Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Winds of Change

This past week the wind and the rain blew through the little town near us, taking roofs and siding it its wake.
Blowing trees onto dwellings and doing untold damage.
We live on a farm outside of town and the wind and rain did a number on the poles and wires going past the neighbors house, taking out electricity down our road for miles. A bit of inconvenience. Well with deadlines a lot of inconvenience.

But instead of grousing we count our blessings. And pray for the people in our town, and for the state of Alabama where even greater damage was done, and lives lost.

Terrifying video reveals deadly size and destruction of massive tornado. I have posted a link to this second one per the video owners request.

Will you pray with me?

Lord be with your children, Your very own creation, who have lost their homes, their belongings, and some have lost loved ones. Hold them in your loving arms as they try to pull the pieces of their lives together again. Help them to turn to You, the God of all Comfort.

Give we who escaped the weathers wrath (this time) give us compassion for our suffering brothers and sisters. Show us how we can help and encourage them.

The very earth is groaning for You, Father. We need You. We need your peace that passes all understanding ~ Amen.

Q4U: What is the most terrifying weather you have ever experienced?

Friday, April 29, 2011

That Elusive "After-Winter Season"

It may actually be here.

A month ago
I know--it's hard to believe--but I almost feel comfortable packing away those snow pants. (Gloves and boots are another thing - but STILL) It's been more than ten days since we had snow. And looking at the forecast, not a drop of the white stuff to be seen. It's not even supposed to get below the mid 30's any time in the near future.

Same spot this week :)
And my yard? It's blooming - or starting to, anyway. That measly crocus from last month's post (remember her?) is already gone, and some other friends have taken up residence. The forsythia have buds. Tulips are peeking their pretty little heads out. And specks of green are popping up all over the yard. Lots of other colors, too.

I'm definitely a bright color girl - just another reason I love spring (yes, I said it - praying it doesn't bring snow!). I wore a flowery blue and white dress to church for Easter - it really felt like an appropriate welcome to this warmer-weather season.

Of course, when I lived in California, the bright colors were there most of the time (as long as you didn't look up and see the smog-filled air - but that's another issue). Yet, when you have something all the time, you don't appreciate it. So maybe that's why I am enjoying watching all the colors appear.

You don't miss what you've got 'til it's gone.

Last week, I was looking through my daughter's closet, and I knew right away that I hadn't bought her a dress in a while. Every dress in her closet was, or featured, black. So I picked up a couple cute outfits. Her closet is "springified" too.

And soon my whole yard will be too.

Joanne Sher An Open Book

My Blog

The Barn Door

Jewels of Encouragement

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Aunt Nettie and Change

In central rural Ohio our family was entrusted with a great secret. Great-aunt Nettie’s yard—carpeted with luscious green grass and trimmed with purple iris, multicolored dahlias, snapdragons, and petunias—really was the Garden of Eden.

A white picket fence kept children out. One exception was the springtime when Aunt Nettie herself would escort us to the round flower bed with sprouting daffodils and hyacinth.

Another time, after a summer storm, like little ducklings, we followed closely behind Aunt Nettie – in her flowered house dress- winding our way through the back yard and down a steep hill to see an apple tree split by a bolt of lightning the night before.

In mid-summer our white haired aunt unlocked the gate once a year, long enough for three little girls to fill Grandmother’s aluminum strainer with cherries from the low hanging branches of the sweet cherry tree.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I returned to that little patch of creation in Steubenville, Ohio. where Aunt Nettie’s, Grandma’s, and Aunt Mary’s houses, as well as my childhood home, had been. I longed to see the beauty of Aunt Nettie’s yard, to run my hand along the white railing of my grandmother’s front porch, and most of all to make my way down the hill to the apple tree where Pa had hung a swing. How many memories of many peaceful hours spent there

Cracked windows and peeling paint gave the once white frame house a pathetic appearance. Flowers and fruit trees had been replaced by litter, broken toys, and overturned garbage cans. The white picket fence was gone except for a section or two no one had bothered to remove. My grandmother’s house had been repeatedly renovated and expanded so that the red brick chimney was the only identifiable feature. An overgrown backyard dense with weeds partially hid Aunt Mary’s abandoned house. My childhood home had been bulldozed over the hill; asphalt covered its former location. Thus ended my pilgrimage.

