Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Steps

One thing I had trouble figuring out when I first began to write my novel, The Miting, was what genre of fiction it represented. It didn't seem to fit Chick Lit genre...Mystery?...uh...no. How about Sci-fi? Waaay no. And I don't even have a clue as to what "Hen Lit" is! (I'm going to have to research that one.)


In order to find a place for my novel, I began to go through the Internet to see how other authors described their Amish fiction. It didn't take long to discover that it is in the...TA DA: Amish Fiction Genre. How hard was that? And how silly I felt for wasting so much angst on something positively logical and simple.


That's one thing that I've discovered in this long process of learning about writing: most things appear more difficult on the surface than they really are so following a logical plan of order makes each process a much more do-able work.


With this in mind, and the Christmas season long past to use as an excuse to delay progress, I plan to tackle my novel to begin the revisions of the first nine chapters, finish the chapters that lurk only in my mind and haven't made it to print yet, and begin learning about the process of finding a literary agent to represent me. That last item seems to be the biggest hurdle for me to overcome at this point, but I know that with careful study and skillful, yet purposeful plodding, I will accomplish even that seemingly impossible goal!

I'm excited about the journey! And I'm excited about my novel, and knowing that I've already started on the path to being published helps me to view the future of my work with less trepidation. God leads...I follow...and His guidance assures me with each step forward. To quote my dear friend and pastor/mentor, Carl Richardson: "I'm going forward in faith!"

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Proverbs 16:3

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

"I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps." Jeremiah 10:23




Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thought-Provoking Interviews


I listened to this set of interviews on the Mission to Amish People web site and it is very thought-provoking, to say the least! Most of the interviews take eight minutes, but two take longer. If you have time to listen to these, your eyes will be opened to the "hole" in some religious people's understandings of their own denominations and to the beliefs of Christianity itself.

These interviews are listed on the MAP homepage under the tab on the left titled "An Interview with an Amish Man".

Click here to listen: Religious Interviews


Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas is Over

Well, it's over for another year, and like every other year, I'm a wee bit depressed. We still have our tree up, and though it will probably stay up until New Year's Day, I know the end is in sight. The hustle and bustle of Christmas is fun and happy for me, and I'm always genuinely sad, at first, to take it all down. But something happens once those first few ornaments end up in the box: I pick up speed to empty the living room and dining room of every last vestige of Christmas! When all the boxes are packed away again, I breathe a sigh of relief and look around at my simpler decor.

This year, we plan to take photos of each area of the house that's decorated and print out the pictures to tape on the boxes that will hold those displays and ornaments. Any Christmas item left out of boxes can then be placed in another set of boxes and labeled "Goodwill" or "Garage Sale" or "Trash". Whew! The older I get, the less decorating gets done and knowing I won't have to remember what goes where next year will be awesome! I'm thinking that even my hubby and son should be able to help me decorate NEXT year...of course, they haven't figured out that that's the motivation behind my "bright" idea, but...shhhh...what they don't know, won't hurt them.

It was a happy Christmas...Dad is still with us...Mom is relatively healthy...and all my siblings are still nearby...my hubby is in remission (yeah!)...and my son is doing well in homeschool and is still a sweet kid in spite of turning 16 (yeah!)..so I'm content. And that's a good place to be at the end of 2008!



Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Gift of My Heart

Jesus came...He took our hurts...He took our pain...He took our illnesses...He took our sorrows...and He gave us:

Life...Love...Peace...Healing


In my heart, He knows I want one thing more than any other this Christmas...a miracle:

The Miracle I Want to See

My Dad, he speaks and smiles at me, and that surprises me, you see,
because he hasn’t said a word for many weeks.

Is this the miracle, I ask, as I go about my task
of turning down the sheets upon his bed.

I brush his teeth; comb his hair; place the pads upon his chair,
and wonder why his days have come to this.

But now I have a piece of hope, a bit of that elusive rope
to hold on to on days he slips away.

The miracle I want to see is the Dad I knew returned to me;
the mighty man I knew through childhood days.

The simple words he spoke tonight have brought hope home as if it might
be generous and give him back his life.

I am an optimist at this, a daughter with a wistful wish,
I cast upon the evening’s twinkling stars.

I say my prayers, I bend my will to wait for God to move and still
I want to press Him with this one request:

The miracle I want to see is the Dad I knew returned to me;
the mighty man my grown-up heart still needs.

My Dad, he speaks and smiles at me, and that surprises me, you see,
because I love him more the more I wait.


Merry Christmas, Dad...I love you!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: The Shack

I just finished reading "The Shack" by William Paul Young. I'm not a professional book reviewer so my thoughts are pure opinion, but here goes.

The things that resonated with me in this book:

The character of the Holy Spirit was, at first,the hardest for me to identify with, but as I read further, the joy, the beauty, the music, the laughter, and the loveliness of all things created that was incorporated in the character of the Holy Spirit began to draw me. I finally grew to love the ethereal aspect of this character and, in fact, have often thought that part of the triune God that shows up in the human as creative and soulful is like the Holy Spirit. The heart of us, so to speak, is akin to that aspect of God. In the end, this turned out to be a wonderful and beautiful characterization to me.


