Thursday, December 04, 2008

Who was Saint Nicholas?

One of the times of the year I enjoy the most are the days around St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6. I like it because we're not quite into all of the hub-bub and hassle of the shopping and parties and baking and decorating, etc. (at least in my family, things get started kind of late!). I also like it because it celebrates what is best about giving with generosity and receiving in humility in the Christmas season.

Very little is known about the real Saint Nicholas from history. We know that he lived in what is modern-day Turkey in the fourth century. We know that he was a bishop. We know that as a young man, he inherited quite a bit of money from his parents' estate.

What is less clear are the legends. Did he really drop three bags of gold into the home of three young women who had no dowry? Was he at the council of Nicea, the group that composed the ancient Nicene Creed of the Christian church? At the Nicene council, did he get mad at Arius (whose teaching was anti-Scriptural) and punch him? And, of course, there are the "miracles": did he as an infant heal the sick?

What we can say with certainty is that St. Nicholas was generous. He shared with others, but not just his wealth. He shared the hope he had in Christ, in life eternal, in the blessings showered by a generous and giving God. That is the true spirit of St. Nicholas Day--a great day to share with others.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Help a pastor doing wonderful work in Sudan

Our friend, Bishop Andrew Elisa of Sudan has been hospitalized and has an uncertain diagnosis and treatment right now. He is receiving treatment in Jordan. We met Andrew a number of years ago when we lived in Fort Wayne and Scott--as I remember--helped to process Andrew's paperwork so that Andrew could attend seminary. In the intervening years, Andrew has done amazing work of mercy and charity in Sudan. He now needs help with medical expenses. I hope you're able to donate. Go here to learn more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where do ideas for books come from?

When I visit with school children, one of the things I love best is to share with them where my ideas for books come from. This is the question that comes up very often with children (and adults), and one that I love to answer.

Ideas for me come from a lot of places. I get ideas from everyday life, from pictures, from experiences, from newspaper stories, from real-life anecdotes that people tell me, from playing around with words and language, from my love of animals and nature, and from a host of other places. My story, Gobble Gobble Crash! A Barnyard Counting Bash came from a couple of different incidents that happened while my family and I lived in Pittsburgh, PA.

Many people have the wrong impression about Pittsburgh. If they've never been there, they might think of the pollution from the steel industry (the city is actually quite clean now), or they think it's very industrial, etc. But actually Pittsburgh is so unique that it's difficult to describe. On the one hand, there are areas that are more run down from the steel industry's negative effect of the economy, but on the other hand, there are beautiful tree-lined, hilly roads populated by adorable and quaint little brick houses. There are also little pockets of interest: the gorgeous big houses in Shadyside, the wonderful little mom-and-pop stores in the strip district, the bridges, the stadiums, etc. I could go on and on.

It was on one of those windy tree-lined roads that I had my first turkey encounter. We were driving home one fall afternoon and a big flying thing went right over our car. We didn't know what the heck it was, but it was big, it had lots of feathers, and it flew right over our car.

I asked around and found out that it was most likely a wild turkey. After that, I saw wild turkeys frequently in the city. Once I saw a mama hen with 7 poults crossing a busy street. All of the babies got across but one. He was watching the traffic and waiting (and hopefully made it).

Those turkey experiences, along with a trip to central PA with my mom and son to visit my mom's friends at their farm inspired a series of barn-animal related books, one of which was Gobble.

After seeing that turkey fly over our car, and thinking about a quiet barnyard at night, I decided to throw all of that in the mix and came out with Gobble Gobble Crash. It's a counting story where four wild turkeys flap around and create all sorts of chaos in the middle of the night. The farmer gets irritated, threatens to have a turkey feast, and so all of the animals in the barnyard band together to hide the silly turkeys.

It's a silly book, but it's one that I have special affection for because it took about nine or ten years from the time I got the idea to the publication of the book. So, thank you Dutton and Maureen and Steven for seeing this turkey project through. My dear friend Carol Baicker-McKee, an amazing artist and fabulous writer, wrote this very kind review of Gobble (and if you don't already subscribe to her blog, shame on you. It's awesome.) My dear husband wrote this on his blog (ditto about subscribing to his blog). And you can look here for other reviews, etc.

And happy gobbles to all of you this Thanksgiving and always!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Witness: Hard Gold by Avi

Recently I finished Avi's book called Hard Gold. It is part of Hyperion's "I Witness" series for young readers. I noticed it in the new books at the library; it caught my eye because it is a pioneer story of a family from Iowa with "gold fever" that ends up in Colorado. They go by wagon train through the states to the territories out west.

I love this time period and, of course, the location. In the summer of '07, we went to the Buena Vista, Colo. area and went on this awesome jeep tour of the Collegiate Peaks. It was such fun! We bumped up the dirt paths above treeline to a spot where our guide showed us a rock patch where there were quartz crystals. Nearby we saw the ruins of a log cabin. The walls were only about two-logs high and grass grew inside the cabin. We wandered around the area and found broken china and light green and lavender glass that dated back to the late 19th century. To find "artifacts" from the days when the miners lived in log cabins on the side of the mountain inspired me to think about how I could turn that into my own story.

And in those couple of days near Buena Vista, I thought of a complete plot to a novel. After reading Avi's novel, I was reminded of the story I wanted to write a year and a half ago. I wrote another scene last weekend--the ending as a matter of fact--and then found a bunch of books at the library on the gold rush era. We'll see how it comes along.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A really interesting video

Another instructor at IPFW told me about this video on It's really fascinating! It's a lecture given by a percussionist who teaches her audience how to listen. She tells about different ways of learning music and different ways of hearing. I highly recommend it. Thank you, Marje, for suggesting it!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


So, thanks for all the help with the idioms! Today I taught "to go overboard" and "over my dead body," both suggestions from my mom (thanks!). Great ideas! Some of my ESL students have been in the U.S. longer than others; those are usually the ones who recognize the idioms the quickest, and they recognized these right away. So I know I hit on some common ones--always the best technique because of the varied language ability of all of the students.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Need some idiom help!

I am teaching an ESL class (that I love), and every day we start with a brief discussion of an American idiom. We've covered a lot of them: dodge a bullet, get something straight, learn the hard way, and many more.

I'm wondering if you all might help me think of some of the more common ones that you use or hear.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's so great about reading

I'm not quite sure why, but this fall I've been reading more than I normally do. Maybe it's because my schedule is busier than it's been for a long time, so I'm savoring those quiet moments with a good book. Maybe it's because I've found some books I really like. I don't know.

But I was reminded again what's so great about reading this afternoon. I took 15 minutes away from my afternoon and started a new book, "Burning Bright" by Tracy Chevalier. In the five or six pages I read, I was jettisoned to 1792 London. Like a time machine. When authors create a strong sense of place, it is easy to get lost in the story, description, and time. The trick for the writer, of course, is to show the universality of the human condition even in times that were very different from our own by creating believable, authentic characters in real jeopardy. When those elements come together, a good book is the result, and something like time travel is what the reader gets.

Tracy Chevalier is particularly good at painting the picture of a place. I adored Girl with a Pearl Earring. Learning the story behind the painting, or the story behind the work of art is always a treat for me--even if it is fictional.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I got gas for $2.68 today. Awesome! I topped up the tank even though we were only down a third. On the radio yesterday morning, they played some "angelic" sounding music and Charlie Butcher on WOWO said, "miracles do happen!" regarding the gas prices falling. It was funny--but true. Last week, I was excited to get gas for $3.34 a gallon. This is even better.

