Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sports Movies
Jacob and I saw We Are Marshall today. It was awesome. The thing I keep thinking about is how perfectly cast it was. Every person was absolutely perfect for each part. Matthew McConaughey (which I almost spelled correctly without looking--and that's not easy) creates the perfect aura that brings the actors in this movie together. Here's a good review of the film. I definitely give it a thumbs up.

So then Jacob and I got to talking about other sports movies over burgers at Steak and Shake (our favorite heart-attack-inducing joint). Here are the results:

Basketball - Hoosiers and Glory Road
Baseball - Gotta be The Rookie
Hockey - Miracle
More football - I like Rudy, although as I recall, the father is pretty abusive to Rudy and that makes it tough to watch and not so family friendly

From there the pickings get slim. I'm not a huge fan of Field of Dreams or the romantic comedies that are sports-ish (like Fever Pitch). I like the movies that are about the sports and team. Oh, and Jacob tells me I have to put in Bad News Bears--although when I saw the old version of this (and the new version ain't any better), I was shocked at the bad language and the drunk coach who is not exactly a good role model.

Then we were pondering why some sports haven't been made into movies:

Ultimate Frisbee
Dodgeball (oh yeah, there was that dumb one)
Track (besides Chariots of Fire)

Why not
Golfing? (okay, there are a couple of those...)

We did think of Cool Runnings, which is that funky movie about the Jamaican bobsled team that went to the Olympics

Anyway, those are my sports movies thoughts tonight.
Favorite Movies of 2006
Some years we add our favorites of the year to our Christmas letter, but this year we didn't quite get around to that. So here are my movie favorites (just in case you're interested). I'll do the books (which are much harder to choose from) tomorrow:

New Release Movies I liked (not in any particular order):
Walk the Line
Pride and Prejudice
Akeelah and the Bee
Lady in the Water
The Navity Story
The Great Raid
Cinderella Man

Older Movies I liked:
Apollo 13
Saving Private Ryan
To Kill a Mockingbird

Biggest disappointments:
Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire (all I can say after seeing that is yuck)
Eight Below (way too sad; just can't handle doggie movies)
Dukes of Hazzard (I'm embarrassed that I even watched it)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Bats in Your Belfry?
Today I have more fun bat facts for you. But first, let's consider a little more about bats in general. I am kind of creeped out by bats, and here's why:

This is my cute cat Penny:

This is not so cute:

This is my cute dog Lucy:

Not so cute:

Now this one could ALMOST be considered cute:

But not really when you compare it to:

So I guess you could say that some mammals are simply cuter than others. And bats do not rank up there too high for me. Nevertheless, they do serve their purpose. They eat bugs, which is good. I like bugs less than I like bats. They also pollenate plants. I also generally like nocturnal animals.

But what if you have bats in your belfry that you want to get rid of? Well, my husband jokingly says to confirm them because if they're anything like youth, once they get confirmed, you never see them again.

But seriously, here is how you get rid of bats in your house, belfry, or other unwanted place.

Step 1 - Find out where your bats are entering the building. You might need a friend to help you figure this out. Bats go out to eat around dusk, so wait until it's almost dark (but only during the warm months when they are not hibernating) and look for bats flying around.

Step 2 - Once you have found the spot where the bats enter and exit, place a bat house close to the opening.

Step 3 - Wait a few days and make sure the bats are taking residence in the bat house.

Step 4 - After the bats are used to the bat house, wait until dusk one night. After the bats have left the building and/or bat house for their evening meal, place a covering like wire netting over the opening to the building.

Voila! No more bats.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fun Bat Facts
So, one of my Christmas gifts was a bat house. Yes, a bat house. What, you ask, is a bat house? Well, it is a house where bats live. And why, you ask, would I want a bat house? Why, to bring bats into the back yard to eat mosquitoes of course. (This looks like an interesting website about bat houses.)

Plus, I do love nocturnal animals--well, I should say the thought of nocturnal animals since I rarely see them, being diurnal myself. I did see a raccoon last night, though. So, anyway, along with my bat house, I got a booklet about bats, and here are some fun facts.

- Bats hibernate from April to Oct. They have to find a place where they will be undisturbed. They usually wake up 3-4 times per winter to change position. But if they are disturbed more than those 3 or 4 times, they use up too much energy and may starve. That's why they like caves and mines for hibernation.

- Bats do not carry rabies more than any other mammal.

- Bats use echolocation to move around. They can sense the soundwaves bouncing off something as small as a piece of hair and move around it. That's how they can eat find and eat so many bugs.

- They eat as much as they weigh every day.

That's as much as I can remember tonight. It was actually a pretty interesting booklet. I've been trying to think of the right verb to describe how bats move. Flitter flutter seems to work, I think. Any other ideas?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pencils so sharp they could impale someone!
My mom and dad gave me an electric pencil sharpener for Christmas, and man, is it awesome. I recently realized how much I like the old-fashioned wooden type pencils, but they have to be super sharp. So, I added a pencil sharpener to my Christmas list, and my parents very kindly got me a wonderful sharpener. If any of you live in Fort Wayne and you need a really sharp pencil, you may come over to use my pencil sharpener any day, but we will all try to refrain from impaling.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My New Favorite Kind of Tea
Just in case you were new favorite is decaf mandarin orange green tea made by Celestial Seasonings. I toured Celestial Seasonings with my mom and Jacob a few years ago. The factory is in Boulder, Colo. It was delicious to go into a room filled with bags of mint tea leaves.

I have come to love coffee, but tea is always my afternoon and evening favorite. In 1999, Scott and I went to England when he was considering a call to a church in London. We were exhausted, overwhelmed by the possibility of moving overseas, and I distinctly remember two cups of tea. One was made by the ladies after church. Wow, that was awesome. The other was at the Jensens' house. They were hosting us for the weekend, and we came into their very typical London house (like a rowhouse), warmed up by their fireplace to fight off the damp chill, and had a lovely cup of tea. Lovely is the only word for it. . Milky sweet tea is a great comfort. The Brits definitely got that right.
Debating with myself
So, I've lately been debating with myself about whether or not to post poems I have written. On the one hand, forcing myself to have an audience for my poetry might be helpful. But on the other hand, I am resisting making public something which is not ready to be seen.

This makes me think about the writing process. I have learned, slowly but surely, that I need to protect my fledgling ideas. I am way too susceptible to a lukewarm reaction if I mention something specific. I don't mean talking generally about "someday" projects. But when I have a specific idea in mind, and it is starting to take shape, I try to keep it unseen and untold until I have proceeded through a certain number of drafts of the manuscript. It's the way I seem to work best. But that said, fairly early in the process, I show my manuscripts to people I trust who help guide me through the revision process.

But in spite of myself, I have decided to post this poem I wrote last night. I've taken liberties with details, but the essence of the sentiment is intact. Also, it's actually an epiphany poem, but looks back to Christmas. In our family, we celebrate all twelve days of Christmas, leaving up our decorations until Jan. 6, Epiphany.


I clear away the wreckage of boxes and wrapping paper,
fold new sweaters, shelving them in closets,
coil strands of sparkly lights, tucking them away,
vacuum pine needles from the carpet.

