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Christy Catherine Marshall

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November 21, 2017



I grew up reading Guideposts magazine, which my mother and I both devoured, as we loved reading people’s first-person inspirational stories. After I moved away to college, my grandfather gifted me annually with subscriptions, allowing me to read it even in my dorm room. So it’s no wonder I’ve always loved and admired the non-fiction writings of Catherine Marshall. She was one of the great “classic” Guideposts writers, who also authored over 30 books, which sold millions of copies.

When I was an exhausted young mom, trying to manage two toddlers born close in age, my mom gave me another treasure of encouragement: a beautiful volume containing two complete Catherine Marshall works: Something More and A Closer Walk. I loved reading her personal stories, and I longed to capture an inkling of her deep faith and joy.

I reread that same copy a few years ago when I began trying to publish my own devotionals, and I especially enjoyed reading how Catherine followed God’s call to become a writer. This led to my decision to read her two novels, Julie and Christy, which promised to show me how a Christian writer weaves her faith through the voice of fictional character. I checked out a copy of Julie from the library and loved this amazing story of a young journalist who unlocks secrets to a mystery in her hometown. Next, I planned to read Christy, yet I somehow never got around to it.

Years passed, and I kept Christy on my “someday” list. Then I learned about this new 50th anniversary release from Gilead Publishing, which contains a preface from the author’s children, who grew up hearing stories about their grandmother, Leonora Whitaker Wood, the real-life inspiration for the novel’s 19-year-old character, Christy Huddleston. At age 19, both Leonora and her fictional counterpart Christy left home in North Carolina to teach poverty-stricken children in the mountains of Tennessee. From the preface:

It is the story of a proud, fierce, and lyrical people tucked away in a remote section of the Smoky Mountains in the early 1900s. Yet this story is every bit as relevant today as it was a century ago. It is the story of a young woman who yearns to make a difference. And it is the timeless tale of how in the experience of giving to others, she finds herself the recipient of so much more.

In the novel, Christy Huddleston leaves her respectful life in Asheville and arrives by train seven miles from Cutter Gap, Tennessee, where she plans to join a mission that includes a new church and school. It’s snowy January, and no one has arrived to meet her at the station, so she finds herself following along in the footsteps of the local postman, to make her precarious way to Cutter Gap. The inside cover of this beautiful new edition contains a detailed hand-drawn map of Cutter Gap, Tennessee which shows the important literary landmarks. There is also a list of characters and brief descriptions, which I referred to often in my reading.

Christy soon feels as if she’s transported back in time to another world. The Smoky Mountain community of Cutter Gap is trapped by poverty, superstitions, and a fierce clan-like nature that leads to grudges and feuding, often settled by shotgun. I was immediately captivated by the dangerous plot Christy becomes involved in, as Cutter Gap residents battle one crisis after another: accidents, disease, wounded pride, and violence.

Thankfully, she is mentored by Alice Henderson, a wise Quaker woman who rides on horseback throughout the mountains, bringing faith and courage to several local communities. Unexpectedly, the novel also becomes a love story, when Christy meets the handsome young minister, David Grantland. Yet she is also intrigued by the local physician, Dr. Neil MacNeil, whose difficult labors often involve sudden life or death circumstances.

Though the plotline is often action-packed, I felt captivated by Catherine Marshall’s lyrical writing, where she describes the natural beauty of each season in the mountains, especially as Christy befriends a local woman, Fairlight Spencer. The pages are also full of poetry, as the children begin memorizing great works of literature, such as when young Isaak McHone asks, “Kin I learn it by heart, Teacher? All of it?” the first time he hears Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan:”

In Xanadu did Khubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree;
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea…

The barefoot children have such a passion for learning, part of the plot involves Christy reaching out to the wealthy for donations of school texts, and her hard work of letter writing yields such treasures as a Lyon and Healy grand piano delivered to the mission house. Yet she encounters others who are angry at her infringement on the local community, especially when David begins preaching against the evils of “White Lightning,” the moonshine secretly brewed by local mountain men.

Reading the novel Christy for the first time is similar to how a reader feels when first encountering Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. It’s not just a book; it’s a phenomenon. The novel became a bestseller when it was originally published in 1967, then it was transformed into a TV series in the mid-90s starring Kellie Martin and Tyne Daly, and was later developed into three feature-length films. There’s an annual festival which celebrates the work every year in Townsend and Del Rio, Tennessee, where the novel was set, called ChristyFest. There’s also an award named after the novel, the Christy Award, which annually honors the most distinguished works of fiction written from a Christian faith perspective.

The story seemed familiar to me, since I remember watching the pilot of the TV show when I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christan Writers Conference in Asheville years ago, and hearing the show’s producer, Ken Wales, speak. He shared how it took him 19 years to bring the novel Christy to the screen, and even though he originally had hoped to turn it into a feature-length film, he realized millions more people watched it on TV. You can read his story here.

When Ken Wales dimmed the lights and showed us all the incredible pilot of the CBS series, it was like watching a full-length film for me. And guess what? I discovered you can watch it online for free now on youtube. I won’t link to it here since the link may change, but you can look it up. I think most of the TV episodes have also been posted online, so I look forward to watching them soon! You can also read an interview with the actress Kellie Martin here, on how she felt about her role in the TV series. The CBS series aired in 1994-95, though it was short-lived due to a network change in management, and it left audiences with a cliffhanger ending: who will Christy choose to marry? The doctor or the preacher?

