Monday, November 22, 2010

How's Your Handwriting?

While it came out awhile back, I thought this article in the Wall Street Journal on how handwriting trains your brain interesting.

I'll be first to say that I can get my thoughts down much faster typing than writing. But I know writers who prefer to write by longhand first then transcribe on to the computer. And with my own children, I've wondered if our technological advances were causing them to lose the valuable skill of penmanship.

And in the category of ironic, there are apps (of course!) you can get to improve your handwriting (abc PocketPhonics) and to translate your finger or stylus input into text (WritePad).


Friday, November 05, 2010

Joy to the World: Advent Activities for your Family

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Liguori Publications (July 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Rebecca Molen of Liguori Publications for sending me a review copy.***


Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, composer, choir director, natural family planning teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display on her website (see below).

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.99
Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Liguori Publications (July 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0764819372
ISBN-13: 978-0764819377




Call it December madness: On the day after Thanksgiving 2008, a seasonal worker was trampled to death by shoppers swarming a department store at opening time. In mid-America, two women got into a fist fight over a toy, and the store personnel had to pull them off each other.

At this time of year, it’s hardly possible to escape feeling rushed, harried, and overwhelmed. It seems like every year the Christmas decorations at the mall go up a little earlier, and all the news reports dwell on how much money retailers are (or aren’t) going to make. The ad inserts get fatter and the TV shouts: “No need to wait! Zero down! No interest for thirteen months! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Just about everyone gripes about it, but no one seems to know what to do about it. Some families throw out the whole secular celebration in an attempt to prevent materialism from overwhelming both Advent and Christmas. But most families feel—rightly so—that they shouldn’t have to choose one over the other. It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but often families feel stressed as the calendar fills up with recitals, shopping, parties, and housecleaning. In this atmosphere filled with distractions, the idea of Advent as a season in its own right has been overwhelmed. How can we wait for Christmas when we never have to wait for anything else?

Christmas is not about children, gifts, cookies, or trees. It’s about a love so powerful that God came to earth to dwell among us: human and divine intertwining—a holy union of wills that reaches its apex not in birth, but in crucifixion and resurrection. In salvation.

And we spend December fighting over Blu-ray discs and toys?

It’s time to reclaim Advent—that season of holy hush, of waiting, of light and anticipation—that season that helps make Christmas so special. We can’t withdraw from the world, but we can take the trappings of the season and infuse them with a deeper meaning. Joy to the World: Advent Activities for Your Family outlines a way to reconcile the secular with the sacred—to celebrate them side-by-side, to mold them into a single, month-long “liturgy,” and in so doing, to enrich both celebrations.

Chapter 1 presents a brief overview of Advent and why it is important. Chapter 2 introduces the three parts of the Advent Reclamation Project, which are explained more fully in Chapters 3 through 5. Chapter 6 offers suggestions for other traditions that families or parish communities might choose to adopt as their own, and in the appendices, you will find resources to flesh out the earlier chapters.

Early childhood is the ideal time to start developing family traditions, so this book is aimed at young families. Each chapter contains a short italicized section to be read directly to children, explaining some part of the celebration. As your family grows, you can adapt the traditions to fit your own circumstances. Many of the ideas will also translate to the classroom. Remember that Advent, like Sabbath, was not created for God’s sake, but for ours (see Mark 2:27). God doesn’t need it. We do.



The Case
For Advent

Advent holds a unique place in the Christian calendar. For Catholics, it is the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a season in which the church is decked out in purple—a sign of penitence—yet the Scriptures also speak of joy, hope, and light.

The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning arrival or coming. In the earliest days of the Church, all of life focused on the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. After all, the Apostles expected the Second Coming during their lifetimes.

At this time, the ancient pagan cultures structured their seasonal celebrations on nature. The celebration of the winter solstice was the biggest festival of the year in ancient times. It centered upon the shortest day of the year—the day when the “unconquered” sun began slowly to take back the days. Gift-giving, feasting, lights, and greenery all originated in these pagan celebrations. As Christianity expanded into these lands, the Church adopted many of these traditions, infusing them with Christian meaning in order to ease the transition for its new members. Thus, sometime in the fourth century ad, Christmas—and Advent—made their appearances.

