Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Dog's New "Puppy"

This is our dog Lucy with the new toy she got for Christmas. I figured that this, like all of her other toys, would last a little while. She'd bite it, chew it, squeak it, throw it around, etc. One time we gave her a plastic hamburger which was bitten into five million pieces only minutes after she got it. So I figured that this plastic tiger would last at least for Christmas Day.

When we gave Lucy the toy amidst all of the Christmas unwrapping and opening present frenzy, she suddenly got very nervous. She started pacing. She was panting. She was crying. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. Finally, we decided that the toy was not really working out, so I put it away in the cupboard while we went to church.

When we got back, I decided to see how she would do with the tiger. Instead of her normal behavior of pulling apart the toy until she can get the squeaker out of it, she was incredibly gentle with it. She carried it around in her mouth, but never once squeaked it. She was never at all rough with it. If anything, it seemed to upset her. She cried and whimpered. That night, she went to bed with her new toy and never let it out of her sight.

It's been two days, and she is still totally attached. We think that she has adopted this as her baby. She won't go outside without her tiger. She sleeps with her tiger. She makes sure that he's close by at all times. Just now, someone came to the front door. She was sleeping on the couch with her tiger, and when she tried to get up, she bumped the tiger, made it cry, and stopped in mid-bark. She never stops in mid-bark, but we figure that she was upset about making her baby cry.

I thought this was so odd that I checked around online and found that this is quite common for female spayed dogs which never had pups. They adopt a stuffed animal, "take care of it" for awhile, and then eventually decide it's old enough to be on its own.

On a related note, I recently heard about this story on the radio. The Red Sox closing pitcher for the 2007 World Series got the game ball, but subsequently lost it. He now blames his dog, Boss, for chewing it to shreds.

We'll see if "Baby" gets ripped up any time soon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Goose

For the last several years, off and on, we've had a goose for Christmas dinner. I decided to chronicle our goose adventure this year.

Step 1 - Find a goose at a specialty meat store. I bought ours at Jamison Specialty Meats in Fort Wayne.

Step 2 - Thaw goose, and a) Try not to be sad that you are planning on eating him.

Step 2, part b) Try not to think of cute pictures of goslings, like this:

Step 3 - Unwrap and get out all the innards.

[Note: disturbing images of goose innards below.]

Step 4 - Wash goose. Marvel at his wingspan. Salt and pepper him.

Step 5 - Pour boiling water over the goose throughout the cooking process. This helps to get rid of the extra fat. Put goose in oven for one hour on 400 degrees.

Step 6 - Go and watch part of A Christmas Story on TBS for 45 minutes. Fall asleep until buzzer sounds.

Step 7 - Pour more boiling water over goose. Suck extra water out of bottom of pan out with basting bulb. Find multiple containers for water/fat solution. Turn heat down to 350 degrees. (Repeat step 2x)

Step 8 - Take goose out of oven and let him rest for 20 minutes. Talk to family and wish them merry Christmas. Then start carving.

Step 9 - Serve goose!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Eve Poem


I look east on Christmas Eve morning.
The skies, marbled gray and bitterly cold
will not let the morning sun through.
Yet the sun will shine again.

We are wrapped in winter,
frozen by icy winds,
mummified in layers of blankets.
Yet the days will warm again.

Families are broken,
despair threatens.
Yet laughter will return again.

Days trudge on,
frustrations mount.
Yet we are ready--
a tree stands, tinsled and gilded,
gifts pile expectantly,
Christmas cantatas wait to be sung,
and our hearts,
sprinkled with mercy,
buoyed by hope,
confess yet again:
Hodie Christus natus est.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Random things

Here are a couple of random things:

- Here's a game called Know Your World? It's addicting. I'm sure many of you can beat me. I got up to level 7 the first time I tried it. It's fun.

- Two years ago, I posted a link to an Elf game, and it's been my most popular post ever. So, here's an early Christmas gift to you: Elf game.

- Also, I stumbled upon this website: What Should I Read Next? Apparently, the way it works is you record some of the books that you've read and liked and from people's recommendations, the site will link you to titles of other books that match your taste. I got some book recommendations, but haven't read them yet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An Awesome Book

I'm currently reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The Publishers Weekly review on the back says, "The Glass Castle is nothing short of spectacular." And the review from People says: "Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art." Anyone who liked Angela's Ashes should definitely read this book. It is amazing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Historical maps

I'm doing some research this afternoon on bodies of water in Israel. I'm finding all sorts of cool websites. I found one with satellite images of the Middle East. I found another with all sorts of historical maps, going back to the sixteenth century. The map to the left is a Lucas Cranach map, interestingly. The thing I like about these old maps is the artistic flare of the cartographer. There are these frothy waves in the Mediterranean with ships' sails billowing in the wind. It's awesome. I also like this one, which shows the faces of the four winds.

The Old and the New

For me this fall has been an interesting mix of the old and the new. I think it all started when my family and I went to Colorado for my dad's 70th birthday party in August. Both of my brothers were able to come, and we celebrated with gifts and a nice dinner out. My mom had pulled out lots of old pictures for one of the gifts we gave my dad, and later, my dad reminisced about his parents, grandparents, and his Uncle Steve as well as memories from childhood.

In the month of November, I traveled to Pittsburgh, our home for seven years. It's been just over a year since we moved, and yet, driving on those windy, narrow streets made it seem like I never left (including the sinking feeling of being lost amid the hills of the city). What struck me about that trip was stepping back into those friendships. The conversations were easy. The connection is still strong.