In 2000, another producer decided to wrap up the ending by creating three feature-length films, which star Lauren Lee Smith. I’ve had no luck finding them viewable online for free, and they aren’t available for streaming on Netflix or through Amazon Prime. In fact, they’re incredibly expensive to buy used, so I’ve put the DVDs on hold from my local library and can’t wait to watch them!

They’re titled:
1. Christy: Return to Cutter Gap
2. Christy: A Change of Seasons
3. Christy: A New Beginning

After I finished the novel, I was of course curious as to how much of the book was true, and how much was fiction. I found a good article, Christy and Leonora: City Girl, Country Gal, that discusses this, and it does seem like Catherine Marshall embellished her mother’s real-life story a bit by adding in a few characters and plot sequences. Maybe I will have to make the journey to Christyfest someday to discover the truth on my own!

Exciting literary adventures ahead for those of us who love to explore beyond the pages of our favorite books! 🙂

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About the Author:

Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), The New York Times best-selling author of 30 books, is best known for her novel Christy. Based on the life of her mother, Christy captured the hearts of millions and became a popular CBS television series. Around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, as her mother reminisced, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders. Catherine shared the story of her husband, Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate, in A Man Called Peter. A decade after Dr. Marshall’s untimely death, Catherine married Leonard LeSourd, Executive Editor of Guideposts, forging a dynamic writer-editor partnership. A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine’s enduring career spanned four decades and reached over 30 million readers.
Find out more about Catherine at http://gileadpublishing.com/christy/.

Thank you to Litfuse and Gilead Publishing for sending me a complimentary copy for review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Rediscovering Catherine Marshall’s Masterpiece, Christy



October 28, 2017

I love reading middle grade fiction and jumped at the chance to review a new release that promised to transport me to the heart of Africa. The title of J.A. Myhre’s book, A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star, intrigued me, and I learned it’s the third book in the author’s Rwendigo Tales series. Since I missed reading the first two books, I wondered if I’d be able to catch up, but fortunately the setting in fictional Rwendigo is what unifies the series, since each book features a different protagonist.

As a long-time medical missionary to Africa, Myhre is in a unique position to offer readers an in-depth view of life on the front lines of the fight against poverty and disease. In her blog, Paradox Uganda, readers can view her stunning wildlife photography and learn more about her medical mission work with Serge. I found it helpful knowing a bit about the author’s background as I read her book, as several scenes take place in and around a healthcare clinic. I could easily sense her passion to raise awareness of issues affecting inhabitants of the continent.

In the introductory note, Myhre shares that the books were originally written as Christmas gifts to her own children. I would put the appropriate reading age range as 9 and up, since the story contains a violent scene that might be too scary for younger children. But the book is fascinating for all ages, especially teens and adult readers interested in travel and volunteering. The beautiful pen-and-ink drawings by illustrator Acacia Masso also bring the story to life.

The main character, 13-year-old Kusiima (which means “thankul” in the Luwendigo dialect), lives with his grandmother and toddler sister, Ngonzi (meaning “love”). Although he longs to go to school, Kusiima must work selling charcoal to help earn a meager living, especially since his sister has a debilitating illness. During his long workday, he stations himself near a school window, so he can hear the teacher and grasp at small scraps of knowledge. He enjoys listening to his grandmother, Mamba, tell stories of his childhood, and we learn that his mother, Rose, died a year ago and his father has abandoned him. Like a Horatio Alger tale, we root for Kusiima to make wise choices and rise above his circumstances.

One day, he is invited to join an older group of men going into the forest to obtain charcoal, and from here his adventure begins. Kusiima learns the group is stealing resources from national parkland, and we sense his fear and horror as one seedy character pulls out a gun to shoot an endangered species of gorilla. Kusiima escapes into the forest and later rescues a baby gorilla that he is able to take to a park ranger. The plot thickens as the poachers are bent on revenge.

At this point, I couldn’t put the book down. Both Kusiima and the park ranger’s lives are in danger. Meanwhile, his sister has weakened from malnutrition and a mysterious disease, and he must convince his grandmother to take her to the local healthcare clinic. But that is hard to do since his grandmother doesn’t believe in modern medicine:

She had grown up in an era when sickness was either cured by ritual and magic, or ended in death. He knew she suspected that evil forces were at work in his sister’s condition, and she would have sought mediation with these disturbing spirits if the fee were not so prohibitive.

Yet at last, his grandmother agrees the clinic may be their only hope. She has seen more death and sorrow than a person should be able to bear in one lifetime, losing three of her own sons as infants. At the clinic, Kusiima meets a local doctor who helps make the discovery that Kusiima’s family goats may offer a resource for healing his sister. As he spends time with the doctor, some mysteries from Kusiima’s past come to the surface. Why are there books in the doctor’s house with Kusiima’s name written in them? Does the doctor know his cruel, absentee father?

Despite being surrounded by darkness, the book offers hope through Kusiima’s growing faith in God. Readers will enjoy the magical realism of a mysterious donkey, Nsoli, which means “Star.” The donkey has an uncanny sense of always showing up in the right place at the right time, rescuing Kusiima.

When a flood comes to his town, Kusiima must make a choice that will change his life forever. Readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages to find out what Kusiima decides to do. Along the way, the author’s vivid writing makes us feel as if we’re right in the thick of his circumstances.