In the thick darkness of midwinter,
I am left
with the echo of a D-major chord ringing in the nave,
the whiff of frankincense,
words lingering in my ears
all was still and it was midnight
they were sore afraid
the great wonder she carried
The Word Became Flesh

I am left
with treasures rich as the magi's
as I step into Epiphany

Monday, December 25, 2006

On the Nativity of Our Lord
"How unobtrusively and simply do those events take place on earth that are so heralded in heaven! On earth it happened in this wise: There was a poor young wife, Mary of Nazareth, among the meanest dwellers of the town, so little esteemed that none noticed the great wonder that she carried. She was silent, did not vaunt herself, but served her husband, who had no man or maid. They simply left the house. Perhaps they had a donkey for Mary to ride upon, though the Gospels say nothing about it and we may well believe that she went on foot. Think how she was treated in the inns on the way, she who might well have been taken in a golden carriage, with gorgeous equipage! How many great ladies and their daughters there were at that time, living in luxury, while the mother of God, on foot, in midwinter trudged her weight across the fields! How unequal it all was!

"Let us, then, meditate upon the Nativity just as we see it happening in our own babies. I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh. Look upon the baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify man. Inexpressible majesty will crush him. That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.

"Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to judge this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save."

- From Martin Luther's Christmas Book, edited by Roland Bainton, pp. 30-32.

One reason why I keep coming back to this book every Advent/Christmas is because I love Luther's writing. I wish I could read his works in German, but I'll have to trust the English translation. He has these wonderfully poetic turns of phrase that help to illuminate the Word of God and make it understandable.

Blessed Christmastide to you all!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas
I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this afternoon, realizing we are creating all new traditions this year post-move to Fort Wayne. I am looking forward to the Christmas Eve services tonight. Jacob is singing in the "children's" service at St. Paul's, and then later, I'm singing in the choir at Redeemer Lutheran. We're doing some pretty ambitious pieces for a church choir, but there are excellent singers in the choir.

I'm also listening to Mindy Smith, who I can never get enough of. She has a new album, which isn't quite as strong as her first. But I still like it.

I'm reading Martin Luther's Christmas Book edited by Roland Bainton, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, and Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard S. Marcus (yes, I regularly read multiple books at the same time--not literally of course).

Here's a link to my husband's blog, which shows Concordia Luth. in Pittsburgh all decked out for Christmas. We miss you all!

Last, I just want to say a thank you to everyone who has kept in touch with us from Pittsburgh over the last few months. We miss all of you so much! I'm sorry our Christmas cards are so late. You all should be getting them soon. Much love to all of our friends and family scattered all over the country. Thank you also to all our new friends here in Fort Wayne who have embraced us and made us feel so welcome. Merry Christmas all!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Two really dumb links that I absolutely adore

We like the moon song
I guess you sort of have to have a Napoleon Dynamite sense of humor to like this. But I can't ever stop laughing at it when I see it.

Penguin game. Thank you to Schnigglefritz for this one. My high score is 303. Jacob's is 317. Todd Peperkorn's high score is 321.

Boy, I'm getting a lot done today.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Sad Thing and Ponderings on Favorites
Here's the sad thing: Jacob was so sick this past Sunday that he (and I) had to miss the Christmas Pageant at our new church, Redeemer Lutheran. I was so bummed that Jacob even said told me that I could go if I wanted and he'd be fine on his own. He had a fever, felt dizzy whenever he stood up, had a terrible cough, etc. The good news is that he's feeling better now, and that his asthma medicines really did the trick so he missed only one day of school. The bad news is that we had to miss the Christmas pageant, which really stunk.

Now, onto ponderings on favorites. Yesterday, I realized (yes, I know this is going to sound strange) that my new favorite color is pink. I don't know why. I always used to like blue. But now I like pink.

I also realized recently that I am totally in love with grapefruits. Again, I don't know why, but I could eat grapefruits all day long. Why is it that we like certain things and not others--particularly when it really seems to make no difference in the grand scheme of things? I mean, who cares that I prefer pink. Does it impact the world in any way? Does it make my life better? Does it end world hunger?

I thought about this in a related topic when I was trying to decide on a one-syllable girl's name for a story I have been working on this fall. As I came up with all sorts of different names: Ann, Lynn, Kay, Kate, etc., each one had a different "flavor." I realized a lot of that was wrapped up in who I knew in my life with those names. I'll always love the name Fiona, not only because it's a beautiful word, but also because I had a great friend in high school named Fiona. But I am not in love with other names because I have some bad memory associated with them.

I read this review of a children's book yesterday on Amazon, and the reader actually criticized the author of the book very strongly for using the name Madison instead of Madeline. It was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen. Why not use a classic name that will last instead of a trendy name like Madison, the reader said. It befuddled me. Can't the author choose whatever stinkin' name she wants to? Apparently not.

So, why do you think we like certain things and not others? Why do I like grapefruit but can barely tolerate bananas? Why has pink become my favorite color? Why did I settle on the name Grace for my character?
Pre-Christmas Shopping
Here's the interesting thing about living in Fort Wayne vs. a bigger city like Pittsburgh. Granted, Pittsburgh is no L.A. or New York, but still...the pre-Christmas shopping crowds were so much worse in Pittsburgh than here. Yesterday, I actually went shopping and stopped in several stores. It was December 19, and it wasn't even all that crowded. Whoa! That was weird. In Pittsburgh, I swore off mall and/or Wal-mart shopping for at least the entire month of December just because it was so crowded and I ALWAYS stood in line for at least 20 minutes. Here, it's definitely different.

So, that's my random observation for the morning.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Now What I Am Doing
-Baking 6 loaves of Banana Nut Bread
-Finishing up my Christmas letter
-Ignoring the messy house
-Trying to take baby steps (check out Flylady if you've never heard of her) with cleaning up my messy house
-Thinking about what Emmanuel -- "God with us" means (with help from Pr. Beisel)

Friday, December 15, 2006

What I Should Be Doing
Christmas shopping
Wrapping presents
Baking cookies
Taking my dog for a walk
Cleaning the house
Writing Sunday school lessons
Addressing Christmas cards

What I'm Doing Instead
None of that
Too tired

Monday, December 11, 2006

Quotes from the Weekend

Quote #1: "Tracing paper has changed my life."
This was spoken by Jacob after we tracked down tracing paper at Hobby Lobby on Saturday. He has been really interested in drawing cars lately, and finally realized that tracing paper would help him get the shape of the cars right. We also made major progress and found the light box which I borrowed from my mom about a million years ago. We couldn't remember where we'd shoved that after the move. Ah, the joys of moving...

Quote #2: "The only reason you're still conscious is so I don't have to carry you."
This is classic Jack Bauer. We rented season 5 of 24 this weekend. We are in 24 la-la land.

Quote #3: "......"
These were the non-spoken utterances of Scott as he was still recuperating from the plague which he's had for the last 3 weeks. Thankfully, he's feeling better now.

