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April 20, 2016


Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures



November 13, 2013

The Reading Promise

I recently devoured Alice Ozma’s wonderful book, The Reading Promise, and can’t wait to tell you about it. Isn’t this cover scrumptious? I could give it a hug! A father reading to a daughter, the little girl standing on a pile of classic books. This book is everything I believe in about kids, books, writing, parenting … I love it!

When the author, Alice Ozma, was nine years old, she and her father made a reading promise. He promised to read to her every night for 100 nights in a row, without skipping a single night. That doesn’t seem all that hard, does it? But when you think about reading for a little over three months, like an entire summer, without skipping ANY nights, this is not easy. But they did it. Alice’s father never missed a night.

So, to celebrate, they went out to eat pancakes, and over that breakfast, Alice just came up with the number 1,000. She asked her dad if he would commit to reading to her for 1,000 nights in a row. After a few bites of his pancake, he did.

And he kept that promise, not only for 1,000 nights, but for NINE straight years. They called it “The Streak,” and Alice and her dad kept up their reading streak from the year Alice was nine until the day she left for college at age eighteen. I’m almost in tears typing this sentence as I remember the details about where and when they last read together, ending the streak. You will not want to miss finding out how this amazing story wraps up.

Reading a book like this energizes me and gives me hope in the future. I really can’t say enough great things about The Reading Promise. Just knowing that there are people out there like Alice and her father, Jim, makes me feel a part of something big. Every adult who is reading a book to a child today is doing something important and long-lasting, creating a new generation of readers.

You can learn more about Alice Ozma and her dad here, and you can also commit to making your own reading promise!

This book has renewed my zeal in reading out loud to my children at bedtime. I hope it will renew yours as well.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Education,Family,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on The Reading Promise



December 2, 2010



[Update: Congratulations to Lynda! You’ve won the 2011 Daily Guideposts devotional book. May you be blessed with a year filled with joy!]

I have a beautiful 35th anniversary edition of the 2011 Daily Guideposts to give one of you. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone on your Christmas list — Sunday school teachers, friends, school teachers, colleagues, grandparents, anyone — even for YOURSELF. These inspiring devotionals will lift you up every day of the coming year.

More than 50 writers have contributed their true, first-person stories to this lovely hardback copy, each including a scripture reading and prayer. They share how God has interceded in their lives to transform personal relationships, jobs, families, and faith.

Two of my favorite Georgia authors, Marion Bond West, and her daughter, Julie West Garmon, have both contributed several stories to this edition. You can get to know them here at their Guideposts Woman to Woman blog. I always look forward to what they have to say, as they’re both a few steps ahead of me in years and wisdom.

Julie shares that her husband Rick turned 50 this year and their youngest son is finishing up high school. She writes, “Rick and I now have parties for two every morning before the sun comes up. We sit on our front porch in rocking chairs, drink coffee and celebrate each morning … As our children have grown, so has our love for each other. And we’re beginning to discover what matters most. Some truths only come with time.”

I would love to send one of you a copy! Please leave a comment here or email me by this Sunday evening, December 5th. I’ll draw a name on Monday morning!




August 20, 2010



It’s taken me a while to write this post, as I’ve tried to process everything I learned and experienced at Hutchmoot a couple of weeks ago in Nashville. If you’re not familiar with The Rabbit Room, you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about.

The Rabbit Room is a group blog founded by musician/writer Andrew Peterson, composed of like-minded souls who share a common interest in art, film, books, and music as expressions of the Christian faith. After three years of online fellowship, the group decided to congregate in the flesh in Nashville; hence the “hutch” of rabbit roomers holding a “moot” or meeting.

My husband and I decided to attend together, since his brother and a couple of old friends would also be there. And since the date coincided with our 16th wedding anniversary, we thought we’d spend a day at the conference, then a day hiking outdoors, celebrating our marriage.

I signed up quickly (with a little encouragement from Lanier), checking it off my to-do list back in early May, but then I began to feel guilty once I read the news that “the hutch was full” after only a few days. The conference organizers decided to limit the attendees to around 100 people, due to space limitations and to foster a more intimate fellowship. There were people from around the world writing in dismay that they’d wanted to come, but now couldn’t.

Why me? I wanted to know. Why did God open the door for me to go when others couldn’t?

As the date neared, I had major second thoughts. It was the weekend right after my son started a new high school — how could we just skip out of town during his major life transition? My other kids were in the midst of needing me to shop for new fall shoes and other last-minute supplies. Plus, we’d be missing their school orientation as well.

“Maybe we should stay home,” I told my husband at least 20 times.

“No, let’s go,” he said. “You need a break. The kids will be fine.” We’re surrounded by doting grandparents, so childcare wasn’t a problem.

So we went, with me agonizing the whole way there that I’d snagged someone else more worthy’s spot. A serious Rabbit Room contributor, instead of me, who skims posts while taking a break from washing dishes and folding clothes.

