Friday, May 29, 2015

Visit My New Blog!

It's been a couple of years since this particular blog has seen any action. Though many of you probably know about my new blog and my forthcoming book, The Tethered World, some may not! It's long overdue for me to post a link on this Blogspot to my new(er) Wordpress blog, but it's better
late than never, right?

My newer blog is more "writing" oriented and much less eclectic. You can visit it by clicking here! I hope you'll stop by!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Dragonwitch" Delivers!

“In the divine, we find the satisfaction of contradictions. We find the wholeness of broken things and belief in the impossible.” Eanrin, the Chief Poet of Rubidos (who sometimes happens to be a cat). 

Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is a tale of a formidable realm on the verge of crowning its first king. The House of Geheris is the seat of power for Earl Ferox. His able administration over the land has given him favor with neighboring earls of the North Country. They are sure to pledge their allegiance to House of Geheris and become one, unified kingdom. 

The problem is, the aging and ill Ferox has no heir. It’s been arranged for his nephew Alistair to be groomed for the position of future earl . . . and, presumably, king. But, as fairytales must go, there is nothing straightforward about Alistair’s destiny. Between studies that he loathes, a bride-to-be who is a virtual stranger, and a reoccurring nightmare that plunders his sleep, the young man is a wreck. All this before anything of importance actually happens to Alistair, or for that matter, in the story. One thing that stands out: he is a broken and despondent person.  

This tale of prophecy and predicaments, nursery rhymes and revelations, goblins and faeries, is really three tales that weave together into one reality. The different layers were a bit hard to piece together at first, but I believe that was intentional. Watching the threads intertwine became a delight. The author's transcendent Christian worldview glowed within each stratum, yet never glared.

Those of us that love Christ and fantasy have had limited reading material until the last few years (one reason I’ve taken to writing in this genre myself). The stalwarts of allegory, Lewis and Tolkien, have played the game with a sparse team for quite a seventh-inning stretch. It's great to see Christian publishers, like Bethany House, scouting some serious talent. 

Dragonwitch is a heavy hitter on this allegorical team. The beauty of the author’s prose, the depths of truth that were portrayed, and the stellar character development, all made for one pleasurable read. I found myself digging for a pen to underline poignant reminders of the reality that exists, even in fairytales. 

Especially in fairytales.

With adept skill, Stengl offers readers an adventure that encompasses legend, the supernatural, and life within the walls of palace and pagan lands. Such depth in storytelling makes a brief review a challenge. I cannot offer a nutshell synopsis of the highlights, for there were too many. 

Instead, I’ll leave you with a recommendation to get Dragonwitch for yourself (as an aside, I do not care for the title. Seems a bit melodramatic for such a savvy tale. And I wish two of the main characters had not had such similar names. I struggled to keep them straight throughout). Beyond that, I found this book a page-turner and a solid motivator for my own writing.

I will also leave you with another quote from my favorite character, Eanrin, the Chief Poet of Rudiobus:

“Creature of dust, it’s the truth that counts! And you’ll rarely find more truth than in Faerie tales.”

**I was provided with a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tunnel of Gold . . . I Dig it!

When Jeremiah (Jem) Coulter learns that the Midas gold mine has been played out (aka: no more gold!), he's afraid Goldtown will become another ghost town. But the angry miners may not leave much for even the ghosts, if they continue to riot. Jem learns the hard way—with a rock zinged at his head—that these miners and the mine owners are at odds. With no gold, there's no pay. Who's going to keep the peace? Why, Jem's pa, the sheriff, of course. A dangerous job, but one that's a great fit for Jem's strong, steady father.

The Sterling family, that owns the Midas mine, is scrambling to open a new mine so the town can get back to work. Young Will Sterling also happens to be Jem's nemesis. The two mix about as well as oil and water.

The Sterlings have found the perfect spot to begin blasting a new mine, but there's a hitch: all mines need an air shaft. This new mine's airway would cut right through the old Belle mine that's been shut down for years. Seems like a simple solution except a played out mine is not a collection of deserted tunnels. Chinese immigrants have moved in to scavenge what they can of any gold that is left in the Belle mine. A common practice. In fact, the mine is technically the property of the Chinese and they are not interested in giving it up. Not even for a nice price.

Things really heat up between the townsfolk, the rich folk, the Chinese folk, and the young folk. The Chinese are not well-liked on a good day. A town on the brink of collapse unless the Chinese cooperate, well . . . let's just say hostility runs rather high.

Jem finds himself getting more than a rock to his head when he steps in to protect his Chinese friend, Wu Shen, from a group of bullies. Two against three looks to become two against four when Will Sterling shows up. But . . . what's this? Jem is amazed when Will takes up his side of the fight!