So...The Happening was good but not great. It's M. Night Shyamalan's latest. I still love Signs the most, mostly because the storytelling is so strong and the acting is phenomenal. I just love Joaquin Phoenix. Always SO convincing.

This is fall break at IPFW, so I had two days off. What luxury and indulgence! It's been so great getting caught up.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A good movie

Last Friday night, I watched "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day." Adored it! It was such a simple, fun movie, but well acted and a nice story. Just one of those feel good movies. This evening I finished my third Sophie Kinsella novel in three weeks (plus I snuck in an Alexander McCall Smith one too), so I guess I'm getting more done than only grading and prepping these days.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


So I ordered a refill of allergy medicine this week from Express Scripts--the mail order company that our insurance pays to lower our prescription costs. The service was fairly fast. I ordered it maybe last Friday, and it arrived yesterday.

But when I opened the package (which was not tampered with or damaged in any way), I found loose pills all over the package. What was up with that?! I gathered up the pills and counted them. I could account for all of them, but I wasn't so sure I wanted to give a bunch of loose pills to my child for his allergies.

So I called Express Scripts today. I was transferred to the pharmacist who told me that the inside of the package is just as clean as the inside of the bottle, so we should go ahead and use them. Okay...well...I guess I can accept that. But then when she asked me if there was anything else she could help me with today, I said that maybe the next time we ordered our prescriptions they could make sure the bottles were shut.

What annoyed me was her response. It wasn't: I'm sorry, I will make sure that this doesn't happen again. Or: we will make every effort to ensure that the bottles are secured before throwing them in your package. Or even: We'll do our best. Her response was: "Oh, well, sometimes this happens. Not very often, but occasionally it does."

What? A customer asks you not to throw around medicine for her child and you say, Oh, it doesn't happen too often, but oh well. Can't really do anything about that. Grrr

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One of the books I'm reading

I'm currently reading a cookbook called "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" by Mark Bittman. It's awesome! In it the author gives simple, classic American recipes, like beef stew, fried eggs, basic yeast bread, traditional apple pie, and chicken soup. I haven't had the chance to make a lot of the dishes yet (using his recipes), but I'm looking forward to trying them. This would be a great housewarming gift for newlyweds or young people.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Blessings of Blizzards...DQ Blizzards, that is

DQ has a new blizzard flavor: pumpkin pie!! I can't wait to try it. What is it about Blizzards that make for such good conversations?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Words I Can't Spell

"Exercise" stumped me for the longest time. Now I get it.

"misspelling" - two s's or one?

"self-awareness" (or any word with "self" that comes before it) - one word? one hyphenated word? two words?

"Gemutlichkiet," obviously. MUCH easier to spell free beer Fridays.

My last name - took 3 months to learn to spell. My brother David reminds me that it can be spelled to the Mickey Mouse song. "S - T - I - E - G - E -" (are you singing it yet?) "M - E - Y - E - R"

Oh, it seems like there are so many more. But it's a Friday night, and I'm brain dead. What words do you find a challenge?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Foods I remember from childhood

Last night, over pork chops, we were talking about foods we remember and liked from childhood. Scott liked pork chops and tuna casserole. I dredged up some memory about salmon loaf. Ew. Then I remembered how the smell of sauerkraut filled the whole house. Neither of those were my favorites. Foods I love that my mom makes (or made): meatloaf, potato salad, nest eggs, these yummy German dumplings (shoot, I forget the name--Mom, help), spritz cookies, cream cheese cookies, and many more dishes that I'm undoubtedly forgetting. I wonder what Jacob will remember from my cooking. Yikes. That's kind of a scary thought.

P.S. Did you know there is a national meatloaf appreciation day? Isn't that awesome? (October 18, by the way.)

My question is: what is your favorite food you remember from childhood? Do you make it?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One thing about working...

In the last few months I've worked more out of the house than I have in years. I enjoy working with students, especially my ESL students (who are quite a lively group this fall!). I also have really enjoyed getting to know the other instructors at IPFW. One of the nice things about working is having people to bounce ideas off of, to vent frustrations to, and to compare notes with (sheesh, all those prepositions were sure dangling, eh?). Writing can be a lonely venture, and I find that if I have too much time at home on my own, trying to plow through projects that I get a little too wrapped up in my own thoughts and troubles. Feeling a sense of usefulness and purpose is also a blessing of work--and that's especially true when writing contracts are too few and far between. None of that is to say that being a wife and mother is unfulfilling. But I believe that work, within reasonable limits (so that my sanity can be maintained) can work. This morning a new friend and I were able to vent to each other about laundry and dirty floors and whatever else before we each headed off and taught our classes. That was nice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Last night I made Thai Chicken for dinner. It was yummy. Here is the link to the recipe from Cooking Light. It had a number of ingredients I don't normally have on hand, like fish sauce (ew, that just sounds nasty) and an Asian hot chili sauce, oh--and light coconut milk. But it all came out great. I made brown rice in my steamer (a wise suggestion by Peperkorn) and added a vegetable. One of my more successful cooking adventures. If anyone wants to try it (who lives near me), you can borrow my bottle of fish sauce and chili sauce. Seriously. Best of all, it was fairly healthy and not too fattening (always a bonus).

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Gobble is official! My new book, Gobble-Gobble-Crash! A Barnyard Counting Bash, published by Dutton Children's Books, was released a couple of weeks ago. Yea!

In other news...September has really sped by. My life is fairly hectic right now, more hectic than I like. I'm enjoying my students and colleagues, but...well, life is just very hectic. When I'm not prepping for classes, I'm grading papers, driving carpool, fixing meals, buying groceries...that's pretty much it.

Before church today, I revised a manuscript that has been waiting for me, and tomorrow night, I'll get some critiques on another book I've been working on. So those are good things. It's difficult to balance teaching and writing, and I'm still searching for that better balance.

Last week, I got to have a little book signing on another project I worked on about a year ago (or was it longer? I forget). Here are Adriane Dorr and I signing copies of A New Song, a series of devotional books for women published by Concordia Publishing House. (This website lists the author as "Jane Fryar; various" - I'm one of the various!) Adriane Dorr wrote for the second volume. This series is based on the psalms, intended to be a resource for women's groups. Each author wrote five faith narratives on a single psalm. Mine was Psalm 49. Thank you, Lauren, for the photo!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Phew! It's been a busy week-and-a-day. I've started a new semester of teaching at IPFW--the Indiana/Purdue extension in Fort Wayne. There are 11,000 students there this fall, so it's a little bigger than where I've taught in the past. So far, things are going well. I'm getting to know the students and figuring out a routine.

In the midst of that, I've been revising one manuscript, and writing a new one. We'll see how those progress. I think after this week, or maybe after next, I'll start feeling more on top of the teaching work load and better able to find more time for writing.

We're a little worried about our Lucy, our dog. She's had a bad limp in her hind left leg for the last couple of weeks. The vet thought it might be arthritis, but it seems to be getting worse. So we're going to get her into the vet again tomorrow to get an x-ray. It might be arthritis, but we just want to know what's going on and see if we can get her some help. We haven't been able to go on our walks for a few days, and we both miss it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Near-Death Experiences and Trip Advice

First, for the trip advice. For those of you who haven't stumbled upon it yet, I recommend Trip Advisor, a website that has real reviews from people who have visited all the places you want to go. I found it very helpful when booking hotels and figuring out places to eat.