Quote #4: "Oh no, not again."
This was a quote from me yesterday when I saw my grinning, goofy dog covered in mud and some sort of stinky mud-type stuff (which we all know was not really mud). That led to me donning a shower cap and bathing suit to give Lucy a bath. Seriously. She smelled really gross. But now she smells like a fresh spring morning.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Books and Such
I got a box of author copies of my newest book, Things I See at Baptism yesterday. The "church book" series has been so much fun for me, and hopefully a help to parents and teachers. I wrote the first, Things I See in Church when my son Jacob was two years old. He is now 11, which seems impossible, but true. I knew that even as a two-year old, he'd be able to understand the church service better if I could "translate" what was happening for him. So, that's what I attempted to do. Now there are several titles in the board book series, and it's been great fun and a great blessing.

I talked to a fourth-year student here at the seminary, Charles Lehmann this morning who told me his new book called God Made It for You is now out too. So, congrats, Charles! I look forward to reading this one. The artwork on the cover looks fantastic. I hope it does well!

God Made It for You
By Charles Lehmann

Concordia Publishing House continues to publish wonderful resources for children, and I'm thankful for that!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's Saint Nicholas Day!
I almost forgot to post about today, December 6, being Saint Nicholas Day. So happy St. Nicholas Day to you all! Last night, we had Jacob put his shoes out for "St. Nicholas" to fill with goodies, which came in the form of a new basketball and football this year. Normally, I remember to get gold coins to celebrate the day, but with a sick husband, a big workload and a recent move, I'm afraid we'll be chocolate-coin-less this year. (But we do have M&M's which always work in a pinch.)

Anyway, here is the link to my website with the info about my St. Nicholas book. I heard from Jacob's teacher today that they read the book in class, which was such a nice idea. Thank you, Mrs. Muehl!

And while I'm at the shameless self-promotion, here's a link to my first-ever article in Lutheran Witness (p. 14), which appears in the Dec. 06 edition.

Here's a nice website with lots of info on Saint Nicholas.
Pilates and On My Thyme
Yesterday I went to my Pilates class at the Y, and dang, was that hard. I feel like a contortionist when I'm in class, and I'm sure I look like a total weirdo. Pilates is all about strengthening the core muscles of the body. We do a lot of things that force us to balance, using those post-baby tummy muscles. It's awesome, but really hard. There is one woman in the class who is so flexible that when she bends over to touch her toes, she can actually put the knuckles of her hands on the floor. Something about that just isn't right.

Then, last night, I was invited to join some new and very sweet friends at On My Thyme, where I prepared 12 meals in a snap. It is awesome. The concept is to go to one of these meal prep centers, and they give you all the ingredients chopped up and ready to go. We rolled up burritos, assembled pork dishes, etc., with their (mostly healthy) ingredients. Then we packed the entrees in tins to freeze. So, I am set for awhile for dinner as far as meal preparation goes, through the rest of the month, with the occasional frozen pizza and/or grilled cheese thrown in.

So, all in all, it was an awesome day. (But now I need to get back to my writing projects.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Another Fun Link (Thank you Carol!)
When Jacob and I were in Pittsburgh, we stayed with my dear friend Carol, and to entertain him, she showed him the diet Coke and mentos video as well as this one, which shows a really cool juggling act. Check it out!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Crisp, Clear Night
The moon is nearly full, and I stepped outside just now to look at it. It's uncommon to have such a beautiful clear sky here in Indiana, but we have that tonight. I wish I knew more constellations. I can pick out Orion's Belt, I can sometimes find the seven sisters, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, etc. There is something about the leafless trees silhouetted in the velvet sky that makes me love nighttime in the winter.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Most Popular Blog Post EVER!!
Yes, I am now revealing the long-awaited secret.

My most popular blog post is not some fabulous poem I wrote or some shameless self-promotion of one of my books. It's not even the funny stories I tell about my dog. No. The most popular blog post ever was a link to a silly game.

So, here it is for all of those who have requested it. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Does Anyone...
have a guess what the most popular post on my blog has been?
(I'm really milking this for all it's worth, aren't I?)
A Great Collaboration
It is so wonderful to have such a great partnership and friendship with Carol Baicker-McKee, the wonderful illustrator of Cheep! Cheep! Just this morning, we muddled our way together through all the intricacies of the future, conditional, modal tenses of the verbs will, would, can, and could--and all of that for a 400 word children's picture book about a kitten. So, don't be fooled that writers for children pay no heed to usage, grammar, and the Chicago Manual of Style, cuz we do.
Don't Think I've Forgotten...
My most popular blog post ever is coming tomorrow (or maybe Saturday)!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Question of the Day
Why is it that police tires do not have hubcaps? I have always wondered that.
The Kitchen and I are not getting along
So I had this idea that I'd post about the lovely white chili I made this week with turkey leftovers, but the men in my life weren't too excited about white chili.

Instead, today I made everything for tacos. In the process, I set off the smoke alarm twice. I think that's a world's record even for me--to set the smoke alarm off twice while making dinner. That is pretty pathetic. Thankfully, no one was injured. Sigh...
Coming Soon!
At the end of the week, I will unveil my most popular blog post EVER! And so many of you who have requested it will be very happy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You know you're in Indiana when...
you pass a sign along the road on the way to your son's basketball game which reads:


Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Cool Thing about Diet Coke and Mentos
Okay, so do you all know about how mentos candy make diet Coke bottles erupt? It's really cool. I learned this about a year ago, and I tried it. It really works. You just buy some mentos and some diet Coke and then open up the bottle and plop the mentos in. I think if you put many mentos in at once, there is a bigger eruption. But just last week, when Jacob and I tried this in the backyard with a two-liter bottle of diet Coke and only one or two mentos, it "erupted" almost the entire bottle of diet Coke.

So, check out this video for diet Coke and mentos fun!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why I Love Books
When I was a teenager, I discovered the joy of reading. Many of my writer-friends were voracious readers as children, but it wasn't until high school and even my college years that I began to truly love literature. My husband and I were talking at dinner tonight about people who have a hard time reading fiction because it's not true. But I find much truth about the human condition in a work of fiction. As a teen, I went through the normal teenage angst of wanting to fit in, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, etc. And somehow I found I learned more about myself and the people around me by reading works of fiction.

Take for example Hamlet. Hamlet's indecisiveness gets him into heaps of trouble. This is not good. It leads to murder, chaos and a pretty stinky situation by the end of the play. (I love, by the way, the Kenneth Branaugh version of the movie.) Shakespeare shows in this work of fiction that indecisiveness has disastrous results.

The thing I remember about reading when I was younger is that I found people who were like me in books. A teenager's worst fear is being the weirdo, and I found that I wasn't the weirdo simply by reading because there were others like me who had the same thoughts, the same motivations, whatever.

I am now reading Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard S. Marcus. (Thanks to mom for recommending it.) Margaret Wise Brown wrote Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny and many other children's classics. In some respects, she invented the children's picture book. Her writing is poetic and sparce and lyrical and she totally understands children. That's why I love her books. She was able to speak to children and understand their fears, needs, and desires. She helps the child reader know that someone understands them.

Leonard Marcus points out: "In The Little Fir Tree, a Christmas story, Margaret gave comforting substance to the fearfully intangible feelings of loneliness that all small children know: 'Always the little fir tree looked over at the big fir trees in the great dark forest. He wished he were part of the forest of part of something, instead of growing all alone out there, a little fir tree in a big empty world'" (20).

I think it's one of those small miracles when a writer can capture in words those vague feelings we all have. And somehow it makes me feel better that someone else understood enough to bother putting it into words.