I thought maybe I could hide in the back shadows, scribbling a few notes, hoping no one would ask me any questions. There was a reading list, and I never got around to any of the books, save the few I’d read years ago. What if there’s a discussion session? I worried. I’m not in the same league with these people. I wore a black sweater and black skirt, all the better for disappearing into quiet corners.

But here came the surprise.

The Hutch was full of incredibly NICE people.

Everyone I talked to was so interesting, and some were like me, mostly lovers of great literature without any significant works of our own. I met a lady from Texas, who confessed she “blogged a little” now and then, while raising and schooling her children. I got to tell Father Thomas McKenzie how much I enjoy his One-Minute movie reviews, and how I took our kids to see three movies this summer based on his reviews.

I met both Peterson brothers: Andrew and Pete, who put this event together. Andrew kindly signed his two Wingfeather Saga books for my son, including North! Or Be Eaten, which won the Christy award back in June. That assuaged my mother-guilt, since I’d be bringing something home.

We attended sessions discussing the works of C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Flannery O’Conner, and Annie Dillard. We listened to Walt Wangerin, Jr, author of The Book of the Dun Cow, give an awe-inspiring Saturday evening keynote address. The Church of the Redeemer, where the conference met, was a gorgeous building, with a sanctuary full of light streaming in through stained glass windows. Every wall displayed unique pieces of artwork. The quiet, candlelit rooms helped me feel less anxious.

I found myself having a great time! I shopped in the Rabbit Room store and picked up two handmade coffee mugs and a stack of beloved new and used books. And the food … the food was out of this world, catered by artist/chef Evie Coates, who made every dish both beautiful and tasty.

We missed a couple of the concerts, and instead of returning for more great teaching and fellowship on Sunday, we headed for the hills of Tennessee, hiking along the waterfalls of Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. The sound of rushing water felt like God speaking to me, reminding me how awesome is His love for each of us. Even if we don’t consider ourselves worthy.

More than anything, Hutchmoot helped me have a greater definition of what it means to be a Christian Artist. Pastor Russ Ramsey shared with us a quote from Annie Dillard, who says in The Writing Life: “There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.”

I am living the Good Life now. My art may be nothing more than arranging blueberries on top of steaming oatmeal eaten by children who are dashing off to school … but for me, that’s a display of my love, and it’s what I’ve created. I can collect great works of literature and hand them to young growing minds who will outlive me, and will carry the words of these masters into the next century.

That’s what I brought home from the Hutchmoot fellowship.

If you’d like to read what others who were there have to say about it, check out the Hutchmoot Hub.




August 17, 2010

Over the summer, while browsing through my Auburn University alumni magazine, I was surprised to learn that all 4,000 incoming freshmen are being encouraged to read a book together: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.


Wow. That’s a major book club, don’t you think?

It’s part of the Common Book program that more than 100 universities are starting to participate in. This reminds me of our own community’s Big Read last spring, when we all read To Kill a Mockingbird together. Can you see how a bookish person likes me gets excited about these types of programs?

So, I had Three Cups of Tea on my mind all summer, wondering what’s so great about it that an entire university would be reading it together. Sure, it was a #1 New Times Bestseller for months, but just because it’s selling millions of copies doesn’t mean I’m going to fall in love with it.

But I did. Oh … there is something rich between the covers of this book that reached the core of me. It’s changed the way I view the world. I hope you’ll get a chance to read it, if you haven’t yet. Especially if you’re a woman. Read it, and you’ll understand.

The story begins with Greg Mortenson’s failure to climb the K2 mountain in Pakistan, the second highest mountain in the world. He almost froze to death one night when the porter carrying his heavy backpacks disappeared far ahead. Greg wandered around lost for a while, and ended up in a village called Korphe.

While staying in this village a while to recover his strength, he was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the people. There were children everywhere, and when he asked the elders where these kids go to school, he got some sad looks.

He discovered dozens of children huddled together in the freezing cold scribbling their math equations into the dirt with sticks. From this point on, he vowed that he would someday return to this village and build them a school.

The book is a page turner. He goes from one hard time to another — living out of his car trying to scrape together his own meager living and keep his dream alive. He writes 300 letters on a rented typewriter until some kind soul shows him how to use the “cut and paste” option on a computer, and then he sends out 280 more. At last he finds a person willing to back him up financially so he can build that first school, Dr. Jean Hoerni.

The rest of the book recounts the trials and adventures Mortenson encounters as he builds that first school in Korphe — which leads to launching a whole organization, Central Asia Institute, dedicated to promoting world peace through education. He builds not only schools, but also relationships with people in the war-torn regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.


As you’re reading, you suddenly get the big picture that schools lead to educated minds who are less likely to be recruited by terrorists, and who are less likely to strap bombs to themselves and blow things up.

You realize books lead to peace. And so Mortenson’s mission becomes your own.