Also, for this trip, I used to book one of our hotel stays. I'd never used Hotwire or Priceline before, but it worked out great. Their advertising slogan is that they get you a 4-star hotel at a 2-star price. From our experience in Boston, it's definitely true. We stayed at the luxurious Intercontinental Boston and paid about the same for that hotel that we did for a mediocre Holiday Inn in DC. The catch is that you can't specify which hotel you'd like to book. You simply give the dates and the city (or area within the city), and they book you the hotel. It worked out great for us in this trip, though. The Intercontinental is a beautiful hotel--the decor, the spa, the hip dining, the awesome bathroom with a big bathtub and a separate shower stall!! It was great.

So, now for my "near-death experience." Last Tuesday, we drove from Boston to Cape Cod (about a two-hour drive). Cape Cod is a little different than I expected it to be. It's not your typical beach-front scenery--no scenic vistas or palm trees (not that I expected palm trees)--but then suddenly from this heavily forested area the landscape opens up to the Atlantic ocean! One of the afternoons, we took a short hike and I felt like I was in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The scent of pine in the air, the pine needles at my feet. But then we went to the beach that afternoon.

On the first afternoon of our stay in Cape Cod, we--naturally--headed to the beach. It was a beautiful sunny day (unlike our second rainy day), so we took full advantage of it. The Atlantic is cold (no duh), but dang, yeah. It's really cold. About 60 degrees on a good day. So I was mainly just putting my feet in. Jacob was making me a nervous wreck because the waves were really strong, and he kept going back-first into the waves and then coughing up ocean water after every one passed over him (we finally figured out that you are supposed to swim through the waves--or something like that).

So anyway, I was basically just dipping my feet in, but then I thought that I should quit being a pansy and get in the water. How many opportunities in a lifetime do you have to be in the ocean anyway? Well, I now think I've had enough for my lifetime.

It was high tide, and the waves were really strong. I waded out about thigh-deep and then--BAM!--a wave completely took me down. All I knew was that I was rolling around underwater. I could see seaweed floating above me and felt the sand rushing into the ocean under me. (Oh, I'm getting all panicky just thinking about it.) I don't remember if I got above water after that first wave, but then--BAM--another wave hit me, sucked me under again. By this time, I thought I was a goner. Jacob was only about six feet away from me, and was lollygagging around, paying no attention to his mother DROWNING!! And, we were right in front of the lifeguards. They didn't seem to notice either. Finally, a third wave caught me. By this time, I had hauled myself up onto the shore a little bit, but the sand was still dragging me down. Finally, I got to my feet and made a beeline for my towel on the sand. I collapsed and proceeded to freeze in my soaking wet, sand-filled clothes the rest of the afternoon. Sheesh.

Jacob and Scott tell me that I was in the water only about 3 seconds. I don't quite believe them; it felt like about an hour to me. So I now call it my near death experience (NDE). I'm being a little facitious, but I don't ever remember having that feeling of raw power against me. The ocean was angry and threatening! I remember a friend telling me once that she'd had a similar experience and never liked swimming again. I think I can now relate. Jacob, however, our adrenaline junkie, loved it. The funny thing about the experience is that I must have looked like a combination of drowned rat / total idiot as I hauled myself up on the beach to my towel. What a landlubber! Oh--this picture shows me after my NDE. I was frozen, so I HAD to buy this cute sweatshirt.

So, these pictures were taken at Nauset Beach, on the Atlantic side of the Cape, near the town of Orleans.

On the rainy morning we were there, Jacob and I went over to Skaket Beach, on the harbor side of the Cape. Totally different! The water is warmer, and the beach so gradually slopes into the water that when it's low tide, you can walk out about two miles before you hit water. So we did that. Here are some pictures from that walk. This is a type of squid. It's hard to see through the water, but ew. He was kind of gross. Kids on the mudflats were also collecting little hermit crabs. We saw a spider crab and some random colorful crab arms lying around. Also--of course--lots of seagulls.

One of the interesting things about Skaket Beach at low tide is that the mud is rainbowy. It's hard to tell in these photos, but the top thin layer of sand is tan. Then just under that layer it's sort of pink, then a dark gray.

I wish we'd had more time to spend at Cape Cod. The beach was great (except for almost drowning--ha), the countryside was beautiful, the towns were charming and it is full of history. I'd definitely go back.


Yesterday morning, after an eventful trip home, we finally made it. We left Cape Cod around 8:30 a.m. on Friday, and got home around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Needless to say, we were tired yesterday--and still are today. We drove to Boston, turned in the rental car, and caught our train from South Station. The trip to Albany was great--relaxing, comfortable, everything a good train trip should be.

From there, things went downhill. The Albany train station was blech. Only food available was this little coffee shop with sandwiches and lukewarm soup. But at least we got to get something to eat (it was around dinnertime). The train loaded up around 7pm, and wow--I felt like I was in a herd of cattle getting on the train. There were several groups traveling together (some seniors groups, a youth group), and for some reason, Amtrak thought it was good to load them up first, which left very few seats for the rest of us. But we made it on, and even got to sit together. Many of the travelers were going all the way to Chicago, so they had a long trip in front of them.

Things started to calm down on the train around 10:30 or 11:00. Remember--we had a sleeper car on the way out to DC. This trip we were coach all the way. It's a vast difference! I did get some sleep, but felt like I woke up at every stop (although the guys tell me I was always asleep every time they looked at me). What amazed me was the group of older women that got on around 5:00 a.m. somewhere in Ohio. They were so loud! Here's this train car full of sleeping people, and these women were hooting and talking like it was broad daylight. Sheesh.

Finally, we arrived back in Waterloo to a sad sight. Our old car was still parked in the parking lot, but with three windows shattered. Apparently, some vandal had had some fun in the train parking lot. Several other cars had been damaged as well. That poor Geo. When we lived in Pittsburgh, the rear window had been smashed out at least once by some vandal. This time, the windshield had at least four blows, the passenger front window was shattered, and the rear window was shattered. Sigh. The police came by right as we got off the train, and said that someone had gone through the parking lot, smashing car windows about three nights back. Nothing inside the car had been damaged (there isn't much to steal--a radio that barely works is about it).

So we called AAA, and made it back to Fort Wayne. We jammed in the cab of the tow truck with these two tow truck drivers. It actually reminded me of some outrageous scene from a movie like Little Miss Sunshine. We were totally smashed into this cab. Except for sending out the tow truck, AAA was useless--sending us to window replacement shops that don't exist. Dumb. Finally, we ended up at a Chevrolet dealer, where the body shop will take care of the windows. So, grrr...that is not fun, but the trip overall was great.

Here's the thing about train travel that I love. I love seeing the countryside zoom past the windows. It feels more natural to travel this way. Airplane travel is awful compared to the train. In a plane, you are jammed into these tiny seats, you have absolutely NO leg room unless you happen to be less than 4 feet tall, and it's all so stressful! Train travel (at its best) avoids all of this. You can walk around, have tons of leg room, you get to see things out the window. It's great. I read most of a novel on the way back from Boston. You can get something to eat in the dining car or snack car. This photo shows somewhere in New York state. The moon is in the corner of the photo. It was a beautiful sunset.

And then, here is this gorgeous shot of Ohio farm land. Isn't it pretty? That is sunrise--just before we arrived in Waterloo.

People used to travel by train, and that is sadly obvious in a lot of places. The tracks are old, and as cities built up and moved away from the tracks, the areas by the tracks decayed. So it's often like looking in a back alleyway of the city. You see old tenement houses, burned out, graffiti-covered rowhouses. An occasional oasis of urban redevelopment pops up, and then there's another long line of brick warehouses with the glass windows broken or filmed over with decades of grime. A billboard reads, "We buy ugly houses."

Our trip from DC to Boston was especially eventful outside the train. We went through Philly, NYC, Connecticut, and then trees filled up the windows again. We left the grime and noise and clamor of the city to the scrub brushes and clapboard houses of New England. We even got a glimpse of the ocean. And a white heron. Sail boats are nestled in blue sparkly harbors. Church steeples jut into the skyline.