One of my favorite descriptive scenes comes from park ranger Luci’s point of view, as she observes a troupe of silverback gorillas in the forest:

Today was just a glimpse of her future as a park ranger, but she wanted to remember it forever. The hum of flies, the slant of the sun’s rays, the pungent smell of the gorillas as they burped, their slapping sound as they walked, the rustle of leaves, a rising cloud of tiny bright yellow butterflies. This glory of Rwendigo was what her work was all about — preserving this beauty, sharing its wonders.

As I read this exciting tale, I couldn’t help but hear the author’s own story woven through each chapter. The medical missionary in Africa, writing a Christmas gift for her children. It’s hard to say which story I liked more, especially after seeing the author’s blog depicting her real-life mission work. I learned so much about the problems of healthcare in these poor regions of Africa, as well as environmental and wildlife crises stemming from corruption and poverty.

The author shares her positive spirit in the introduction: “It is my hope that you will connect with these characters in a way that respects their resilience, and you will let this story inform your own story as you make your way into this world of adventures armed with a readiness to forgive and an expectation of wonder.”

With many schools today pushing to incorporate more multicultural literature into the curriculum, I think the Rwendigo Tales offer a firsthand glimpse into African culture and language. Throughout the book, the author describes food, customs, and healthcare terms in both the Luwendigo dialect and Swahili. The back of the book contains a glossary, which is helpful to use while reading. For example, I learned that AIDS is referred to as “slim disease” since infected people lose so much weight.

Young readers can also learn about the African educational system, which differs greatly from the U.S. In this region, students take the PLE at the end of seven years of schooling, which stands for Primary Leaving Exam. While most American students simply go to the school closest to home, results from the PLE determine where students in Africa will be placed in secondary school, or whether they will even be able to continue in school. From Kusiima’s point of view, we learn that school is a privilege denied to children in poverty, who must work from young ages to help put food on the table.

I was also fascinated by all of the descriptions of African food. I can imagine students giving a book report based on the Rwendigo Tales, enlisting them to look up pictures of local dishes, such as posho, described as “corn meal; usually cooked into a thin porridge with boiling water or hot milk and sugar, or steamed into a thick bread-like starch base for a meal.” Readers will also learn that sombe is “a sauce made of chopped cooked cassava leaves, similar to spinach.”

After reading A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star, I’m eager to continue journeying through Rwendigo in the first two books in the series: A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest, and A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue, all published by New Growth Press. Best of all, the author plans to share a portion of her book royalties to a “fund that enables real children to emerge with resilience from childhoods threatened by poverty, rebel warfare, human trafficking, malnutrition, loss, and fear.”

Teen and adult readers may be curious to learn more about medical mission internships available through the organization, Serge, which the author serves in Africa. From Serge, we learn that a purchase of this book:

…enables orphans to receive an education, babies of HIV-positive mothers to receive food, children who have never held a book to receive a library, and much more. These small acts of justice and mercy have the power to bring hope and enable communities to write new endings to their own stories.

About the Author:

J. A. Myhre serves as a doctor with Serge in East Africa where she has worked for over two decades. She is passionate about health care for the poor, training local doctors and nurses, promoting childhood nutrition and development, and being the hands of Jesus in the hardest places. She is married to her best friend and colleague Scott, and together they have raised four children for whom many of her stories were written as Christmas presents.

I appreciate LitFuse and New Growth Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Children's Books,Faith,Family,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Travel to Africa: A Forest, A Flood, and An Unlikely Star



November 1, 2015

A Respectable Actress

One of our favorite spots to vacation as a family is St. Simon’s Island, off the coast of Georgia. Every time we visit, I learn something new about the history of the island, especially when we go exploring on rainy days. There’s a beautiful old church, Christchurch, that seems to pull me with a magnetic force toward its rich layers of drama and history.

When I heard about Dorothy Love’s new novel that takes place on St. Simon’s Island and Savannah, I couldn’t wait to travel through the pages of time into an 1870s murder mystery. I was completely intrigued!

India Hartley, a famous and beautiful actress, is now alone after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. During the second night’s performance, something goes terribly wrong. India’s co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is found holding her own smoking gun!

After she is arrested and put in jail, a benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best lawyer in Savannah, to defend her. A handsome widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simon’s Island. He must increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point. Hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.

Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the natural beauty of the Georgia lowcountry and is increasingly drawn to Philip.

But a locked room and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise disturbing questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may destroy her or hold the key to her freedom.

What makes this novel even more interesting is that it’s inspired by the life of a real 19th-century woman, Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble. She was an English actress who moved to Georgia in the 1830s and married Pierce Butler, a wealthy plantation owner. She kept a diary of her life on St. Simon’s, which was published in 1863, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation.

In an author’s note, Dorothy Love also explains that while Indigo Point is entirely a fictional creation, it is based on King’s Retreat, which is documented in the collected letters of Anna Matilda Page King. For anyone who is interested in Georgia history, A Respectable Actress may serve as a springboard into the lives of real characters who lived on St. Simon’s Island.

After reading A Respectable Actress, I realized this will definitely not be the only Dorothy Love book I read! I was fascinated to learn that one of the characters who appears in this novel, Celia Browning Mackay, is the main character in a previous work, The Bracelet. I love the city of Savannah, so I have added this book to my wish list!

Throughout this novel, the theme of grief is explored, as India Hartley works through her first year of losing her father. It’s helpful for anyone dealing with grief, and I was touched to read Dorothy Love’s account of how she learned to write through her own grief when she found out her beloved brother had terminal cancer.