And that's--at least in part--why I love books.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Am Wishing for a Fireplace and a Big Leather Chair
...and hot chocolate and a good book. This rainy damp gloomy weather is the pits. Oh, I know, I know I should look on the bright side (what bright side when it's only cloudy all the time?): the grass is green, we are not in a drought, blah blah blah. But I'm having trouble getting focused this afternoon on my writing when all I want to do is curl up and read a good book.

On an unrelated note, last Saturday I learned how to make a coil basket. Basically, it's just winding yarn around a bigger piece of cord or jute and coiling the whole thing up. It's kind of cool and extremely easy. I couldn't find a very good picture of it online, but here is one that's okay. I haven't done any needlework for a long time, but it's been fun to work on this project in my spare time. Thanks to Sarah Nordling for teaching the class. It was fun.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Escape Reading
My mom told me about an author I've enjoyed over the last few months. His name is Lee Child. He writes thriller-type mystery books. The main character is Jack Reacher, who is this former military cop who has no home, no ties to anyone, just rambles all around the country helping people who get in these impossible situations. Making him have no ties and no relationships other than with the immediate characters in each story is a great writing device. He doesn't have to be an "armchair detective" because he doesn't have a life he goes back to after solving his mysteries and getting rid of bad guys. He simply vanishes. So the author can create new scenarios each time, in completely different settings.

But it makes me think about society and people living in community and what a family is and does for its members. Could someone really live like this? With no personal ties? No consideration for how his mother is doing? No wondering about his wife's birthday? The only thing he carries with him is a toothbrush. He buys new clothes every couple of days and ditches the old ones. Of course, there is the question of money. How does he support himself? I don't know. The author has never made that clear.

But the stories are intriguing and a fun escapist-type read. Right now, I'm reading Echo Burning.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Some exciting news!
I heard yesterday from our lovely editor, Melanie Cecka, at Bloomsbury USA, that Cheep! Cheep! has been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Award. This is a British award, similar to the Caldecott in America, which is awarded to a children's picture book for illustrations. I am so pleased and so proud of Carol Baicker-McKee, the illustrator of Cheep! Cheep!, and my dear friend. Her little chicks are so incredibly adorable. She completely deserves many awards for her three-dimensional fabric art.

We also found out yesterday (as if that weren't enough great news) that Cheep! Cheep! has been named one of Parenting magazine's best books of the year, which is just so darn exciting. Here's a link to last year's best books. The '06 best books will be in the new Parenting magazine by mid-November.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The place you call 'home'
Last weekend my son and I made the drive back to the rolling green hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where we stayed for the weekend.

Yet again, I sensed the change in the scenery as we left the flatlands of Indiana with its pockets of trees here and there to the endless tree-covered hills of Pennsylvania. Our coming back showed me that while much stays the same, things also have changed. We moved at the height of summer; but the leaves have fallen off the trees in my absence. Little things have changed--a new yellow line painted on the street, a business now closed. So where do we call "home"? Is home only the place where you lay your head on your pillow? Where you "hang your hat"? What defines home?

I've also been thinking about the physical space we call our own. We live in these four walls. Here my family eats together, prays together, reads together. This is where we are a family. And yet the family endures beyond these four walls.

That's why I love having the wonderful simple house blessing whenever we move. It's not to chase out the ghosties so much as praying for the inhabitants of this place to love one another, to help each other, to welcome visitors, etc.

Anyway, those are just my random ramblings this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Well, that was fun
I am now sitting down to recover after giving my Golden Retriever, Lucy, a bath, or actually, a shower. Let's just say it didn't go very well. After she was clean enough, I was also dripping wet from head to toe because, of course, the shower is really not big enough for my gi-normous beheamoth dog. So, she hung out of the shower part way, getting the floor completely soaked. And then whenever I'd go to wash the part of her that actually fit in the shower, I would, of course, be leaning into the shower stream, so I'm a little damp too.

Normally, I let the groomer take care of our beloved pooch. But today it was an emergency. We had just gotten back from this lovely walk in the woods, and I was sitting to have a lovely cup of coffee while writing in my lovely journal.

Suddenly, I hear snuffling and snorting in the weeds behind the house. And there is Lucy, panting with that silly grin on her face saying, "look at the neat raccoon crap I just rubbed all over my head!"

So, 4 giant-sized towels later, our dog is mostly clean. At least smell-able.

The irony is that I had the shower stall in mind for bathing her instead of the bathtub because our son's allergist said we needed to wash the cats and dog frequently to cut down on the dander in the house. Okay, fine. So, he said, just walk your dog into the shower and spray her down. He made it sound oh-so easy.

We won't even talk about bathing the cats. That's not going to happen.

Scott and I were talking about the busy squirrels in the backyard last weekend, and how they rush and run around burying their acorns for the winter. Lucy gets really agitated whenever they enter her "domain." She walks in circles around the dining room table, whines, and generally makes sure one of us are looking at this terrible thing: a squirrel is trespassing. Scott said, Hey Lucy, leave the squirrel alone. At least he's working.

It really is true that she doesn't do too much work around the house, alhtough I thought of a couple of her various jobs, like eating the occasional bug so I don't have to flush it. And lately, she's become pretty adept at breaking up cat fights. I mean literal cat fights between our two cats. Other than that, she really is pretty lazy. Okay, she's also good at rubbing her head in raccoon crap (or whatever that nasty stuff was).

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Lutheran Question
This is something I've been wondering this week. Why did Martin Luther expand on the meaning of the Apostles' Creed instead of the Nicene Creed in the Small Catechism?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Poetry and Such
Cyberstones got me thinking more about poetry this morning. I say "more" about poetry because it's really always on my mind.

Lately, I've been working on a new children's book manuscript, and have been pondering all the things that rhyme with "-ing." Now you might say: Julie, there are a million words that rhyme with "-ing": following, saying, thinking, writing, flying, etc. And those are all gerunds; think of all the millions of others. And what about all the nouns? Anything, everything, nothing, etc.

But here's the problem, and this is why the poetry post over at Cyberstones got me thinking. The challenge of writing good verse (poetry that rhymes) is that the meter has to be perfect. So, say I want to rhyme the word "sting" with "anything." Well, if "sting" is an endrhyme, then it gets the emphasis, being a one-syllable word. But with almost any gerund, the stress is not on the "ing" but on the first syllable of the word, so then the meter gets thrown off.

The other consideration to keep in mind constantly is the number of syllables per line. For the piece I'm working on right now, I'm using a 4-line stanza with 7, 5, 7, 5 syllables per line. In order to make the rhyme work, make the meter work, and stay within the number of syllables per line, everything has to align perfectly.

That's why, as one who attempts to write poetry, I am always so in awe of Shakespeare or any of the great poets. The complexity of a sonnet, for example, is incredible. Complicated rhymes, very fussy meter, all sorts of crazy limits to syllables, etc. I mean it's like these poets like to see how many hoops they can force the English langugae through in order to get their thought out.

And that's what makes poetry great. And really, really hard to write well.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Birdies, Part Two
One problem with putting out birdseed in the yard is the fact that "extra" critters that are attracted to the seed other than birds, like rats (yuck), squirrels (cute), or raccoons.