There’s now a Young Reader’s edition, which has full-color pictures and a simplified text. I think this would be a fantastic book for teachers or parents to read out loud. Students can also participate in the Pennies for Peace program.



The title of the book comes from the way in which the people in central Asia conduct business. Mortenson’s mentor, Haji Ali, teaches him:

The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die.

If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to watch this short interview with Greg Mortenson. You’ll be amazed. I can definitely understand why an entire campus will be reading and discussing this book together, and who knows how many new dreams will be launched from this shared experience.

(I’ve heard the story continues, with the 2009 published sequel, Stones into Schools.)

All photos are complements of Central Asia Institute.




August 9, 2010

Note:
I’m delighted to offer you an excerpt from author Peggy Nelson’s new book,
Life with Lord Byron: Laughter, Romance and Lessons Learned From Golf’s Greatest Gentleman. Peggy is the widow of Byron Nelson, a champion golfer who still holds the world record for winning 18 PGA tournaments in 1945, including 11 in a row!

If you’d like to enter a drawing to win a FREE copy of Peggy Nelson’s book, please leave a comment below.
[Update: Congrats to holymama for winning this book!]


Byron showed his sensitivity to my feelings and moods in many ways, and of course one of the most critical was golf. Having been a teacher for more than fifty years by then, he realized women need to be treated differently, and he was always gentle in his suggestions as we played together during the first year of our marriage. However I was something of a special case. I just knew I could figure out this simple game all by myself, thank you. While I certainly respected his experience, when we were on the course, I was forever thinking about my score and would brook very little distraction while I was endeavoring to make a seven instead of an eight or nine. Silly, wasn’t it?

So, even though he made very few suggestions, within the first six months Byron saw there was a little problem. I would skull a chip across the green or chili-dip a pitch shot, and he would say, “Sweetheart, try that again with an eight iron this time.”

I would reply (minus the sweetheart), “No!” Or I would try what he had recommended, and if it didn’t work instantly, I would fling the offending club back into my bag and march on to the next hole without a word. I thought things were going swimmingly, but Lord Byron knew better.

One day in May 1987 I had just come home from Dallas where I had been working on a writing assignment for Scottish Rite Hospital. Byron met me at the door with the latest issue of Golf Digest magazine in his hand.

“Sweetheart, I just read this article called ‘How To Play Golf With Your Spouse,’ and I want you to read it. I underlined everything I’ve been doing wrong, and I’m going to change, because if I don’t change, you’re not going to want to play golf with me any more, and you may not even want to stay married to me!”

I melted, of course, as well as feeling like the world’s biggest idiot. There I was, balking at advice from the greatest golfer/teacher ever, and he’s taking all the blame for my frustration on the course. I took the magazine from his hands and sat down next to him. After a number of hugs and kisses and a few tears on my part, I read the article as he had instructed. Naturally the piece was not written for professional golfer husbands who had won five majors, fifty-four tournaments, eleven in a row, eighteen in a year, and taught other pros like Watson, Venturi, and Ward. No, it was designed more for the eighteen handicappers, who wouldn’t know “you looked up” from U.S. Open rough.

We talked about it a little bit and finally figured out that, as silly as it was, I preferred to play on my own when I was on the course, instead of thinking all the time that he was going to want me to try another club or re-do a shot. So from that moment on, he would only offer advice when I asked him during a round.

Oddly enough, that made it easier for me to ask, which I did a lot more often over the years. The result was that, even playing only once or twice a week, I went from a thirty to a sixteen. And let’s not think about how much better I could have been if I had sat at the feet of this master of golf and tried to learn all I could about the game. As he told me years later, he really wouldn’t have wanted me to get so gung-ho that I would be in single digits. He knew how much work that would take and felt it wouldn’t have made me happy anyway. Byron always felt the happiest golfers he knew were the 80-85 shooters, who made enough pars to keep them happy, an occasional birdie for an extra lift, and the occasional double bogey to keep them humble.

Tagging the Master
Oh, it was so much fun playing with him! Not only could Byron still play very well during the first several years of our marriage, but he seemed to get more kick out of my occasional ripping good shot than he did his own. One time we were playing at Riverhill in Kerrville. I was about a twenty-five, and he was about a ten. So we were on the ninth tee, a great, really tough par four, and the forward tees were only a few yards ahead of the whites. He hit an excellent drive, and for once I tagged one that rolled a few yards past his ball.

After rejoicing about my drive, Byron hit a pure little three-iron that ended up on the green about a foot away from the pin for a kick-in birdie. I, my brilliant drive notwithstanding, hit my three-wood amazingly fat and rolled it about thirty yards. Madder than a wet hen, I took out my four-iron, and thinking fairly murderous thoughts, swung blindly at that wretched white ball. Blinking in amazement I watched it sail up and straight onto the green, where it disappeared into the hole for a three. I got a stroke on the hole from Mr. Nelson that particular day!