I hope you will find time to read A Respectable Actress. Through encountering it, I have fallen even further in love with coastal Georgia, and I know you will too!

About the Author:
Dorothy LoveA native of west Tennessee, Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels. When she isn’t busy writing or researching her next book, Love enjoys hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her husband Ron and their rambunctious golden retriever. The Loves make their home in the Texas hill country.
Find Dorothy online: website, Twitter, Facebook.

Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: American Authors,Book Reviews,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Falling in Love with Coastal Georgia in A Respectable Actress



May 13, 2013

ImageProxyServletWelcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a nine-day celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.
 
AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.


And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
~

Mother Ship by Melody Murray

Mother Ship (N.) – a ship that serves or carries one or more smaller ships.

Raising two boys in India is quite nice, really. We have monkeys, scooters, plenty of dirt, and mountains. The challenges are comical. I found very quickly on that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. It’s been an excellent motto for our three years thus far, one I learned shortly after our arrival here in June of 2010.

We’d been in India for just three days when I had my first major meltdown. Our two boys, ages three and four, were sitting in big plastic buckets in our smelly bathroom, covered with mosquito bites, jetlagged as can be. I was frantically pouring cold water over them, trying to scrub off the India grime that had caked on their scrawny little bodies. I was having to hold them like puppy dogs so they wouldn’t scurry out from underneath the cold water. It was a far cry from the sweet, warm, bubbly, happy bath time we’d experienced together for the past four years in the States! Talk about culture shock. They were in shock. I was in shock. I’m sure the neighbors were in shock, too. I’m not sure my boys have ever seen me scream, cry, and stomp that much. Thank God it is just a memory now.

Somehow, by God’s grace, we’ve figured out life here. It looks much different than I had ever thought it would look, especially as a mother. We don’t go to the library, make elaborate crafts, play T-ball, shop at Target, sing in church choir, or take family bike rides. I have had to redefine my ideal upbringing for my children and have had to let go of many expectations. But I’ve managed to grasp hold of a new set of dreams.

My children are global kids. They have an incredible adventure every day. They see the “majority world” firsthand. I think they are some of the most privileged kids I know. I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself that my kids don’t get to go to ballgames or have a huge tree house or wear cute clothes. Why focus on what I think they’ve lost, only to lose sight of what they’re gaining?

murraypg

My attitude shift didn’t come easily. I can be quite stubborn. I clung to what I knew and what I thought was “normal” and “right,” as all of us moms do. I’d cry after phone conversations with friends back home who had their children signed up for karate, soccer, and swim lessons, with loads of choices for good schools, churches, and neighborhoods. I had nothing of the sort available for my kids, and I felt bitter and resentful.

But then I slowly began to change. Slowly, after months of getting over culture shock and cold baths, we began to love this place and the people we were with. We began to know them, understand them, become like them. Our community here became our family. Just this week, I’ve been sick with an awful kidney infection, and my living room has been full of my Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian friends, bringing me food, rubbing my feet, playing with my children, washing my dishes. I’ve never experienced community in this way before. My boys are loved so well by so many. And they are learning how to love back, even when it’s not easy.

My attitude shift didn’t come quickly, but when it happened, it took a 180°. I realized how wrong I’d been. These people I live with—their kids don’t have organized sports, church choirs, or fancy vacations either. Their kids aren’t signed up for after-school activities and aren’t becoming multi-skilled elementary school prodigies. Yet, in spite of this, they are content. Like none I’ve ever seen. They love each other. Like none I’ve ever seen. They have very little, yet they have so very much.
 
In the western world of comparisons and endless striving, I believe we sometimes lose touch of the things we actually care most about. I know most of us moms actually don’t care whether our children are the best at T-ball or whether their crafts look better than the next kid’s. But I think we all care deeply that our kids are loved, and that they know how to love. We all have a common dream that our kids will grow up to be world-changers, to strive for what is right, to love the unloved, to see the world in a different way. These are the deepest dreams of moms. So let’s not forget that the most important things we can give our kids are not the things we can buy them or sign them up for. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is to give them sails, let them explore new things, meet new people, and learn to make lasting change in this world.

So join me this Mother’s Day. Let’s all be “mother ships,” leading our kids to new adventures, new beginnings, new relationships. Let’s serve and carry our little ones to places they can only dream of, whether it be making dinner for a neighbor, smiling at the homeless man in front of the grocery store, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or moving to India. Let’s take them with us and teach them how to sail.
 
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” —Grace Murray Hopper

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068In June 2010, an opportunity arose to work with a small needy community in the Himalayas, so David and Melody Murray and their two young boys packed their bags and moved to Rajpur, North India. Mel has grown JOYN, fulfilling her passion to connect artisans with western markets. They now have a diverse and growing team of Americans, Australians, Indians, Tibetans and Nepalis working together to create a community that strives to take care of each other and bring opportunity to as many as they can. Visit her website for more information.

 
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By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Crafty people and things,Faith,Family,Motherhood,Parenting,Travel,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on DAY 9 – Mother Ship by Melody Murray



December 19, 2012

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.

We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items (books, a gift pack, music CDs) from the contributors! Enter now on Facebook or at the Pearl Girls blog. The winner will announced on January 2, 2013 at the Pearl Girls blog.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

Year of Adversity Brings Joy

By Leslie Gould

I’ve been writing Amish fiction for nearly three years now—telling stories about non-resistant people who live a simple life. It’s a nice reprieve from my own life.