My Garden of Eden was gone.

My hubby Ray and I drove away in a silence, interrupted only by my repeated sniffling and nose-blowing. How could a place so beautiful, so cherished in memory, have deteriorated so badly? For weeks I mourned the loss of my childhood sanctuary and learned some lessons about life.

Lessons #1: Things change 
Whether by intention or by neglect, things change. Seeing the distressing conditions of those houses reminded me of people I’d loved and lost. Mourning my losses again allowed me to let go so that I could embrace Lesson 2.

Lesson #2: Some things never change.
Though Aunt Nettie’s garden turned out to be temporary, what God did in my heart in her garden was eternal. 

Leave me a comment. Tell me what is your favorite childhood place?

By Kay Swatkowki, American Grandmom. She’s a Midwest lovin’ Grandmom, speaker, counselor, and writer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

For Everything, There is a . . . REASON?

My Day Lilies(?) sprouting.
Oops, forgot to tell them winter wasn't over.
Living in what I affectionately refer to as the “mitten” state, often induces a wide range of emotions, from awe to “there’s GOT to be a reason for this." There has to be, right? Why else would this girl and all her friends wake on April 18 to two inches of snow? It isn’t April Fools’ Day any more. Or is it?

I was at a red light, PROMISE.
I’ve had some friends jokingly say (I hope) that they left their “Let it Snow” plaques out; hence, the snow. Hehehehe -- hmm, there’s got to be another reason for this wintery occlusion to our hopes for the sun that will thaw our fingers—and flowerbeds—and lure us outdoors for some spring planting.

Image from
For me, this planting involves more of the imaginary sort. My thumb is browner than the blackest dirt. So, to the swing I go, with notebook and a box of no. 2 Ticonderoga pencils in hand. Maybe a book—or two—will accompany us. After all, you never know when it might be needed. Propping myself comfortably in my swing, I tilt my head back and let the lilac bush (still living thanks to my green-thumbed daughter) behind me fill my senses with the perfect blend of floral and fresh growing grass. The azure sky above tantalizes me with images of sheep, puppies, girls and boys as the clouds float past, weaving a story of freedom and carefree days.

Ahh, those will be the days. Until then, I continue to look for the purpose behind the late April lingering of winter. Could it be a chance to look beyond the 40° temps and see the brilliance in a small child's smile when she catches the sun playing peek-a-boo with her? The overcast skies do keep my mind on task—most of the time—with 29 four – six year old children who demand all of my attention during school hours.

There’ll be time for daydreaming later, right?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

10 Ways You Know it's Time for Some "Mommy Alone Time"

Mommies need a little break every once in a while.  You know it's time for a mommy break:

1. When instead of on the nail side, you use your red nail polish on the other side of your thumb.

2. When you start laughing hysterically for no reason and the result is other mommies jumping over your fence with one leap.

3. When you use start using your own hair brush not only for a microphone, but also for directing traffic.

4. When you don't even know that the shoe you can't get your foot into belongs to your three year old.

5. When you show up downtown with empty bags for the candy that will be thrown at the parade, but it's the 4th of June.

6. When you think the trending words on twitter are mommy's spelling words for the week.
7.  When you think sharing alternate uses for a baby wipe with people you have never met at Starbucks is normal behavior.

8. When You throw a fit to prevent your toddler from throwing one.

9. When you get mixed up and think the little hands on your clock are the ones that need to be washed.

10. When you forget that draperies are for opening, not swinging on.

When do you know it's time for some "Mommy Alone Time?"

Cheryl Moeller loves to make momslaugh.  Cheryl is an author of 10 books including Help! Mom's Stuck on Spin Cycle, comedian, syndicated humor columnist, I Will be Your Mentor Mom blogger, conference speaker, and mom of 6. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Milk Carton Mug Shots

People go missing every day. Most meet with foul play. Some leave the social grid by choice. Still others are never accounted for…where do they go?