The message that God thinks we're special to Him also resonated with me. I have trouble with all the bashing I do to myself...it's one of the reasons I've struggled with writing devotionals. I tend to nit pick at my failings in my walk with God. It's almost like I take a secret pride in pulling out the proverbial whip and flailing myself for all my faults and ways I've not served or not noticed or not DONE enough, and this book opened my eyes further to how much we beat ourselves up in the Christian community. In the past few years, I could hear the still small voice of God saying to me that Christ did not come to condemn the world, so a part of me was already coming awake to this restless notion that perhaps I was being too hard on myself and my fellow believers. Therefore, reading the characterization of a loving and forgiving God felt real to me and of importance.

The things that didn't resonate with me:

There were minuscule political homages paid to humanistic thinking peppered through the book that felt jarring to the spiritual over-all theme. Not too many, but just enough that when I read them, they stood out like a white dot against a black background and those few sentences interrupted my flow of thinking spiritually as I read. It distracted me to annoyance at times and sometimes prompted me to put down the book for the night.

The writing itself, though more than adequate, often didn't strike me as superb or gripping. I noticed things like repeated words in a phrase and too many of that kind of thing makes me lose my train of thought and begin to think of other words that could have replaced the too often used word. Maybe that's just a quirky writer thing, but it did bug me.

The ideas presented, though refreshing in some ways, weren't so terribly new that I gasped and said, "Wow! I've never thought of that before!". But again, I'm the type of person who analyzes all things to death...it isn't a new concept to me that we mere mortals have no way to really know or describe the awesome nature and love of our God.

And lastly, I think this is a book that is written to the Church. Though it has been presented as being of value to all audiences, I just can't see that a spiritually blinded individual will understand some of the religious phrases and ideas presented in this book...or even care.

All in all, I would recommend this book for Christians and for those who have a hunger to think a bit outside the box about the nature of God. But to categorize this as anything other than allegory would be a mistake. There is nothing that should offend the Christian, theologically, if it is read with the idea that it is a work of fiction and not a serious exposition of scripture. There is a hint of Kierkegaard-ish existentialism just under the surface, but not so much that it screams this theological bent in the reader's ear.

I do not agree with the cover blurb, however, that this book is on a par with having the potential to do for our generation what Pilgrim's Progress was able to do for Bunyan's generation. Frankly, in my opinion, it is not THAT deep!



Monday, December 22, 2008

O Star!

I have placed a music player in my blog this week and will have it there until Christmas so visitors can enjoy a little music while they read.

The first selection on the player list is titled "Alleluia" by Randall Thompson (which happens to be my very favorite song), but that information from playlist is incorrect. It is actually titled "Choose Something Like a Star". Thompson wrote this piece using Robert Frost's poetry. I think it's beautiful, but I had a little trouble understanding the words as sung by the choir. I've posted the words below because I think this is such an outstanding and poignant blending of music and poetry that I'd love to share it!

When I hear music and read poetry like this, my soul recognizes the Hand of the Creator...nothing this lovely and heart-touching could just happen from primordial soup.

Enjoy the music and the poetry!







Choose Something Like a Star

by Robert Frost - 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Fiction



Friday Fiction is being hosted by Rhonda at Beach Reads. Amble on over for more great fiction!


Skip Pulaska's Wiseman Friend

Skip Pulaska and I rode the streetcar to the alley between Johnson’s Town Restaurant and LaFever’s Fine Food Emporium. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and we were hoping to get a free day- old doughnut at the bakery before Ms. Brubaker gave them all away.

Skip hopped off while the car was still moving and caught the bad look of Henry Riley as he pulled the trolley to a stop. He shook his fist at Skip’s back and yelled, “You’re gonna get yourself hurt, Kid. Fall under them wheels and let’s see how smart you are then!” I waited until Henry was fully stopped and stepped off politely while Skip snickered at me from the curb.

“Aww…have to wait for the little ol’ lady,” Skip jeered, and Henry threw him his filthiest look as the air brakes released with a shussssshhh. Henry was muttering “Dumb kids” as he dinged the bell and pulled off.

The sky was bright blue over the pitched roof of the Free United Methodist Church, and I watched the skies for a minute before Skip elbowed me. “C’mon, Rube,” he laughed. “Man! Bring you into town and you look just like the hick you are.” He sauntered to the alley and I followed.

Garbage lay in matted clumps and piles here and there, and the smell of old onions and cooked garlic hung heavy in the air between the buildings.

“Double pee-yew!” Skip hollered. “If people’d come this way and get a whiff of that, they’d never go in that greasy spoon.” He turned and waited for me to catch up with him. “I went to the Bijou last night, Terrence, my boy,” he informed me proudly.

“Did’ja?”