Originally, Advent was a forty-day period of fasting and penitence—a parallel to Lent. In the early centuries, the Church focused on preparing for the Second Coming. Not until the middle ages did Advent begin to point toward the birth of Christ. Over the centuries, many traditions cropped up surrounding the season. The Advent wreath grew out of a Pagan tradition of lighting candles to signify the hope of spring. The Jesse tree probably originated in Northern Europe, where lineage and genealogy determined one’s place in society. The Jesse tree taught the faithful about Jesus’ royal lineage. Over time, these customs (and the meanings associated with them) have evolved. Some grew more important, others less so.

Nowadays, the secular culture and many Protestant denominations make no distinction between Advent and Christmas. The Sundays of December are filled with the story of the Christ Child, and the Christmas celebration is over and done around New Year’s. But in Catholic tradition, the season of Advent focuses on the two “comings” of Christ—the Incarnation, when God came to Earth as human child, and the glorious Second Coming at the end of time. In fact, the readings for the first two weeks of Advent speak of John the Baptist “preparing the way” for Jesus, the grown man who turned the world upside down. Only in the later part of Advent does our focus zero in on Bethlehem.

This duality is something we experience even with our senses. Catholic churches are hung with violet for these four weeks—the color traditionally associated with penitence. But the purple we use at this time of year is different from the purple of Lent; it is meant to be a richer, royal purple, reminding us also that Christ is King.

Advent gives us a chance to meditate on:

Hope—for deliverance;

Expectation—for the coming of one who will bring justice to an unjust world;

Preparation—so that we may prepare our hearts to receive Christ, who is

Light—the light of the world.

These are beautiful themes. Why should Advent be shoved into a corner, nothing more than four weeks of filler before Christmas? Advent can be a magical time, if we approach it the right way.

Advent does not need to become a “second Lent,” but the violet hangings and vestments remind us that penitence remains an important part of the season. Advent gives us the chance to examine our hearts and “defrag” our scattered souls. To reorder our thinking and our priorities. To point our lives, for four weeks, toward Christmas, so that when we reach the holiday, it has meaning and beauty that is distinct from the four preceding weeks.

Nor is Christmas the end of the journey. Without Holy Week and the resurrection, the manger in Bethlehem would be unremarkable: just one more baby born in poverty. For Christians, the destination is Easter. Glorious as it is, Christmas is a stop along the way.

For the children:

Even though all the advertisements on TV are about Christmas, right now we are actually in the season of Advent. During Advent, our job is to get ready for Jesus to come and live in our hearts. At Christmas, we will celebrate Jesus being born as a baby—but he has promised us that he will come back again someday, and we need to be ready. One way we do this is by remembering our sins and trying to do better. This is called penitence, and it is why the church is decorated in purple. But Advent is also about looking forward to Jesus coming. We are excited because Jesus is the light of the world, and when he comes, he will make the world fair for everyone.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Finding Becky by Martha Rogers

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms (October 5, 2010)
***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Martha Rogers is a former schoolteacher and English instructor whose first book in the Winds Across the Prairie series, Becoming Lucy, became an immediate best seller. Morning for Dove (May 2010) is the second book in this series. Her book Not on the Menu is a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Rogers lives with her husband in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (October 5, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616380241
ISBN-13: 978-1616380243


Oklahoma Territory, June 9, 1905

Rebecca Haynes slammed her book shut. If those children didn’t quiet down soon, she would scream. A mother ought to be able to control her own young ones, but the haggard, worn look of the woman across the aisle told Rebecca that the problem was more than unruly children. She was just the type of woman Rebecca hoped to liberate in her efforts with the women’s suffrage movement. The landscape outside the train window sped by, drawing Rebecca closer to home with each clack of the wheels. To this point the journey had been quite pleasant, but when the mother with her brood of three had joined the travelers, all peace disappeared. Not that she blamed the mother, but the commotion was bothersome. Rebecca turned her attention to the youngsters. They had quieted down some, but the two older ones still roamed the aisles while the baby whimpered in her mother’s arms. She loved children, but she preferred the well-mannered, quiet ones like the cousins she’d met during her stay in Boston. A deep sigh escaped. How she would miss the friends she’d made while in college at Wellesley. Her aunt Clara had made sure she would have the best education possible, and Rebecca had loved every minute of it, but it was now time to go home and see what a difference she could make in the world.

She mused at the similarity of her situation with that of Lucy Starnes, one of her cousins from Boston now living in Barton Creek. Just as Lucy had come to live in Oklahoma Territory to live with her aunt and uncle, Rebecca had traveled to Boston to live with an aunt and uncle there. The difference being that Lucy’s parents had died, forcing her to move out West to live with family. Rebecca had gone back East to further her education and get to know her father’s family.