Around my neck of the woods, we don’t have milk cartons advertising missing people. We do, however, get a weekly mailer with faces and statistics of those who are missing. Usually it’s kids. I figure non-custodial parents are generally the culprits.

But not always.

Case in point, my gramma’s sister. A long time ago—sorry, not revealing how many years lest you figure out I’m not 29 anymore—my great grandpa and his three-year-old daughter disappeared. He didn’t take her and run, mind you, just up and disappeared. No one knows what happened to them. I’ve always wondered about them.

And that’s the basis of my next book, UNDERCURRENT. Yes, you guessed right, folks, this is a shameless commercial break for a story that you won’t want to miss.

Professor Cassie Larson leads a life her undergrad students hope to attain, until she tumbles into the North Sea and is sucked into a swirling vortex…and a different century.

Alarik, son of a Viking chieftain, is blamed for a murder he didn’t commit—or did he? He can’t remember. On the run, saving a half-drowned foreign woman wasn’t in his plans.

Ragnar is a converted pagan shunned by many but determined to prove his Cousin Alarik’s innocence. He didn’t count on falling in love with Cassie or the deadly presence of evil that threatens his village in Alarik’s absence.

So if you’re looking for an escape this spring—and who doesn’t with the nasty weather we’ve had recently—do yourself a favor and take a trip back to the past for a vacation you won’t soon forget. You can order direct from Risen Books or Amazon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

By His Stripes We Are Healed...

Happy Easter from All of Us at the Barn Door!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Crucifixion

…he struggled…
       Blood streamed freely and dripped
from his forearms and toes into the dust
making little black beads as it mixed
with the dirt, nine feet below him.
       Surged and rolled over him, then
dimmed and quieted as
To breathe. His lungs and heart were
bursting, his side caved in…

He pulled himself up straight
    using the nail through
         his feet as a fulcrum.

Air eased down his bruised and strangled
throat and filled his lungs,
stabbing him like a hot knife in his ribs.
His heart slowed, the screaming
dimmed in his ears…

…his legs cramped…
     He fell back, sagging against the
              splintering crosspieces
to a slow and miserable death by strangulation.

He shivered as his warm blood
crept down his side
   tickling him.
His ears roared and his head thundered…
he gazed about madly through eyes
            filmed with red.

…he gasped…
And painfully drew upward, shaking…

They came and broke his legs
and left him
  to a slow and miserable death by strangulation
    nailed to a freshly killed tree
            still oozing sap.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Makes Easter

The baptism of Jesus.

We're blessed to attend a church that has tremendous talent in the music department and each year we do big Christmas and Easter musical presentations. My favorite Easter presentation was the first Easter one we did.

That was the year my family was drafted. All of us. The script called for a family to bring a "dead" child to Jesus for healing, and my youngest was about the right size: old enough to follow directions yet small enough for the men to pass back and forth without problem. Once he understood he didn't have to really die, my little one really got into the role...

"Jesus" (who happens to be about 6'5" and still has kids recognizing him as being Jesus at Easter time) whispered into his ear and he was to come back to life.

No matter how many times choir members saw it in rehearsal, it still gave us all chills. Just knowing that Jesus could, and DID do that. Wow.

Our holiday choir runs around 60+ singers, and then, when you add in 12 disciples and others involved in the drama and the stage of the church is packed (beyond) capacity.

It was an incredible experience to walk through a portrayal of the events of those days. It helped me better understand and truly feel Easter, in a way deeper than ever.

Even knowing what was to happen next, the message of the music and drama moved me and drew me to a closer walk with Jesus.

The whole reason Jesus came to earth was to die on the cross for our sins. The sinless Son of God came and paid the penalty of MY sin.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:16-17 NAS

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!

Just like many families participated in the Easter presentation, attending whatever your church does for Easter is a family thing. And it doesn't have to be your church.

Find an Easter pageant near you and GO!