Overall, I loved the train. The last leg of the journey was more trying, but by then I was also ready to be home, so somewhat cranky. But I highly recommend it for the adventure of it all. Jacob was at the perfect age to take the train. Much younger and he (and we) would've been miserable. As it was, we all discovered this wonderful mode of travel and got to see some fabulous sights!

More soon on my near-death experience at Cape Cod...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Last Day

Today is the day we travel back home. We're leaving our B&B on Cape Cod in about an hour, and then driving back into Boston where we'll drop off the car and board the first train on the way home.

While on Cape Cod, we spent time at Nauset Beach. Here's sort of an interesting link for surfing on Nauset. The main part of the beach is typical (and lovely) - tan, fine sand, with little pebbles and rocks dotting the shoreline. It's just like the postcards--sand dunes filled with spiky blades of tall grass, low shrubs, instead of palm trees.

We went to the beach on Tuesday afternoon, after we arrived on the Cape. That was fun--warm and sunny. It rained ALL day on Wednesday while made us a touch grouchy, but yesterday turned out beautiful--fair and, after the clouds burned off, sunny and warm.

In the rain, Jacob and I went to Skaket Beach, on the other side of the Cape--the harbor side as opposed to the Atlantic. There, at low tide, you can walk for up to two miles out to the water since the Bay is so filled with sand eroded from the Atlantic side of the Cape. That area is called the Mudflats, where we found TONS of hermit crabs, and even saw a weird looking squid.

I have lots and lots and lots of pictures to share once we're home.

Monday, August 04, 2008


We're now in Boston, enjoying a cosmopolitan and lively city. Yesterday we did the Duck Tour of the city, so we were able to see all the "land" sights (the State House, Beacon Hill, the U.S.S. Constitution, etc.) as well as take a ride on the Charles River. On the subway yesterday, I identified at least 3 or 4 different languages being spoken around us--and that was just directly around us.

I loved seeing the Boston Public Garden, the setting of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. It is the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I love that the Commonwealth has an official children's book! There are bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings in the park, which the toddler set thoroughly enjoyed climbing on. I even got a good photo of an real, live duck in the lagoon under the branches of a willow tree.

While there, we tried to find a letterbox, but it was too hot, crowded, and we were hungry, so we gave up on that one. We did get four in Salem's Woods after we finally were able to get hold of a car and drive to the park. That was fun. A good hike on a warm summer day.

Today is our last day in Boston. Tomorrow we'll be heading to Cape Cod.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Days 7 and 8?

I'm sort of losing track of days. I guess that's what happens when you are lucky enough to get away for two weeks!

Anyway, we are now in Salem, Mass. We got in late last night after a long-ish train ride from DC to Boston. I thought everything was arranged with the car rental from the train station, but, alas, no car rental office was open when we arrived at 7:30pm. So, we improvised, and got to our hotel here in Salem last night around 9:00ish by cab. (I am still irritated with Hertz which seemed to give misleading info on their website about a car rental site being available at the train station, but I think we have things figured out to pick up a car tomorrow. I would forego having a car altogether, but I don't think we'll really be able to get to or around Cape Cod without it.)

This morning, we headed out early-ish to see the sights of Salem (is that spelled "sites" or "sights"? I'm confused.). There are a TON of witch-y type shops, museums, etc. We got a lot of good pictures for later use. My goal was to get to the House of the Seven Gables and to see the harbor, both of which we did.

The House of the Seven Gables was thoroughly enjoyable. I totally recommend seeing this very, very old house (old by American standards). This house inspired Hawthorne to write his book about Hepzibah and the Pyncheon clan. Hawthorne's birthplace was moved to the grounds of the House too, so we got to walk through that as well.

We're staying at the Salem Inn, which is another old house (built in 1834). A journal in the sitting room of the West House (where we're staying) says that some visitors have heard ghosts (such as a baby crying in the next room--when it's empty--or a woman sniffling). People come here, it seems to me, because they want to have some sort of paranormal experience.

We walked through the Burying Ground, the oldest cemetery in Salem. The oldest gravestone we found read 1681. There is a memorial adjacent to the cemetery with the names of the 20 who were hung or died after the Salem Witch Trials. The cemetery itself is beautiful--picturesque and tucked in a quiet corner in the town. A gnarled old oak shades one corner of the graveyard.

Tomorrow it's back to Boston for a couple of days, and then we'll head to Cape Cod, where we hope to crash on the beach for 3 days straight.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 6

Just a quick update. Today we spent some time by the pool (which was awesome), and then walked about 2 miles (or more?) to several of the monuments and memorials. It was a great way to spend our last day in DC. Tomorrow morning we head back to Union Station to catch the train to Boston.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 5

Back to the hotel after more sight-seeing, heat, and crowds. Honestly, I'm about at my limit in terms of dealing with hoards of tourists. But still really enjoyed the day.

This morning, we had a staff-led tour of the Capitol. I had previously contacted Mark Souder's (our congressman's) office about tours of the White House. No tickets available, sadly. However, we had a scheduled tour of the Capitol building, which ended up being quite a treat this morning. Our two favorite stops on the tour: the rotunda and the House gallery (photo). The rotunda is impressive in size and, well, it's just plain cool. Weirdly, though, in the center of the rotunda is a tapestry of George Washington surrounded by angels, like he's some sort of deity. Still, though, very cool.

From the photo (I've included here--obviously not my own), and from all of the times I've seen the State of the Union address, I somehow thought the House Gallery would be larger. But the gallery itself is really not much wider than this photo shows. Congress is almost ready to adjourn for the August holiday, but they were not in session this morning (apparently, they were in committee meetings). We had to go through two levels of security, eventually leaving in the foyer all of our bags, phones, cameras, etc. But it was still a treat to see it.

After a brief respite, we headed out again to the International Spy Museum. Eh. It was cool, but I am kind of museumed out. We did the "Operation Spy" combo to the visit in which you get a secret op and have to figure out--with ten other strangers--how to use a spy's equipment and techniques to find a nuclear trigger device. That was fun.

Then we went to Jaleo for dinner. It was another awesome tip from Mollie (dang, that girl is spot-on with her restaurant advice!!). It is a traditional Spanish restaurant, which serves tapas--small portions of all sorts of different dishes. Delicious!

Tomorrow is a do-nothing day. We may swing back by the Lincoln Memorial (which is the one thing we couldn't really see from the tour bus) or just hang out by the pool. I had originally thought of going to Mt. Vernon (Washington's home), but 5 hours of a tour bus sounds, well, exhausting right now.

On Thursday (boy, the time is going fast!) we'll take the train to Boston, so that's going to be a big reading/writing day.

Oh--Mom just reminded me (thanks!) that I was in DC in 1976 the day the Air & Space Museum first opened. Cool! Yes, I remember being totally impressed by that museum--even more so than the White House.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 4

Tonight, we're all a little worn out after our sightseeing adventures today. We're really enjoying our trip though--don't get me wrong. It's been great so far. Wandering around in the heat, though, does tend to be a little tiring.

Yesterday, after a lovely church service and lovely brunch, we wandered around the Air & Space Museum where we saw the Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis. We also saw the Apollo XI command module and touched a real moon rock! 

Mollie (thank you!) gave us a great tip about an Ethiopian restaurant, Etete, so we went there for dinner. It was delicious!! And a fun adventure.