Now she was headed home to Barton Creek, where she hoped to begin the steps toward a career in journalism. Mr. Lansdowne, her new boss, had balked at first at the idea of having a female reporter working for him, but then he’d relented and hired her. Her father was bound to have had some influence there, but that didn’t matter. She had the job, and if she did it right, she’d be ready for a larger city paper when the opportunity arose.

A hand tugged at her skirt. A blond-haired little boy gripped the fabric with grubby fingers. She glanced over at the weariness in the face of the mother and realized the load carried by the young woman was taking its toll. Instead of scolding the child, Rebecca’s heart softened, and she took matters into her own hands. She grasped the boy’s hand in hers and removed it from her skirt, thankful for the gloves she wore. His bright blue eyes opened wide in surprise. “And what is your name, young master?”

At first he said nothing. He tilted his head as though deciding if it would be all right to answer. A grin revealed a space in his bottom row of teeth. “I’m Billy, and I’m six.”

“Hello, Billy. That’s a fine name.”

A little girl wedged her way next to Rebecca. “My name is Sally, and I’m six years old too. What’s your name?”

A smile filled Rebecca’s heart, her previous vexation gone. The two were twins. No wonder the mother had her hands full. Her heart filled with sympathy. “My name is Rebecca.”

The twins looked at each other, then back to Rebecca. As one voice they said, “We like that name. Can you tell us a story?”

“Children, please don’t bother the young lady.” The mother cast an apologetic frown toward Rebecca.

“That’s all right. I’ll tell them a story.” Doing so would give their mother a much-needed break to take care of the baby.

The mother rewarded her with a relieved smile. Rebecca reached down and lifted Sally to her lap while Billy climbed up beside her. Since she planned to be a writer, Rebecca decided to make up her own story for the two. As she wove the tale of two children on a great adventure across the plains in a covered wagon, Sally’s and Billy’s heads began to nod.

The young woman across the aisle laid her now sleeping baby on the seat and came to Rebecca’s side. “I’ll take them now.”

Though almost reluctant to let her go, Rebecca handed Sally to the mother, then picked up Billy. She followed the two back to their seats. The mother laid Sally on the seat facing her own, then picked up the baby. “You can put Billy by his sister.”

“Do you mind if I sit here and hold him? You must have your hands full with the three of them.”

A tentative smile formed. “That would be nice.”

Rebecca settled herself and shifted Billy so that his weight was more evenly distributed. Just as she craved to speak with another woman, the young mother might enjoy the same. “My name is Rebecca Haynes, and I’m going to Barton Creek.”

The weariness left the woman’s eyes, replaced with a sparkle of excitement. “I’m Ruth Dorsett, and I’m headed for Barton Creek myself.”

Rebecca searched her memory for a recollection of a Dorsett family in Barton Creek. Of course, in the four years she’d been gone, many new families had moved to the town. “I grew up there. Are you visiting, or do you live there now?”

A sadness veiled Ruth’s face. “My husband passed on a few months ago, so we’re going there to live with my parents.”

A lump formed in Rebecca’s throat. “I’m so sorry about your husband. Who are your parents? Perhaps I know them.”

“Their name is Weems. Ma owns a dressmaking shop, and Pa works in the telegraph office.”

“Oh, I do know them. I remember when Mrs. Weems opened her business. We were so glad to have someone who could keep us up-to-date on the latest fashions. She does wonderful work.”

“Thank you. They heard about the opportunities in Oklahoma Territory and moved there when Pa learned they would open a new telegraph office in Barton Creek.”

“Business is doing quite well for your mother. Will you be helping her?”

“Most definitely. Ma taught me to sew at an early age, and I’ve been doing it for my family. I was learning to be a nurse when I met my husband, a doctor, and quit to marry him. I helped with his practice until our babies came along, and then gave assistance whenever I could. Henry was killed in an accident with his buggy going out to deliver a baby on a stormy night. After he passed on, I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t have the time or money to finish my nurse’s training. The people in Glasson, Kansas, were so helpful, but they weren’t family. After a few months, Ma insisted that I come live with her. She’s delighted to have her grandchildren so close.”

What a small world. Rebecca marveled at the coincidence. The people in Barton Creek were going to love Ruth and these adorable children who had captured Rebecca’s own heart with their big blue eyes and captivating smiles. Now that Aunt Clara lived in town as Doc Carter’s wife, she would certainly spoil them if Mrs. Weems didn’t, and Ruth couldn’t be much older than Lucy. They would be great friends, and Doc Carter could probably use her nursing skills.