After we moved here, I filled up our old bird feeder with seed and hung it out on a regular shepherd's hook in the backyard. The next morning, not only was every bit of bird seed gone, but the bird feeder was broken on the ground.

So I went to Wild Birds Unlimited to get some advice. They said my problem was definitely raccoons. We had lots of squirrels who liked our bird seed in Pittsburgh, but it always took them at least a few days to get through all the seed in the feeder, and in the meantime, birds got to snack too. But to have all the seed gone in one night? That wasn't going to work.

They recommended I get the pole system. Here's a link. I admit that it was a little pricey to get started. But what I got was a pole which I screwed into the ground. Then I added a raccoon baffle. This is a cylindrical type thing which goes around the pole which the raccoons (or squirrels for that matter) can't get around. Then, I got a new feeder to put at the top of the pole. It took awhile to attract the birds to the feeder, but now that they've learned I have some good cooking, we get all sorts.

It's funny to look at our pole now. There are all these muddy footprints under the raccoon baffle, but only birds can get past the baffle. So, it definitely works. The cool thing about the pole system, too, is that you can add extra hooks or "arms" to the pole, and have several feeders hanging from the one pole.

The photo above isn't incredibly great, but you can see my bird feeder on the top of the pole with the one arm and two other feeders. One is a suet feeder (which the woodpeckers like) and the other is the hummingbird feeder (which I should take down because the hummingbirds are all gone now). And of course, that's Lucy our dog on the porch. It looks like she's eating a stick or getting into some other kind of mischief.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Birdies, Birdies Everywhere!
I really like birds. Well, I should qualify that. I like birds when they're outdoors. Indoor birds freak me out. But outdoor birds I like. That's why I recently got a pole set-up thing from Wild Birds Unlimited. We now have a regular bird feeder, two hummingbird feeders, a suet feeder, and a finch feeder. Two of these were gifts from my dear friend Shirley Ubinger.

When we first moved, I set out the feeder with my sunflower seed and it took FOREVER for the birds to show up. Finally, about six weeks later, the first birds came to visit. I would almost hyperventilate with excitement when they came to my feeder.

We have so far identified these birds: the Tufted Titmouse, the Downy Woodpecker (he likes the suet), sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Grackles, Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadee, and of course robins and crows. I REALLY almost hyperventilated when hummingbirds came to my kitchen window to drink from my hummingbird feeder. They are so fast and skittish that I couldn't move whenever they showed up. But I haven't seen any the last couple of weeks, so they're probably somewhere warmer by now.

Here's kind of a cool site on identifying birds.

I think partly I like birds a lot because they remind me of Jesus' comments about birds in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. They truly do not store or set things by, but the heavenly Father cares for them. Every meal is provided. Here is a cool sermon by Pr. Petersen on that topic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Yes, I still exist...
So, after moving four weeks ago, I am finally sitting down to update my blog (which is still in its messed up state on Internet Explorer--sorry about that--if anyone has any ideas of how to fix it, please let me know).

We are now living in the lovely (but rainy) state of Indiana where my dog adores the sliding glass door. She sits there all day watching the squirrels roam up and down the trees in the back yard. Also have some tiny hummingbirds coming to my window to my new birdfeeder which I love (thank you Shirley).

We are slowly getting settled in our new home, but still dealing with frustrations and challenges that come with moving a household to a new state.

Tomorrow our furniture is getting delivered. We finally bought new bedroom furniture after 16plus years of marriage. The other furniture now will occupy the guest room.

Then on Wednesday, I'm going to re-take the driver's test. Yes, I said retake, but I will say nothing more about that subject--except that I now know how many days a driver with a probationary license has to wait before he/she can have another passenger in the car who isn't an adult. Indiana has some goofy laws about drivers knowing dumb facts like that in their driver's manual. So...I am going to the BMV on Wednesday to PASS my written exam and get my driver's license.

More updates to come...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Journals, Poetry, and Pens
So today I put the last post in my journal, which I've used since last December. I normally fill up a journal in about three months, so either I didn't write as much in the first part of 06 or this journal is just bigger than other ones I get. It's always a mixed bag to finish a journal. In a way, it is gratifying because it reminds me that I am writing regularly, and adding to my journal ideas for stories, along with the thoughts of everyday life. It's also a little sad because once I set aside a journal, I sometimes forget some of the ideas and move on to other things--but the great thing is I can always go back and use the ideas some other day.

I encourage everyone to keep a journal--even if you don't consider yourself a writer. I always find that writing out things I'm thinking for my eyes only really helps me to think through decisions, solidify ideas, etc. My agent gave me this beautiful journal and bookmark from Italy, and that's the next one I'm going to start tonight.

While I'm at it, I might as well give a plug for the best journal-writing pen on the planet. It is a Pilot Precise V5, extra fine in black. The best! I read that Pres. Bush really likes Sharpie pens. I like those too, but not for journal writing.

Yesterday I found at our local library a new book called Writing Metrical Poetry by William Baer. It is awesome. He goes through the opening chapter discussing how language is the greatest tool of human beings, pointing us to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel and reminding us that little in life can be achieved without language. My husband, who just returned from Russia, made the observation to me yesterday that he felt really out of place when he was sitting in a lunchroom with only Russian-speakers all around him. He noticed several deaf girls sitting together in the room also and reflected that they maybe felt as left out of the conversation as he was, since he spoke no Russian. Language binds people together in a way we sometimes take for granted.

Baer reflects further that literature is a wonderful use of language, giving expression to any and every human condition. Then he conclues:

"Thus, great literature can be described as the most sophisticated use of man's greatest tool to consider the most important human subjects with the purpose of moving the reader to serious thought while also affecting the emotions of the heart" (2).

Cool, eh?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Room with a View
Last week, I had the chance to go to Fallingwater, one of the homes Frank Lloyd Wright designed here in Western Pennsylvania. It's a lovely place that fits organically into the landscape. I remember the first time I saw the countryside surrounding Fallingwater. I had seen many photos of the home in the past, but it was along the road leading to the house that I saw the large, rectangular boulders jutting out from the hillside and realized that they must have been Wright's inspiration for the design of the house.

We toured the house, which is actually situated over the creek and a small waterfall. Everywhere in the home, Wright designed the rooms to be close to nature, and the views are spectacular. He also created all these fabulous nooks and crannies and writing corners where I could definitely see myself writing lots of books!

And it got me to thinking about the creative process and the environment. Could I write a better book--or have more creative ideas for books--if I lived in a place like Fallingwater? Not very many people have that type of opportunity to be so close to nature, and have the absolute ideal, picturesque setting in which to create. But that's my latest question: does it matter where I write? Would it change the writing itself?

I'm due to read The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, which I re-read every summer. In that book, as in some of her other writings, she emphasizes writing in the midst of life. Many people hope to take that sabbatical to write their great American novel. But most people can't take a year off their lives. So, the key is to write in the midst of all the busy-ness, the activities, the long work days. So, my gut tells me that no, where I write doesn't matter.

But then I look at a place like Fallingwater, and I am just dying to get to my journal, and sit at one of those fabulous desks overlooking the creek. And it's maybe that response--that longing to write--which a closeness to nature helps.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pittsburgh Steelers fans are beside themselves after Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident yesterday. Many are downright selfish, disappointed that his performance as a football player could be jeopardized--and their own hopes for a second Steelers superbowl victory could be dashed.