I also trekked up to Ann Arbor, MI, where we attended college. My husband and I took our son on a tour through the Manor, what used to be our student commons. We found the secret passageways, the trap doors, and all the fun and interesting spots where we made all of those college memories. We attended the Boar's Head Festival, we chatted with old friends and professors.

Then, friends moved into a house here in Fort Wayne where we lived when Jacob was a baby, and I walked through the halls of those memories again too. When I think of Jacob as a baby and preschooler, I think of living in that house. He took his first steps there. He sat on the couch and "read" his first books there. That was our first house.

And yet, all of those memories are wrapped up with the new ones we're making day by day. I continue to cherish friendships over the years and build on those relationships. I meet new friends, attend a new church, live in a new home. And through it all, God's tender mercy follows me day by day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saint Nicholas Dramatization

Last weekend, a brave group from Concordia Theological Seminary enacted the story of Saint Nicholas based on my book of the same name. Here is a link to my website where there are more photos.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Writing as Process

Over my years of writing, I have come to realize that one thing about writing is absolutely true: whatever I write is never finished.

After the original idea comes to me, it is all about process after that. I start with a vague idea of a storyline and characters. Maybe I'll play with rhymes in my head for awhile--a day, two weeks, two years. Maybe I'll ponder the characters and figure out a good conflict. I've learned, through patience and experience, that this process mostly happens in the background of my everyday life. While driving kids to school, folding laundry, washing dishes, or walking my dog, those ideas are percolating. Sometimes I'll hear a rhythm in my head which flows well for whatever it is I am writing. Sometimes I draw a blank. That's all part of the process.

Then, once I jot my notes in my journal, transfer notes onto a legal pad, and then type the manuscript onto the computer, I continue revising and revising and revising.

Last night, I attended a Christmas party where my St. Nicholas story was dramatized. As I sat listening to the text read to an auditorium full of people, I tried to not revise in my head. But it was impossible.

"Ooh," I thought. "That really wasn't the best word to use there. You should have drawn out the introduction more. You should have used a more descriptive verb, blah, blah, blah." This book was published several years ago, in 2003, perhaps? And still, it feels unfinished to me.

That is the joy and the curse of creative work.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thank you to everyone who braved the cold to come to my book signing last night at Borders in Fort Wayne. Other than the gorilla with the santa hat scaring the toddlers, it was a great success. : ) It was fun to see the kids enjoy the stories, especially Merry Christmas, Cheeps! My illustrator, Carol Baicker-McKee suggested making props to go along with each page, so that made the story interactive and fun for the kids. Thank you, Carol, for the idea!

Tonight at the seminary Christmas party, some daring folks will be acting out the story of St. Nicholas. I'm looking forward to seeing it--fourth century costumes and all! I just asked that I wouldn't have to read it aloud, so Katie Schuerman (brilliant organizer that she is) asked Dr. Fickenscher with his booming baritone voice to read it. Fabulous!

Thank you to Pastor Petersen, also, for plugging my St. Nicholas book. I like it!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Boar's Head Festival at Concordia University, Ann Arbor

It's been awhile since I've actually posted something of substance on my blog, so I decided to just begin where I am. Right now, I am with my family in Ann Arbor, MI. Scott and I attended college here at Concordia Univ., graduating in 1991.

One of the things I've really wanted to do since graduating is return here to see the Boar's Head Festival. (Read my husband's post about it here.) Boar's Head, as it is (oddly) affectionately known, refers to a very old custom which can be traced back to Roman times. The boar, considered to be the most dangerous animal in the forest, was hunted down and killed in order to show the triumph of good over evil. In the first half of the festival, the boar's head is presented along with lords, ladies, a jester, wassailing men, and of course, good King Wenceslas.

In Concordia University's presentation of the Boar's Head Festival presents in the first half the "Courtly Story," of the yule sprite entering the darkened church, representing the light of Christ coming into a darkened world. Then there is singing, dancing, all sorts of merry-making, the presentation of the Boar's Head, the gathering around the yule log, and so much more.

The second half of the festival is the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph enter the church, the Christ child is presented to the congregation in a dance--a bouree, the singing gradually crescendos into "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" until all gather around the Christ Child to celebrate His victory--God come to us in the infant Christ.

It has been many years since I've seen the Boar's Head. Scott and I once went to a festival at Plymouth Congregational Church in Fort Wayne, but nothing (of course) matches the experience of Concordia's Boar's Head.

My memory for names is not good, but after many years, I could still have sung every part of the Boar's Head with no preparation at all. There have been a few minor alterations which have only improved the production, in my opinion.

Last summer I was elected to be on the board of regents for Concordia Univ. The past two days, I have been in meetings all day to discuss issues that affect the continuing success of the university. The Boar's Head is an example of everything that is good about Concordia, and I was privileged to see the festival once again.

Friday, November 09, 2007

You are invited!

Come to see Carol Baicker-McKee and Julie Stiegemeyer at a book signing for their new book:

Merry Christmas, Cheeps!

At Barnes and Noble – South Hills Village, Pittsburgh, PA

Saturday, November 17, between 11:00 a.m. and noon

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

8 rules for writing fiction by Kurt Vonnegut -- Awesome!

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

-- Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), 9-10.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do you speak American?
Paul McCain posted a link to a fabulous website which showed all sorts of variations of dialects and accents from all over the U.S. I have been trying to find it again, but can't!