And don't just go by yourself! Call a friend, call a neighbor, call somebody and invite them to go with you! 
The Gospel is just as relevant today as it was centuries ago when Jesus walked that path to Calvary.

Ordinary Lives

Designing & Blog Design Giveaway

Our fearless leader here at The Barn Door has often laughed at me when I'm designing, and that's fine with me because it makes me smile too. See, I LOVE doing blog and website design. Totally love it. For some reason all that code makes sense to me. Strange, but true. And doing the design work here and at our sister site, The Barn Door Book Loft, gives me reason to play as the seasons roll around. It was time for a change from rain, and sunshiney spring plaid was just the ticket! What'cha think?

For months, I've toyed with designing blogs and websites for others. It's something that I absolutely love doing and something I've considered part of my ministry. This month it's become part of the answer to a problem and it's so cool to see God's hand in it, preparing and leading me, especially in these last six months. What a great God of detail we have!

I'd like you to celebrate with me as I officially open my design and teaching doors. To help celebrate, I'm giving away the winner's choice of a premade design. Leave a comment here, on this post, to be entered into the drawing and the winner will be posted on my site sometime on May 1st. =]

Want some extra entries in the drawing? Go to my site and leave a comment on this post. Also, each time you share this link on Twitter, Facebook or on your blog, I'll throw your name in the drawing again. (Yes, I'm on Twitter.) Email me when you do. patty at

Click here to see some sites I've designed, recommendations and pricing. Not only are there blogs there, but there's a couple of websites, too. These are hosted on Blogger, but I am working on Wordpress now too.

Do you want to learn to work on your own blog? I teach a 4 week class, Clearing the Blog Fog, that's email based (yahoo group). It teaches how to set up and customize your site. If you don't need or want the whole class there's tutoring and all now I'm offering workshops in webinar format so you can see what I'm doing on my screen as I talk through it. So far I have workshops on how to make blog buttons and headers, which have learning how to work on, a free option to Photoshop, as a great perk. ;-)

Another thing I've added is a selection of premade layouts, offered reasonably. I'll even install it for you. It's one of these I'm giving away. ;-)

Designing and teaching like this will enable me to work from home—something that has become necessary at this point. God is so good to give me something to do, something I LOVE doing and that I can work on it at home--in the middle of cornfields. 

Ordinary Lives

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Got spring? How do you know?

I’ve lived in four Midwestern states. Each area has its own way to know when we’ve got spring. Growing up in Indiana, my mother always looked for the first robins to return. It was an unofficial contest in our family. Who will the first red-breasted sign of spring this year? To this day, I start looking for the robins when February ends.

In the sands of Wisconsin, we knew spring arrived when the frost left the ground. When the snow melted the water would stand in the low spots because the ground was frozen solid. Then suddenly it would drain away like a bath tub with an open drain. The ground had thawed and spring had come.

In Ohio, the spring often arrived before the calendar said, “First Day of Spring.” When the crocuses, daffodils and tulips came up and began to bloom, we knew spring had arrived. It was a thrill to see the shoots break through frost and snow.

Here Michigan, as in Wisconsin, we watch for the snow to melt and drain away. Like my home state, we compete to see the first robins. And we look for crocuses, daffodils and tulips to poke through the ground. On top of all these, we also watch for the ice to clear off of Saginaw Bay. Spring arrives when the last die hard ice fisherman stays on shore.

This year winter did not go easily. Within days of winning the robin spotting contest, I watched one hop around on four inches of fresh snow. I’m sure she was wondering where the grass had gone. We’ve even had a few thunder snow storms.

There is one more sign of spring for me, the celebration of Jesus rising from the dead Christians hold on Easter Sunday. The celebration for this year arrives in just three days. The robins are singing. The flowers are blooming. The snow is gone and the grass is turning green. We’ve got spring.

How do you know? Leave me a comment. I want to hear how you know when spring arrives.

Pastor Mark Haines
Jesus says, "My yoke is easy" (Matthew 11:30)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rosslyn Elliott Talks Underground Railroad

When Truth Inspires Fiction

I lived in Ohio before moving to my current home in the southwest. Those four years in the Midwest introduced me to a family who would change my life. All of them were dead long before I was born.