When my husband, Peter, joined the Army Reserve back in the mid 1980s, I wasn’t thrilled about it. Nor did I believe him when he said he’d probably never see action. Sure, the Cold War was ending and—for a short time—all seemed well in the world, but I had a degree in history. I knew better. I didn’t want to be a controlling wife (as new to the job as I was!) and come out and say he absolutely couldn’t do it. And it did help that he was joining a medical unit. Still I had my reservations.

We’ve been far more fortunate than many military families, but still it’s been quite a ride. The first exciting episode began in 1990 when Peter flew to Germany on Christmas Eve to work in an Army hospital during Desert Storm, leaving me behind with our two young sons. During the next twenty years, Peter went from being a Lt. to being a Col. and commanding a unit. Countless maneuvers and a mobilization occurred during that time, but his Army Reserve career culminated in his deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.

My days throughout last year were an odd combination of hearing the daily news from a war zone via Skype and then writing about the plain life of the Amish. By last December I was working on my third Amish novel of the year while, in contrast, Peter and his field hospital staff had cared for hundreds of NATO soldiers and Afghan nationals, endured ten months of rocket fire, and continued to grieve the killing of one of their own.

Surprisingly, what seemed like it might be our worst Christmas ever, even harder than in 1990, wasn’t. Our four children (one teen and three young adults now) rallied to help make it a memorable day. We counted our blessings—Peter was well, we had all we needed, and God was at work in the life of our family. The result was an underlying joy, deeper than what we’d felt during past Christmases.

In reflection, I wrote: When it started, I thought 2011 might be one of our worst years. But it hasn’t been. Sure, it’s been one of our hardest, but a lot of good has come from it.

That was evident on Christmas morning as we Skyped with Peter. We were so thankful for the good connection and for all of us to be “together” that we hardly noticed we really weren’t.

This December, Peter is back at his civilian job (as a manager for a hospital corporation) and also commanding a nearby Army Reserve unit, which means one weekend a month and plenty of evenings—but no rockets or causalities.

I’m working on a new Amish novel and still enjoying my “time” with those who practice non-resistance, which doesn’t discount the appreciation I have for my husband’s service. I’ve even grown to the place where I’m thankful he joined the military. They’ve served each other well.

Our year of adversity resulted in a deep joy. I’m pretty sure it will carry over to this Christmas as well.

***

Leslie Gould is the award-winning author of fifteen novels, including the #1 bestseller and Christy Award winner The Amish Midwife, co-written with Mindy Starns Clark. Her latest release is Courting Cate, a retelling of the “Taming of the Shrew.” Leslie lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Peter, and their four children. www.lesliegould.com

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Travel,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on 12 Pearls of Christmas | Day 6 – Year of Adversity Brings Joy by Leslie Gould



May 5, 2011

Welcome back to another day in the Pearl Girls Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series.

You still have a few days to enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful hand crafted pearl necklace. To enter, just {CLICK THIS LINK} and fill out the short form. Contest runs 5/1-5/8 and the winner will on 5/11. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT Mother’s Day gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

And to all you MOMS out there! Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Day Wish by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Heads up: Margaret McSweeney deserves a medal, or at least a commendation for giving everyone a much deserved Mother’s Day rest. Okay, y’all can be seated. I’m glad you agree, but you’re supposed to be taking a load off, remember? Oh, and full disclosure—Margaret didn’t know I was going to say that so I hope she leaves it in, and no, I didn’t do it just because I’m ridiculously nostalgic about the theme of her community, although I am. As the Belle of All Things Southern, one who is southern to the bone, I have a thing about pearls.

When I was a teenager, add-a-pearl necklaces were all the rage. They may not be as wildly popular anymore as they were back in the day but I still say they’ll always be a classic concept: a gift of a single pearl on a dainty chain given with the intentions of adding other pearls on important holidays and special occasions. Today, I see add-a-pearls as a beautiful reminder of the accumulated wisdom we learn from our mamas.  Oh, sure, we snicker as young girls because not all of their advice strikes us as useful and some of it seems positively fossilized, but hopefully, over time and with the Father’s blessing, we gain enough perspective to see that these mama-isms—the important values and the silly little lagniappe— are all increasing in value with the years.  By the way, that’s my Mother’s Day wish for each of you, that we’d each take the time and the responsibility to thread these precious heirlooms into treasures worthy of bequeathing to the next generation. Mother’s Day…

May I be honest? I’m looking ahead to the annual celebration with somewhat mixed emotions. I’m not feeling very Mother of the Year. Instead of cooking dinner for my most deserving mama and enjoying her company, instead of reveling in the love of my husband, kids, and grands, (known as the Baby Czars of All Things Southern), I’ll be on the road, touring with my latest book “Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy.” I’ve got Mama’s gift bought, wrapped, and ready to be delivered by my beloved hubby, and my grown kids understand that I didn’t choose the release date, but the facts remain:  I won’t be there. (Shameless plugs time, anyone? My daughter blogs at Kitchen Belleicious and is raising funds to build an orphanage in Rwanda at Shelter a Child http://www.shelterachild.com/ and my daughter-in-law celebrates the daily details of getting to know the Holy One at Providence, http://providence-carey.blogspot.com). I won’t get to enjoy Mama tickling the ivory from the piano bench of Melbourne Baptist Church and I won’t be overdosing on baby sugah. Sigh.