Today, I did find this website, though. Take the test and see if you are a Yank or a rebel. Fun!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Merry Christmas, Cheeps! Poster

Go here to find a poster with Merry Christmas, Cheeps! as well as info on reading with children at the holidays. (Thanks, Todd, for your help with this!)
Mid-grade novel writing --
So, lately, I've been working on a mid-grade chapter book. I imagine 8 and 9 year olds reading this. It's been really fun to see it grow and develop. Sometimes these writing projects really do take on a life of their own. I am enjoying "getting to know" the character I've created.

So, thanks to Grant K. for helping me with my title. And thank you, Grant and Pam, for all of your encouragement! It's easy to feel stuck, and that encouragement really helps.

Writing in a different genre is a little bit like starting over and learning the ropes all over again. But I hope to have some material in the next few months for field testers--like Renee and Audrey!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Nice Review
Here's a nice review of my new Cheeps book. I loved her line about readers being reminded that this is definitely a "chicken Christmas." :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Merry Christmas, Cheeps!
Illustrated by Carol Baicker-McKee

The new cheeps book is out! And I even saw it on a Borders bookshelf last week--so it's really officially out! Check out Carol's blog where she's way too nice about my writing, but also gives some insight into how she created her adorable illustrations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If you'd like to be healthier...
Take a look at this website: BMI Calculator. You put in your weight and height and learn if your body mass index is underweight, normal, overweight, or obese. Helpful!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Books and Such
After a lovely summer picnic this afternoon, my friend Jane asked me about books I've read lately. Currently, I'm enjoying Lisa Scottoline books and Agatha Christie. But one I forgot to mention to Jane is the book I'm reading called Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance by Julia Cameron. It's a book about writing--or any creative or artistic endeavor--and how to keep at it when the waters run dry. I was definitely having a dry spell this past spring--probably the closest thing to writer's block I've ever had. But thankfully it passed as I kept writing and kept at it. I've just barely started reading Finding Water, but I always enjoy Julia Cameron's fresh perspective on creativity and writing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Joys of Summer
So, I am lately addicted to peaches and watermelon. Yum! Here are three tips for picking out a good watermelon:
- Choose one that feels heavy. Good watermelons are 92% water, so the heavier the better.
- Choose one with a yellow patch on the underside. That shows that it ripened in the sun.
- Choose one that's free of dents, bruises, and is symmetrical.

Here's the website where I found that info.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reformation Game
I'm working on my latest round of Sunday school lessons, and I discovered this game online. It's actually quite fun. I have only played it with the Reformation questions. I enjoyed it!

Friday, June 01, 2007

How exciting!!

I just received my box of author copies of my newest book, Christmas Night Fair and Bright. I LOVE the art. I haven't seen it before today, and it is really, really wonderful. Ooh, I'm so excited

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Miscellaneous Tuesday
Regarding Memorial Day...
One of my projects for the summer is to hang a flag holder on the house. Our house in Pittsburgh had one, and I always hung our flag out on patriotic holidays. So, that's on my to-do list since I discovered yesterday that there isn't one.

I've decided one way I could help support the troops is by donating to the USO. Go here for info on how you can donate to provide a care package for soldiers.

And also...
A few weeks ago, my illustrator, Carol Baicker-Mckee and I found out that our Cheep! Cheep! was named one of Beginning with Books' best books of 2006. Here's a link. Such a nice honor! And thank you Dave Pasquini for sending me this link to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And finally...
We watched a strange combination of movies over the Memorial Day weekend. I watched The Queen, which I really enjoyed. Helen Mirrin's performance is stellar. Absolutely phenomenal how subtle and controlled she is in her portrayal of the queen during the week of Diana's death.

Also watched Apocalypto. From a storytelling point of view, it reminded me that a story can be told with humanity and tenderness in any setting, at any time, and in a foreign language! Gibson's ability to create a fully well-rounded story does not disappoint again in Apocalypto. More than once I closed my eyes and cringed a lot at the brutal violence. But the lush scenes and the incredible cast pulled this off brilliantly.

And last, we watched Galaxy Quest. That was just downright fun!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

Baby Duckings!!
This morning was the first time I saw the baby ducklings here at seminary lake. There were ten of them, and boy were they cute. I'm going to try to get photos of them later.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Baby Geese!
At the seminary lake, I took pictures of the goose families the other night. Aren't they adorable???

Friday, April 27, 2007

So, with all of the storms passing through the region in the last couple of days, we've realized once again how thunderphobic our big baby dog Lucy is. I read about this and how to desensitize dogs to the big bad thunder sounds here. I'm going to try to desensitize her to the thunder, but I'm thinking she might need drugs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Merry Christmas Cheeps!
Well, it's listed on Amazon now. Isn't this cover adorable? This is the newest book in the Cheeps series.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Billy!
Today is the birthday of William Shakespeare. Go to Writers' Almanac to learn more about him. On today's edition of Writers' Almanac, Garrison Keillor gives lots of interesting tidbits about Shakespeare. He also reads a lovely poem for the day.

So what is your all-time fav Shakespeare play? Mine is Hamlet, no doubt about it. It's brilliant.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Goose Attack!!!
Since Jacob was feeling a little better this afternoon, we went over to the lake to feed the geese again. We were trying to give the mama goose some food when all of a sudden, this big mean man goose came up to her and started pulling her feathers out with his beak! What a jerk! He was trying to get her to get off her eggs. She did, eventually, and then Jacob and I went into full defense mode, telling that jerky goose to get away. He listened eventually, and the mama got back on her eggs. Yikes! It was scary. The big meany!