The kids' problems are just a reflection of the prejudices and temperament of the town as a whole. Jem, like his father, wants to be on the side of what's right, no matter the cost. The battles that Goldtown faces will test his faith, his stamina, and his friendships. In Jem's darkest moments, he remembers scripture from the prophet whose name he bears: Jeremiah. He rallys his faith and quells his fear remembering the promises of God.

Tunnel of Gold, by Susan K. Marlow, is part of the new Goldtown series aimed at 'tween' boys. Mrs. Marlow has packed in the action and suspense in her latest book and it won't disappoint. Nor should it be enjoyed by only the young men in your family. It's a great adventure for all! You may even recognize a character from the Circle C Adventure novels who makes an appearance in Tunnel! 

You can read my review of Book One, Badge of Honor, by clicking here. And I have several reviews of the Circle C books that you will find if you search "Marlow"on my blog.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Musical Ponderings and Adventuresome Wanderings

If C.S. Lewis wrote songs, his name would be Andrew Peterson. Well, that logic falls apart pretty fast, but I want to draw the connection between the two men as they are both great story tellers. 

Allow me to introduce you to the lyrical brilliance of Andrew Peterson—if you are unfamiliar with this talented singer and author. With a folksy, acoustic edge he weaves musical magic that ponders the universe, its Creator, and all of the ordinary stuff of life that becomes extraordinary when touched by God. 

His song “Planting Trees” made me cry the first time I heard it. No, it’s not about conservation and saving the planet. It’s about raising children. “World Traveler” tells the tale (I assume it's his own) of a young man in a small town that longs to be a “world traveler.” He sings:

“Soon enough I had my way
I saw the world the Lord has made
Mostly from the interstate
But I had hardly seen a thing
Until I gave a golden ring
To the one who gave her heart to me

(And I became)
A world traveler
That's the day I hit the road
'Cause I walked the hills of the human soul
Of a tender girl
I'm a world traveler
She opened the gate and took my hand
And led me into the mystic land
Where her galaxies swirl
So many mysteries
I never will unravel
I want to travel the world”

It’s a terribly sweet tale of finding that real adventure lies in the mysteries of marriage and discovering one another. He goes on to say:

“Tonight I saw the children in their rooms
Little flowers all in bloom
Burning suns and silver moon
And somehow in that starry sky
The image of the Maker lies
Right here beneath my roof tonight

(So hold on tight, I'm a)
World traveler
Pack yours bags and dig down deep
Let's ride the storms and sail the seas
To the distant pole
I'm a world traveler
Into these uncharted lands
To blaze a trail in the vast expanse
Of the heart and soul
In the grace of the God of peace
Let's wade into the battle
Come on, come on with me
And get up in that saddle
There's a million mysteries
I never will unravel
Come on, let's travel the world”

It’s no surprise to learn that Mr. Peterson is a huge C.S. Lewis and Tolkien fan (to the point of going to Tolkien-themed retreats and being invited to speak at a C.S. Lewis seminar). He touts his CD The Far Country as “the highest concentration of nerdy C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien references, if you’re into that sort of thing.” 

As a dance teacher, it’s hard not to think about choreography when I hear his songs. I love to tell stories on stage. In fact, I’m using his song “Invisible God” for one of my classes’ recitals this year. As a writer, I have enjoyed listening to his music while I work on my novel. It perfectly puts me in the right frame of mind and inspires me to do what I love.

Beyond Mr. Peterson’s music is a terrific blog called The Rabbit Room where he and many other talented authors collaborate on a plethora of subjects that all seem to have a feel for being a fly on the wall at an “Oxford Inklings” meeting. (That’s the writers' group that Tolkien and Lewis and a few other guys used to be a part of. Yeah. Dream Team.) But peeking into the Rabbit Room is the next best thing and I’d recommend checking it out.

His writing doesn’t stop with music and blog posts. If your family is a Narnia or Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll want to check out The Wingfeather Saga, that Peterson has penned. It follows the Igiby family through the eyes of young Janner Igiby who is the Throne Warden (or protector) of his younger brother that will one day be King of Anniera. Filled with creatively creepy creatures such as the “Fangs of Dang” and “toothy cows,” you and your kiddos will have a rollicking good time following this family through times of peril and heroism. And how often can one honestly use the word “rollicking” to describe something? That’s not a word to be trifled with. Click here to go straight to the source and learn more. 

Just to clarify, I don’t know Mr. Peterson 
and he doesn’t know me. He hasn’t asked 
for props. A good friend (and fellow fan) 
introduced me to Andrew Peterson’s music 
and then shared his books and I have been
 forever grateful. 