You would think he’d be a little crestfallen after hitting two wonderful shots and getting an easy birdie but then getting beat by his floundering wife, thanks to that mysterious fiend known as “the rub of the green.” No, my champion absolutely whooped with joy over it and proudly told the story dozens of times afterwards to anyone who would listen. What a hero! “How to play golf with your spouse” indeed!

About the Author:
Peggy Nelson lived most of her life in Ohio, then moved to Texas in 1986 to marry world-renowned professional golfer Byron Nelson. She assisted Byron in the writing of his autobiography,
How I Played the Game. Peggy delights in her many friends, in visits to and from her sons and their families, and in the thousands of happy memories she has of her life with her beloved Byron.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love Peggy Nelson’s book, complements of Kathy Carlton Willis Communications. It would make a great gift for any golfers in your circle of family and friends. Leave a comment and you’ll have a chance to win a free copy, which also contains a CD interview, “Byron Nelson Remembers 1945: Golf’s Unforgettable Year.”




July 27, 2010

Today’s guest is Meredith Efken, who has written a fascinating novel about adopting a child from China. I’d love to share her book with someone who is interested in this topic. Please leave a comment below or email me privately, and I’ll draw a name on Friday to win LUCKY BABY. [Update: Congratulations to Laura! She won the free copy of this book!]




Hi Meredith. I was excited about reading your book because I know several families who’ve adopted daughters from China. Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing LUCKY BABY?

In 1999, my husband and I adopted our oldest daughter from China. She was fourteen months old, and neither she nor her new parents had the faintest clue what to do with each other. Becoming a family, with the addition of our second (non-adopted) daughter three years later, was this miraculous, inspiring, and sometimes heart-breaking journey. I wanted to write about that journey — not just the usual “orphan finds family in happy-ever-after ending.”

The adoption became the hook for the story, but what I really ended up exploring was the process of becoming a mother — that process of being broken, being shaped, of dying, living, of losing all control over your heart because it doesn’t belong to you any more — and how thrilling, and frightening, and painful it all can be.


Your novel gave me a lot of new insight into the emotions involved on both sides of adoption. How much of Meg and Eva’s story was similar to you and your daughter’s?

Much of it is quite different, actually. My daughter was much younger than Eva when we adopted her, and she didn’t have any physical disabilities (even though we’d been told she did.) Eva’s attachment problems are also far more severe than anything our daughter has experienced, though some of the questions and internal conflict about birth parents and adoptive parents — and their roles in her life — are ones that are very common not just for my daughter but for many adopted children everywhere.

My own family and upbringing, as well as my husband’s, are drastically different (and much more positive) than those of Meg and Lewis in the story. That’s been one of the interesting things about this novel and people’s reaction to it — I must have hit a lot of the emotional notes correctly, because many people assume the story is a lot more autobiographical than it is.

But I did draw on some of my own insecurities and fears about parenting, as well as the stories and experiences of many, many mothers — both adoptive and not. Even though the emotions in the story are not always from my own experience, they are the experiences of many other families. I hope the truth of those experiences comes through in the book.



What made you decide to focus on such a difficult aspect of the adopting experience? (i.e., attachment disorder). Is this common, especially for families who adopt an older child?

Well, first, let me just adjust the question a bit. “Attachment disorder” is a specific psychological disorder that can affect any child who has been neglected or undergone trauma as an infant or toddler — not just children who are adopted. A psychologist can evaluate a child for RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and recommend therapy and support for the child and the family, but it is definitely a challenging and difficult disorder to work with.

However, RAD is distinct from having problems adjusting to a family or problems developing attachment after an adoption. I think it’s not an either/or situation — RAD or no problems at all. There is a wide range of experience between those two extremes. Not every child who struggles to adapt to their adoptive family has RAD. And not every child who is adopted has attachment problems — no one really understands what causes some children to struggle while others seem to have no problems at all. It’s very complicated.

That said, nearly all adopted children do have struggles unique to the adoption experience. They’ve all experienced a trauma early in life — that of losing their birth parents, even if they can’t remember it. There is a grief process they must go through to deal with that loss. Additionally, a child who has been in an orphanage or foster family experiences loss a second time when they go from that placement to their adoptive family. Even though the adoption provides the benefit of a stable, permanent, loving environment, the loss of the familiar is still traumatic.

That double loss has consequences. It affects a child in often-profound ways. So I chose to write about that, showing one child’s process of grieving and coming to terms with her loss and the impact that has on her family and friends. I don’t consider Eva to have actual RAD. She has experienced deep loss that is far bigger than what she can process on her own, and so she does end up needing the help of a therapist to work through those issues before she can really integrate into her new family.

The process of grieving for what has been lost and then moving forward with a new family looks different for each child. Some children have a much more difficult time than others. Some seem to adjust fine in childhood, but will have to deal with their grief as adults. Others seem to come through it all very smoothly at a young age and are fine. I don’t think that the age of the child at adoption necessarily impacts their attachment or adjustment by itself. My understanding is that there is an entire range of factors that can impact how a certain child reacts to an adoption.