And no, that will not be part of a new story about goose zombies. Nor will I write a horror story about vampire geese trying to suck the blood from other geese.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Two Things Tonight
This evening, we went to the seminary lake (which, by the way, Jacob thinks needs a name--Lake Luther?) and visited the ducks and geese. We saw three mama geese and one mama duck sitting on nests. It was great. At one point, one of the mama geese got up to stretch her wings and we spied six or seven eggs under her, which were about twice the size of chicken eggs. It was great.

Then, I got an email with this link to see some cool pictures of Pittsburgh. I especially liked the fourth picture down of the four gables stair-stepping to the top of the PPG building. It's a cool shot. I also like the "city of bridges" one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Art and the Bible
I stumbled across this website this afternoon as I've been doing some research on the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. It links to a ton of artistic renderings of the Baptism of Jesus. I liked this one a lot. Here's the link to the art index.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Unicorns in the Bible?
I got really freaked out when on Maundy Thursday I heard this quoted from Psalm 22:

20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

21 Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

Unicorns in the Bible? I read up on it, and found out that it likely is referring to wild oxen, and that is shown in other translations. I thought I was losing my mind because for the last 5 or 6 Maundy Thursdays, I had chanted this entire Psalm with another woman from our church in Pittsburgh, and I never remembered anything about unicorns. I missed chanting that with Mary Ellen, by the way. It was one of our traditions.

That is not to say that the Holy Week traditions at Redeemer were anything but wonderful. Because they are wonderful.

But I miss the daffodil cross, the overwhelming scent of Easter lillies at Concordia and I missed the tenebrae, the Easter breakfast cooked by the Flores family, putting out the Easter baskets made by Virginia. Much love to you all at Concordia! I miss you!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Holy Saturday
If you haven't ever been to an Easter vigil on the night before Easter, I suggest you find a church that has this lovely service. I'm looking forward to going tonight to Redeemer.

We're right now listening to Bach's St. John Passion. I love the soprano aria that is placed right after Peter cuts off Malchus' ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is not a great translation, but here is the text.

I follow Thee also with joy to be near Thee
in trouble and strife
Thou light of my life
Ah speed Thou my way:
and say me not "nay";
but let me be near Thee to solace and cheer Thee.

I think Bach is genius to place this here because the text is so meaningful at this point in the passion story. It could be a prayer of Christ, but also of His followers. It's also a light, lovely aria that I wish I could sing although I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be able to pull it off.

What I love about Holy Saturday is the reassurance that Christ has gone to the grave ahead of me. On Holy Saturday, He is resting in the tomb and we await the resurrection.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Perfect Tragedy
I re-watched The Perfect Storm on Saturday and was surprised how sad it was. I had forgotten that all the fishermen die, plus a coast guard rescuer. As I've thought about the movie over the weekend, I realized that this story reallyl is a morality tale. The problem came down to hubris--pride.

The basic story is that these six sword fishermen from New England get this huge load of swordfish that will make them all a killing. But then their ice machine breaks. With a broken ice machine, they can't wait out the storm in a safe place. So they decide to chance it, going straight into the worst storm of the century. Greed wins the day as they head into the storm. Sadly, they all die, their boat is sunk, and several coast guard rescuers put their lives on the line to try to save them.

It reminds me of Icarus flying too close to the sun--that thoguht that we are so tough, so great, so god-like that we can do anything. This Wikipedia link shows some interesting literary and artistic renderings of Icarus and his famous (or infamous) fall.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I just saw a wall hanging in advertised in a Kohl's flyer which said:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take,
but the number of times your breath is taken away.

That, I thought, was a pretty odd saying. I mean, there are some not so nice things in life that take my breath away--jogging for one. Don't like that. Gasping in horror at one of my animals throwing up. That's not so nice. The fact that Sanjaya is still on American Idol. That is not so great either.

I know, I know. I guess this is referring to all those euphoric fabulous moments when something unexpectedly wonderful happens. Like when my husband proposed to me. Or when my son took his first steps. Or I got news that my book would be published.

But still, I think it's an odd saying. Don't you?

Friday, March 16, 2007

So far all my fans who would like me to write something featuring zombies as the main character(s), I think I now have an inspiration.

Yesterday I took the dog for a walk, and we found a dead fox near the Luther statue. Lucy (the dog), of course, wanted to go lick, sniff, eat, whatever she would do with a dead fox. It is a good thing she was on the leash.

Anyhoo, that was sad that the cute little foxy was dead, but I actually was glad to get a good look at him since they are nocturnal, and I've never seen one (being diurnal myself). I just finished trying to find info on which species of foxes live in Indiana, and I'm coming up with only Red Fox, Gray Fox, and some other type that only lives in Brazil. It wasn't any of those. I know this was not an opposum or racoon. It was about the size of a large house cat. It was tan and gray, with a bushy tail and black beady eyes. I'll have to look up a book of Indiana wildlife at the library, I guess.

So today as I was heading to the gym, I saw a turkey vulture eating the fox. Not pretty, but hey, even turkey vultures gotta eat, right?