I'm just paying it forward.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Marlow's Latest is a Real *Jem!

Roasted rattlesnakes! Have you been confounded in your search for an adventure-filled, wholesome story for tweens? That’s a tall order these days. And if you hope to find one with a bent towards boys it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Author Susan K. Marlow comes to the rescue with her new series for boys—just in time for Christmas! Marlow has turned her big imagination from Andi Carter in her Circle C Adventures series, to Jem Coulter in her new Goldtown Adventures series. But, honestly, it’s good, clean fun for everyone—boy or girl! 

In book one, Badge of Honor, we meet twelve-year-old Jem Coulter and his little sister Ellie. The two want to help their widower father take care of things around their broken-down ranch. It was with the best of intentions that they both skipped school to pan for gold one fine, spring day. Surely the melting snow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains washed some gold down Cripple Creek to their little family claim, right? It's worth an afternoon standing in the freezing water to find out!     

When their father, Matt Coulter, hunts down his truant children, they’re in double-trouble. Not only are they grounded from gold-panning until school gets out (a whole month away!), but their dad is sporting a six-pointed star on his chest. 

Matt Coulter has been named the first sheriff of the unruly, mining settlement of Goldtown, California. Jem is devastated. Goldtown is full of hot-tempered men carrying firearms and that badge seems like a target on his father’s chest. Not to mention the example Jem will be expected to portray as the sheriff’s son. What could be worse?

Well, the day isn’t over yet. The Well’s Fargo wagon brings an aunt and cousin from sophisticated Boston to live with the Coulters. What are a couple of greenhorns from the city going to do on a ranch in a mining settlement? Change things—much to Jem’s dismay. He and his sister have been making it just fine since their mother passed away a year prior. The only bright side that Jem can find is that his cousin, Nathan, will be another set of hands to help with chores.

And so begins a new chapter in Jem’s life . . . as if being caught between boyhood and manhood at age twelve isn’t complicated enough. When summer finally arrives and the kids can officially return to pan for gold, things really heat up. The creek is nearly dry and Jem, Ellie, and Nathan stumble on something much more life-altering than gold . . .

Using humor and historical accuracy, Susan Marlow weaves a tale of danger and mystery that is sure to please most young men at about this age-n-stage themselves. 

With godly, moral lessons as an underlying current, you can be sure that Susan’s new series will please the conservative palate without being stuffy or preachy. As mentioned, girls will enjoy the Badge of Honor as much as their male counterparts. It would also make a great read-aloud for the whole family. It's a book I've thoroughly enjoyed and I'm waaaay older than the approximate 9-13 year old target audience!

You can read some sample pages from Badge here. Or you can download the free study guide and make it a very well-rounded adventure!

Publisher Kregel books sent me a complimentary copy of Badge in exchange for this honest review. Thank you, Kregel! It is a pleasure to review any of Susan Marlow’s books. 

For three other reviews of Susan K. Marlow’s stories, click here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-Election Pondering

The phone rang.


"Turn on your TV." It was my dad.

I reached for the remote with a sinking sensation. The last time he called and said this was in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

"Oh my goodness. What's going on?" I asked. Visions of an airplane flying into the Twin Towers filled the screen. It didn't make sense.

"It's a terrorist attack," Dad said. "After today, America will never be the same, Heather. Our world has changed because of this."

Prophetic words from my father that have echoed in my mind when I stand at a security check-point in an airport, or have to allow strangers to search my purse at a ballgame.

If my dad were still alive, I think I would have received a similar phone call last night. Election night 2012. "Things will never be the same."

As a conservative, it is rather disheartening to see how divided our country has become. It makes me sad to look at the number of people that have left traditional values to embrace the ideals of Hollywood and are in favor of a socialistic standard. Are people really comfortable with the quicksand that we have been sinking in for the last four years? Skyrocketing debt and unemployment, bigger government and less take home pay—those aren't even the moral issues—haven't convinced the 'other half' that this is a failed experiment?

Yep. Things have changed. The saying, "If you repeat something enough, people will believe it," has been lived out. The liberal media repeats their pet-mantras of a "war on women," and "the rich get all of the tax breaks," etc. Hollywood promotes its anti-family, Christian-mocking agenda, and pours millions into the coffers of the democratic party. It's no wonder that the Obama campaign team has Tweeted multiple times about Jay-Z and Beyonce and once about the attack on the Libyan Consulate. Signs of the times.

Our ideals as a nation have been turned on their head. It's no longer "liberty and justice for all," but "Let me live however I want, regardless of its effect on the greater-good. And the government should pay for it."