I've heard many a pastor say that anything (even football) can become a god, and thus we break the1st commandment. Of course, we can enjoy a good game and not "worship" the sport, but I have witnessed many people here in Pittsburgh who love their Steelers so much that the performance of a team in a game actually affects their emotional outlook for days on end--for good or bad. That's when we are in danger of breaking the 1st Commandment. Now, I'm not saying that people who are concerned about Big Ben now are breaking the 1st Commandment. I'm simply saying that holding anything in our hearts as more important than God would be wrong.

I hope Ben recovers. Even with a full recovery, however, I can't imagine that getting beat up during football games would actually help him this fall.

I'm 37 years old, and really it wasn't until I became a mother 10 years ago that I started realizing that I have limitations--and that I'd better be responsible. That's not to say that I went around hang gliding and riding motorcycles without a helmet before then. But it was all the responsibilities of being a mom that made me change my attitude. It's the folly of youth to think that they are immortal, and yet that's what often gives young soldiers the courage to face death everyday. Anyway, here's the latest on Ben. Sounds like he may not even have had a motorcycle license.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Good Search
Recently, we discovered a new search engine, which you can use like Google, which helps raise money for charity. It's called Good Search. You can enter the name of our church, Concordia Lutheran Church, in Pittsburgh, PA, and for every search you do, the church gets a penny. It seems like it would take awhile to earn any significant amount of money, but it could add up if enough people do it. So, it would be awesome if a bunch of people make that their homepage and then do all their searches through that site.

A Note on Cheep! Cheep!
A few people in Pittsburgh have asked me where they can find my book. can always order it from Amazon or someplace like that (and for more info, you can go to my website: There are also a number of copies available at the Barnes & Noble at the Waterfront, FYI. Thanks for asking!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen is one of my all-time favorite authors. We watched "Pride and Prejudice" about a week ago, and I just re-read the book over the weekend. The movie is a great adaptation of the book, although as is often the case with book-to-movie screenplays, scenes were compressed or multiple scenes lumped into one, etc. However, there were some places in the book that read just like the screenplay.

After finishing the book yesterday, I realized a couple of things. First, compared to the manners of Austen's day, most Americans are basically cave men or apes or something when it comes to how we treat one another. In Victorian England, the standards of decorum were very high. And Austen's writing captures that aspect of her society, while at the same time using words that are exactly right and ring true emotionally. That's at least in part why her books have endured.

I've also decided I'm going to have an all-Austen movie week (or two) this summer and watch "Sense and Sensibility," "Emma," and I may even look for "Mansfield Park." And I'll at least re-read one of those books--maybe all of them.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Kinda Cool
Yesterday I got a surprise at my doorstep (and no, it wasn't a stork). It was a box from Concordia Publishing House full of copies of my Thanksgiving book in a paperback version. That was cool! I didn't even realize it was going to be a paperback, so it was a nice surprise. This is the link to CPH for the hardback edition. I don't see the paperback version on the CPH Web site yet, but I'm sure it'll be there soon.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Emeril and Me
Last night I was flipping channels for a few minutes after another freezing-cold baseball game (in which my son got 3 singles--way to go, Jacob!), and came across the food network's Emeril Live show. It was hot dog night on the show (whatever that means). When my remote landed on the channel, he had just diced a bunch of onions, put them in some olive oil to saute, and was getting some scattered oohs and aahs from the crowd. Then he diced some tomatoes, cutting them into large-ish hunks and added them to the pan with the onions.

And then, I couldn't believe what happened next.

The crowd started clapping and cheering, as if he had accomplished some great feat. They were hooting and hollaring because he had thrown some cut-up tomatoes in a stinking frying pan!!

And it occurred to me that I would be a much happier cook if only people would clap and cheer every time I, say, tear up some lettuce leaves and toss them in a salad bowl, or drain some spaghetti noodles, or perhaps--gasp--dump some applesauce into a bowl! Then I'd toss away my writing pen and be in the kitchen all day long, right?

So, I guess what my kitchen needs is a cheering, oohing and aahing studio audience. But, until I get that, I guess I'll just keep my sharpened pencils close by.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Book of Lists and other miscellaneous thoughts
How much I post on my blog is in direct relation to the amount of time I have to write, so I have been cranky lately without much writing time. However, I thought I'd post something about a book I found at the library called, The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists. It's produced by Jossey-Bass Teacher and edited/compiled by Edward Fry and Jacqueline Kress. It's got some really interesting info, such as vocabulary builders, teaching ideas, plus lots of other tidbits. Here was a list I thought was kind of cool:

The Most Common Books in Libraries (I'm leaving off the names of the authors as a little quiz. Any you can't remember?)

1. Census
2. Bible
3. Mother Goose
4. The Divine Comedy
5. The Odyssey
6. The Iliad
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
8. Hamlet
9. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
10. The Lord of the Rings
11. Beowulf
12. Don Quixote
13. Koran
14. Aesop's Fables
15. The Night Before Christmas
16. Arabian Nights
17. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
18. Garfield by Jim Davis
19. Macbeth
20. Gulliver's Travels

Now, all of these (and the other five I didn't feel like typing in the top 25) seemed completely obvious, except for GARFIELD BY JIM DAVIS??? That's right up there with Beowulf and Hamlet and the Bible? I thought that was sort of amusing.

P.S. Those multiple question marks in my last paragraph are dedicated to Pastor Petersen. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Land that Inspired Narnia
I read an article last week in our AAA newsletter with some interesting info on the land that possibly inspired some of the setting C.S. Lewis' beloved Narnia books.

This is a photo of Dunluce Castle in Ireland, near where Lewis spent his childhood in the rolling hills of the Antrim Coast. This castle is said to have inspired Lewis' Cair Paravel from the Narnia books. Travelers can also visit St. Mark's Church in Dundea where Lewis was baptized as well as his childhood school Campbell College.

Although he was born in Ireland and spent much of his childhood there, Lewis spent most of his adult life in southern England, in Oxford where he studied and later taught. Here's a quote from the article: "Lewis' former home, The Kilns, is also located in Oxfordshire. The wild ground, lake and wooded hills of the once isolated home provided inspiration for Lewis as he wrote." (sigh--does that not sound like a writer's paradise???)

Anyway, so that's another trip I'll take someday. We actually have seen the Eagle and Child in Oxford, the pub where the inklings (Lewis and his buddies) gathered frequently. That was cool. And then we went to that huge bookstore. Blackwells, is it? I just love England.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Google Earth & Stuff
I've been sort of on a hiatus from my blog because I'm having problems getting all my info to show up correctly for people who use Internet Explorer. From what I've learned, it's a problem with Blogger. If you view it from another browser, like Mozilla Firefox, all appears to be fine. Anyhoo...please ignore the weird look of the blog. I'll keep trying to figure it out.