That is my zombie inspiration for the day. I'm not quite sure how a zombie story will result from those unsavory sites, but I gotta start somewhere.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Deal or No Deal Game
Oh, this is dangerously addictive. Go here to play.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Back Home
Phew! I've tried to post something all day, and keep getting waylaid. We are back home in Indiana. It was so nice seeing such different scenery, enjoying the wide blue skies and warm weather while we were in the southwest. But being back in the midwest yesterday was kind of like putting on a favorite flannel shirt. It's comfortable and homey. It's good to be back.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sandia Peak Tramway
Yesterday afternoon, while Scott was busy with recruiting, Jacob and I went up the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, which was quite fun. Jacob and I had previously been up the Aspen Mountain tram/gondola thing (in Aspen, Colo.) and it was a little scary. There was one point in the Aspen tram when the thing stopped suddenly, and we were swinging on this little cable in the wind, 500 feet over the canyon below. It didn't start up again for at least 5 minutes. That definitely brought out my acrophobia.

But the Sandia Peak Tram was a very smooth ride over rugged, rocky, steep terrain. Some people like to hike that. I wouldn't. It looks way too hard. But it was fun to get up to 10,000 feet and see the view of Albuquerque below.

The guide on the tram said that sometimes people go hang-gliding off the top of the mountain. He said one guy got all the way to Oklahoma after jumping off the top of Sandia Peak. He said that was over 300 miles. I'm not sure I quite believe that. But apparently, the wind sheers off the mountain are pretty intense.

At the top, Jacob and I saw SNOW which we hadn't seen for a week. There were some people playing in the snow for whom, we were convinced, snow was not a regular part of their lives.

Today we are worshipping at Grace Lutheran in Albuquerque. Scott is assisting with the service and then teaching Bible class. Then we are heading to Santa Fe for the afternoon. Tomorrow we go back to the Midwest.

Friday, March 09, 2007

In New Mexico Today
Today we drove from Arizona into Las Cruces, NM. It's amazing to me to think of what life must be like out here where you can wear shorts pretty much every month of the year. The pastor in Yuma told us that he gets kind of excited when it rains. I can't exactly imagine getting excited when it rains in Ft. Wayne. The weather is beautiful here. Sunny, clear skies. Last night, we walked around the hotel in the Arizona desert and the stars twinkled in the deep blue night. It was mild and lovely.

On the road, I'm reading to the guys about desert wildlife, flowers, cactus, etc.

This guy is a kangaroo rat. He can jump up to 10 feet in a single bound. Cool, eh? I think this is the guy who never drinks water. He gets his water from whatever food he eats.

This is a desert coyote. We heard these guys howling last night when we went on our walk. They like to eat prickly pear cacti.

There are lots of other animals we've learned about. I'm working on a story which I think will be called Coyote Canyon, Coyote Moon, or something like that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Sunny Southwest
Well, here we are in warm and dry Yuma, AZ. This is not a tremendously gorgeous city, but it is warm--even on March 6.

We drove near the Sonoran desert today, where Saguaro cacti are prevalent. Saguaro is pronounced Saw-WAH-roh, and when you think of the typical cactus you drew in the second grade, it's a saguaro.

I picked up small book on them today and we read about them in the car on the drive from Phoenix to Yuma today. They can live to be 200 years old. They are very slow growing. In the first four-five years they only grow to be about an inch tall. Their structure helps not only to preserve the precious little water that falls in this desert region, but the strong cylindrical shape also becomes a haven for many types of birds, including some flickers and owls. This photo shows a saguaro with nest holes.

So here are things we saw today: dustdevils, tumbleweed, saguaros, and places with great names like Jackrabbit Trail. I feel a story brewing about the desert.

Tomorrow we head to Tucson. No, Judy, no rattlesnake recipes yet!! But it did taste interesting. :)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Aunt Susie's Cake

From The Body in the Snowdrift by Katherine Hall Page


1 box good-quality yellow cake mix

4 large eggs

¾ cup canola oil

1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges packed in juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cake mix, eggs, and oil in a bowl. Mix according to the directions on the box. Fold in the oranges, including juice, and mix well. Pour into 3 greased round cake pans. Be sure the orange pieces are evenly distributed. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Remove cakes from the pans and cool on racks while you make the frosting.


1 small package instant vanilla pudding

1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple packed in juice

1 large container Cool Whip or other whipped topping

Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Mix together the juice and the instant pudding. Add the Cool Whip and drained pineapple, then mix. Spread some of the frosting between the layers and use the rest on top and sides of cake.

A couple of notes from Julie:

- Divide up the cake batter evenly between the pans. This may seem obvious to most people, but because I only have two round cake pans, it was hard to eye-ball it because I had to bake the layers in two batches.

- I only had a regular sized Cool Whip (actually generic brand), and there was more than enough frosting.

- I made this the day ahead, so I refrigerated it overnight. I don't know if that's necessary, but with the cool whip and fruit, I figured it might not hold together if it was room temperature. That, or maybe it would start to ferment.

- This is from a series of "light" or "homespun" mystery novels by Katherine Hall Page. I actually liked the first couple much better than the more recent ones. This one was so-so. The Body in the Attic was pretty good.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Someone in Pittsburgh really loves us because we just got a pan of fudge in the mail. It is so yummy. The sad part is that it was to "Pastor and Julie" but Scott is out of town until Thursday night. So...hmmm...I will try my best not to scarf down the whole pan. It is yummy, Judy! I was reminiscing with Jacob about how fun your wedding reception was with all those yummy desserts and the chocolate fountain.

Anyway, happy 1st anniversary, Jeff and Judy!!
A Photo Essay of the Seminary
Thanks to Cyberstones for linking to this Fort Wayne website which shows off the beauty of the seminary's campus. Here's the direct link to the website which showcases the sem.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In the last week, I've had two different fortune cookies. Here are my fortunes:

"You have the ability to sense and know higher truth."

