are gone. In their place I return two beer bottles, one with a sharp edge of broken glass, to their dust-free circles on the shelf. I pick up the long-empty bag of Frito Lay corn chips and, before leaning the bag against the broken bottle, I hold it open close to my face and breathe in. The smell of corn and salt make my stomach growl.

Once I’m sure everything looks just as it was on the shelf, I crawl to my mattress in the corner of the room and sit, Indian-style, with my back against the wall and watch the shadows. Light shines between the boards across the broken front window; shadows of leaves and branches move across the walls, ceiling, and door. Above my head I hear a rat or squirrel on the roof. Its movement scatters pine needles and something—a pinecone, I imagine—rolls from the top of the roof, over my head, and then drops into the bed of fallen needles around the front steps.

This is the longest part of the day—when it’s too dark to read.

When I read…

I forget.

That’s how it works.

Once the sun goes down, I don’t leave the cabin. I’m afraid he’ll come back after work and find me gone. He’s told me not to leave because he’d find me and I’d be sorry.

I believe him. believe --verb 1. to take as true, real, etc. 2. to have confidence in a statement or promise of (another person).

My legs go numb under my body and my eyes feel heavy, but I don’t sleep. Sleep isn’t safe. Instead, I close my eyes for just a minute and see flames against the backs of my eyelids. They burn everything my mom and I brought to the cabin.

I remember the hissing and popping as the nighttime drizzle hit the bonfire. And I remember his laughter.

“She’s gone for good, Kaylee. She ain’t comin back.” He cackled like an old witch as he threw more gasoline on the flames.

The smoke filled my nose and stung my lungs as I watched Lamby, the stuffed animal I’d slept with since I was a baby, burn along with most of our clothes and books.

The only exceptions were the three books he hadn’t noticed holding up the shelf. My tears couldn’t put out the fire, and I finally stopped crying. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and stepped away from the blaze. I squared my shoulders and stood as tall as I could. Something changed in me that night. I couldn’t be little anymore. I had to be grown up.

I open my eyes and reach my hand under the corner of the mattress. My fingers dig into the hole in the canvas, feeling for the music box that had been inside Lamby. I’d found it in the ashes the morning after the fire. I tug it free, then wind the key and hold it up to my ear. As the music plays, I remember the words of the song that Grammy taught me just before she died. Jesus loves me, this I know…

The song makes me feel sad.

I don’t think Jesus loves me anymore.

Eventually, I must fall asleep, because I wake up startled—mouth dry, palms damp, and my heart pounding.

I hear the noise that woke me, the crunching of leaves and pine needles. I listen. Are his steps steady, even? No. Two steps. Pause. A dragging sound. Pause. A thud as he stumbles. Pause. Will he get up? Or has he passed out? Please let him be out. A metal taste fills my mouth as I hear him struggle to get back on his feet.

“Kay—leeee?” He slurs. “You up? Lemme in.”

He bangs his fist on the front door, which hasn’t locked or even shut tight since the night he aimed his .22 at the doorknob and blew it to pieces.

The door gives way under the pressure of his fist. As it swings open, he pounds again but misses and falls into the cabin. He goes straight down and hits the floor, head first. A gurgling sound comes from his throat, and I smell the vomit before I see it pooled around his face.

I hope he’ll drown in it.

But he won’t die tonight.

Instead, he heaves himself onto his back and reaches for the split on his forehead where, even in the dark, I can see the blood trickling into his left eye. Then his hand slides down past his ear and drops to the floor. At the sound of his snoring, I exhale. I realize I’ve been holding my breath. Waiting…waiting…waiting.



Chapter Two

Sierra


Cocooned in crocheted warmth, I slip my hands from beneath the afghan and reach for my journal—a notebook filled with snippets of feelings and phrases. I jot a line: Like shards of glass slivering my soul. I set pen and journal aside and warm my hands around my ritual mug of Earl Gray, considering the phrase. I like the cadence of the alliteration. I see shining slivers piercing an ambiguous soul. I see a canvas layered in hues of red, russet, and black.