Today, we played tourist again and went on a tour bus to the National Cathedral. There again, we saw a moon rock in the Space Window as well as the beautiful Rose Window. The cathedral is quite the impressive structure. I especially enjoyed seeing several of my books in the bookstore there. Yea! Jacob: "Are you seriously taking a picture of your books on display?" Of course.

Next, we went to the Holocaust Museum. What I found most moving were the poems and first-hand accounts on walls of the exhibits; one quote was from Elie Wiesel, an Auschwicz survivor. Here's the quote:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

The museum's website looks extensive. Check it out. 

On our tour bus today we also saw: Ford's Theater (with some weird happy music playing in the background--for some reason the tour bus company thought that was appropriate at the place where Lincoln was assassinated), the White House (from about a mile away), lots of security surrounding the White House, charming Georgetown, the many Memorials, the Potomac, Chinatown, Union Station, the Capitol--the whole kit and kaboodle. 

In our down time, I'm reading two books (well, okay, three): House of the Seven Gables (for this weekend's adventures in Salem, MA), the EQ Edge (super practical and interesting book on emotional intelligence), and Picture Writing (for children's writers). 

Tomorrow it's onto the Capitol tour and the Spy Museum! 

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 3

We made it to DC late yesterday afternoon. Now we're up and heading to church this morning. We walked around the National Mall a little bit last night to get the lay of the land. Even though I've seen images of the Washingon Monument and Capitol building thousands (?) of times, it's still exciting and impressive to see in person. A couple of funny notes:

• On our way to the Capitol building, a man and woman got out of their red pickup truck and asked us (in a Texas drawl), "Do you know where the White House is?" I didn't have my map along, so I couldn't help her. So she asked a follow up: "Is that," pointing to the Capitol, "our nation's Capitol?" I told her yes. She gave her husband/boyfriend a look and said, "See! I told you!!"

• We ordered some food from room service, and it was like pulling teeth trying to understand what the person on the other end of the phone was asking. I said we wanted some beer--a Molson (on the menu). I was told they didn't have that. So she listed off the other beers (pronounced like this): younglin, doshkeesh, kingsred. What???? I felt like going down and tutoring her in ESL right then and there. BTW we ended up getting Amstel.

•In the grassy area between the Capitol and Wash Mem, there were people playing soccer. Jacob thought they shoud be playing football or baseball--a more traditionally American sport. (he was kidding) But it was neat to see that area with those symbols of our great country to draw people from all over the world.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day 2

Here we are in Cumberland MD, at a station stop. So far we've been on board the train for about 12 hours. After a fairly good night's sleep, we had French toast in the dining car.

At about 6:30 this morning we passed through Pittsburgh. The sun was just coming up and shining on the rivers and the buildings
downtown. We kept moving through the back streets of the city. It looked like home. Then we saw Kennywood! From the other side of the river! Awesome stuff.

After passing through Pittsburgh we went into the beautiful southeastern PA countryside.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day One, American Heritage Tour

Well, here we are in our living room of Day One of our "American Heritage Tour." Why are we in our living room? Because our train doesn't leave until 11pm! We've got a sleeper car to ride out our 14 1/2 hour trip to Washington DC, where we'll arrive tomorrow afternoon. I just realized that I think our train might go through Pittsburgh. I wonder when?? Well, to our friends in the 'burgh, watch for us waving from the train! :) While in DC, I'm looking forward to seeing Arlington Nat'l Cemetery, the White House (but it'll probably just end up being the visitor's center...grrr), the Smithsonian museums, the memorials, and I want to go down to Mt. Vernon to see Washington's home. We'll also be at Immanuel, Alexandria! We've also got tickets to see the International Spy Museum. We might do some letterboxing along the way. We also have a tour of the Capitol, arranged by Mark Souder's office, so that should be interesting.

After the DC tour, we'll be onto Boston after another train ride. There we'll see Salem, the Boston sites, Fall River, and then out to Cape Cod.

More soon...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Death, Dying and Grief

Lately, because of different events, I have been thinking about death, dying, and grief. One of those events is the death of Vivian Gregory, the infant daughter of a seminary family. Vivian was born prematurely and died last week after being hospitalized for six months. My heart goes out to Vivian's parents and all who are grieving because of the loss of this tiny baby.

Second, I was given a manuscript to review that is about coping with grief during the first thirty days of a loss of a loved one. It is well-written, practical, and speaks to the emotions of everyone who has experienced loss.

Third, I have been toying with the idea of writing about grief for children for quite awhile now. And finally now, I think I can write something.

Funerals remind us of all of our losses. As we stand in the pews, we might remember other funerals we've attended. We remember the widow's bewilderment and tears. The widower's trembling hands. The children's faces full of confusion and fear. We know what grief looks like. We've felt it ourselves. And it all comes sweeping back over us when we attend a funeral.

At the funeral of a baby, the pain in the church is palpable. It is so wrong, so evil, so terrible that this baby with little fingers and toes, with the little smiles and the hopes and dreams of her parents is the one lying there in that tiny coffin. We feel the outrage of it all. We can't understand it.

On the afternoon of the funeral this week, Jane posted one of the hymns we sang. This hymn, "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" is wonderfully comforting. It also brings back a lot of Pittsburgh memories for me. I taught the kids in our church to sing it, and for awhile, I had the kids sing it at most baptisms, so whenever I hear it or sing it myself, I imagine those little voices in the choir loft singing away. The hymn has a wonderful melody and even better text. And it spells out in poetic verse what we cling to at all times, but especially during times of loss: I am God's own child and because of the death and resurrection of Christ, I have no fear of death or loss or pain or grief. Yes, death and loss are painful; it should hurt. This is not the way God intended for our existence to be. Death is not a natural part of life. But God provided the way out of death, pain, loss, sin, and sorrow. He gave us Jesus. "I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading Challenge

Thanks to Jane at Indiana Jane who is very diligent about her reading challenge list (and inspires me in the process), I am going to update mine and add a few more:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (finished 6/08) - This is the true story of a failed attempt to climb K-2 in Nepal. The co-author almost died on his way down the mountain and ended up in a village where the locals took him in and brought him back to health. Then he discovered that in this tiny village, they had no school. The dozen or so children of the village sat in the open air, sharing one slate with no books, desks, or teachers. The rest of the book is Mortenson figuring out how to fund and build schools for children all over the region (mainly the mountains of Pakistan). The book started out wonderfully. It sort of stagnated about half-way through, but I still really enjoyed it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - on my list to read this summer

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany by Stephen Ambrose - still on my list

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurston (finished 5/08). Great read! Fascinating nonfiction story about shipwreck divers who discovered a German WWII submarine - a U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. Not only is the story enthralling, but the writing is phenomenal.

Now reading:

(on audio) - Stop Whining, Start Living by Dr. Laura Schlessinger - great so far

EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Steven Stein and Howard Book - I'm reading this for a class I'm teaching this fall, but it's a great read so far (will write more about emotional intelligence in another post)

The House of the Seven Gables by Hawthorne - we're going there week after next, so I figured I'd better re-read it. What great characters and juxtaposition between Hepzibah, the old withered maid and Phoebe, her beautiful young cousin. Hawthorne's poetic turns of phrase are not only true, but a delight to read.

I'm also currently reading a biography of Charles Lindbergh with Jacob since we're going to see the Spirit of St. Louis in DC next week. What an incredible life Lindbergh led! From triumph to tragedy! We are currently reading about the surveillance he did for the US government as the world was headed to war in the late 30s. He had the credentials to view German aircraft as an observer, and then he reported back to the US what he found.