“Yepperoni. And I took that Preston girl.” He strutted like a peacock and I had to smile. Everyone knew she went with anybody, but Skip had to make it sound like a real date.

“No kiddin’,” I supplied. I was Skip’s partner in his life-play and knew my part well.

“Yepperoni,” he repeated. I was more impressed that he had money to go to the movies at all.

“What’d you see?”

“Aw, that goofball ‘Wonderful Life’ movie, but I let Rosalie pick it anyhow.” He threw an empty can against the wall of the Emporium.

“Was it good?”

“Who was watchin,” he snickered.

“Right,” I grunted. It was the bane of my existence that I was perpetually more na├»ve than Skip…he knew it and rubbed my nose in it whenever he could.

“Hey!” he stopped suddenly. “Rosalie told me she goes to your church or somethin’.” He looked me over like this news made me into a creature he’d never met before.

“Yeah? So what?”

“So…she said you’re in a Christmas play tonight.” His face took on a sneer and I knew I was in for it.

“What of it?” I shrugged and started walking toward the back door of the Emporium’s bakery.

“Who’re you playin’…baby Jesus?” he laughed. I shrugged again and pulled the door open. Mrs. Brubaker handed us each two double-glazed, and we went back out to the alley with our hands and mouths stuffed with sticky sugary dough.

Skip wiped his mouth with his jacket sleeve and went right back to the Christmas play topic. “I’m thinkin’ I might come and root you on,” he mumbled around the doughnut.

I nodded but didn’t want to encourage him too much. No telling what a delinquent like him would do to me once he saw me robed and be-decked with purple satin head scarves! I was playing the part of a wiseman, and Skip would never let me live it down if he saw that.

“What’re you doin’ goin’ to church anyway, Man? There ain’t nothin’ to that stuff…Santa and all that junk is make-believe anyway.” He spit for emphasis and kept on walking.

Something came over me and self-preservation fled. “It’s real, all right,” I muttered to the back of his head. He stopped suddenly and turned to me with his mouth open in exaggerated surprise.

“What’d you say, Noodle-head?”

“It’s real. Jesus is real. That’s all”

He looked me over and for once I didn’t flinch from his stare down. He finally dropped his eyes first in concession and then shrugged. “Sure. Whatever, Man.”

He walked on and I followed. He looked back at me again and said nonchalantly, “Like I said, Rube, I’m gonna come root you on. OK?”

“Whatever, Skip, “I answered with a smile.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Night of the Hunted: Paris Rendezvous


Welcome to Friday Fiction! My story today is a light-hearted "romp" through the streets of Paris. Visit Shirley McClay at Sunny Glade for more great fiction!


The Night of the Hunted: Paris Rendezvous


Paris lay before me like a glittery necklace, looped around a rotund lady’s neck. To the right rose the Eiffel Tower. The receding night swirled its foggy velvet cloth around the skeletal-like framework and smothered the sounds of the cars passing beneath and between the famous structure’s feet. I never liked the shape of that thing; it reminded me of a tiger ready to spring on unsuspecting tourists and counterfeit-hawking merchants alike.

I chewed the eraser of the pencil I carried and wetted its tip with my tongue. As I continued to watch the duo, who were strolling just beyond the call of my voice, I made note of their previous rendezvous, writing the information I’d acquired in the battered notebook I carried in my pocket. The misty rain that had begun to fall didn’t stop the pair as they made their way through the darkened cheap streets beside the Seine. Even the boats had stopped gliding over the waters; it was too cold and damp for any tourists to want to be out on the river.

I pulled my collar up and scrunched further into the rain jacket I’d owned for twenty years. Yeah, it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

I spit the eraser top out onto the cobbled street and ambled along behind my subjects. I slipped from darkened doorway to darkened doorway as the two continued to stroll, the wet and dismal air making me impatient for them to conclude their meandering. They finally stopped their aimless walking in front of the infamous Moulin Rouge. Oh “non!” Not there.

The red and yellow neon lights blinked garishly as the larger-than-life windmill flashed its hideous colors over the pavement. It creaked and turned to the syncopated music that was spilling out on the tourists who were waiting in line even at this hour of the early morning.

I sighed. Why did they all end up here? I couldn’t stand the thought of another hunt inside that crowded, sweaty, cigarette smoke-laden tourist trap with its greasy, slippery tiles littered with food debris. I wish they’d sweep those floors.

But the couple in question had other plans. They suddenly darted into the alley that ran beside the old building and disappeared into the hazy darkness beyond. Rats. I’d need to hurry if I didn’t want them to give me the slip. I couldn’t afford to let another pair get away, or my boss would be on my back like escargot on a buttered baguette.

I loped around the crowd and caught a peak of the pair just as they were rounding the corner onto the Boulevard de Clichy. They ran east toward the metro at Blanche. I couldn’t let them disappear into the groups of people congregated there.