A memory calls my name, but I turn away. There will be time for memories later.

I close my eyes against the flame of color igniting the morning sky and allow my body the luxury of relaxing. I breathe deep intentional breaths, exhaling slowly, allowing mind and body to find a like rhythm. With each breath I let go, one by one, the anxieties of the past week.

Prints—signed and numbered. Five hundred in all.

Contract negotiations with two new galleries. Done.

Showing in Carmel last night. Successful.

Mortgage paid. On time for once.

Van Gogh neutered. What did the vet say? “He’s lost his manhood—be gentle with him. He’ll need a few days to recoup.” Good grief.

A whimper interrupts my reverie. The afghan unfurls as I get up and pad across the deck back into the bungalow. Van presses his nose through the cross-hatch door of his crate—his woeful expression speaking volumes. I open the cage and the spry mutt I met at the shelter a few days before staggers toward the deck, tail between his legs. I translate his body language as utter humiliation and feel guilty for my responsible choice.

“Sorry pal, it’s the only way I could spring you from the shelter. They made me do it.” His ears perk and then droop. His salt and pepper coat bristles against my hand, while his ears are cashmere soft. He sighs and drifts back to sleep while I wonder at the wisdom of adopting an animal that’s already getting under my skin. I consider packing him up and taking him back before it’s too late. Instead, I brace myself and concede “Okay, I’ll love you—but just a little.” He twitches in response.

The distant throttle of fishing boats leaving the harbor and the bickering of gulls overhead break the morning silence followed by the ringing of the phone. I smile and reach for the phone lying under my journal.

“Hi, Margaret.” No need to answer with a questioning “Hello?” There’s only one person I know who dares calling at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday.

Laughter sings through the phone line. “Shannon, when are you going to stop calling me Margaret?”

I dubbed her that after the indomitable Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of her homeland. Her unwavering British accent, even after nearly half a century in the United States, and her strength under pressure inspired the nickname. It fits.

“Well, as I’ve told you, I’ll stop calling you Margaret when you stop calling me Shannon. Need I remind you that I haven’t been Shannon in over a decade?”

“Oh, right. Let’s see, what is your name now? Sahara Dust? Sequoia Dew?”

I play along. “Does Sierra Dawn ring a bell?”

“Right, Sierra Dawn, beautiful name. But you’ll always be Shannon Diane to me.”

The smile in her voice chases the shadows from my heart. “Okay, Mother. I mean Margaret.” I pull my knees to my chest and reach for the afghan as I settle back in the weathered Adirondack for our conversation.

“Sierra, I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Of course not. What is it you say, ‘You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.’”

“That’s my girl. Your daddy’s been out in the fields since 6:00 but he let me sleep. I just got up and thought I’d share a cup of tea with you.”

I do a quick pacific/central time conversion and realize with some alarm that it’s 9:00 a.m. in Texas.

“You slept until 9:00? You never sleep that late. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, darling, I’m simply getting old. I had to get up three times during the night and by this morning I just wanted to sleep. So I indulged.”

“Well, good for you. I’m glad you called. You know my favorite Saturday mornings are spent with you and Earl.”

“I’m not drinking Earl.”

A startling confession. “You’re not? What are you drinking?”

“Sierra, I’m drinking Lemon Zinger!” Her declaration is followed by a giggle that sounds anything but old.

I stretch my long legs and cross them at the ankles and lean my head against the back of the chair. I feel as though my mother, with gentle skill, has distracted me while she’s worked to remove a few of those slivers imbedded in my soul. But unless I stop brushing up against my splintered history, the slivers will return—or so she tells me.

Just before we hang up, she says, “Shannon—” there’s such tenderness in her voice that I let the slip pass— “are you going to the cemetery today?”

Her question tears open the wound, exposing the underlying infection. I imagine her practicality won’t allow her to leave the wound festering any longer; instead she lances my heart.

I lean forward. “Yes, Mother. You know I will.” My tone is tight, closed. But I can’t seem to help it.