We have become the "Divided States of America" to quote the headline from the Drudge Report this morning. I think those of us that hoped to reclaim what makes America great have realized that we are becoming outnumbered by those that want to redefine all that America stands for.

It is a bit chilling.

Contrary to the so-called "hope" offered by our 44th president, I do have authentic hope in the sovereign hand of God on our nation. As much as I'd like to blame Christians that didn't vote, or point a finger at the snow-job of the media . . . the truth is that God has used our election process to put into power His man for president.*

Romans 13: 1-7 tells us, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (I note that the exception to this is when the governing authorities command you to disobey scripture, it is better to "obey God, rather than men."Acts 5:29).

I Timothy 2:1-6 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.” 

In light of verses such as these, we can face the challenges of the next four years (and the aftermath) with confidence that God has everything well within His grasp. That's not to say that what Obama stands for are standards that the Lord is pleased with. Not at all. But one cannot read the Bible without noticing how God used corrupt and wicked governments to execute His purposes. Whether to test His people, to bring judgment, to display His miraculous power, or bring revival, the Lord sets the governing authorities in their place.

In America's case it may well be that He is allowing our nation to eat the fruit of its ways. Romans 1:18-22, 28-32 explains, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools . . . Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

THAT is a pretty accurate "State of the Union." THAT is where we find ourselves this November 7th, 2012. The election has not caught God by surprise—unlike many of us—so we can be comforted in that truth.

Even so . . . it's still a bit chilling.

Where will we be on this slippery-slope in four years? What freedoms will we lose? I don't like the answers, to be honest. But I must accept them. I must pray for our country and its leaders and I must be faithful to lift up the truth of scripture and share the love of Christ, regardless of what it may cost. (And I'm pretty sure that it isn't just the cost of living that will skyrocket . . . our freedom of religion will also come with a price).

Am I willing to count the cost? Luke 14:27-30 warns, "And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish." 

~Lord, prepare me to be able to carry whatever cross you choose to give. Prepare your people to stand for your truth in a land that no longer wants to recognize it.~

I'm glad my dad, a veteran of the Korean war, is not around to watch the demise of what made our country great. He isn't here to see the freedom he fought for trampled on by big government. He is not affected by the insolent apologies from the President of our country about our country. He doesn't need to wonder why President Obama would ignore meeting with Israel's Prime Minister so he can appear on Lettermen.

But every so often, when something "big" happens, I think of how my daddy would have called me to talk about it. Last night would have been one of those times. I know what he would have said:

"America will never be the same, Heather."


*On the subject of our civil responsibility as Christians, I'd like to share a Facebook post from friend Evan Taylor.  
       "Each one of us will be held accountable before God for how we exercise the governing authority that He has entrusted to us in voting. Fear God, and evaluate how well each candidate is seeking to honor the responsibilities of the office and the bounds of that authority. Note that, while legislation cannot solve the moral problems of any society, we are still obligated to seek the good of others through every opportunity afforded us, and law acts as both a teacher of the difference between good and evil as well as a mechanism for praising good and punishing evil. So then, where do the candidates stand on the most wicked acts taking place in the world and the role of law in those battles? When you come face to face with your judge, how are you going to explain the way you are prioritizing “the issues” in weighing the candidates?"

Click here to read more from Evan on "Citizenship." Or visit Evan's blog at:

Monday, July 9, 2012

We’ve all known someone who is manipulative and controlling. There’s a good chance you work for someone like that, are related to someone like that, or--perhaps--you are such a person yourself. Though there’s nothing wrong with a Type-A personality, there are times when such dominating characteristics are unhealthy, and become a monster of their own.
Enter Confronting Jezebel: Discerning and Defeating the Spirit of Control by Steve Sampson. This revised and expanded edition sets out to help readers understand how to recognize this type of person, how this person operates, and how to fight back spiritually.  

Mr. Sampson explains that the Jezebel spirit, coined after the wicked wife of King Ahab in I Kings, can operate through either a male or female. The controlling spirit is no respecter of persons--and usually the person themselves is no respecter of anyone but their ego.
The person that lusts for control uses a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. If they can create a little fan club of their own, they will use their minions to cause strife and division for them, while they can keep their hands clean and seem like a bystander in the fray. 
“A Jezebel never works alone; she is most effective with an Ahab at her side to enable the evil spirit to operate fully. ...the clear battle with the Jezebel principality is always over the dominion of people.” (pg. 21).
Sadly, this type of person doesn’t just operate in the world. In fact, the insidious spirit is all too willing to slip into a church and begin dismantling it. A Jezebel will appear very religious. In Revelation 2:20 the Lord describes her with these words, “she calls herself a prophetess.” 
I chose this book to review (offered in exchange for my honest opinion from Chosen Books) because I have a Jezebel in my life that I have to deal with. Unfortunately, this controlling type of personality is prolific. There is likely someone coming to mind while you are reading this review. 
Confronting Jezebel has helped to bring some clarity to the problem, as well as give solid instruction for those that have to interact with this type of spirit. Although Mr. Sampson falls more on the Charismatic side in some of his theology, it is still a good resource for anyone facing this issue. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Easy Christmas Recipes!