"Genius does what it must and talent does what it can."

The first one is just weird. Is there "higher" truth apart from "lower" truth?

I have no idea what the second one even means. I understand if it would have been talent only takes you half way to your goal. The other half is hard work. But this? I don't get it, which means I'm neither a genius or talented, apparently.

What's the deal with fortune cookies these days?

Clearly, I'm avoiding anything that could be called work, which is why I'm posting about inane things.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Oh the states I've Seen, Part 2
Well, my mom helped me remember all the states where I've been, and I missed a few.

create your own personalized map of the USA
or check out ourCalifornia travel guide

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Poem for a Friday on Psalm 46:10.


I visit the night,
see my breath hang silent
against the darkness.
Ice in the pond has frozen
into its shores.
Branches of the oak have softened
under starlight.
Snow has settled
between blades of grass.
I close my eyes
under heaven
and I am also

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bethany and the Home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

I've been doing a little reading about the village of Bethany to find a cultural connection to the story in Luke 10 about Mary and Martha and the "one thing needful" -- to listen to Jesus.

I found some interesting websites (here's another) that show an ancient home (which might have been Mary and Martha's) in addition to photos of this beautiful church called the Franciscan Church of St. Lazarus.

The interesting thing about the account in Luke 10 of Martha being worried about many things and Mary listening at Jesus' feet is what comes before and after the narrative.

Before it is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and after it is the giving of the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11:1-12). God's Word - the "one thing needful" that Mary discovers - is highlighted even more by these beloved and important sections in Scripture.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"Psalms of David" CD, Part 2
I was out and about this afternoon and in the car I listened to track 15 of this CD which I wrote about yesterday. If you can listen to it on the website, or get the CD, you really must listen to this track at least. It is "O Praise God in His Holiness." The Psalm goes through a list of instruments--praise God with a trumpet, praise God with the cymbals, and then ends with this magnificent "Let everything praise the Lord." Ethereal, exquisite, celestial, heavenly, angelic--all those words work. It is fine choral music.
Laundry Frustration!!!! (which calls for multiple exclamation points)
So I tried all of your suggestions to get the blue paint out of my son's shirt, and nothing is working!! The amount of water I have spent washing those two shirts is getting ridiculous. I tried every spot cleaner known to man (okay, maybe not every one, but a lot). I also tried to Rit dye products--a whitener and a color remover. Neither one did much good. So I'm frustrated.

I'm ready to have two new dust rags. Grrr...
Oh, The States I've Seen
Here's my map of the states I've been to. I think I may have been to a couple more, which my mom can remind me of. I'm not sure about Nevada or Idaho. I could've been in Kentucky when I was young too. There are a few places I know we passed through on family vacations when I was young, and I don't remember all of them. Anyway, I've been to quite a few states. I had no idea!

Thanks to: Jane and Melynda.

create your own personalized map of the USA
or check out ourCalifornia travel guide

Saturday, February 10, 2007

All Things British
The last couple of hours I've been listening to a CD which I love called "The Psalms of David" sung by the Kings Choir of King's Chapel in Cambridge (notice that you can scroll down on this link from Amazon and listen to portions of each of the tracks). Listening to a CD of church music sung by a boys' chapel choir makes me think of a PBS miniseries from awhile back called "The Choir." I also keep thinking of Susan Howatch books which are often set in cathedrals. (Her books are only okay, in my opinion. I mean, the plots are engaging and the characters are interesting. But I guess I just got tired of reading about clergy who are devoid of any redeeming quality.) Listening to the CD also makes me think of my favorite Agatha Christie book, "Murder in the Vicarage." Of course, I also have in the back of my mind lots of other beloved authors from the UK. There are some days when I wish I had a little English cottage and could be a member of the Cambridge singers, and drink English tea at teatime. But most days, I'm a very happy American.

The best part, of course, about the CD are the lovely settings of the Psalms, which are always so comforting and reassuring. "The Lord of hosts is with us!" "The Lord is my shepherd." "I was glad when they said unto me, 'let us go unto the house of the Lord.'"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Shape of Trees
Awhile back, when Jacob was still young enough to be home most of the day, I would frequently take him and my dog on walks in a park in Pittsburgh called the Arboretum. It was really just a small tract of land left to go wild in the middle of a neighborhood. I liked it because, as the name suggests, it was mostly wooded. Around that time, I found a little guide book which showed the shape of trees in the winter. It was a neat little book that I can't find right now (grrr...moving sometimes makes me cranky). It shows how every tree has a distinctive shape and character--the width and height, the openness of the branches, etc. Here is kind of a cool website that describes this further.

On a beautifully sunny day like today, I tend to notice the shape of trees against the blue sky or against the white backdrop of the snow. Some of the tree trunks are straight and narrow, others more gnarled and curvy. I like to look at the lines of the branches with birds flying overhead. It's one of my favorite things about winter.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Songs in My Head
In addition to the BeeGees, I often have a variety of other songs that slip in and out of my head during the day. Neil Diamond songs, folk songs, hymns, The Wheels on the Bus, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Etc.

Five minutes ago, this song, "What'll We Do with a Drunken Sailor?" came unbidden. Why? Why? My mom used to sing this. My favorite song she ever sang in her programs was "Hush Little Baby."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Childhood Memories
Since I write for children, I often think about childhood and how children think, partly from my own recollections and partly from observing children as an adult. I'm working on a series of stories right now that feature a toddler and some of the first things he goes through, like a first sled ride, a first hair cut, etc. A lot of what I am writing is based on what I have observed as a mom, but I also find it helpful to think back to my own childhood to try to capture what it felt like to experience things.