It’s something all adoptive parents need to be aware of, but not fearful of. Adopted children — especially ones who have been in an institutional setting like an orphanage — by the very fact of being adopted have special needs that their new parents have to be prepared to deal with.

Getting support early and being patient, educating themselves, and being committed to the process for as long as it takes are what adoptive parents need to plan on if they choose to adopt. It’s not always easy, but the good news is that the vast majority of adopted children do adapt, and do go on to have very productive, healthy lives. There is a lot of support and a lot of hope available to families who are working through this process.

Thank you, Meredith, for all of this valuable information! While reading your book, I really felt like I was visiting China. You describe the sounds, smells, and sights that take your reader there. How did you learn so much about China? What is your favorite place to visit?



We traveled to China for the adoption in 1999. We spent a couple days in Beijing, about a week in our daughter’s birth city for the adoption, and then about another week in Guangzhou, to go through the immigration process to bring her home. Much of my description of China was based on that trip, including our short tour of our daughter’s orphanage.

When I needed to fill in all the many gaps in my knowledge (since two weeks is hardly enough time to really understand a foreign country), I went to a variety of sources, including blogs of expats living in China, some Chinese friends living in my city, videos on YouTube, and other adoptive families. The hardest part was portraying life in a private Chinese home in China, since I haven’t had the opportunity to actually visit anyone’s home in China.

I found videos on YouTube of people in China getting together with friends in their homes, and I also used real estate listings to see photos of the interiors of various homes in Shanghai. I did a lot of reading about how they celebrate holidays such as Chinese New Year, what foods they eat — like for breakfast — and from there I used my imagination.

My daughter and I traveled back to China last summer (2009), and I was amazed at the difference 10 years has made in the nation. I had to make some last-minute adjustments to my book based on that trip because the country as a whole has become so much more developed over the past decade.


My favorite place I’ve visited is definitely Kunming, in Yunnan Province. The weather is beautiful, the people are friendly, and Yunnan is home to over half of the ethnic minorities that live in China, so the cultural heritage is extremely rich. Plus, they have some beautiful parks and lots of flowers. The food is amazing, too.

You mention Chinese phrases often in your writing. Have you studied the Chinese language? In your book, parents Meg and Lewis want their daughter Eva to retain some of her cultural heritage by learning Chinese. Do you think it’s a good idea for children adopted from China to keep in touch with their native language in some way?

I have studied Chinese just a very little bit. It’s a beautiful language, and not nearly so hard as it has a reputation of being. We’ve got classes in our city that are specifically for adoptive families, but due to our daughter’s dance schedule (she’s intensely pursuing ballet as a possible career) we haven’t been able to make the Chinese classes.

Most of the phrases in the book were either translated for me by Chinese acquaintances or were taken from phrase lists for adoptive families on the internet.

I think children adopted from a different culture should always be offered as many opportunities as possible to learn about and interact with that culture. But each child’s level of interest in doing so is going to be different. I don’t think it’s good to force it on them.

As far as language-learning goes, I think it’s a good idea if the opportunity is there. But realistically, unless the adoptive parents are fluent in the language and use it regularly at home, a child isn’t going to become bilingual or even fluent just by weekly language classes. The exposure to the language is good — it’s good for any child to learn a second language. Learning Chinese is an especially good idea right now, considering that it is becoming a more dominant force globally.

I confess I got hungry for Chinese cuisine while reading your book. It’s full of references to delicious food! What is your favorite Chinese food? Can you find it where you live in the U.S.?

I have to say — if all you’ve experienced of “Chinese food” is in a Chinese restaurant in America, you are missing out. Real Chinese food is completely different — a tremendous variety of flavors and ingredients (a few are far too exotic for my comfort!). It’s quite an adventure!


Some of what I like best in real Chinese food (which varies greatly by region of the country) are the simple dishes — the stir-fried green beans or the mushrooms. I even had a friend in the States once who stir-fried spaghetti squash and sliced sweet peppers, and it was heaven. They don’t actually use such thick sauces as the restaurants here do. The sauce is generally more broth-like, and it lets the flavor of the vegetable really come through.

I also like the dumplings and stuffed buns — which they do serve in some parts of China, though I don’t think it’s quite as common as the dim sum restaurants in our American Chinatowns are.

We had one dish in Kunming during our 1999 trip that I’ve been dreaming of ever since. It was called Yunnan Flavor Soup, though I think it may be called “Over The Bridge Soup” in other parts of the country. The waiter brought us super-heated broth, and a tray of raw meat slices (I wasn’t a vegetarian at that point) which we cooked in the soup broth itself. Then we added vegetables, noodles, and what I believe was a quail egg. The broth cooked all of it, and it was simply delicious–and so much fun to assemble and “cook” it ourselves.

I have not been able to find a recipe for it or any restaurant that makes it, but if anyone knows of a recipe for it, I’d love to have it.