Merry Christmas!
My hope and intent for the approaching New Year is that I will be more disciplined to carve out a regular article or post for this lonely Blog. In the meantime, I figured I'd stop by and share a couple of favorite and EASY recipes with you! These are two treats that are continually requested by others whenever they're made. They are not original, although I have added my own tweaks.

On second thought, I'm going to throw in one more my SIL shared with me after I inhaled half of a container of them last Christmas. They're so easy and yummy, you need the recipe too!

Sorry that I'm too lame to have pictures to accompany these recipes. I know that can make or break whether or not you want to try the them, but I'm doing well just get these typed up! 

Unbelievable Toffee! (Unbelievably delish, unbelievably easy!).

One box of plain or honey graham crackers (you will not use the whole box).
Two sticks of butter (yes, the real deal, not margarine!)
One cup of brown sugar (I prefer dark, but either will work).
One package of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Line a jelly roll pan (i.e. cookie sheet with a one inch lip around the edge) with plain graham crackers. You will need to cut and fit in pieces around the edge to cover the entire surface. Baking stone not recommended.

Preheat oven to 350.
In medium sauce pan, melt two sticks of butter, and one cup of brown sugar (dark provides a more serious toffee taste).

Once melted, turn to high. Allow to boil, without stirring (except maybe once when it starts to bubble up really well. It's particularly important not to over stir with the dark brown sugar. For some reason it has trouble melding with the butter if you stir too much). When it is boiling so that it looks foamy, let it remain in that state for about three minutes. You can give it one more brief stir if it looks like it needs it during this stage.

Pour over graham crackers.
Use spatula to smooth over all crackers. 
Bake for 10 min.

Remove and immediately dump one package of semi-sweet choc chips evenly over pan. (You can use milk choc but they do not melt and spread as smooth. I would recommend mixing them with semi sweet. Plus the semi-sweet off-set the sweetness of the toffee layer, so it's the best!). When the chips become shiny, after about five minutes, use spatula or back of spoon to smooth over the surface.

Place in fridge until hard (half an hour or so). Remove and break into pieces. I usually bend my metal pan a bit like an ice cube tray to get a corner lifted (which is one reason a stone pan doesn't work well).

Store in fridge to keep crunchy!

Variations: Add some cayenne pepper or chipotle pepper to butter and brown sugar mixture for chipotle toffee.

Toast almonds or walnuts and sprinkle on top after you smooth choc chips.

Sprinkle just a few white choc chips over the top of the melted and smoothed regular chocolate chips. Allow them to melt and smudge them across the chocolate in a marble design.

I've known two different people that have made these to sell for a fund raiser . . . that's how good they turn out!

Cream Cheese Cookie Bars

These dream bars have all of the elements of eating pleasure: gooeyness, a bit of crispness, edges that are similar to brownies, and density. Mmmmm. 

There are also endless ways to vary the taste. I never actually make this basic recipe (though it still tastes amazing), preferring to add lemon or chocolate to make them flavored to my whim of the day. Suggestions given at the end.

1 stick butter                                                     1 box of powdered sugar
4 eggs, divided                                                 1 8 oz package of cream cheese
1 box of yellow cake mix

Heat oven to 350.
While it is warming, place one stick of butter in 9 x 13 pan and melt in oven. Remove when it is melted.

In a bowl, add 2 eggs to cake mix. Mix with fork until crumbly. Usually seems more like a sticky blob than a crumb mixture but that is how my original recipe reads. 

Sprinkle cake mix over butter and pat down. (aka, drop blobs of the sticky blob all over pan and press down with spatula or back of spoon to cover the bottom fairly well). Butter will be swirling around the edges, letting you know this is going to be yummy!

Mix powdered sugar, cream cheese and other 2 eggs. Pour over first layer and spread evenly.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned on top. 

Variations: Lemon bars: Add about three to four Tbl lemon juice to EACH layer of mixture. A little lemon extract won't hurt either.

Chocolate Bars: Add 3 - 5 Tbl Cocoa (to taste) to EACH layer and throw in some chocolate chips to the BOTTOM layer.  Also can use a chocolate cake mix on bottom layer. May choose to leave top layer plain cream cheese or add some cocoa to it.