I clambered down the steps into the metro but there was no sign of my quarry. “Quel desastre!”* I slowly climbed the stairs back to street level, and just as I was ready to give up, a flash of white moving in the park across the way caught my eye. Could it be? “Oui!” It had to be them!

I edged my way to the path and pounced on my first subject with a yell of triumph. The net settled like a nylon web over the wiggling behind of …a Bison Frise. “Oh non.” The wrong dog! I hauled the squirming, snarling puppy toward my truck and managed to push the petite chien into the waiting cage.

As I latched the back door securely, the rising sun cast its rosy glow over the sleepy park. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied two fluffy tails happily bouncing away from me toward the center of Paris. I narrowed my eyes as I watched their retreating backsides.

“Next time, you mongrels,” I growled.


*Quel desastre: what a disaster!



Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Fiction: A Kiss For Her Baby

A Kiss for Her Baby

The piping hot water in the sink is turning my hands a lobster red. I pull a casserole dish from the sudsy water and run the sponge over and around the rim and surfaces. My shoulders ache from the tension and stress of the day, and I can’t wait to finish this last chore.

As I rinse the glass under steaming water, I suddenly remember where the dish came from. I examine the gold rim and the bright red flowers that are centered on the creamy white middle. She held this dish…and she washed it clean, just as I’m doing…maybe one cold winter evening like this one, after a supper of tuna casserole or, maybe, home-made macaroni and cheese. I place the glass container carefully on the drainer board.

The darkened window above the sink reflects my shadowy face, and I stand still and stare into the past for a minute, trying to imagine my tall husband as a little boy. Did he help her set the table? Would he remember the food she’d prepared in this bowl? Did he laugh with her; stand beside her as they washed and dried the dishes together?

I look around my own modern kitchen and take a swipe at a bead of water on the countertop. The floors are swept, and the dishes are done. The house is quiet at last and I smile at the neatness and order that I know will disappear again in the morning. I turn out the lights on another hectic day and amble down the hall toward bed.

When I come to my son’s room, I stop and peek in. His dark head is snuggled deeply into his pillow, and his blanket is stretched tautly over his long body, one foot sticking out, as usual, for “air” at the bottom of his bed.

Where did my baby go? I can’t resist bending over him to stroke his hair. I used to do this every night. I smile at him and place a kiss on my fingertips to transfer to his cheek.

As I turn to go, I think about whether she did this, too. Did she stand over the bed of my husband in his teen years, watching his lanky form while he slept, regretting the passing of time and wondering, like I do, “Where’d my baby go?”

The question remains in my head as I slip into bed beside my sleeping spouse. His face is pressed tight into his pillow, and his snores are yet on the gentle side. Though I’ve seen many photos of him as a child, it’s difficult for me to imagine this slumbering giant beside me as her son, her boy, and her baby. I sigh as I watch him rest.

My husband had not been my favorite person today. We’d argued and disagreed over every little thing. I’d thought he was too bossy and he’d thought I was too nagging. He’d gone to bed in a huff and I’d been glad he was finally out of my hair.

His hair is ruffled and sticking up and I reach out to smooth it down, but I hesitate. I’m still miffed with him, and the anger I harbor makes me turn my back to him instead.

The devotional I meant to read this morning is lying face-up on the bedside table, so I grab it and open my Bible to Isaiah.

“… you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandied on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you…”*

As a mother…comforts her child…. Hmmm.

I glance back at my husband and think about his mother. I’d never met her; she’d died long before he’d married me, and I’d often wondered if she’d like me. I notice my husband’s eyelashes fanned gently on the bend of his rough cheek. Their soft texture is all that remains as a testament of his little boy face; the face she stroked and kissed at night; the face she loved so much and held so dear.

I feel tears come to my eyes as I remember the harsh words I said to him today. Would I want my son’s wife to say those things to him? No, of course not. She wouldn’t want her son treated this way, either.

I quietly lean down to kiss his cheek as he sleeps. Twice.

“That one was for your Mama. And this one is for me,” I whisper.



*Isaiah 66:13, The Holy Bible, NIV


Monday, December 1, 2008

National Novel Writing Month is Over

I finished the goal of writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month and now the real work begins! Actually, writing 50,000 words in 30 days WAS real work--especially that last two days--it was Thanksgiving weekend after all, and there were many more things I wanted to do....BUT I made myself finish it on Saturday because even though I'd been under this deadline for a month, all of a sudden it felt unbearable...just HAD to get it done and off my shoulders. Once that 50,000 was verified and I was declared a "winner", I could breath again. Funny, eh?

This story has always felt like something I was "meant" to do. But it's not your ordinary Amish book. I pray it's honest, and human, and kind, and hope-filled all at the same time. It's a story that's based on ex-Amish experiences, and some of those experiences are not so happy, but if I wrote an all happy Amish book, it wouldn't reflect real life. None of us are immune from life's mistakes, pains, fears, sins, troubles, and injustices. Neither are the Amish, but I hope this story, which is unique to a group of Amish from my part of the world, can bring some insight into the secret and often misunderstood practices of the most strict Amish sects. That's why I wrote it--to be honest and to reflect the real hearts of real people--with their foibles and human failings and courage.