Monday, July 14, 2008

10 Years Ago

Jane tagged me for this one:

What was I doing ten years ago?
Ten years ago we Fort Wayne! Scott was two years into his admission counselor job, Jacob was three, and I was just getting into writing. I believe it was around ten years ago that my very first book, Things I See in Church was either accepted for publication or published. The next year in 1999, we moved to Pittsburgh.

What 5 things are on my to-do list for tomorrow?
1. Work on my Portals of Prayer outline.
2. Prepare to sub for literature classes on Wed. and Thurs.
3. Work on revising a picture book
4. Go to Blockbuster
5. Figure out the luggage we're going to use for our trip (leaving July 25!)

Snacks I enjoy:
Tootsie Pops
Granola bars
Mike & Ikes
donuts (of course)

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Buy a house and cars
Give to charity
Save for Jacob's college

Places I've lived:
Lakewood, CO
Seattle, WA
Ann Arbor, MI
Fort Wayne, IN
Temple City, CA
Pittsburgh, PA

Jobs I have had:
Teacher - 6th, 7th grade, ESL, adults, children, college
Receptionist for lawyer's office
Receptionist for veterinarian's office (also cleaned the kennels!)
Custodian for Concordia College in Ann Arbor
Cared for a disabled woman
Probably more I'm not remembering

People I would like to know more about:

Friday, July 11, 2008

More fun cowboy stuff

I'm still working on my picture book text set in the Old West and found some fun quotes at this website. First, insults:

-He was mad enough to swallow a horn-toad backwards.

- He's so mean he'd steal a fly from a blind spider.

- He was so mean, he'd fight a rattler and give him the first bite.

- He was mean enough to steal a coin off a dead man's eyes.

Now from the Cowboy's "Code":

  • Don't inquire into a person's past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.

  • Never steal another man's horse. A horse thief pays with his life.

  • Defend yourself whenever necessary.

  • Look out for your own.

  • Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.

  • Never order anything weaker than whiskey.

  • Don't make a threat without expecting dire consequences.

  • Never pass anyone on the trail without saying "Howdy".

Also, here's a website where you can generate your own cowboy nickname. Mine's Julie "Rides-again" Stiegemeyer.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Random things I've learned lately:

1. The House of Seven Gables in Salem, MA is the oldest surviving wooden mansion in New England. I'm currently re-reading the book by Hawthorne. We plan on visiting the house when we're in Salem in about 3 weeks.

2. One of my students taught me a new word: "ghettofy," which I think is the modern version of "jerry-rig." It is used in a sentence like this: "Now we have our own ghettofied computer system!"

3. Plato's Closet, a re-sale clothing shop in Fort Wayne is awesome if you're looking for some stylish, more reasonably priced clothing.

4. Letterboxing is a fun hobby!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Some updates!

Phew! It's been a long time, it seems to me, since I've been able to regularly update my blog. Hopefully, today's update will be the start of many more posts on a much more regular basis.

First, you must look here to read about my dear friend's book, Mimi. How exciting that covered it! It's an adorable book. You simply MUST get it for any children in your life.

Second, on a personal note, I am so thankful to have a respite from teaching. I really enjoyed working with students in the past few months. Having the freedom to write whenever I feel like it, go on whatever errands need to be done, etc. is nice, but I also found myself getting a little stir crazy. Teaching has been a nice outlet, earned me some regular income, and reminded me how much I do love working with students.

I'm still trying to find that perfect balance between family, writing, teaching, volunteer work, etc. (and likely will never find it), but a new part-time teaching position this fall will hopefully help me balance the teaching/writing parts of my life a little better. So, now, I have some time to write. I am determined before vacation (we're leaving July 25) to finish two picture books, maybe more. We'll see how I do! I also am working on a couple of other projects.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grammar Quiz

Whenever you might feel the need to sharpen your grammar skills, take a grammar quiz!! I might tell y'all my score if you post yours.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Out of steam

I am finishing up a month-long teaching stint of composition. I've got 35 students, two classes, and lots of papers to grade. What I miss is the extra creative energy to write and...think. Some people thrive on busy schedules and find anything less to be boring. I have enjoyed getting back into teaching. But balance--as in all things--is best. So I'm hoping after I finish these classes, I can have more time to write, and blog!

The bonus is that once I finish teaching, I get to go with a group to Cedar Point on Friday. Yea!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Mouse Story

So finally, here's the story about the mouse. About a month ago, it was a chilly morning on the way to school, and I turned on the heat. Right away, we knew something was wrong because there was a funky sound coming from the heater. I turned off the heat and we just stayed chilly. The car needed some other work, so we had that checked as well. The mechanic said it found a mouse nest in the blower for the heater. A mouse nest? The car is normally parked in the garage, so we figured there must be a mouse (or mice?) living in there. But I figured we'd just see what happened.

Two days later, the blower made another noise that was sounding a little too familiar. Crud. Had it never really gone away? Or had those mice been at work again? The next week, I took the car back to the mechanic again. Sure enough, there was another mouse nest in the blower. I asked him to save this one for me, so he put all the nesty stuff in the plastic bag--which is what is shown in the photo. There are bits of kleenex, an old towel, leaves, and other miscellaneous stuff.

So, $200 later, I decided the time had come for some D-con. I'm sorry mousies! Today I found a very sad, very pathetic-looking, very dead mousey on the floor of the garage. I had an impromptu funeral and buried him in the lovely woods behind the house. Sigh...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cowboy Slang

So I'm working on this story set "out west" with coyotes, stage coaches, and cowdogs. As I was browsing the library shelves yesterday for some writing books, I found The Cowboy Dictionary by Ramon F. Adams. It's got a pretty awesome subtitle: "The Chin Jaw Words and Whing-Ding Ways of the American West." Being from Colorada' I understand the west, and while I love the steadiness and calm of the Midwest, I do get a hankerin' for bein' out west where (at least in the movies) no one pronounces their r's. But seriously, back to the Cowboy Dictionary. I thought I'd add some words over the next few days to give y'all a taste of some cowboy lingo.

"airin' the lungs" - "What the cowboy calls 'cussin' which seems to be a natural part of his language (p. 4)

"all horns and rattles" - "said of someone displaying a fit of temper. A man in his mood, as one cowboy said, 'maybe don't say nothin', but it ain't safe to ask questions.'" (p. 5)

"ankle express" - "The feet. To walk." (p. 6)

While y'all are at it, you might enjoy this site.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I just got the fall catalog from the Penguin Young Readers' Group, which includes Dutton Children's Books, which is releasing my book Gobble Gobble Crash this fall. (Whew! That was a long sentence.) It's always awesome to see the book being promoted in catalogs. No longer is it a private text that I revised and reworked through many drafts. Now it is public! (which is great and a little scary)

Until its release date (in Sept. 08), you can be amused by this video showing two turkeys fighting on a highway. I liked the title: "Gobble! Gobble! Them's Fightin' Words!"

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Baby chickens and Alpacas

This past week, I got to see a chick hatchery at the Museum of Science and Industry. Here are some of the adorable photos.

In one section of the hatchery, there were eggs still "percolating." One little guy had just hatched. He would take two or three wobbly steps and then need a little nap.