Experiment with different cake mixes! Carrot cake on bottom with the cream cheese mixture on top would be delicious. Strawberry cake on bottom and maybe 1/4 cup pureed strawberry preserves added to the top layer would be perfect for a little girls birthday!

Praline Mini-Muffins

This is the recipe from my SIL. She calls them Mini Pecan Pie muffins. I think Praline captures their essence more succinctly :) Whatever their name, they can lend themselves to overeating due to their small, innocent-looking size. Beware! Or . . . just make a bunch. Thanks for sharing, Pamela!

**I also think you could easily make this gluten free with a substitute flour. There really isn't much flour in it . . . just enough to bind together.

1 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Cup all purpose flour
1 Cup chopped pecans
2/3 Cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten

Combine brown sugar, flour, and pecans. Set aside.
Combine butter and beaten eggs. Mix well.
Stir in flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. Fill greased mini-muffin pans 3/4 full. (If you know your pan has sticking problems, you may want to grease and flour the pan as well. These are a bit sticky for a muffin, and I have trouble getting them out of one pan, but not another).

Cook about ten minutes, until light brown. These store well in air tight container.

One thing that stands out after typing these three favorites: Butter makes for some fabulous desserts! Woohoo!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Authentic Faith for our Families

A dear friend just passed on the following article to me via email. It is so accurate and revealing of so many of our 'good' though misguided intentions as Christian families today, that I felt compelled to pass it on to you! 

Although the article speaks to a phenomenon happening in homeschooling families, it is just as applicable to any Christian family seeking to raise godly children who own their faith. Who among us doesn't know a Christian family who has lost their children to the world? Maybe even our own children have gone off to see 'what they've been missing.'

How do we avoid contributing to our children's rejection of what we hold dear? Or perhaps the question is: will they model what they may see in us: an outward appearance of godliness while the inside is a clutter of problems and hypocrisy? Neither scenario is something we desire for our children, yet this is often the case in so many homes today. 

The following article is quite lengthy, so you may want to click and print it for when you can sit a spell and take it in. I pray God will use it to reverse any negative trends you see in your family as you pursue Christ and seek to glorify Him in every little nuance of your heart!

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Avoiding What is False

“Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in His holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not set his mind on what is false.”
Psalm 24:3-4

I came across this verse in Psalms yesterday while I was having my devotion time. Scripture is so multi-faceted that there’s always something new, even in a familiar passage. 
When I read the last line, “who has not set his mind on what is false,” I was aware of just how many things I falsely dwell on. Not necessarily sinful things in and of themselves, just false things. Do you see the nuance there?
There’s nothing wrong with having a pedicure or going out to lunch or even sitting and reading a magazine. However, if that is not what the Lord has asked me to do with my time for the day, and I am neglecting that thing He expects of me, then I am dwelling on what is false. This equates to sin.
Am I listening to the voices of other’s that say, “You need to expect your daughter to go to college,” when it is clear that God’s call is for her to be a missionary? College isn’t a bad thing, and it may even be necessary to become a missionary, but there are other ways to reach that goal as well; am I willing to entertain those options?
The false voices are often well-meaning: “have a hobby,” “make sure you have some time for yourself,” “you should always have dinner ready by the time your husband gets home,” “you should be helping in the children’s ministry,” etc.
But those voices are not necessarily the voice of the Holy Spirit. If I am falling into performance mode, and becoming a people pleaser, a lover of self, or making an idol of my home in some way, than the Lord will take issue with that thing, and what is a neutral subject becomes sin in my life.
I must always prayerfully evaluate my use of time and my inner thoughts as well. Busyness, good intentions, and thoughts that are not yielded to the mind of Christ can soil my soul, wear me out, and drive a wedge in earthly and heavenly relationships. This is experience talking! 
Been there, done that, prefer to avoid it!
Ask the Father to reveal any falsehood in your life today. Remember that James assures us that if we lack wisdom, we should “ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing.” When we repent of our falsehood, He is faithful to meet us where we have are and allow us to begin again, right then and there.
 Amazing grace, isn’t it?!