There's more work to do, and the novel isn't finished, but I'm glad I challenged myself to start it and get more than half of the book written. It was a challenge I honestly didn't think I could meet, but I did and I'm happy!

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year? Who knows, but I'm hoping I'll be too busy editing and preparing this book for publication by then...you never know what the Lord has in mind when you let Him decide your future!


Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Fiction: Be Ma's Guest


For more great fiction, head to Rick's Pod Tales and Ponderings


Be Ma’s Guest

I watched Ma’s door anxiously as Martha and I sat on the floor listening to the radio. When Ma opened her door with a flourish, I tried hiding behind my sister, but just as I feared, Ma’s eyes lit up like a cat on the hunt when she spied me beyond Martha’s skinny shoulders.

“Priscilla, you may come in my room tonight and be my guest.” Ma’s quaint and precise speaking manner belied the torture I knew I would endure as her “guest.” Martha knew it, too, and let out a sigh of relief at being overlooked this time.

Ma’s eyes bored into me as clean as an ice pick while I shuffled around and tried to think of an excuse to get out of going with her. I finally gave up and meekly followed her back to her room. Just as we got to her door, she stopped and pointed her bony finger at Mother.

“You may send Martha in with the popcorn in exactly one hour, Dixie.” Mother nodded absent-mindedly and went on with her darning.

“Priscilla, you may pull that stool up to the fire, and I’ll tell you a story tonight, or would you rather read from my McGuffy’s?”

“Uh…no ma’am. I’d much rather hear your stories.” I was lying like a rug, but I was not about to read to her from her McGuffy’s. My lazy attitude toward school was never more apparent than when I’d read to Ma. As she’d listen to me stumbling along in the text, her eyes would grow blacker and blacker, until she’d finally halt me with a sharp “Enough! You’ve not been practicing your vocabulary words!” I could do without that and the endless drills that would inevitably follow.

So I listened to the stories she’d told me a thousand times before, pioneer tales of how she and my Grandpa had come in a covered wagon and had cleared nearly a hundred acres with nothing but a plow and a hoe.

I was bored to tears ten minutes into the evening. I let my mind and my eyes wander to the fire. I began to imagine all kinds of lovely scenes in those flames as Ma’s droning voice lulled me into another land.

Whap! My errant attention was brought back to Ma’s room by a sharp slap on my knuckles with her ruler.

“Ouch!” I cried.

“A lady never daydreams when someone else is speaking, Priscilla. Mind your P’s and Q’s and act like somebody.”

I turned my eyes back to hers and reluctantly listened. About the time I thought I would keel over from sheer tedium, the knock that heralded the popcorn’s arrival rescued me.

Ma imperiously dismissed my sister with a wave of her hand and brought the bag of popcorn to the fire. Her eyes danced with delight in anticipation of our simple treat, and with a sudden swift toss, she threw a handful of loose kernels into the fire. She timed the popping process with the watch that hung from a chain around her neck and clapped her hands in delight when the fluffy nuggets began to jump out of the fire and onto the hearth.

We ate the popped corn as it flew at us, and I have to confess that this part of being Ma’s guest was quite fine.

But soon enough, the fun was over. Bedtime loomedcomma and the worst torture of all was imminent. Ma would now “allow” me the privilege of sleeping alongside her in her big down-covered bed. The trouble with this arrangement was that Ma wouldn’t let me move! No wiggling or turning or twisting was allowed when you were a guest in Ma’s bed. All night long, I’d have to lie as stiff as a board. It would drive me crazy and leave me sore and aching in the mornings.

Ma knelt by her bed and motioned me over. As I slowly knelt down beside her, she began to thank the Lord for giving her a granddaughter who could be her guest. She listed all my good traits and downplayed my bad ones so that by the time she was through praying, I felt almost glad to crawl into the high fluffy bed with her.

“Priscilla, may the Good Lord bless your sleep and give you pleasant dreams…” she whispered softly. I smiled in the dark, warmed by her sweet words.

“…And mind you don’t jiggle the bed,” she added.


“Children’s children are a crown to the aged…” Proverbs 17:6, The Holy Bible, NIV



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's Snowing!


We're experiencing our first real snowy weather day here in Ohio. Some parts East of Cleveland (which is about 70 miles north of where I live) are getting hammered by good ol' Lake Erie-effect snow. My town has about 2 inches on the ground now and maybe a couple more are expected by morning, which isn't much by our standards, but it is a reminder that more like this is to come.

The first day of a bad snow "event" reminds all of us Ohio drivers that our free-wheeling summer driving days are over. Now we have to remember to check the weather before we leave...make sure the bridges aren't icing over...keep the tires checked...make sure our windshield wiper reservoir is full and all those other annoying details that come with safe driving on snowy roads.