Throughout the book, you weave in certain symbols, such as ladybugs, dragons, and a dream-like Chinese woman who appears at various points in Meg’s journey. Can you tell us how you got interested in writing using magical realism? How do you think it adds to the story?

I really struggled in writing this book to adequately express the sense of wonder and the miraculous nature of the adoption experience. Plain old prose just didn’t seem to do it, and it was quite frustrating from an artistic standpoint. I’d been reading about magical realism as a genre, and it intrigued me conceptually — the writers attempt to flip-flop reality by portraying the fantastic as normal and the mundane as magical — but much of classic magical realism is darkly political in nature and didn’t really appeal to me.

Then I came across some women writers of magical realism, such as Isabel Allende, Sarah Addison Allen, and Alice Hoffman, and their blend of women’s fiction with magical realism techniques really appealed to me.

What the magical realism did for me in writing LUCKY BABY was to make it possible for me to convey the mystical and miraculous journey of the heart that is adoption. It also was a way for me to express my view of faith. As a Christian, I find that my faith is mystical, a bit fantastical to some, and rooted in the supernatural — and yet, it impacts my daily life in ways I nearly take for granted. And at the same time, that faith gives me an appreciation and a wonder for the most mundane of human experiences — eating good food, the beauty of a perfect sunset, the personal connection of one hand holding another. Magical realism seemed a perfect reflection of how I experience God at work in me, so I wanted to try it in this story.

Do you have any advice for families who are interested in international adoption? Are there any organizations you’d specifically recommend? Is it helpful to join an online support network when someone is merely exploring the option?

Don’t rush into it. Count the cost — not just financially, but also in terms of time, emotional energy, and the level of effort involved in caring for a child that has been institutionalized. There are challenges and difficulties that are unique to international adoption, and parents have to be prepared to love their child no matter what — even in the unlikely event that the child can’t love them in return.

I’ve had people suggest that by adopting, we took the easy way out because I didn’t have to go through pregnancy and delivery. And after having been pregnant as well, I can say that physically, adoption is much easier. But adoption has deeply emotional ramifications, and there are no guarantees that it will go smoothly. So long term, I think adoption is harder for parents. They’ve got to be prepared for that and willing to be that rock for their children when it gets hard.

If parents aren’t sure they can do that, then it’s better for them and for the child not to adopt. But if they are willing to take on the challenge and uncertainty, I think they’ll find that the adoption journey is amazing, beautiful, and well worth it all.

Definitely join an online or in-person support group at any phase of the adoption process. There’s so much to learn. It’s hard to list any websites these days because there are so many really great ones, but one of the longest-standing ones and most comprehensive is RainbowKids.com

Was it difficult for you to make the transition from humorous mom-lit to this novel, where you sometimes write from a Chinese orphan’s point of view? How did your creative coach help you in this process?

It wasn’t the transition that was difficult — because I knew I couldn’t personally manage to make this story a comedy. You have to have a certain amount of distance and perspective to write humorously — at least I do. And I realized early on that I had no distance and no perspective whatsoever when it came to writing about Chinese adoption. It’s why it took me eight years just to decide to write it at all.

The emotions run so deep and strong for me, and my own expectations were so high for doing it well, that it actually crippled me for awhile as I was trying to write. This is where my creativity coach stepped in and was an invaluable part of helping me get past the expectations and self-doubt. She helped me identify exactly what was holding me back from being able to write, and then came up with mental exercises and techniques for dealing with those doubts or concerns. It was all very simple stuff, but it was very effective in helping me get my confidence back.

But there were still parts of the book that were incredibly difficult to write — won’t say which ones here because it would involve spoilers for the plot. There’s a quote about writing by Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” I have no idea who he is and I’ve never read his work, but for the first time in my writing career, in writing LUCKY BABY I found the truth to his statement.

The act of emotionally “opening a vein” as I wrote was terrifying and painful, but also exhilarating. It stretched my writing skills in a way that wouldn’t have happened with comedy — as difficult as comedy actually is. So from an artistic standpoint, it was thrilling to have a chance to grow and write something so different from what I’d done before.

In writing LUCKY BABY, a novel about an American couple adopting a child from China, what was the most important message you wanted to convey?

I wanted to show the complexity of international adoption — the beauty and hope, but also the difficulties. It’s not a fairy tale where the rich American swoops in to rescue a foreign orphan and takes them away to a happy-ever-after life, or where the lonely, childless couple has their dearest wish come true.

Adoption is a beautiful, hope-filled way to build a family, but the hard truth is that it is built on a tragedy — the separation of a child from its birth parents. And there are always consequences of that tragedy that families will face. With international adoption, you have the added challenges of the loss of the child’s birth culture. I wanted to present these issues honestly because this is not a fairy tale.

Becoming a family is a long journey and it can be a hard one. But at the same time, I wanted to show the hope and beauty and healing that the adoption journey can bring as well.