Monday, June 27, 2011

How God Turns Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones

God does all things well . . . even when we aren’t paying attention!
As you may know from my other posts, I have a son who has mild autism. He is eighteen years old now, and he just finished high school! Well, sort of. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s rewind about 18 years. 
Cute baby, full head of hair (so full he had a haircut before he was two months old!), and hungry. Hungry because he has no idea how to suck. Takes him nearly an hour to latch onto anything: a bottle or myself. 
Therefore, he’s not sleeping well because he’s hungry. Therefore, no one else is sleeping well. I call doctors and lactation consultants; no one really knows what’s going on. 
Sleep deprivation doesn’t look very good on me. 
Rewind a bit further, to a week before his birth, and you’d see my husband’s place of employment closing its doors a couple of weeks before Christmas. You’d see us taking Christmas presents back to the store to have money to live on. You’d see that everyone has already hired their Christmas help and so there’s no work for my man. 
Exciting times!
Yet, perfectly timed, because it took two full time at-home parents to function on very little sleep to care for this little guy who was just eating enough to make it for an hour or two 24/7. I was so thankful to have my husband home with me, money or not, to keep me sane. 
Oh yes, we also had our first daughter, who was 17 months old, when the little man came into our lives. 
I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the hard times we had when the kids were young. You could sum things up with the idea of two more girls becoming part of the family, and money being pretty doggone tight for more years than we would have voted for struggling along--if God had taken a vote. 
When my son was 3 1/2 we decided something must be wrong. I tried not to compare him to his older sister, but eventually we knew there was more than a typical “boy delay” happening. We were consistent with discipline but felt that no child would have such a strong will that he would purposefully get himself into as much trouble as he did.
We knew he could hear because he would respond to noises and he was talking a little. But we wondered if he might have hearing problems, since he ignored most of what we told him to do. Or maybe he changed his name, preferring to keep us in the dark as to what name he would respond to. That was the best explanation we had, so we decided to send him to some experts.
We had his hearing and language assessed through a free program that the public schools offered. He was found to be fairly delayed in most areas. Their suggestion was to put him in special-education preschool. 
Any help that someone was willing to offer was welcome. The elementary school he was to attend was one block from our house, yet he would get to ride a bus. Sweet. I wouldn’t have to pack up his sisters at the crack of dawn and unload everyone to walk him to class. Yet putting him on the bus the first few days was heartbreaking, even if he was only riding it for all of 45 seconds.
What was wrong with my little boy? Would the “experts” at the school be able to help? 
His teacher was terrific. She’d been teaching special education for 15 years and was a Christian. She had a heart to help the kids and desired to see them succeed. 
It was soon apparent that Garrett was the highest functioning child . . . with the biggest behavior problem by far. He was constant motion. He could not sit still. He could not keep his hands to himself. He could not be still enough for a nap (he’s had sleeping issues all of his life), and he rarely obeyed. 
His teacher told me that she really wanted to praise him more, since he seemed to always be in trouble, but, “as the words are coming out of my mouth, when I see him doing something right, he inevitably begins to do something wrong before I’ve finished speaking.” This was as true of a statement as I had heard. Welcome to my world!

Long story somewhat short . . . we eventually had him tested and found out that he had something called Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Not Otherwise Specified. PDD-NOS for short. Autism for super-short. 
By the time he was old enough for kindergarten, his school wanted to mainstream him into regular classes. This was an absurd idea to his teacher and myself, but other “experts” decided he was too “high functioning” to qualify for full-time special education. Said experts hadn't spent much time hanging around class and observing his behavior, I presumed.
My husband and I were already homeschooling his older sister and it seemed best to do the same with our son. His teacher was in full agreement. “He needs one-on-one,” she said. Yup.
So, what did one-on-one look like for this complex little boy? It looked like special diets, experimental herbs and supplements, and lots and lots of therapy. 

Years of therapy. 
It would take us from breakfast to dinner to get through all of the things he needed. It was supposed to take 3 uninterrupted hours, but with three other children in the house there was no such thing as “uninterrupted” slices of time.
I can remember describing my day to my husband as follows: Every morning I get up and crawl into a big long tunnel made out of brambles. I try to make it through with the least amount of scratches and injuries as possible. When I make it to the end of the tunnel, I get to go to bed! Waking up meant I started over, at the beginning of the tunnel. 