The earliest thing I can remember from childhood is sitting in the grass in my yard with my friend and next-door neighbor, watching the garbage truck come up our street and pick up trash. I was probably 3 or 4 years old. That seems like a weird thing to remember, but in a way, I think it characterizes childhood. What seem like non-events to adults are often new and different for children. Children work hard at trying to figure out the world, understanding routine and why things happen.

If I think about it for very long, I can remember that feeling of being completely happy-go-lucky, having that whatever-comes-next-is-fine attitude, glad that I get to play kick the can with my friends on my street or stay home and play by myself. I remember getting hurt and running home to my parents for help--that vulnerability of crying and running home, but also the comfort of being taken care of.

I remember little things like my dad bringing me a new book home on days when I was sick. And things I couldn't explain, like the time my brother and I heard this huge crash upstairs when we were home alone. When we went to investigate, we found the glass shower door had shattered inexplicably. I remember lying in front of the Christmas tree staring at the bubble lights, using my dog as a pillow, just lying there enjoying the tree. I remember all the best places in the neighborhood to hide when we played green ghost or hide and seek and the way I would stop to let roly poly bugs cross the sidewalk in front of me as I walked to school. I remember making weird drink combinations, like Dr. Pepper and orange juice or grape juice and milk (which we called a purple cow). I loved tater tots, hated salmon loaf, and loved fruit cocktail--mostly the cherries.

Anyway, if you care to comment, I'd love to hear about some of your childhood memories are.

Monday, February 05, 2007

On Being a Famous Author
Thank you, Judy, for sending me this hilarious article by Dave Barry on his recent book tour.
I laughed so hard that my dog looked at me like I was a total weirdo.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Could it be?
Seriously. We lived in Pittsburgh during last year's Super Bowl. We live near Indianapolis this Super Bowl. Are you telling me there is no coincidence?? The Stiegemeyer effect is going strong, John Scaer.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Yesterday, my dear husband indulged me and took me to lunch at the Saigon Restaurant and then to the new library downtown. We had yummy Vietnamese coffee for lunch (as well as food) and then I found two bird books at the library (in addition to a couple of novels).

Well, I think I identified the bird that has been coming to my feeder in the last week, and it's...the yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Isn't that hilarious? There actually is a bird with that name, and he likes the suet I put out. It's a kind of woodpecker, and the woodpeckers love the suet.

A little while ago, my dog Lucy was going crazy at the back window because a squirrel kept coming right up to the glass (within about a foot of Lucy) and eating the bird seed that I spilled as I was filling the bird feeder earlier this week. Lucy cries and scratches at the rug by the window. The squirrel is wary, but also hungry.

Friday, February 02, 2007

After finishing my big writing assignment and sending it off yesterday, I am now cleaning my office, which has become a pig sty over the last weeks since all my attention has been devoted to Old Testament lessons. I don't enjoy cleaning, but the finished product, the blank slate, the dusted desk is a wonderful relief. Clutter stresses me out. I can't think straight. Some people do just fine ignoring the piles of old magazines gathering in the corner of the room. But I can think better when clutter is--at least--at a minimum.

I came home cranky from church last night--not because anything that happened at church. It was actually quite a wonderful sermon. But I was just tired of my week, tired of being awake, tired of helping my son make sure he had his spelling words down, tired of doing dishes, just tired. An hour of reading a decent book did me a lot of good. My brain gets tired of thinking so much sometimes.

But today the sun is shining off the snow, the geese are honking as they fly above my house, and my dog is sitting at the back window, watching the birds gather at my bird feeder. Morning is a gift.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Laundry Question
I'm wondering if any of you can help me with a laundry question. Jacob got blue paint on two of his white uniform shirts. Why blue on two of them? This is a mystery I cannot understand. Why does he wear white on art days? Another impenetrable mystery. The weirdest thing about it is that the stains are almost exactly the same: blue, splotchy, roughly the same size. It's like he created a stamp and stamped the stain on each shirt. Of course, he admits to no such thing.

I have tried soaking the shirts in bleach twice. Still blue.

Any other ideas? Could I use Rit dye and dye them white again?

Would love any suggestions you could send my way.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Two Memoirs
This is an addendum to the post I wrote at the beginning of January about my favorite books of 2006. I mentioned Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, but then--even though it was right there on my list in my journal--I forgot to mention another book that I loved of 2006, which was also a memoir. It is called, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel.

The interesting thing about having these two memoirs on my list of favorites is that they are very different.

Frank McCourt begins:

"When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than any ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

First of all, I have to say that I read his dedication and opening page about fifteen times in a row, to try to internalize how wonderfully put it was.

But he says that "the happy childhood is hardly worth your while." That is where I disagree--because A Girl Named Zippy is all about a normal girl growing up in midwest America. Of course, there are the odd events that happen which keep the story moving and the reader turning pages. But overall, it's not overly dramatic.

So, my thought for the day is: let a gifted storyteller tell any story--miserable or not--and it is definitely worth your while.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Perfect Cup of Cocoa
I just got back from taking my dog for a walk. It was a bit chilly, but now I'm having the perfect cup of cocoa, so all is well.

Most times, I just use hot chocolate mix (even a generic brand) for our hot chocolate. But when you really want to have the good stuff, here's what you do:

(And please note, none of these measurements are exact. My favorite way of cooking is to throw stuff together because I don't want to take the time to measure it out.)