We can't always hurry to our next destination. We have to slow down sometimes and be patient. I have to confess that I really don't like these kinds of days...it's not fun to have to think before I drive! And I really dislike going somewhere on a dry road, and having to come home on an icy one that got covered while I had fun shopping or eating lunch, or being inside the doctor's office. Yuck. I hate that gripping the steering wheel feeling when you can barely see the edge of the road or the black ice that makes my tires slip when I least expect it.

I need to rethink this white stuff, though. I'd like to take time to go outside in my boots and hat and mittens to build a snowman. Or take a walk where the snow muffles all the sounds I usually hear on a wintry day. And going caroling in the snow? Nothing better! I just wish I could find some brave souls to come along with me on that last one! For years I've been trying to get a good caroling party rolling, but no one wants to go outside and sing to the neighbors anymore. Tsk. (If you're game, drop me a line!)

In other words, snow would be more fun if I could adopt that "kid-in-me" attitude again. I don't know...maybe I'll bundle up and venture out tonight just to watch the soft flakes drift down past the streetlights. Kids get up close and personal with nature; that's why they enjoy it so much. I need to do that, too.

Well...gotta go...need to dig out those boots and mittens and hat!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Making Marshmallows

I love to make homemade marshmallows! The only trouble is, they're time-consuming and messy. But oh boy! The taste is so much nicer than store-bought, it makes them worth the trouble. So tonight I made a batch to use with my recipes for the holidays. If you'd like to give it a try, here are the steps.


You will need:

1- 3/4 Cup granulated sugar
3/4 Cup plus 2 Tbs water
1 Cup light corn syrup
1/2 Cup cold water
3 (1/4 oz) envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1 Tbs vanilla
1 Cup powdered sugar (and more for dusting!)
1/2 Cup cornstarch
Wax paper or parchment paper


Line a 13 X 9 inch pan with wax or parchment paper being sure to leave "tabs" on each end to use as handles lift the marshmallows out of the pan later. Lightly oil the paper and liberally sift powdered sugar over the paper.






In a saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, 3/4 C plus 2 Tbs water, and corn syrup. Stir to moisten the sugar. Cover and bring to a boil without further stirring.







Uncover the pan, and place a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to heat without stirring to 240 degrees. (Just over soft ball stage) Be patient-on my electric smoothtop stove, reaching the correct temperature takes about 10-15 minutes at a medium setting on my stove dial (which is 5). Once the syrup has started to boil, place the 1/2 C cold water in the mixing bowl. (I highly reccomend a stand mixer because you will be mixing this for 10-15 minutes!) Sprinkle the 3 envelopes of gelatin over the cold water and stir to moisten any lumps of gelatin. Let it soften for at least a minute.




After the syrup has reached 240 degrees, carefully and slowly pour the syrup over the gelatin mixture, beating it at LOW speed until the syrup has all been added. It will splash!






I drape a towel over the bowl and secure it with a clip until the gelatin mixture takes a firmer shape. Once the mixture thickens, you can remove the towel drape, and safely turn up the speed to high without fear of splashing.








Scrape the bowl frequently, stopping occasionally to check the thickness of the mixture.







When the mixture becomes opaque (white) and begins to thicken, add the vanilla.








It takes me about 10-15 total minutes of mixing with a Kitchen Aid mixer to reach the desired consistency.







Once it's thick enough, pour and scrape it into the prepared pan. It will be sticky! Using a spatula dipped in water helps to get it smoothly in the pan. Let it cool for at least 2 hours.







This is the messy part and you will not be able to avoid it, but it is worth the mess! Place wax paper on your counter top and sprinkle it liberally with powdered sugar. Using a knife, loosen the edge of the marshmallows in the pan. Lift out the marshmallows by the wax paper tabs and invert it onto the wax paper on the counter top. It may stick a little, but using generous amounts of powdered sugar will unstick each edge. Combine the 1 C of powdered sugar with the 1/2 C of cornstarch. Place it in a dish (I use a large measuring bowl).

Using a pizza cutter dipped in water, carefully cut the size rows you'd like your marshmallows to be. I cut mine in 10 short-side rows by 8 long-side rows. While you cut, keep dipping the pizza cutter in the water--it will help to stop the marshmallows from sticking.





Once the rows are cut, place each piece in the sugar/cornstarch mixture and toss to coat all sides. Shake off excess with a sieve.






I store mine in a plastic jar container with a screw on lid. This recipe makes about 80 medium-sized marshmallows. (Not as large as store-bought, but much tastier!) To make miniature marshmallows, simply cut thinner long-side rows and snip with kitchen shears dipped often in water. Dredge and shake off excess sugar/cornstarch as above.




Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The End is Near!



I'm nearing 70% completion of my very first novel, and though I've had ups and downs with getting the words out sometimes from my head to my laptop, I can say that I'm sure I'll finally reach my NaNo goal by the end of November!