Then on this past Sunday, I went to the Alpaca Invitational at the Fort Wayne Coliseum. Alpacas are related to camels and llamas. Llamas are taller than alpacas, and are usually pack animals. The alpacas are used for their fleece. They are herd animals and seem to love being close to each other, like these two.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Book Review

A couple of weeks ago, I read a short little book by Julia Cameron called "How to Avoid Making Art." It's a humorous take on why artists don't make their artwork--whether that be art, dance, music, writing, whatever. Each page has a "reason" why you would want to avoid doing anything artistic along with a little comic. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Be in a big hurry
  • Take seriously every negative thing anyone says
  • Slide into despair rather than take one small exploratory action
  • Consider the odds against whatever you make ever selling (ouch, that one hurts)
  • Demand that what you do be absolutely original, totally brilliant, and never done before.
  • Only share your good news with those who will immediately dampen it.
  • Tell yourself that your job keeps you from making art and then work overtime just to prove it.
  • The minute you have an idea, ask yourself: how much cold, hard cash is it worth?
  • Think of all the other books that have been written. Why write this one? (Ouch again)
  • Under no circumstances make any art just for fun.
  • Never venture into new artistic territory, no matter how tempting.
  • Never celebrate a job well done. Always think about "more" that needs doing.
Julia Cameron is my favorite writer on writing. Her books The Right to Write and The Sound of Paper have really changed the way I view my writing and creative process (I sound so high-faluting when I say that!).

This was the backdrop for some of my thinking when I visited the Art Institute in Chicago last week with my family. I wondered if the artists who are now considered "masters" ever thought their work would be viewed in a museum. Did they think, "oh, this is crap, I better just throw it out"? Did they get frustrated or have trouble with deadlines or feel trapped in a job that wouldn't let them do their art? Did they "venture into new artistic territories"? Did they doubt the quality of their work?

My guess is that most, if not all of them, had self-doubt and frustrations with their artwork, their time limitations, their small pay. They probably felt "blocked" at some point in their career, were frustrated by the market, what was selling, what they had to do to get by.

It makes me thankful for the writing career that I've sort of stumbled into. There are no guarantees it'll continue, that I'll continue to have my books published. That scares me, but it also makes me glad for what I have been able to produce. And that's why I love Julia Cameron's advice so much. Make art, whatever it is, just because you can. Don't worry about finishing that poem or the painting or the song. Don't worry about how much time you have or don't have. Just create and enjoy the fact that, being made in God's image, you long to create beauty in a world where it is often missing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I've been reading in the last couple of days about 14 "super foods" that are supposed to keep you healthy and less medicine-dependent into old age. I've been skimming through the book, Superfoods Rx. Some of the super foods include: broccoli, tomatoes, beans, oats, soy, and blueberries. Jane posted on something similar to this about another book. Basically, we should eat stuff that grows in dirt. That's the bottom line.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thoughts on Cancellation of Issues, Etc. Radio Show

Every organization, religious or not, has its own political wrangling; such is the case within my own denomination.

When I was 19 years old, I joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is rooted in biblical truth, historic liturgical practice, sacramental worship, and doctrinal clarity. I love my church and my congregation. After the cycle of Holy Week services culminating in Easter last week, I was reminded again how grateful I am for the historic roots of my faith--the passion readings from John, the darkened church at the Easter vigil, the sweet smell of hope in the Easter lilies. But this is not merely an intellectual exercise. It is a personal, deeply comforting message I hear in every worship service, assuring me of a loving God who daily rescues me from my own failings and from the broken world we live in.

Last week, the powers-that-be at our denomination's headquarters decided to cancel a popular radio show called "Issues, Etc." I don't understand, nor do I pretend to understand, all of the reasons behind this. But it is troubling and disappointing on many levels. Here is an article written by M.Z. Hemingway, a friend of mine, about the topic in the Wall Street Journal. Very nicely put, Mollie.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

To-Read; Beatrix Potter; Allen Say

So I was glancing over at Jane's blog and noticed this post on a reading challenge.
I'm not sure I could name 56 books I want to read before the end of the year, but I can start with a short list:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany by Stephen Ambrose
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurston

I'm almost finished with a book called The Tale of Beatrix Potter, which is a biography about the children's author by Margaret Lane. I'd like to find a couple of other biographies to read about authors. The thing I love about reading biographies, especially biogs about children's authors, is I am reassured that every author has ups and downs in his or her writing life. I've had some frustrations lately, in the midst of some nice school visits, and it's always good for me to hear about other authors who have gone through the same sort of thing. Here's a really nice section about Beatrix Potter's work from this book:

"Conveying truth by means of fantasy, enlarging our perception of life by poetic means, is one of the highest functions of art, and it is not extravagant to say that in her small and special sphere Beatrix Potter performed it. ... Displayed in the trappings of their human counterparts [the animals Potter created] reveal their own true natures by oblique methods, and we ever after know more about them from having observed their behavior in significant disguise" (p. 106).

Last, this afternoon I stopped by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, where Allen Say, another children's author/illustrator was doing a book signing. There is a nice display of his beautiful original artwork from three of his books.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Gobble Gobble Crash

At the end of last week, I got my first proofs of Gobble Gobble Crash: A Barnyard Counting Bash. It's so exciting to see this new book coming together. I decided to take a couple of snapshots to show everyone how it's looking at this point in the process.

I wrote Gobble, boy, about 8 (?) years ago. The manuscript had a long and eventful journey, eventually ending up at Dutton Children's Books and it will be published this fall. I will definitely have to go to Pittsburgh for a book signing for this book since that is where the inspiration for the book came from.

One late afternoon, I was with my family, and we were driving on a road in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is an unusual city in that it is very hilly and divided up by three rivers. So, getting around town is a bit of a challenge--but it's also an adventure. We were on Streets Run Road (I think) which is like going up the side of a mountain. The road is lined with thick trees.

Well, on this one afternoon, we were driving home and all of a sudden, a huge bird flew over our car, over the road. Scott was driving and had his window down and said he could hear the beating of the wings of this huge bird. This happened shortly after we moved to Pittsburgh, and we didn't know what the heck that thing was that flew over our car.

We asked around and found out that there are tons of wild turkeys in the Pittsburgh area (and I'm sure all over the state). So, we actually had a wild turkey sighting. It was cool.

A couple of years later, I saw a mother turkey with seven little baby turkeys trying to cross another road, but this time on foot. One poor little guy got stuck on one side all by himself. Don't know if he ever made it.

Anyway, little incidents like that are what inspire my stories. I had an idea for a counting book about wild turkeys making a big ruckus at a barnyard. This manuscript went through SO many revisions. It was crazy. But finally, after getting guidance from other writers and editors, I settled on a story, and it is!

Valeri Gorbachev illustrated the book. His artwork is fantastic! I completely love it. Anyway, the book will be released this fall (in September, I believe), so I'm looking forward to seeing it all bound and finished. It's a great treat, however, to see it in these earlier stages.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Birds, Lunar Eclipses and Misc.

So, I tried to do the Great Backyard Bird track, but alas, I've seen almost NO birds at my feeder lately. Then I saw this article. I know hawks are definitely in the neighborhood, so maybe one is lurking around my backyard too.

Did you see the lunar eclipse? I tried to take some pictures with our new camera, but they looked like weird white blobs. At about 10pm, the moon was pinkish-red as the shadow of the earth blocked the light of the sun. A rare and beautiful event to witness. The thing about the moon in winter that I love is the soft light it produces as it reflects off the snow. But it was dark last night with this shadowy moon looming overhead.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count

As some of you know, one of my hobbies is bird watching. I saw a great blue heron flying over campus a week or so ago. Awesome! And I love watching the cardinals in my backyard--especially in the winter. I noticed a couple of nuthatches yesterday at my feeder too.

Anyway, from Feb. 15-18 is the Audobon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count. For 15 minutes at some point this weekend, people from all over the U.S. (and Canada?) will be counting birds in their backyards. So I'm going to force Jacob to help me count for 15 minutes. Gotta go fill up the bird feeder!