I have a large-ish glass measuring bowl, which I fill about half-way up with milk. I usually use whole milk, but 2% or skim is fine too.

>Then throw in cocoa powder, maybe 2-3 tablespoonfuls and some sugar (1/2 cup?). Then in one-minute intervals heat mixture in the microwave and stir after each minute. Taste it and see how it's coming along. I heat it about 4-5 minutes total, and it's fine. Just stir after each minute.

Now, are you ready for the secret ingredient? The secret ingredient is Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon
made by Penzey's Spice Company. Yes, you really need to get this. Buy the .8 oz. jar to start with. It is by far the best cinnamon I've ever tasted. And it's the perfect addition to hot chocolate. I only use about 1/2 teaspoon or so.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Weirdness in My World
What in the world is going on??? In the past couple of days, as I've been flipping around radio stations in the car, I keep hearing BeeGee's songs. AAAACCCCKKKK!!! I'm not talking about just one BeeGee's song every three weeks. On Saturday, I heard two different songs on different stations. And then the next day, I heard another song. Yipes! What is happening in my world--or with Fort Wayne radio stations!!?? (And yes, multiple question and/or exclamation points are definitely necessary in this instance.)

The Bee Gees bring very odd childhood memories to mind, which lead me to thoughts of the Village People and spending time listening to records (yes, records) with Heather Gregg, one of my childhood friends.

So please, all I ask is if you are around me in the next few days or weeks, DO NOT sing any Bee Gees songs. It is becoming, in Jacob's words, a little disturbing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

This is kind of cool (thank you Shirley)

See If You Can Figure Out What These Words Have In Common...


Answer: In all of the words listed, if you take the first letter, place it at the end of the word, and then spell the word backwards, it will be the same word.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Funny for Your Day
Sven and Olaf worked together in a factory and both were laid off. So...dey went to the Unemployment Office togedder. Asked his occupation, Olaf said, "Panty Stitcher. I sew da elastic on to ladies cotton panties."

The clerk looked up Panty Stitcher. Finding it classified as unskilled labor, she gave Olaf $300 a week in unemployment pay.

Sven was asked his occupation he replied, "Diesel Fitter". Since Diesel Fitter was a skilled job, the clerk gave Sven $600 a week.

When Olaf found this out, he was furious! He stormed back ino the office to find out why his friend and coworker was collecting double his benefits.

The clerk explained, "Panty Stitchers are unskilled, and Diesel Fitters are skilled labor."

"What skill?"yelled Olaf. "I sew da elastic on da panties. Sven puts dem over his head and says, "Yah, ------------- DIESEL FITTER."

(Thanks Shirley!)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Knowing What To Say
When I visited my friend Carol last fall in Pittsburgh, I noticed for the first time a typewriter in her front sitting room on a table with lots of other fun trinkets and some antiques. It was an old typewriter, and in it was a page with some great quotes. One of the quotes was:

"How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" - E.M. Forster

As a writer, I have this exact experience all the time. I am not a super articulate speaker (although I like to talk as much as the next girl), but it is when I write that I can really say what I want to say. So, here's a little poem on my angst about never being as articulate as I wish I was:

She speaks haltingly
in stops and starts,
with pauses--
line breaks
in surprising

Gathering thoughts,
raking them into a pile
like swirling autumn leaves
on the damp green grass,
heaping them up
inviting the listener
to dive

Thursday, January 04, 2007

'Remaindered'...a bad word
I got a notice shortly before Christmas that one of my books, Baby in a Manger is going out of print. I'm actually very thankful that this is my first book that has ever gone out of print, considering my first is 10 years old this year. But still, it is a little sad.

I have heard some people say they didn't care for the art in this book, but I always liked it. It's got a folk-art flair that I like.

Apparently, there are still plenty of copies, but Concordia Publishing House is not planning on printing more. Anyway, if you care to learn more about it, you can look here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Joys of Vacuuming
My son tells me I blog about boring things. Well, that's fine. I guess blogging about sports movies and Lucy (my dog) dipping herself in raccoon crap isn't exciting, but that's as good as it gets around here.

Today I am going to blog about vacuuming. Live with it.

I bought a new vacuum back in September because my old one of 16 years finally bit the dust (ha). I'm afraid we do put our vacuums through the mill because our dog sheds about 5,000 hairs every time she wags her tail. But we love her anyway. In recent weeks, my beloved new vacuum has been sort of pushing the fur and dirt around and not really picking it up. I tried to clean out the hoses, pick the wads of fur out of the thing, etc. But nothing seemed to help.

So this morning I called Eureka and got directed to a vacuum shop here in Fort Wayne where they deal with warranty issues. I called the vacuum dude and he was no help. So I started cleaning out all the tubes and hoses in the vacuum again. I am now a vacuum wonder woman. After my excellent effort at cleaning out all the Lucy fur from the vacuum, it works perfectly again. That's my excellent adventure for the day.

Now we're going to the library.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Favorite Books of 2006
Here's the list of my favorite books from 06 in various categories.

Classic Fiction:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (I try to re-read at least one Austen book every year)

Contemporary Fiction:
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - wow, the writing is phenomonal! The voice is fantastic. It's a poignant memoir that I can't believe I've never read before. Have 'Tis on hold at the library to read next.

The Hard Way by Lee Child - fun escape reading

Biography-type Books:
Confession of St. Patrick, translated by John Skinner
Awakened by the Moon: Margaret Wise Brown by Leonard S. Marcus