The young woman’s desire to work with her mother in business and her nurse’s training impressed Rebecca. If more women would be willing to take charge and seek careers besides baking, cooking, and taking care of children and husbands, more would be willing to join the movement to secure voting privileges for women. Perhaps she could convince Ruth to join the fight. Women had as much right to have a say in who ran the government as any man.

“The twins told me they are six, but how old is the baby?”

Ruth eyed the sleeping child. “Emma is fifteen months old and just started walking without falling every few steps.”

“They’re all beautiful children.” Talking with Ruth reminded her of the story she wanted to write for the editor of the Barton Creek Chronicle. If she were going to be a success at the newspaper, she must show her capabilities right away. “Ruth, if you will excuse me, I have some work I must do before our destination. We’ll talk again later, and I’m happy to already find a new friend in Barton Creek.”

“So am I. It’ll be nice to have someone I can visit with and talk to on occasion.”

Rebecca placed the still sleeping Billy beside Sally. “I look forward to it.” Someday in the distant future she might have such a family, but at the moment her mission was to become the best reporter in Oklahoma Territory and then on to bigger and better opportunities in a larger city.

A grin spread across her face. No matter that she’d won the traditional Hoop Race at Wellesley. After her dunk in the fountain, she’d declared she would break the tradition and not be the first in the class to marry. Hoots and hollers from her fellow classmates told her they didn’t believe that. Let them laugh. She’d prove there was more to life for a woman than being a wife and mother. Although nothing was wrong with that, she simply wanted to see what the world had to offer before settling down, if she ever did.

Geoff Kensington studied the attractive young woman in the seat across from him. She had amazed him several times during this trip. First she’d been reading a book by Sarah Orne Jewett, then she befriended the children who had made enough noise to be heard across the prairie, and then she sat and spoke with their mother. Remarkable! None of the young women he’d known in Chicago would have had anything to with the children, much less their mother. Now the young lady furrowed her brow and stared at a tablet while she tapped a pencil against her cheek.

The stylish cut of her light brown gored skirt and braid-trimmed jacket was of a fashion he’d seen worn by women in the upper classes in Chicago, and it fit her form quite nicely. Her straw hat trimmed in matching ribbon and braid sat at a rakish angle on her upswept hair. He stroked his chin, trying to decide on the color of her hair. Finally he decided that it reminded him of the fine cherry furniture in his mother’s dining room.

In the conversation with the young mother, he had overheard her name, Rebecca Haynes. What a stroke of luck. She had to be kin to one of the men he hoped to meet on this trip. Ben Haynes, Sam Morris, and Jake Starnes were three of the most successful ranchers in the state, and he needed their support for the project he’d been assigned. Perhaps Miss Haynes was Ben’s daughter.

Geoff pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. He had two hours to charm the lovely Miss Haynes before their arrival in Barton Creek. If his good fortune held out, the children would sleep until then, and he could have an uninterrupted conversation with her.

He stood and bowed. “Pardon me, Miss Haynes. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Geoffrey Kensington, spelled with a G, and I overheard you tell Mrs. Dorsett that you are going to Barton Creek. That is my destination also.”

Miss Haynes’s cheeks blushed pink. “Yes, Barton Creek is my home.” She smiled and indicated the seat next to her. “Please, Mr. Kensington, would you join me?”

“Thank you, I’d be honored. I do have many questions about the town.”

She laughed. “Ask away, but I haven’t been home for four years. I’ve been at college. Wellesley to be exact.”

So, Miss Haynes was not only pretty but well educated too. What a stroke of good fortune to have chosen the same train for the final leg of his journey. “That is a fine school for young women. What are your plans now?”

Her smile only served to accent her beauty. “I’m going to be a reporter for the Barton Creek Chronicle. It’s a weekly newspaper now, but Mr. Lansdowne hopes to publish it more often in the coming year.”

“How interesting. I’ve heard that more women are going into the field of journalism these days. Are you a supporter of the suffrage movement?”

Her eyes, more green than brown, opened wide with excitement. “Oh, yes, I am. I’ve read everything I can about Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt. Did you know Mrs. Catt has been in Oklahoma, and that women here almost had voting rights granted to them in 1899? And she worked for a newspaper for awhile too. She’s wonderful.”