I lived outside Columbus, in a suburb called Westerville. While I was there, I finished my doctoral dissertation in American literature. I had finally worked up the drive and determination to pursue my real lifetime dream: writing fiction. I knew it would be inspirational historical fiction set in the nineteenth century, as my dissertation research gave me a head start on understanding that time in American history.

I decided to go visit a local museum housed in a private home from the 1850s: Hanby House. I thought I would benefit from seeing the artifacts of the nineteenth century. But while I was there, I watched a documentary about the Hanby family. I walked out of that museum that afternoon knowing that I had just been given a story that needed to be told.

William Hanby was an indentured servant in Pennsylvania in the 1820s. His experiences of harsh servitude later inspired him to work on the Underground Railroad. His son, Ben, also worked to help guide fugitive slaves to freedom. Ben Hanby became a gifted composer who wrote a song called “Darling Nelly Gray” in the years just before the Civil War. Known as “the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of song,” “Darling Nelly Gray” became a nationwide hit and influenced Northern sentiment against slavery.

Several women played an important role in the Hanby family’s work on the railroad, among them Kate Winter. Kate was one of the first graduates of Otterbein College in 1857, which made her one of the first coeducational college graduates in the nation. She and Ben Hanby fell in love despite the opposition of her family. To learn what happened to them, you’ll have to read the second novel in the series, Sweeter than Birdsong, when it comes out in early 2012!

But the first novel is releasing right now, in late April/early May 2011. Fairer than Morning is about the first generation of Hanbys. It’s a story full of the search for true love and freedom, and charged with suspense and the call to heroism. I hope this novel and its sequels will be an uplifting reminder that heroes don’t just come from fairy tales. Christians today inherit the legacy of believers who have been willing to put their lives on the line to do the right thing.

Biography: As the child of a career military man, I lived in four states and two foreign countries before I graduated from high school. With the help of some excellent teachers, I bootstrapped my way into Yale University, where I earned my BA in English and Theater Studies. Vowing never to return to school, I spent five years working first in corporate New York City, then as a schoolteacher. School started to look pretty good again! I entered the Ph.D. program in English at Emory University and finished my dissertation in 2006. My study of American literature spurred me to pursue my lifelong dream of writing fiction. I'm the homeschooling mom of a second-grader, and wife to a creative and talented salesman. My fiction is represented by Rachelle Gardner of Wordserve Literary.

You can visit me at

Fairer than Morning is available through all major booksellers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Sure Sign Of Spring

When I saw Husband on the back of the road grader I knew spring had finally arrived in our part of Ohio. The snow plow plays havoc with the lane. The daffodils to the right add to the feeling of springtime.
 Our teenage grandson was happy to drive the restored 66 Oliver. He and Grandpa made a great team as they filled in the potholes nature and man had created. 
Later in the week our oldest grandson was glad to rent our Case and drill. He drove it 4 hours to Lima where he will enjoy using it this summer.
When a farmer gets spring fever he wants to get out in those fields with his sons and grandsons.

What is the first ritual of spring in your part of the world?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rock Pile Woes

Springtime = clean up time.

The fields were a bit too wet for field work, so it was time to clean up around the property. Fence rows have been growing yearly and were intruding into the fields and needed to be removed.

The fence row that was just east of our house was the first to go.  Once that was removed farming that field would be much easier. Two fields came together with the removal of the brush and trees. While this is a good thing for the farming aspect, it did remove a key element for Son #1’s hunting excursions. That fence row hid some nice bucks. Son #1 over the years has hunkered down in that brush for many an hour just waiting for that big one to saunter by. But, we’re here to farm not hunt.

“Since the machinery was here” thought Farmer, “why not get rid of the rock pile that has been accumulating at the west edge of our lawn?”

This rock pile has been in my married life since day one. It’s been a gnarly pile of rocks, roots, trees, bushes, and weeds.  Bucket loads of rocks picked from the fields have been dumped there. Any yard improvement ended with the remains there. The countless critters that have inhabited have been varied and plentiful.