'Everyday' things were a big ordeal. Riding in the car and going grocery shopping were a test of patience and tenacity. Going to bed at night was difficult because it was so hard for him to fall asleep. If he was still for 60 seconds he would conk out, but he wouldn’t stay in bed. We were thrilled to discover the doorknob covers that were hard for kids to grip and turn. He had poor finger strength so we were able to use the doorknob cover for quite a few years. With no possibility of escaping from his room, he would eventually give up his quest and fall asleep.
He had a penchant for playing with hair. Not just any hair. Freshly pulled hair. His older sister had a head full of springy curls that just beckoned to be plucked on a regular basis. 
Scaring animals was sublime entertainment. Anything on a screen would mesmerize him to no end. Repetitive noises were one of his favorite ways to entertain himself. To this day I’m highly sensitive to whistling. Please refrain.
But God was at work. We prayed and cried and sought help. We often couldn’t see the forest for the trees, but God was faithful. He gave us patience and strength and friends that were willing to help. He showed us our selfishness and taught us love and sacrifice. 
He convicted me of my pride when He showed me that one reason I wanted my son to behave was so that he wouldn’t embarrass me and make me look like a bad parent. Ouch.
The Lord taught me how to parent in His strength and not my own. How to respond to poor behavior for the thousandth time with sweetness in my voice, rather than scorn and contempt. He showed me my sinful heart and His righteousness, as he taught me how to love in His strength. That’s not to say that I’ve got it all down, but over the years I’ve struggled less and less. Sin still likes to rear its ugly head!
Fast forward to the summer before his ninth grade year. I mused to a friend that I felt “stuck” with my son. That it seemed I couldn’t get him any further (in any area) for the last few years. 
“Maybe I should see if he could get some special services from the local high school,” I wondered aloud. 
“Why not enroll him full-time?” My friend asked.
I had a million reasons why, or so I thought, but I prayed about what she said. I made some phone calls and talked to a counselor, and the next thing I knew, he was enrolled. 
This proved just as providential as our decision to homeschool. Great teachers, new friends with similar challenges and interests, a variety of classes I couldn’t offer at home . . . it was a wonderful fit for everyone!
Four years of high school flew by and June 3rd--graduation day--I found myself prayerfully reminiscing about the mysterious ways of Time. Looking back at what issues my son struggled with that deeply affected him, as well as the rest of us, I had to be amazed at how far we all had come!
Though he still struggles with self-control in certain areas, our day-to-day lives are so different from when he was small. No more “brambles.” Smiles, laughter, and a general feeling of pleasantness are the characteristics that we enjoy on a daily basis. 
Riding in a car, going shopping, being in a room full of people (even people with curly hair!) are no longer issues! He sits still and joins in discussions in youth group and school. He shakes hands and looks people in the eye when he meets them and says, “yes, sir/ma’am” when speaking to adults. He’s quick with a joke and will sit for hours and listen to me read (if I can last as long as he would like!). He has an ear for music, a great voice and is considered “invaluable” by his choir teacher. 
Yes. This is my son

And--wow!--what an awesome, faithful God we serve! He doesn’t always give us what we ask, but He does give us EXACTLY what we need. As I sat contemplating all of this I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.
There are a few particular areas that he still struggles with. Some of them big, big issues. At times it can be so discouraging when we see him overcome by sin. I realized, as I sat contemplating his life that day, that I’d almost given up hope that things could improve in these specific areas.
And I had to repent.
Change can happen so subtly when we are in the trenches that we’re blind to its occurrence. Hindsight is a great teacher and that day it renewed my hope--and my faith--for victory in these other areas as well.
In fact, on that last day of school, my son, the senior, brought home some projects he’d been working on through the school year. One was a terrific self-portrait, complete with a description he typed with his own unique spelling, that read:
“My name is _____, I love my friends and love food around the world Love pizza and pasta and the place I love to eat is at Cicis pizza and pull off pranks on people. The three things I want to work on is listen better o bay the last thing is stay out of trouble. I am a funny outgoing kind of person, I have an extended family some I haven’t seen before. I cannot wait win [when] on my big day win I go out in the world and win I graduate and I love my DS and I have brown hair and brown eyes.”
The whole project left me choked up; but to read that he was aware and desirous of working on the three things he listed was further evidence of God being at work in ways where I’d been losing faith. And by His great providence, He timed the unveiling of my son’s work with the unveiling of His work in our lives during my quiet time earlier in the day. The impact was so much greater, the blessing that much sweeter.
Watching him walk across that stage a few weeks ago was a milestone none of us will forget. We cheered and screamed and were so proud; he was searching for us in the crowd (he could hear us!) and beaming as he made his way across the platform.
There’s still a long road ahead. Although he was a “senior” this year, he actually gets to stay in the special-ed program for another three years. He will continue to work on life skills and vocational training. He will continue to have many ways in which he can practice, “listening, obeying, and staying out of trouble.” He has one of the best teachers prayer’s could ask for; someone who holds him to the same standards we do.
But he only gets to walk the stage this once. And as we watched him parade into the auditorium with his classmates, take his seat and listen respectfully, stand at the right time, and wait patiently in line to cross the stage . . . we weren’t aware, right then, of how each of those things were a culmination of year upon year, line upon line, precept upon precept, and many answered prayers. 
However, slowing down and getting this chance to reflect helps me see how all of those stumbling blocks along the way were used by our heavenly Father as stepping stones on a gently ascending path. Americans crave (even expect) the gratification of instant success; but how satisfying the victory when it happens through sacrifice, hard work, leaning on one another, and being the recipients of graciously answered prayers.

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.