“Those are all fascinating women.” The animation now in her expressive hands and eyes beguiled him and reminded him of his sister, who was near Rebecca’s age. Even if he didn’t support the movement, he could appreciate her enthusiasm. It might even be a help to him in the business he had in Barton Creek. “Are you related to Ben Haynes, the cattle rancher?”

“I am his daughter. His aunt Clara is the one who insisted that I go back East to go to college. Both of my parents are originally from Boston.”

“I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting that city. I’ve spent most of my time in Chicago and St. Louis. But at the moment I’m more interested in Barton Creek.” And the attractive young woman seated with him.

“Then I shall be happy to share my town with you.”

Her voice had a musical quality that enchanted Geoff. This assignment would be the best one yet in his career. “I have business with your father regarding a cattle purchase. Perchance you will be able to introduce me to him when we arrive.”

“Oh, yes, I’d be delighted to do just that. Father has some of the best cattle to be found in the Territory.”

“Then I shall look forward to our meeting.” He grinned and sat back to enjoy her description of the people in Barton Creek.

Rob Frankston paced the platform at the train station. He flipped open his watch and read the numbers. Two minutes since he last looked. The train was supposed to be on time, but he could neither see nor hear any indication of it coming on the tracks.

The Haynes clan and several friends milled about as a group near the depot, as anxious to see Becky as he was. Of course their reasons were far different from his. He’d waited four years for Becky to return to Barton Creek. He’d loved her since they were thirteen, but she never gave any indication of her feelings one way or the other in those last years of school. Her correspondence with him while he attended the University of Oklahoma indicated nothing more than friendship, and even those letters declined the past year.

When she had up and proclaimed her plans to go off to college in the East, he had to bite back his own disappointment. Aunt Clara spotted his hurt. She took him aside one day and, without naming Becky, told him that if he loved someone more than life itself and let her go her own way, true love would bring her back. He prayed that would be true with Becky’s return to Barton Creek.

The newspaper had announced her arrival with bold headlines in the weekly edition. Rob read of her accomplishments and shook his head. Becky had certainly grown up and made her contribution to activities at the college. After reading the account, even his mother had been impressed, and that was no easy task.

He raked a hand through his dark hair and resumed his pacing.

Matt Haynes, Becky’s brother, made his way toward Rob. The tall, lanky cowboy had captured his sister Caroline’s heart, but he seemed in no hurry to court her.

Matt stretched out his hand in greeting. “I see you’ve decided to join us in welcoming Becky. She’ll be glad to see you.”

“I hope so, but she hasn’t written to me much this past year, so perhaps she’s forgotten her friends here.”

Matt laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. She was probably busy with all those things the paper said she did at Wellesley. You know our Becky. When she’s involved in something, she gives it all she’s got.”

Yes, he did know, and that was one of the things Rob loved about her. Back in their school days here, she had always been a leader and one to speak her mind and do things her own way. She could ride and herd cattle as well as any man on the ranch, but then could appear as a beautiful young lady on Sundays at church.

“She is really someone special.” He sighed. “I hope your father thinks I’m good enough for her.”

With hands on his hips, Matt chuckled. “You won’t have any problem there. You’re gaining a fine reputation in the law firm.”

Rob couldn’t be so sure about that. What with all the run-ins his mother had with Becky’s mother, the Haynes family might not be so interested in letting him become a member, good reputation or not. As the mayor’s wife, his mother may think it her duty to set high social standards and be particular about the people with whom her children associated, but he didn’t intend to let her run his life.

In the distance a train whistle sounded, and Matt nodded toward his family. “Come on over and join us. Be a part of our welcoming party.”
Rob grinned. “Think I’d like that.” He followed Matt back to the group. In the next half hour he’d know whether he still had a chance with Becky. If not, then he’d spend day and night winning her love no matter what anyone may say or do.


Monday, November 01, 2010

National Authors Day and NaNoWriMo

It's National Authors Day! Do you know where your novel is? Or your favorite writer? Drop him or her a line or post a review saying how much you enjoyed their work. They'd appreciate knowing you value all their hard work.

Speaking of hard work... have you started your novel? It's November 1st which means National Novel Writing Month kicks off. The goal? Throw your inhibitions to the wind and write 50,000 words in the month of November. Check it out here.

Once again I'll be participating. I'll have a word count widget up on my blog shortly. This will be my fifth year. I've never "won" yet, which means writing 50k in November. It just never seems to sync with my writing calendar or my life. But it's such a good incentive to get words down on paper along with lots of other folks, so it feels a lot more like a giant party than writer's block. So join on in. What do you have to lose?