Farmer started the cleanup project while I was at work and when I came home it was three fourths gone. And yes, it looks 100% better. But, I was overcome by sadness. YES! I am pathetic.

I stood there in the afternoon sun while the brush was burning and oh, the memories came over me like chocolate dripping over a scoop of ice-cream, sweet and sticky.

All four sons have played, hunted and were injured in that treasure pile. Snakes were scrambled after as they slithered in and out of the rocks. Rabbits were dug out of their homes. Woodchucks breathed their last breath as they were trying to run back to the safety of the pile.

The rock pile is where I carted years’ worth of weeds while tending my flower beds. After the storms came through all the downed branches were gathered and thrown on top.

Puppies have romped through it and came out covered in brambles and burs.

Rabbits played hide and seek in the evenings until the dogs wanted to play too, but they wouldn’t follow the rules so the rabbits would go home.

A broken nose resulted with Son #1 using a hoe to move a rock the size of a small car. Son #2 was below the hoe, in dead aim position of the hoe, when the hoe slipped and moved his nose instead of the rock.

Slivers and pickers were common items removed after time in the pile.

Wigglie #1 setting up a rabbit trap.

Even the wigglies had their fun times. Building forts, trapping rabbits, chasing dogs, and digging for snakes while losing a shovel or saw were common place.

My newest wigglie will not have the pleasure of the rock pile. That makes me sad.

Yes, I’m a sentimental sap.

I think I need therapy. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's About That Time

The last time I posted, I was buried in snow. (Honestly, as I write this there's still snow on the ground). I'm not discouraged, though. It's Spring (the calendar says so), and I want to get ready for warmer weather. Around here that pretty much means stripping down from four to two layers of clothing, but it also means I can start planning my warm weather transportation options.

Within my small town, I love to walk. It's only a mile from my house to the village, so there's really no reason for me to drive during the summer. Well, there's one small reason - the time. It's not a lot of time, but it really is impossible to walk into town, run a couple of errands, and get home in a few minutes. If I walk too quickly, I end up sweating all over everyone. If I walk casually, it's a good 36 minutes round trip, plus my errands.

That's why I want to bust out my bike. My bike will allow me the freedom to run errands quickly without sweating like a gym rat. I just wish I had a basket.

The bike I currently ride is a top of the line something that my dad gave me. He bought it for himself, then realized he doesn't really like bike riding, so I got it. It's not as cute as this beach cruiser (which I'd love to have), but it works. I don't need 10 speeds or off-road tires - I just want to go to the post office and bank without having to hold on to everything.

Additionally, I've made some friends in ER over the past 18 months. We all enjoy getting outside during the summer, but we don't all live near each other. That's another good reason to bust out my bike. I can rarely spare the time it would take for me to walk three miles for a visit, then walk home. On my bike, however, we can meet just about anywhere we'd like.

So this summer I'm going to fill the tires, adjust my seat, and look for a fun basket. I can hardly wait!

How about you - what are you looking forward to this summer?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Unless you live on a deserted island with no access to media (which obviously you don't if you're reading this), you know all about the Charlie Sheen shananigans. Frankly, I say "ENOUGH, ALREADY." Charlie's favorite word lately is "Winning." And, as "successful" as Charlie may seem by the world's standards, I think we all know he's not winning at all. In fact, I'd say the teeter-totter is definitely tipped towards the "losing" side. I do hope you'll pray for Charlie (he needs as many as he can get!) but this post is not about Charlie Sheen. I'm just using his famous word for my blog topic today.

My friends tease me because it always seems I'm winning something. In fact, just a few weeks ago I won an Acer Netbook for my daughter.

I've won gift cards ranging from $5 to $250, overnight stays in hotels, oodles of movie tickets, books and cash. Last year, I even randomly won a national Pepsi contest for two nights at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa with two rounds of 18-holes of golf for four people. This package was worth almost $1,000 dollars.

Call me lucky or blessed, just don't call me a loser!

So, what everyone always asks me is: How do you always win?