But, then, I mentioned mixed emotions earlier, didn’t I? Well, before some sweet soul cues the violin music, perhaps I should lighten up and come clean on what Mr. Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”  It so happens that while the 8th of May will find me miles from home, it’ll also find me in Savannah, Georgia where I’ve secured myself a little reservation at that famous establishment belonging to Mrs. Paula Deen, the Queen of Southern Cooking. Indeed, y’all, I’ll be suffering for Jesus at The Lady and Sons. I know. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Regardless of where you spend it, I wish you each a Happy Mother’s Day. I’d love to think that everyone reading my words had a mother like mine, a woman of faith who taught me from childhood of the Risen Savior who saves souls and anchors lives. But, dear reader, if that’s not your past, I hope you know it can be your future. I pray you’ll be the one that begins such a legacy, and that you’ll be moved to start building that heritage today.

I’d love to see y’all on the road somewhere. Watch for me, and I’ll watch for you. I’ll be the one with an empty glass of sweet tea looking, always looking, for a refill.

Hugs,
Shellie

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, known as the Belle of All Things Southern is a radio host, columnist, author, speaker and founder of the All Things Southern online community, www.allthingssouthern.com. She loves meeting, greeting, laughing and learning with the whole wide world or as many who wander her way. Shellie once dreamed of writing great important things that changed the world, only once she started writing the world grinned and christened her a humorist. Shellie saw this as a problem at first, until she discovered that the laughter softens hearts, builds relationships, and invites her into people’s hurting hearts where she can share her own, which is exactly where she wanted to be all along. Look for Shellie’s latest book, Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy wherever fine books are sold.




March 22, 2011



I love to travel, don’t you? In my 20s, I enjoyed wandering the planet as an itinerant English teacher, but these days, I’m thankful if I get to travel a few hours from home. I do most of my globe trekking from the cheap seat of my armchair — and that is why I LOVED reading Sibella Giorello’s latest novel, The Mountains Bow Down.

Why? Because this author whisked me away to the wilds of Alaska! On a cruise ship, The Spirit of Odysseus. Where I got to see glaciers through sentences like this:

Smothered with evergreens, the steeps pointed to a sky so blue it whispered of eternity … And where a liquid silver sea lapped the rocky shore, a bald eagle surveyed the cold water for fish.

*Aah.*

Not only was the setting of this book thrilling, I also thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the mind of FBI agent, Raleigh Harmon, who uses the fascinating field of forensic geology to solve her crimes. And yes — a crime does take place aboard the ship. While most of the passengers are lounging, eating, and gazing at the gorgeous scenery, a woman goes missing and tragedy occurs. In the short span of a 5-day cruise, it’s up to Raleigh Harmon and her Tom Cruise-like sidekick, Special Agent Jack Stephenson, to piece together the mystery and put a monster behind bars.

So there’s a little romance on board, though Raleigh isn’t too swayed by Jack’s charm and stays focused on her mission of justice. As I read the book, I kept sneaking peeks at the author’s photo, thinking this book has to be somewhat autobiographical! Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology. I could imagine her as the novel’s heroine, an FBI agent solving a crime based on microscopic dust fibers. It was so cool to learn how this is done. (Especially since I’m married to a geologist.)

Here’s the back cover copy of the book, if you’d like to learn more:

Everything’s going to work out. Time away always makes things better…

That’s what FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon believes as she boards a cruise to Alaska. A land of mountains and gems and minerals, The Last Frontier is a dream destination for this forensic geologist who’s hoping to leave behind a hectic work schedule and an engagement drained of romance.

But when a passenger goes missing and winds up dead, Raleigh’s vacation suddenly gets lost at sea. The ship’s security chief tries to rule the death a suicide, but Raleigh’s forensics background points to a much darker conclusion: Somewhere onboard, a ruthless murderer walks free.

Engulfed by one of her toughest cases yet, Raleigh requests assistance from the FBI and receives her nemesis-perpetual ladies man Special Agent Jack Stephanson. As the cruise ship sails through the Inside Passage, Raleigh has five days to solve a high-profile murder, provide consultation for a movie filming onboard, and figure out her increasingly complicated feelings for Jack-who might not be such a jerk after all.

And that’s only her work life. Family offers even more challenges. Joined on the cruise by her mother and aunt, Raleigh watches helplessly as disturbing rifts splinter her family.

Like the scenery that surrounds the cruise ship, Raleigh discovers a situation so steep and so complex that even the mountains might bow down before it.

I hope you have a chance to read this book, and if you click on the picture below, you also have a chance to win a getaway on your own Alaskan Cruise!

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Mountains Bow Down with a blog tour, a Cruise prize pack worth over $500 and a Facebook Party! Don’t miss a minute of the fun.

One Grand Prize winner will receive:

  • A $500 gift certificate toward the cruise of their choice from Vacations To Go.
  • The entire set of the Raleigh Harmon series.

To enter click one of the icons below. Then tell your friends. And enter soon – the giveaway ends on 4/1! The winner will be announced at Sibella’s Raleigh Harmon Book Club Party on FB April 5th, 2011! Don’t miss the fun – prizes, books and gab!

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

About the Facebook Party: Join Sibella and fans of the Raleigh Harmon series on April 5th at 5:00 pm PST (6 MST, 7 CST & 8 EST) for a Facebook Book Club Party. Sibella will be giving away some fun prizes, testing your trivia skills and hosting a book chat about the Raleigh Harmon books. Have questions you’d like to chat about – leave them on the Event page.


Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College. After riding a motorcycle across the country, she worked as a features writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. She now lives in Washington state with her husband and sons. Find out more about Sibella and her other books at her website. www.sibellagiorello.com




November 30, 2010


I love field trips. Whenever my kids’ school sends home a permission slip for something fun and interesting, I’m there. I ride the bus, bouncing along with other parents, enjoying an excuse to break out of my normal routine and learn something new.

Still, it came as a surprise when I recently got invited to attend an educational field trip — just for me. I was somehow selected to join a group of media attending a conference hosted by the United Egg Producers, held in sunny Tampa, Florida.

I’m not sure why they chose me — perhaps a secret computer at my local grocery store alerted them to the fact that THIS WOMAN BUYS A LOT OF EGGS. It’s true. We eat eggs every day at our house — fried, boiled, or scrambled for breakfast; deviled and sliced for after-school snacks; and baked in all sorts of muffins, cookies, pancakes, waffles, and cornbread.

Eggs fill my kids up and give them energy. They’re also an inexpensive source of protein. Yet I hadn’t given much thought as to WHY eggs are so abundant in the U.S., as well as why I can buy them so cheaply.

We tried for several years to maintain our own free-range, organic egg-laying hens. But eventually we lost every single one of them to predators — neighborhood dogs, hawks, and weasels. In a way it was a relief. Chickens don’t lay forever, and once they age out, you either keep them as feathery pets or … you know, eat them. Which I couldn’t imagine doing.

So I went to Tampa, curious about how modern egg farmers operate. I went alone — with an open mind, a camera, and a little black notebook.

Our group was eclectic: I met other mom bloggers, healthy living writers, cooking experts, and even a senior beauty editor from New York. Everyone was super friendly, and I blended right in, trying to act like I do this sort of thing all the time.

We rode on a bus, actually a van, out to a modern egg-producing farm. Along the way, we listened to speakers and watched a video about how hens create and lay their eggs. Amazing stuff! When we arrived, our van had to be hosed down, and each of us suited up from head to toe in biosecurity jumpsuits. This is why school groups usually aren’t invited to tour egg farms — absolutely everything must be 100% sanitary, free of pathogens.

Here’s our little group, trying to get used to our new outfits (I am on the far right):



And here I am holding one of these hard-working beautiful white leghorn hens:




I cannot begin to describe to you all the emotions that raced through my body as I entered a barn housing over 100,000 chickens. Mostly, I felt gratitude. I realized I’ve never fully appreciated the labor behind each and every egg I bring into my home.

We learned that this facility packages 750,000 eggs per day. It brought back memories of watching “Mr. Rogers” with my children, as I wanted to ask each person working there a million questions. It was fascinating to watch the eggs going from hens to egg cartons within a matter of minutes.



Next, we visited a cage-free farm. Here the hens can roam around freely.




This breed of bird is more docile than the white leghorn, and lays beautiful brown eggs.


After our busy morning of visiting farms, we spent the afternoon listening to professors and other health experts explain the scientific research behind modern egg farming. I learned that the United Egg Producers have created welfare guidelines to ensure that hens have “adequate space, nutritious food, clean water, proper lighting, and fresh air daily.” It’s a voluntary program, and only farms that adhere to these strict guidelines can display the UEP logo on their packaging:



So, after listening to all of these well-informed people and seeing for myself what modern egg farms look like, I came away with one main thought: as consumers, we have plenty of choices when it comes to eggs.

We can buy the inexpensive white eggs that come from caged hens, or we can buy the pricier cage-free eggs. We can buy from local organic farms, or we can fill up our carts at the supermarket. If we have the time, space, and inclination, we can raise our own chickens to feed our families. I encourage you to research all of this for yourself. You can take a virtual tour of a UEP-certified egg farm here.

My special thanks to the United Egg Producers for hosting me on this tour. I learned a lot, made new friends, and gained a greater appreciation of the network of farms and people who work to bring food into my home.

This is definitely a mom’s field trip I’ll never forget.






November 16, 2010

Every year, I read hundreds, perhaps thousands, of picture books, yet I rarely take the time to review them. Usually my eyes are propped open as I mumble my way through “just one more story!” to my two younger kids, who love finding another excuse to stall their bedtime.

And then a book like One More Acorn comes along, and I feel like I’m holding a little bit of magic in my hands.

The story itself is enchanting. It’s autumn in Washington DC, and a gray squirrel named Earl must scamper through town to find food for his family. He knows he’s hidden a big acorn somewhere, and he’s off to find it. His wife and children are waiting for him in their small blue house perched high on a tree limb.

As we journey with Earl, we see the beauty of our nation’s capital, lit up with the golden colors of fall. The illustrations are bright-hued and yet soft and muted at the same time. Earl happens upon a “Children’s Day Parade” in which children are encouraged to plant a tree.


And here we come to a dilemma: the children see a big acorn that would be perfect for planting — yet it’s also a potential hearty meal for our hard-working squirrel, who has hungry mouths waiting to be fed at home. What will happen to the acorn? Tee hee. I won’t tell you. Go to your library and check it out. (Or buy it if you can’t borrow it.)

Reading One More Acorn gave me a chance to talk about our nation’s capital to my children, pointing out the various monuments and scenic locations in the pictures. But what truly drew me into this book is the Author’s Note at the back of the book.