Yesterday I went to Google earth and downloaded this free program so that I can zoom in on a satellite photo of ANYWHERE ON EARTH! Most of you have probably heard of this before, and I had too, but I'd never taken the time to download the program. I found our neighborhood, and we were looking at interesting places all over the earth. We figured out that some of the photos were probably quite old (at least a year or so in our neighborhood), but still, it's kinda cool.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Peeky Eggs Update
Today I:
- revised a picture book manuscript that will be published next year;
- finished up some game instructions for the Sunday school curriculum I'm working on;
- went to pick up my son's baseball uniform;
- made pancakes (it is Saturday after all);
- did other various and sundry things around the house.
Now that I'm finishing up these other writing projects, I'm feeling ready to move onto something new. Will be pondering that...

In the meantime, I decided to add some photos of the peeky eggs production from last week. Thanks again to Doodles and Noodles for her the recipe. Anyway, here's the first picture:

The first step in making the peeky eggs is to make the egg shells. The only ingredients are sugar and egg whites. I used a substitute for egg whites, called meringue powder (a Wilton product). Using an egg-shaped mold, I pressed the sugar mixture into the mold, and then turned it over onto a piece of waxed paper. After a couple of hours, the outer part of the shell is dried, so I scraped the "innards" out to make these hollow shells. These then dried overnight.

Next, I made the frosting, which serves as the "glue" inside the egg to stick the decorations to. It also used as the piping along the edges of each half and the front which holds the two halves together. This was the toughest step, mostly because a) I am completely inept at cake decorating (just ask my son--his cake from his 7th birthday is still a scary memory for me); and b) I don't have the proper tools. So, what you see here is the frosting mess.

Here I am almost finished with the project. This is not a terrific picture of the finished product, but you can see on the right my finished eggs, which--even in spite of my piping fiasco--still look pretty impressive. That's the cool thing about this project. You can pretty much mess it up entirely and the eggs still look awesome in the end.

Inside my peeky eggs I put little birds and eggs. I think I found a couple of small butterflies to put in a couple too.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Back Home from Gettysburg
After church on Easter Sunday, we left for a 3- day hiatus in Gettysburg. It was a good choice. The drive wasn't bad--only 3-4 hours and just enough to do to a) not be bored, and b) not be overwhelmed with sightseeing. A perfect post-Easter trip. The weather was fantastic--the trees are leafing out, the tulips were blooming, the grass was Ireland-green. We took an auto tour with a CD (thanks, Debbie!) and drove around the battlefields, trying with all our might to imagine how this beautiful and peaceful place could be the sight where a terribly bloody battle took place in 1863. Bulletholes in old buildings attested to the fact that yes, this really was the place where the Confederate and Union soldiers met in terrible conflict which raged over three days. We noted that at least two chaplains were killed. I'm sure many more than that died, but we saw markers for at least two.

We really enjoyed the Dobbin House (here's some cool history on the building) and Farnsworth House, both old homes that have been turned into charming restaurants that serve delicious food where it felt like we were transported back to colonial America. All in all, a great brief getaway.

Now...back to the laundry.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday - It's All About Jesus
...Uplifted for the world to see He hangs in strangest victory,
For in His body on the tree He carries all our ill.
(HS98 824)

His life, His all He gave When He was crucified;
Our burdened souls to save, What fearful death He died!
But each of us, though dead in sin,
Through Him eternal life may win.
(HS98 821)

Here are some wonderful thoughts about Good Friday.

And the lilies at church have arrived, so Easter is coming...
Peeky Eggs
Here's a link to my illustrator's blog, Doodles and Noodles. Carol is a terrific illustrator as well as my good friend, and she's going to be putting up her darling sketches on her blog. So, take a look. In this post, she shows an adorable chick looking into what she calls a "peeky egg." (Love that name!) She shared with me the recipe for how to make them (and I think the links on her post may have some of that info). So, right now my countertop is filled with sugary eggshells drying.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Radio Interviews and Spelling Bees
Today I have a radio interview with KFUO in St. Louis on their Issues, Etc. program on my new book Mommy Promises. Hopefully, I won't sound too idiotic. Public speaking is not exactly my strong suit--not that this is public speaking per se, but still. It's close enough to make me a nervous wreck. But it's nice they're having me on the program and also nice that they made the book their book of the month. And I will say that these radio interviews have definitely gotten easier over time.

And we found out last night that our Jacob will be in the 4th grade spelling bee next week. I've been asking him about it for weeks, and finally he announced last night he would be in the bee. I asked him how long he's known. "Oh, for a few days," he said. I just roll my eyes.

I was a judge for the spelling bee the last two years since it's supported by the PTA. It's an exciting event for the 4th and 5th graders in the school.

So, back to my public speaking angst. Jacob can spell effortlessly, just like me. But I can't spell the words out loud. I can write down any word and spell it correctly probably 99% of the time. But saying the actual letters out loud?? No way. I stammer, I hesitate, I go brain-dead. But Jacob can spell aloud. And he also--as much as he hates being up in front of people--doesn't get nervous, at least not as much as many kids I hear about.

Here's kudos to those of you who are quick-witted and articulate (like my husband) and can spell out loud (like my son). I'll stick to my pen and paper.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Walk the Line
So, we finally watched Walk the Line last night, the movie about Johnny Cash. First of all, let me just say how glad I am that I am not rich and famous, which leads to all sorts of problems.

The movie reminded me of Ray in some ways. Obviously, they're both about very successful musicians. And both were acted superbly. But Ray Charles and Johnny Cash were similar in other ways. They both were raised in poor, southern families, both experienced tragedy when they were young, both became successful musicians, both had drug addictions and difficulty in relationships.

Another striking feature of this film is how it portrays Johnny Cash's father. If it's at all accurate, he was extremely cruel. He didn't appear to be physically abusive, but the emotional scars he left on his son were with him his whole life. It reminds me how powerful parents are in the lives of their children. And reminds me to pray a lot more.

Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favorite actors. He is extremely versatile. He can be scary and tyranical (as in Gladiator), simple and yet heroic (as in Signs), and fabulous in every way (as in The Village). In this movie, he embodies Johnny Cash so convincingly. Cash has a very distinctive voice and Phoenix nailed it. Reese Witherspoon was also stunning. The fact that they both sang their parts shows just how versatile both of them are.

Here's an interesting website called Rotten Tomatoes. This is the link to the Walk the Line review. Apparently, the site looks at lots of reviews and then figures out which ones are "rotten" and which are "fresh."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Cool Photography Web site
Smithsonian's 3rd annual photo contest has its finalists on its web site. These are some spectacular pictures. Go here to check them out.
Cheep, cheep indeed!!
Check out this adorable picture. Real cheeping!! My illustrator and I are doing book signings this book for Cheep! Cheep! Fun!
Our Favorite Local Band
Scott and I have both written about Good Brother Earl before, but now they have a new CD, which I'm really enjoying (thank you, John!). Here's a link that will take you to their updated website, and directly get you to the info about their new CD, "Perfect Tragedy." I particularly like the song "Fighting Gravity," which you can hear in its entirety from this link. They are having a CD release party at the Rex on the South Side here in Pittsburgh this Sat. night. Cool!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Growing in Christ Sunday School Materials
Just got my author copy of the Fall 2006 Growing in Christ Sunday school materials for the middle grades from Concordia Publishing House. They look awesome! It's so great to see how all our ideas, brainstorming, and writing turned into these cool lesson leaflets, games, and posters. I was only one of the writers for the middle grade level (which is roughly 3rd/4th grades). This was the first quarter we wrote, which was the hardest for me. Writing curriculum is in a way very technical writing, which is somewhat different than what I normally do. But the project has been a joy in many ways.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

37 Flowers!!
Look at what my adorable husband gave me as an early birthday present--37 flowers!!

(And no, I'm not saying why there are 37 of them. That's top secret. It wouldn't have anything to do with how many years old I am, so don't even ask.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Pancake Day
This morning, I made pancakes again, and decided to be more intentional about making weirdly shaped pancakes. My son helped.