Meredith Efken is also author of the critically acclaimed SAHM I Am series that traces the friendship of a group of stay-at-home mothers through their emails to each other. In addition to writing, Meredith owns the Fiction Fix-It Shop, which offers freelance fiction editing and writing coaching.

P.S. Don’t forget — if you’d like to enter your name to win a free copy of Meredith Efken’s LUCKY BABY, leave a comment below or email me at the address to your left. I’ll draw a name on Friday and will contact you for an address to send this amazing book!




July 13, 2010



I hope you’re all having an amazing summer, sipping lemonade and staying cool. Here are a few blogworthy bits and pieces I’ve compiled for you. I seem to always be on the lookout for items that relate to TEEN WRITERS, so I think God is working on my heart in this area. I’ll soon have a house full of teens, and of course I want them to be writers!

*Randy Ingermanson has written a wonderful post, How Old Must You Be To Write a Novel? I wish I’d read this when I was 15. Pass this along to any teen you know!

*Michelle Medlock Adams is the new teen content editor for ibegat, an online magazine for teens. She’s written a post full of encouragement and cool links to get teens sending their work out.

*Agent Chip MacGregor recently posted about 10 Errors That Drive Me Crazy. I laughed all the way through this post, yet secretly cringed when I realized how often I commit these annoying bad habits. If you’re looking to improve your writing, read Chip’s list.

*In my other life, before having kids, I used to teach high school English. When I read Whitney L. Grady’s story, Why I Teach, it gave me chills and reminded me why so much joy can be found in the classroom.

*Jan Fields has written a snazzy article here on how to save postage when sending your writing off to editors. What do you do if a publication requests that your manuscript be included in the body of an email? See Jan’s tips on formatting.

*One of my lifetime goals is to read every book that has won a Newbery Award. So, I was totally inspired when I read about this little ten-year-old girl, Laura, who has already read every single Newbery winner. AMAZING! She even includes links to reviews she’s written for most of the books. I better get busy catching up with her.

*Here’s another fun article for you book clubbers out there, How A Book Club Changed My Life.

*Rounding out this list, my good friend Sally Apokedak alerted me to this captivating article by William Zinsser, on how he wrote his perennial best-selling book, On Writing Well. I keep Zinsser’s work only a few inches from my computer, so I loved reading the story behind his creation of it. Thank you, Sally.

Enjoy your summer reading!




July 9, 2010



My daughters love anything relating to princesses, so we have a super fun guest today who wrote THE BOOK on how to become a princess. Lindsey Leavitt’s debut novel, Princess for Hire, released in March.

Hi Lindsey. Welcome to Mom 2 Mom Connection. I heard you just returned from the American Library Association conference in Washington, DC. What was it like being there as an author?

Man, it was amazing. Every aspiring author has a list of publishing dreams, and this was big on mine.

Librarians are amazing, open, thoughtful, funny, smart people and it was great having book conversations. I love book talk. Plus, it was very surreal to have a few KNOW WHO I WAS (sure, the name tag helps, but I like to pretend I’m a Diva sometimes).

Sounds like a blast! What was the highlight for you?

Newbery/Caldecott dinner. The speeches were pitch-perfect, the chicken breast wasn’t even dry, and ten-year-old Lindsey felt like she’d arrived at the book Olympics.

Your debut novel, Princess for Hire, draws readers into the world of real-life princesses. Did you have to do any research on foreign cultures or customs as you wrote your book?


Research! Yes, I did tons — much more than I would have thought, but fun nonetheless. Pretty legit when you get to buy the PEOPLE Royals Addition and count it as work.

I wanted the scope to go beyond Europe, so I looked at royal traditions around the world. I didn’t want to lock myself into one country, though, so I went with a geographical region and tried to create a general atmosphere. The Amazon one was especially fun to research, as most of what happens to Desi (except for the magical stuff) is based on real customs.

I did a few library visits, looking at those basic country books used for elementary school reports. This gave me an idea where to start, then I researched a handful of countries in depth. I wrote two princesses that never made it into the story, but might in later books, especially since I was so fascinated with Eastern Asian culture. I want a ninja princess in there. Ninjas are awesome.

A NINJA PRINCESS — that will definitely be a hit! Did your previous job as a substitute teacher help you any as you wrote your first novel?

For sure. I never really felt like I knew what I was doing as a sub. Every day, it was a different school, different grade, different kids, all with their own challenges and problems. Often, I would have one page of notes that didn’t help much.

And, let’s be honest, lots of people think subs are idiots. Although I had a degree AND had a couple of years of teaching experience, secretaries would often talk really slow, or the teacher would write “Have them read for an hour” in the sub plans, like actually teaching was a massive improbability.

So I really tapped into that as I threw Desi in all these new situations. Not to mention, I would often write during teacher prep-time, lunch, etc. Nothing publishable, mind you, but it got me interested in writing.

What has been the most surprising aspect of being a first-time novelist?