“Darling, it’s time to let go—it’s been twelve years. It’s time to grasp grace and move on.”

The fringe of the afghan I’ve played with as we’ve talked is now twisted tight around my index finger, cutting off the circulation. “What are you saying? That I should just forget—just let go and walk away— never think about it again? You know I can’t do that.”

“Not forget, Sierra— forgive. It’s time.”

“Mother, you know I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Yes, I know. But you need to at least think about it. Think about the truth. Ask yourself what’s true.”

I sigh at my mother’s oft repeated words and grunt my consent before I hang up— or “ring off” as she would say.


I left Texas at eighteen and headed to California, sure that was where I’d “find myself.” On the day I left, my daddy stood at the driver’s door of my overstuffed used station wagon gazing at the hundreds of acres of soil he’d readied for planting in the fall and gave me what I think of now as my own “Great Commission.” In the vernacular of the Bible Belt, my daddy, a farmer with the soul of a poet, sent me out into the world with a purpose.

“Honey, do you know why I farm?”

At eighteen I’d never considered the “why” of what my parents did. “No, Daddy. Why?”

“Farming’s not something that can be done alone. I till the ground, plant the seeds, and irrigate. But it’s the rising and setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons that cause the grain to grow. Farming is a partnership with the Creator. Each year when I reap the harvest, I marvel at a Creator who allows me the honor of co-creating with him.”

He’d stopped staring at the fields and instead looked straight at me. “Look for what the Creator wants you to do, Shannon. He wants to share his creativity with you. He wants to partner with you. You find what he wants you to do.”

With that, he planted a kiss on my forehead and shut the door of my car. With my daddy’s commission tucked in my heart, I left in search of my life. My older brother, Jeff, was already in California completing his final year in the agricultural school at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo. Tired of dorm life, Jeff and two friends rented a house in town and told me I could rent a room from them for the year. I was thrilled.

Our neighbors and Mother and Daddy’s friends couldn’t understand why they’d let me “run off” to California. In their minds, California was a dark place where drugs and sex ruled. But Daddy assured them California was not the Sodom and Gomorrah they imagined. He should know. His roots were in California. He was born and raised there. Jeff and I grew up hearing about the Golden State and were determined we’d see it for ourselves one day. College in California seemed a logical choice to both of us.

As I headed west, I thought of my parents and what I’d learned from each of them through the years. Daddy taught me to see. Where others in our community saw grain, Daddy saw God. He always encouraged me in his quiet and simple way to look beyond the obvious. “Look beyond a person’s actions and see their heart. Look for what’s causing them to act the way they act, then you’ll understand them better.”

When I was about twelve, Mother and Daddy took us with them down to Galveston for a week. Daddy was there for an American Farm Bureau meeting. After the meeting, we stayed for a few rare days of vacation. I remember standing on the beach and looking out at the flat sea, Daddy pulled me close and pointed at the surf and asked, “What do you see?”

“The ocean?” I asked it more than stated.

“Yes, but there’s more. You’re seeing God’s power.”

I must have seemed unimpressed because Daddy laughed. “It’s there Shan, someday you’ll see it. But, I’ll admit it’s easier to see it in the crashing surf and jagged cliffs of the California coastline.”

I didn’t understand what he meant then—and I’m still not sure I fully understand—but back then my daddy’s description of the California coastline followed me as I was off to see it for myself.

My mother taught me to look for something else. “What’s the truth, Shannon?” she’d ask over and over, challenging me to choose what was right. She taught me to analyze a situation and then make a decision that represented the truth foundational to our family.

Most often the truth she spoke of was found in the big family Bible she’d brought with her from England. She’d lay the book out on the kitchen table and open it to the book of John in the New Testament and she’d read from the King James version: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

“There’s freedom in the truth, Shannon. You remember that,” she’d say.

Again, I’m only now beginning to understand what she meant. But these were the lessons from home that I carried with me to California.

So why hadn’t I applied those lessons? Why I had I wandered so far from my parents’ truth?

Those are questions I’d ask myself many times over. I’d yet to find the answers.