This was something that seemed inconceivable just three weeks ago. The story that is coming to life in words is not my own, but rather a grouping of stories that I've heard and learned about from many ex-Amish. Their stories are unique, yet they all share the frustrations and sorrows that they've had to endure to live a life outside of their Amish communities and families. Shunning and banning and ex-communication are common to all of them. Learning to live the Englisher life has also been a common goal of each of them.

They inspire me with their perseverance and their strength. They sometimes baffle me with their mixture of naivety and rebellion. And more than anything, they cause me pray for them every night. More than anything, I'd like God to bless them with peace and grace and a way to live happily in this modern Englisher world.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Whole World and All


Friday Fiction is being hosted at LauraLee's Lifesong.

The Whole World and All

It was the summer of 1952, when Mama took us with her to visit Uncle Buddy in Tennessee. I was seven and excited as all-get-out to be riding the train for the first time.

Pop took us to Union Station in Cincinnati, where sights I’d never seen before and smells I’d never smelled before enveloped me as soon as we stepped into the building. Hot dog vendors pulled their mustard-laden sticks over the tops of juicy footlongs, slathered on a heaping spoonful of chili, and handed the sloppy dogs to the hungry people waiting in line. My mouth watered.

A group of exotic looking girls, dressed in long, colorful robes, wore veils across their faces and pushed past us to whoosh into a shiny black cab, which hunkered close to the sweeping curb of the driveway. Everywhere people were rushing and hurrying, and we were no exception.

Pop gave us a quick goodbye kiss and pointed to the track, where the great sleek train crouched, ready to receive us into its belly and whisk us away from all things familiar.

“Hurry, Children. The train’s about to leave.” Mama tugged us along beside her, causing my pink overnight case to bump painfully against my shins. My brand new Mary Jane’s were slick as spit on the soles; I watoosied across the marble floor of the station, each foot sliding away from me before I could finish the stride. My sister and I exchanged timid glances as the huge beast we hurried toward, sat grumbling on its rails.
The uniformed conductor rushed to us and helped us up the steps and onto the train.

“Whew! We made it, Girls!” Mama exclaimed. She blew her bangs off her face and looked over at us with a wide grin. “This’ll be fun!” We found two empty seats facing each other and flopped onto their padded laps.

We ate our dinner as the train steadily rolled its way over the Kentucky mountains and slid down the steep valleys into Tennessee. When the overhead lights blinked on, the windows instantly became black mirrors, their mysterious panels reflecting our white faces.

“Mama, what’s Uncle Buddy like?” my sister asked.

“Well, now. What’s Uncle Buddy like?…hmm…he’s tall, like Grandpa was, and mighty rich, I can tell you that. And…he has a big house and lots of land…and…well…he’s just Buddy, I guess. You’ll see.” Her cheeks flushed pink and she bit her lip as she stared out at the dark shadows beyond the blank windows.

“Is he nice?” I continued.

“Yes...I think you could say he’s nice. Yes, I surely think you can say he’s nice.” But her face showed doubt, so I persisted.

“You told Papa he was a rat, Mama. Remember? You told Papa that when you got the letter. Remember, Mama?”

“Corinne! Now, you know nice girls don’t eavesdrop. Shame on you!”

“Well…you did say it,” I insisted under my breath.

She glanced at us as she propped her chin on her fists and her elbows on the tabletop. She sighed.

“Uncle Buddy did make me mad. I’ll allow as how I got steamed when I read what he’d done.”

“What, Mama?” Shirley asked. Her brows furrowed over her oval face; I knew she was worried about Uncle Buddy, and so was I.

“Well…” Mama whispered. She watched the blurred scenery we sped past. “He sold the farm,” she explained softly. Tears gathered in her eyes and she quickly swept them away. Still looking out the black mirrors, she sighed again. “I wanted to help pay the back taxes…but…Buddy wouldn’t wait…wouldn’t let me help.” Mama looked at us, her face tight.

“I grew up on that farm, Girls! It meant the whole world and all to me…I never would’ve let him handle all that if I’d known what he was meaning to do,” she emphasized, her dark eyes shining. She sniffed and pulled out her handkerchief, dabbing the tears off her cheeks. “But…well…it’s all said and done, now. Can’t change a thing.” She shook her head, and then put on a bright smile once more.

“So! We are just going to go and see it…one last time! Won’t that be fun? I can show you my old room…and the barn…and all the places that I grew up around. Why, I guess it will be just like old times!”

Her smile had a sad tip to it, and she repeated, as she turned her face to the deep, dark night, “Won’t that be fun?”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Three Things I Like About Me

Josh has asked me to list three things that I like about myself. As others have mentioned when they've listed three things they like about themselves, it's hard to focus on the things I LIKE about me, because I'm usually more focused on the things I DON'T like about myself. But here we go:

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1. I have a forgiving nature: if someone is truly sorry, I melt like butter. It isn't in me to hold past wrongs over someones head.