I guess I thought getting a book deal would be all the literary validation I needed. I was surprised that there was still so much angst on the other side of the publishing rainbow — revisions, reviews, follow-up books, covers. BUT, having a real-live book in print sweetens all the strife. It’s something concrete and real and, in my case, sparkly.

Being the mother of three daughters, I’m sure your home is immersed in the world of princesses! What do your daughters think of all the excitement surrounding their mom’s new book?

They want pictures. They are begging for a book with pictures and not all these boring words. So the princess thing gives me some street-cred, but I’m no Jane O’Conner (Fancy Nancy). My three-year-old also asked why I can’t be a dog groomer, because then she could pet a dog instead of a book.

So I gave her a tiara, and I’m cool again.

Oh yes, life is always better when wearing a tiara. My daughter has tried to sleep in hers. Do you think it’s helpful for writers to be part of an online network of fellow writers, such as your Tenners blog? How did this group come together?

The Tenners have been invaluable. When I sold my book, I wanted to join the Debs (2009 debut group we are modeled after), but I was winter 2010. I was lamenting this with a friend, and she said, “Uh, start your own group.”

So I did, with the help of Heidi R Kling (SEA, Putnam). At first, I just googled around, finding other 2010 authors, and once word got out, people wrote asking to join.

How many authors are in the group now? Do you have plans to stick together beyond the year 2010?

We had to cut it off last October, when our numbers were almost 100. I’ve made some wonderful friends there, and I think we’ll have the group going for a long time. It’s a great resource for all the questions that come up, like “I don’t like my cover, what do I do?” or “I’m doing a signing in New York, who is in?”

Now that Princess for Hire has made her grand debut at the ball, what you do have coming up next?

I have a YA contemporary called SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD that will be out with Bloomsbury in March 2011. It’s a story with first love, first loss, and spandex. But not too much spandex. I have to keep it tasteful.

Well, for us 80s moms, Spandex is always in. We just can’t be seen wearing it in public.

And, of course, the next book in the PRINCESS FOR HIRE series will be out in early May. More scandals, more Desi, and yes, more princess.

We can’t wait! Here’s one last question — How do you get yourself into the writing groove, when kids, house, husband, and everything else demand your attention? Do you have a special time or place in your house where you can be alone to write, or can you pretty much write anywhere?

My very best writing still happens at night, when it’s totally quiet and there is nothing else I have to do. It’s still a challenge, even with this being my job now, to prioritize writing over all the family goodness.

I usually write in spurts, like take a weekend and write non-stop, then don’t write for a week. I can write anywhere — couch, bed, library, Starbucks — but I have this weird thing about having my feet up when I write. Yes, they’re up right now. I want to hire a foot rubber when I hit it big. Now accepting applications.

Couldn’t we all use one of those? Lindsey, this has been too fun. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for parents who’ve been bitten by the writing bug?

Do it. As much as you can, as often as you can. When you aren’t writing, read. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. And enjoy your kids, because they are not only the best part of life, but they offer some wonderful material.

That’s so true! Thank you for this refreshing interview, Lindsey. We look forward to keeping up with you and your books!

Thanks so much for having me Heather and Heather’s wonderful blog readers!

Lindsey Leavitt can be found hanging out at her sparkly website and blog. Her royal book even has its own home, so be sure to stop by and check out the bling.




June 27, 2010

I read over at TitleTrakk Book News that the 2010 Christy Award Winners were announced last night in St. Louis. If you enjoy reading fiction by Christian publishing houses, here are some books you’ll want to check out!

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Breach of Trust by DiAnn Mills, Tyndale House Publishers

CONTEMPORARY SERIES, SEQUELS, NOVELLAS
Who Do I Talk To? by Neta Jackson, Thomas Nelson

CONTEMPORARY STANDALONE
The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson, Thomas Nelson

FIRST NOVEL
Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent, Tyndale House Publishers

HISTORICAL
Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin, Bethany House Publishers: a
Division of Baker Publishing Group

HISTORICAL ROMANCE
The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen, Bethany House Publishers: a
Division of Baker Publishing Group

SUSPENSE
Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, Howard Books: a Division of Simon &
Schuster

VISIONARY
By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson, Marcher Lord Press

YOUNG ADULT
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson, WaterBrook Multnomah
Publishing

Here’s a link to the Press Release which contains descriptions of all the award-winning books. I’m sure this was an exciting night for everyone who attended in St. Louis. The Christy Awards are named in honor of Catherine Marshall and her inspiring novel, Christy.

As for me, I enjoy reading Andrew Peterson’s posts over at The Rabbit Room, so it looks like we’ll need to get copies of the two books in his WINGFEATHER SAGA series. North! Or Be Eaten is the second book in the series. By the way, here’s an interesting interview with Andrew Peterson, by CJ Darlington of TitleTrakk.

Congratulations to all the winners and nominees! They’ve given us lots of great books to read.

Happy reading to all of you!