He made this one on the right, which he thought looked a lot like LeBron James playing basketball. Don't you think?

This one looks to me like a shamrock. I admit it's a tad too "blobby," but still... Is this a sign that I should continue working on my St. Patrick project???

And, alas, this one...well, I think it may properly be called blob. Just can't see anything else in it, except maybe a brain. Brainy-cake?

Unfortunately, the next two Saturdays I won't be able to make pancakes (unless I get up at the crack of dawn, which generally doesn't happen). But stay tuned for more pancake fun!

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Grammar Goddess?
My latest pet peeve is how often "LESS" and "FEWER" are messed up. You use "less" before a mass noun, like salt or water. So you'd say, "A little less salt, please." But you do not say (as I found in the book I'm reading) "...he sustained less injuries than I did." AARGH!!!! It's FEWER!! Use fewer when you are describing a plural noun. Thanks to Aardvark for this fun quiz. And to the Chicago Manual of Style too. I love that book.

How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)

You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

Congratulations! If your mission in life is not already to preserve the English tongue, it should be. You can smell a grammatical inaccuracy from fifty yards. Your speech is revered by the underlings, though some may blaspheme and call you a snob. They're just jealous. Go out there and change the world.
Take this quiz!

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Signs of Spring
Even though it's snowing lightly outside, I am relishing in the signs that spring is coming. My daffodils are 6 inches high. No buds yet, but getting close. The crocuses are blooming. The robins are hopping around. Can't wait for my lilacs. But the waiting is good. It reminds me that better is coming, that this life is not all there is.

One of my favorite things all year is waiting for the scent of Easter lillies. When we go to church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, if I go in the back way to church, I get a whiff of the Easter lillies waiting in the stairwell, ready to adorn the altar. Not yet, but soon, they seem to trumpet.

I love this quote by Luther: "This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not healthy but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise; we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road; all does not yet gleam with glory, but all is being purified."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

So Stinkin' Excited, Part 2
When I was in college, one of my summer jobs was working on the custodial staff at Concordia College in Ann Arbor. This was not fun. The worst part was cleaning the bathrooms in the students dorms. The men's bathrooms especially were pretty darn gross. (This was actually not my worst job ever. That post will have to come another day.) What I wouldn have given then to have been able to use this fabulous new product in those nasty bathrooms!

Today, I went shopping with my friend. She said her mom had tried this product, Mr. Clean's magic eraser along with Scrubbing bubbles and that it cleaned her bathroom tub in a snap. So, my friend and I both got one.

All I have to say is that our tub has never looked so beautiful. Yes, beautiful. That is the word for it. Scrub brushes, comet, scary smelling bleachy type stuff--nothing worked like the bubbles and mr. clean. So. Totally. Awesome.

I know, you're thinking, "Julie, you really need to get out more." And that's probably true. But it's also true that nothing says "I love you" to your family more than a beautiful tub. Am I right or am I right??

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So Stinkin' Excited!!
We got the itinerary for our Israel/Egypt trip this November, and it looks so awesome!!! We are getting very excited. The first 8-9 days are going to be in Israel, going to all the traditional sites--Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Jericho...all cool stuff. Then, we can add on 3-4 more days and go into Egypt. We'll travel across the Sinai peninsula, spend a day at the pyramids/sphinx, do touristy stuff in Cairo, and then have a free day in Cairo. So awesome!

A Really Nice Pastor's Wife Post
So, I discovered Our Little House on the Prairie, another Lutheran pastor's wife's blog. There are more of us around than you think! She had a really nice post last week called "I Love My Man in Uniform"--and what a great title--about her husband preaching a sermon. Really well put!

In my husband's sermon last Wednesday, my meatloaf got a mention. He called it "divine." I must admit, it is a good meatloaf recipe (from my mom). And it was a great sermon too. It was actually an interesting evening because that was my very-cranky-don't-want-to-go-to-church-or-anywhere-else night. I think I crabbed at hubby a little, he probably dished it back, etc. But there he was, at the pulpit, telling me about God's grace, pointing me to my Savior. Just like always.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Is it a sign???
A friend of mine told me a few days ago that I should write a book about penguins. So, I've had that in mind lately.

Then, I decided to make pancakes on Saturday a.m. When I got to the last of the batter, I scraped out the bowl, and look at the shape it made!! Does this not look like a penguin, holding a baby penguin?? I mean, seriously. It must be a sign. And look at the way the picture is taken, with the sunlight falling across the plate in such a glowing manner. Doesn't that just confirm the fact that this penguin pancake was heaven-sent?

It couldn't be my imagination, could it??

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Saint Patrick's Day + One
I spent much of January reading about Saint Patrick. I read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, which I loved because he is just so dang bold in his thesis. I mean, that's a topic sentence, eh? (And a catchy title.) Another great book was Philip Freeman's excellent biography of Patrick called St. Patrick of Ireland. The book I liked least was Stephen Lawhead's historical-ish/fictional account of Patrick called Patrick: Son of Ireland. In his story, he had Patrick become a druid during his years of slavery and then become a pseudo-Christian/druidic priest when he returned to Ireland. But...his lavish detail and characterization were a lot of fun to read.

Dispelling the myths:
- We have no idea if Patrick actually used a shamrock to teach the Trinity, although it's certainly possible. He never wrote about it. It's just one of those legends that's been around for eons.

- The "Lorica" or Breastplate of Patrick, which begins, "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity..." was probably not written by Patrick as scholars date it back to around the 7th century (Patrick lived in the 4th). But it certainly captures the spirit of Patrick's teaching and confession.

-Of course, Patrick magically ridding the island of snakes is ridiculous.

-But the leprachauns...they're real! :)

The thing I love most about reading his letters is this: here is this Christian bishop and missionary who lived fifteen centuries ago, confessing the faith with urgency and orthodoxy. We are blessed to have his faithful witness speak across the ages to us.

Here is an excellent Trinitarian section from his Confessio. (From the translation of Patrick's letters by John Skinner, p. 77)

There is no other God—there never was and there never will be. God our father was not born nor did he have any beginning. God himself is the beginning of all things, the very one who holds all things together, as we have been taught.

And we proclaim that Jesus Christ is his son, who has been with God in spirit always, from the beginning of time and before the creation of the world—though in a way we cannot put into words. Through him everything in the universe was created, both what we can see and what is invisible. He was born as a human being and conquered death, rising into the heavens to be with God. And God gave to him power greater than any creature of the heavens or earth or under the earth, so that someday everyone will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord and God. We believe in Him and we wait for him to return very soon. He will be the judge of the living and the dead, rewarding every person according to their actions.

And God has generously poured out on us his Holy Spirit as a gift and token of immortality. This Spirit makes all faithful believers into children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.