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2. Anger comes and goes quickly with me--like little cloud bursts of rain on a hot Florida afternoon. Once the tension is eased, I'm back to feeling sunny and can even forget what a disagreement was all about.




3. Even though I don't always know what I'm doing, I like to study difficult subjects! It's challenging for me to delve into the minuscule and often unseen worlds of science...what awe I feel at God's powerful ability to make things! He gave me a curious and easily wowed mind for His creation.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Annivesary, Arlen!


Twelve years ago we started our journey. I was still a little shell-shocked from losing Jim, and you were perhaps a bit incredulous that you decided to get married after being a bachelor for 30-some years. It's been a journey filled with hopes and dreams, and a few hard times. It's been a wonderful trip, and I love you more now than I did on that day twelve years ago. I pray that we have many, many more miles to go together! Love you, Sweetie!

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13, The Holy Bible, NIV


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Powerful Odor of Mendacity


I have a confession to make: this is my favorite story of all time! It did well in the The Faithwriters Writing Challenge, and every girl can relate to it, but only two men were brave enough to leave a public comment on it! I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it. For more great fiction, hop on over to Julie's blog, The Surrendered Scribe.

The Powerful Odor of Mendacity

One morning, Peach and Kinsey took me downtown. My sister and her friend never went anywhere with me, so right away I was wondering what was up. We rode the bus to the Square and hopped off at Reed’s Department Store. The sun was shining so brightly, I got an instant headache, and my headband made it worse. It was stabbing into my scalp with its tiny teeth like I had a hungry piranha stuck up there.

At the store, Mr. Rivers swung open the door and held it as Peach sashayed through like she was Princess Grace. I mumbled my thanks and followed them inside.

“Hey, Peach, look at that,” Kinsey pointed at a skinny mannequin. “Pink from head to toe!”

“Law, Kinsey, I saw a girl wearing that same outfit on American Bandstand last week!”

They giggled. I rolled my eyes. Man! I could have been down at the creek with David and Royce Withers catching crawdads and, instead, here I was, burning daylight with these two goofs.

”C’mon, you guys. Why’d I have to come? Let’s go get what we came for!”

“Stop whining, Annie. Heaven knows we wouldn’t have brought you if Mom wasn’t sick.”

“Why’d Mom want me to come with you two turds?”

“Ugh! You’re so disgusting!” Peach flipped her hair and swayed her skinny hips off toward the Lingerie Department.

My sister looked at me like she was staring at an ugly bug. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way she could curl her lip up so far. “Come on,” she finally sighed.
She led the way to Peach, who was fingering a pink, lacy slip.

“Do you see them?” asked Kinsey.

“What?” Peach answered dreamily. She acted like she was in love with that slip.

“You know, them. It.”

Peach met Kinsey’s eyes, and they looked at me and smirked. My headache started beating my brains out. Uh oh.

“There’s a powerful odor of mendacity in this room!” I shouted.

“Shh! You weirdo! Don’t yell like that! What’d you say?”

“M-E-N-D-A-“

“Shut UP” Kinsey whispered between clinched teeth. She pulled me over into the aisle with the brassieres. At least, that’s what the sign said: PLATEX BRASSIERES 20% OFF.

Peach strolled over and said, “You just like to use big words because you think it makes you look smart. I bet you don’t even know what that means. Where’d you even hear a word like that?”

“Movie.”

“What movie?”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Peach raised her eyebrows to Kinsey and said, “Law, law.”

My sister whipped out her snotty face. “ Mom would never let you watch a movie like that! Where’d you see such a thing?”

“The Withers and me hid in the bushes over at the Twi-Light Drive-In”

“I’m telling Mom!”

“Like I care.” I started back toward the front of the store, but Kinsey pulled me to a stop. She and Peach circled me like two ranch hands trying to rope a mustang. The next thing I knew, they were holding up one of those BRASSIERES and trying to measure the stupid thing against my chest! My head swam, my cheeks turned hot as coals, and I started fighting them off with both fists. I heard a confusing mix of voices as Kinsey and Peach tugged and wrapped those awful bands around me, until finally, they stopped, exhausted.

“We’re getting this one,” said Kinsey with tightly pursed lips.

I watched as the two girls hurried to the counter and paid for that thing. Kinsey motioned for me to follow and we left the store and got back on the bus. Shame melted me to the seat. The bag carrying the monster underwear seemed to me like it was pulsating.

“Mom, we’re home!” Kinsey threw the bag on the chair, and she and Peach took off upstairs. She turned once and gave me a look of near pity. I shuffled into the den, where Mom was lying on the sofa. She opened her arms, and I knelt into them, face hidden.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t go, Honey.”

“It was awful!” I cried. I could feel her stroking my hair.

“Annie, everybody has to grow up. It’s the way God planned it.” She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “The Bible says, ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’* Someday, you’ll know God did a beautiful job making you into a lovely young woman.”

“I’ll never wear it! Never! ” I said fiercely. Mom just smiled and kept stroking.

*Psalm 139:14 (NIV)