And what I always answer is: I always enter.

Seriously. That's it. Enter enough contests and you're bound to win a few. The truth is, for every item I win, I enter at least a dozen contests.

I will admit that I am Dutch (as the majority of the people are in my neck of the woods), and the Dutch are notorious for being cheap. I don't know if this fuels my desire to get things for free, but besides contests, I also fill out surveys for credit. With this credit, I earn rewards like retail and restaurant gift cards. I also have one credit card with which I pay for almost everything. Every dollar I spend earns one or more "points" which I can exchange for rewards (I do pay off my balance every month, by the way). I use a rewards card at the gas station and acquire punch/stamp cards for the retail stores that offer them. In other words, my wallet is bursting at the seams with cards. But hey. I get free stuff!

A few rewards sites I recommend:

Of course, randomly winning things and using reward and/or punch cards isn't the same as entering something like a writing contest where winning is based on talent. But having won a few of those, too, I confess I've become rather addicted. There's something about winning that just makes me a winner! Lest it go to my head, though, God allows me to acquire some low scores and bottom of the barrel placements once in a while. Definitely not fun, but it keeps me humble and, if I'm honest, makes me even more determined to win next time.

For those writers who want to join me in Contest Addicts Not-so-Anonymous, here are some of the writing contests I recommend:

*ACFW Genesis Contest for unpublished authors

*Wow-Women on Writing Flash Fiction contest

*RWA Gotcha!

*Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition

*Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition

*The Phoenix Rattler: Does Your Story Have Bite? contest

*Get Your Stiletto in the Door Chicklit contest

*Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

*Faith, Hope & Love contest

*Gemini Magazine Flash Fiction contest

*FaithWriters Page Turner contest

*Creative Writing Now Memoir Writing competition

Q4U: What cool prizes have you won?

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Journey of Writing

posted by Elaine Cooper

After writing for most of my life, I finally attended my first writer’s conference last weekend. And although I live in Iowa, I didn’t even have to leave the state.

I don’t know if it’s the long winters in this part of America that bore us so much we just have to pick up our pen or laptop and get creative, but the Midwest has a bunch of writers. And attending the Quad Cities Christian Writer’s Conference (QCCWC) near Davenport showed me an even more enjoyable reality: there are Christian writers out there trying to please the Lord with their passionate pens. It was downright encouraging, not to mention inspiring.

As I drove the three hours to the conference the other day, I wasn’t particularly excited about it. My schedule was packed pretty full both before and after the two-day event. I found myself scrambling to get a manuscript edited right up until I had to pack my suitcases; then I was anticipating seeing my triplet grandbabies as they celebrate their first birthday. The conference had been that event squeezed in between—a wedge in the midst of crazy busyness.

But driving to the event forced me to slow down. Listening to Colonial American music in my car (I know, everyone has that CD: right?!), I began to notice that farmers were just starting to plow their fields. Even from the freeway, I could see how deep the furrows were in the soil. The thought occurred to me: are my brain and spirit going to be as receptive to being planted with writing ideas as those fields are ready for seeds? I hoped it was so.

Coming to a new event and not knowing anyone on the first day was a tad stressful. But the beauty of QCCWC is that it is large enough to attract great instructors but small enough that you feel like you are at a bustling church social. And it’s full of people who are strange like me—people called writers. It was a fellowship of the peculiar and I was in good company. We can have strange characters and plot ideas dancing around in our heads and the person sitting next to us doesn’t blink an eye or consider calling the psychiatrist. They get excited with us.

But more important, we were a gathering of believers in Jesus Christ who are not just writing for the art’s sake. We desire to use our gifts to please and honor God. It was humbling and life-altering.

My brain is still full from all I have learned from so many inspiring instructors and speakers. It will take me some time to sort through all I have learned. I do recall some great tips on story and character development from Frank Ball, insights on magazine article submission from Ginger Kolbaba, and inspiring and practical sessions on marketing and speaking from Kathy Willis and Patricia Durgin. But one thing I will never forget is the praise and worship time led by Kathy and Russ Willis on that last day. This precious couple was used by God to lead us all in a time of music where the spirit flowed through them, to us, and clear back to heaven.