Friday, February 15, 2008

More thoughts on teaching writing

Thank you, Carol, for your helpful comments about my last post. That book sounds awesome. I will definitely take a look. I was particularly frustrated that day when I last posted, but I have to say that now that I am teaching a new group of students and giving them assignments that are more creative, it's been a joy to see what they come up with. There are a few in the class who are poets at heart, and to see their writing has been a ton of fun for me this week. Here are the writing assignments I gave (nothing fabulous, but good creative writing starters nonetheless):

1. Write what comes before or after the action of a short story we read in class. This was awesome--several wrote about Jim and Della Young from "The Gift of the Magi" and put them in interesting scenarios. For example, what would happen if these two selfless, but poor people found an envelope full of money? Another two or three students wrote about what caused Montresor in "A Cask of Amontillado" to become so vengeful toward Fortunato. What were those "thousand injuries" that Montresor endured in order to bury Fortunato alive? Still others chose to tell the Misfit's point of view in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Interesting stuff, indeed!

2. Another fun writing exercise which I LOVED was when I had my department chair break into my class and stage a scene. Then I had the students write about what they saw. It was a great exercise in showing how word choice differs a lot between people. So my department chair, right in the middle of me talking about "The Yellow Wallpaper" opened the classroom door and said, "Julie, I need to see you right now!" He really sounded mean about it too. I said that I was in the middle of class, could I talk to him later, etc. But no, he "needed" to see me then. So I left, and giggled in the hallway while the students wondered what the heck was going on. Mike left to get me a tissue to make it seem even more real, and then after a few minutes, I came back in, obviously flustered and shaken. (Not difficult for me.) One of my students said, "Do you want me to open a can of whoop-ass for you?" They stuck up for me! It was so sweet. (That was--in that moment--a highlight of my teaching "career"!) Then, after a few seconds, Mike came in and reassured the students that it was all a set up. Then, the pens started flying as they wrote down what they experienced.

3. I also asked students to take an everyday event and exaggerate it to make it into a more interesting piece of fiction. Those were fun to read.

4. Yesterday, I had students look at a photograph on the wall of the second floor of the building. I had noticed this photo (kind of Ansel Adams-ish) when I taught on the second floor last month of a couple standing on a railway platform, watching a train chug into the distance. So I had the students write about what was happening in the picture. I love those type of story-starters.

While I've been teaching this class, I've been sick and extra busy, so it's becoming a little frustrating to me that I haven't had as much time to write. But this is coming at writing from a different angle, and it's teaching me some things too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I just don't get it

So I've been teaching this class on the Fundamentals of English. For the most part, I enjoy it, but I do not understand the idea that writing is some dreaded activity like I hear sometimes from students. Yeah, grammar can be a big pain with all the exceptions, rules, etc.

But why would you not want to improve your writing, so that you can communicate better? Express yourself more easily? Enjoy the sound of words? Experiment with word play and rhyme?

I love this quote from E.M. Forester (at least it's most often attributed to him): "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" That quote so captures my daily experience. Some people think out loud by talking. I think by writing.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Record Album

So, my friend Jane, over at Indiana Jane recommended this fun activity. You create your own record album cover. By going to various websites, you randomly find your band name, the title of the record, and the cover art. I'm not high-tech enough to figure out how to photoshop the cover art, but after doing this according to the directions, I came up with:

Ashley Heath (my band name) [which came from the Wikipedia site on the Ashley Heath railway station]

and "Life's not the movies" (my album name) [which came from the random quote website]

Pretty good, eh?

1. The first article title on this page is the name of your band.
2. The last four words of the last quotation on this page is the title of your album.
3. The third picture on this page, no matter what it is, will be your cover artwork.
4. Take the artwork, your titles, and use a photo-editing program to paste them together.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Erin Bode, Jazz Singer

Last night we were treated to Erin Bode and the Erin Bode band which played at Concordia Theological Seminary's annual symposia banquet. It was great!

Here is a link to Erin on the Prairie Home Companion.

Even more impressive is Erin's work with the South African Themba school. She has now made two recordings with the girls' and boys' choirs at this boarding school. Here is the link to the recording with the girls' choir. She announced last night that she made a recording with the boys' choir this past fall, so I'm looking forward to hearing that when it comes out.

Take a peek at these websites. You will be glad you did.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Best Kitten Picture of the Day

You can NOT tell me that this guy isn't the sweetest thing you've ever seen--even those of you who *claim* to not like cats. And...this photo is so perfect for today when I am revising my story about the lost kitten trying to find her way home.

A Funny Story

So, yesterday I made lamb stew for our third annual Epiphany middle-eastern foods night. We decided that since Epiphany celebrates the wise men coming "from the east" that we should have a dinner with middle-eastern foods, like lamb stew, pita bread and hummus, honey cake, etc.

Thursday night, I had a hunk of lamb I was chopping up (and trying not to think about the cute fluffy lamb he once was). I was hungry and tired. I had a sip (one inch, no more) of wine as I was chopping, and suddenly, the empty stomach, tired body, wine in my belly, and super-bloody lamb on the cutting board made me very close to passing out. I started feeling woozy and light-headed. I felt the blood draining from my face. My hands started shaking. Maybe I was thinking a little too much about the cute fluffiness of the lamb or feeling grossed out by the blood oozing on the cutting board. I don't know. But I went and found Scott and told him that I thought I might pass out. He told me to sit down, so I did. Then I had a bowl of cereal and felt much better.

It was kind of funny because I never remember that happening when I've chopped up beef or goose or turkey or anything else. I think I'll let the butcher do it the next time.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Blessings of Experience

Quick survey: in general, do you think life is better or worse as you get older?

Lately, I've been thinking about the blessings of experience. This week, I started teaching a Fundamentals of English class for the second time. Wow--what a difference! I am more prepared, more confident, feel like I can handle tangents or interruptions better, etc. I can think. My friend Carol mentioned to me yesterday that having expectations adjusted to the proper level helps a lot. She is completely right. Also, just going through all of it before helps a ton. I have a better grasp of the scope of the course, etc.

I had a discussion with my class today about how most people are afraid to speak in public. Many of my students agreed that that was their #1 fear. I told them that I get nervous with public speaking too, but that I can overcome that fear if I'm prepared. I showed them the huge binder of materials I put together in order to teach the class. With that, I am in good shape. But I KNOW that I can NEVER "wing it." Some people have that gift; not me. One of my students seemed surprised to hear that I didn't like public speaking. "You're a teacher after all!" she said with surprise. She's right. It is kind of bizarre, but true. To me, teaching a small-ish class is a lot different than speaking before a crowd of hundreds of people (which I, thankfully, have never had to do). But even in front of a small class, I can be a nervous wreck if I'm not sure what will come out of my mouth. And experience is so helpful in this regard. With experience, you know what to expect, are better prepared, and remember what has worked before. As I near 40, I sometimes think about what it would be like if I were younger again. And then I realize that I wouldn't want to go back. Because--for the most part--it seems to me that experience can be a blessing.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


So the past few days I've been doing a little bit of a lot of different things.

1) I finished up my last round of lessons for the Growing in Christ Sunday school curriculum for Concordia Publishing House. The entire curriculum is done. It was a great project. It took lots of time, but I learned so much while I was writing the lessons.

2) I'm getting ready for another round of teaching. In January, in the mornings, I will be teaching Fundamentals of English at Brown Mackie College. This is basic grammar. Since it's my second go-round, I'm feeling much better about my preparations. I was asked to teach Intro to Lit in February, and I'm getting kind of excited about this. I could be teaching Hamlet, Hemingway, and more...oh my!

3) I'm working on various writing projects, including a third book in the Cheeps series. Yea cheeps!

4) And last, and by far the most exciting, I read an article in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about my hubby.