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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

###

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!




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.