I usually read these to myself, but that night my kids begged me to read it to them, so I did. Wow. Here’s the story. You know that book, Corduroy, about the little bear who’s missing his overall button? Well, it was written by Don Freeman, who wrote and illustrated many well-known books for children.

Don Freeman died in 1978, leaving behind his sketchbooks, notebooks, and unfinished works in the care of his only son, Roy Freeman. Decades later, Roy discovered the handwritten text and rough sketches of this squirrel book, which his dad had begun in the early 1960s during a trip to Washington DC. Don Freeman apparently abandoned the project after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

So, thirty years after his father’s death, Roy Freeman found the vision to complete the second half of his dad’s book, enlisting the help of talented artist, Jody Wheeler. The resulting creation is truly a work of art.

I think this would make a wonderful read-aloud book for teachers and librarians, especially as we celebrate the colors of fall and teach children about the change of seasons. From a child’s view, acorns are fun to pick up and collect in coat pockets, but from a squirrel’s view, acorns are food.

One More Acorn is a quiet book. I’m a person who likes to read quiet books to my children. That’s a phrase I learned from author Jane Yolen at SCBWI last spring — she said it’s getting harder for writers to publish quiet books these days. There are no Disney movie tie-ins, flashy pop-outs, or over-the-top humor. Just a quiet story — of a little squirrel, and of a son, finishing up the good work begun by his father.

I’m very thankful we discovered it!




August 27, 2010



We went and saw Eat Pray Love last weekend. I just had to see it, even though I haven’t read the book yet. (I’ve got it on hold at the library, so it should be coming soon.) I was so curious about this story — a woman’s year-long spiritual memoir, as she travels through Italy, India, and Indonesia. Eat Pray Love. What a great title.

The book, which came out four years ago, is a true phenomenon. It’s #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in paperback nonfiction, and it’s made the list for 180 consecutive weeks. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, has appeared on Oprah Winfrey telling her story, and of course now it’s a blockbuster movie starring Julia Roberts.

But I went to the movie not knowing much about the book, so I confess it was a little messy and confusing for me — real life is never as neat and tidy as fiction. This movie is a woman’s true story — a very brave woman in my opinion, and I admire her for being a writer willing to share it.

The film opens showing us the glamorous life Julia Roberts/Liz Gilbert is leading: she’s a travel writer based in New York who seemingly has it all: a cute husband who’s crazy about her, a beautiful home, career success with travel assignments around the world. What more could she want?

Yet something is amiss — Liz is unhappy. Although it’s not clear in the movie, she apparently doesn’t want to have a baby. She holds her friend’s baby and asks her, “How did you know you wanted this?” and her friend shows her a box full of little baby clothes that she’s kept for years. Liz then discloses that she’s kept this same type of box … full of magazine clips about travel destinations she longs to visit. She’s confused, and so are we, the movie watchers.

Liz decides to divorce her husband, and this bothered me the whole movie. It was the first time I can remember not sympathizing with a main character. I kept wanting her to wake up and realize she’d made a mistake — but she leaves her old life behind to embark on new adventures. She has a fling with an actor, who’s not quite as tantalizing when they’re in the laundry mat, broke, folding clothes together.

So Liz decides to see the world — these three “I” countries, Italy, India, Indonesia, as she explores her inner “I” and tries to heal from the mess she’s made of her life. Here’s something else that confused me — the movie doesn’t make it clear where she gets the money to do this. There was no scene where Liz approaches her agent or editor and snags a six-figure advance (as she does in real life) to finance her travels. The whole movie I kept wondering, “How does she have enough money to do this?” But in reality, she’s been paid up front to write a book.



So it’s a little similar to the Julie and Julia story and movie, except Julie Powell wrote her year-long blog first, which got picked up by a publisher and turned into a book, then a movie. Gilbert’s book idea was sold before she left, then her travels became a book, which became a movie. OK. See, I’m making this easy for you, so you won’t be as confused as I was.

The film itself is gorgeous. I loved traveling right along with Liz/Julia as she experiences the world far from the madding crowd of New York. (And oh, you’ll want to dive head-first into that Italian pasta!) I looked around the packed theater at people of all sizes and ages, realizing most of us couldn’t afford to travel even for a week to one of these countries. Yet for less than 10 bucks, we’re getting to eat, pray, and love our way through three. Pizza and gelato in Italy, silence and prayer in India, and fresh air and romance in Bali. *sigh.*



There are many reasons for seeing a movie, and here’s one where you’ll spend your money to escape, and that’s OK. For all of us scribblers, the fun part is that Liz is writing the whole time — emails back home, journal entries, tap-tap-tap into her laptop, as she’s forming her thoughts into a book. We can relate to this.

One more confusing thing I’ll clear up: the actress Julia Roberts is 42, although the woman she’s playing was only 31 when she took off on her journey. I think that’s an important point. As I watched the film, I personally felt relieved that I’d gotten most of my traveling out of my system in my early to mid-20s before marriage.

So back to that point I made in the beginning — I couldn’t sympathize with Liz who left her husband because she was unhappy. I kept thinking — why didn’t she and her husband travel together? That seems like more fun to me. When I watched Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, I sympathized with her the whole movie, as did everybody. Liz is a more complex character, that’s for sure.

If you want to find out more nitty-gritty details about the PG-13 rating, check out the Plugged-In review. I definitely wouldn’t take any of my kids to see it. This is a movie you go see on a girls-night-out, in my opinion. But be prepared — the ending is a surprise for those who haven’t read the book.

Which I plan to do very soon!