God spoke to my heart at that moment about something I had wrestled with for years. Remember Jacob wrestling with God? I had been contending in my mind with that same Creator about a particular writing project that I did not want to do. I still do not want to do it because it involves digging up some intensely painful, personal memories of losing my daughter to cancer several years ago. But in the sweetness of that assembly, singing about God being the air that I breathe, I knew that He would be the breath that would sustain me through that book. He assured me that just as I survived the event itself, I would survive the retelling of it. Because God wants to use me to write that for someone else—for HIS glory.

I don’t know when exactly I will begin that project, but one thing is clear to me. If I did not take one other thing away from this wonderful writer’s conference, I learned what it meant to say “yes” to God and to trust HIM with the outcome.

My spirit feels planted.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pelicans and Jesus

I've always been a bird watcher, due to my mother's influence. We had tons of bird identification books, and since I also loved to sketch, I drew tons of bird pictures. I can't keep descriptions or tie-ins with birds out of my fiction. It's as much a part of me as anything else. Plus, it keeps me tied to my mother, who died in April 1997.

So, I have been doing some more reading about birds and came across an obscure tidbit that Dante referred to Christ Jesus as "our pelican." That's weird! Have you ever seen a pelican? It is not exactly the kind of bird you depict with Christ. Ok, so then I came across more referrals to pelicans being the symbol of Jesus's resurrection as I dug.

Certainly the Bible refers to birds often. The birds we most often think of are eagles and sparrows. But pelicans are often emblazoned on ecclesiastical coats of arms and in religious paintings. If you are an art lover, you will find them. (Go on a pelican search in your art museum.)And then there's the Mighty Dante talking about "Christ BEING our pelican." Why would he say that?

Here's the story: The name "pelican" comes from a Greek word for "axe." Because the pelican had a very large beak and uses it to fish, as well as in diving for fish, (using it like a net) their behavior was quite a picture for an observer. The pelican ejects the water and swallows the fish for its own nourishment .The pouch doesn't keep the fish for long, but during nesting season, it also becomes a "school room" and place to feed the chicks.

This next part is gross, but no one says that the story of the cross is pleasant, either. Pelicans also use that pouch to hold regurgitated fish soup to feed their chicks. The chicks have to DIVE into that pouch (their first lessons in survival) which is against the chest of the pelican. This is where the legends were born in observing this behavior. It must have been alarming to those who first witnessed this. Since the pelican will pluck the feathers from its own chest for the nest, it has a bloody chest during this time. In medieval religious folklore the pelican fed her young with her own blood, by plucking those feathers from her breast, and "reviving" the chicks after they drowned in the pelican's beak. It seems that those chicks were believed to drink the blood of the self-inflicted wound on the pelican's breast.

It is certainly a painful process. In this story the chicks die (in the mouth/tomb of the parent) but are brought back to life (3-days later) by that self-inflicted wound on the chest, by allowing them to drink the parent pelican's blood. That correlation is how the pelican got into all those religious paintings, on family crests for Christian piety and into works by Dante. The pelican became a lesson, a symbol, for Christ's resurrection from the dead.

That's some legend! And some picture. But it's not unusual for humans to use birds to teach us lessons about life. The pelican story illustrates one of the most awesome stories in human history. It takes faith for those chicks to dive into the mouth of a mother pelican for sustenance. It takes faith for one of us to believe that Jesus deliberately took the wounds inflicted to die on a despicable cross just to pay for our sins and revive us from eternal death. That was too much to ask, wasn't it? But not if you wanted survival of a species more than anything--and that pull was way stronger than Jesus wanting to save himself. Three days later Jesus would rise up from the dead and that was it! We were nourished for eternity.

If you haven't embraced Jesus and his story, then think about how God gives lessons of Him and God's grace in the nature all around us. Remember the pelican today and during the Lenten and Easter season. And remember that God has lessons for you all around.

Crystal Laine Miller

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Laura Hilton and Patchwork Dreams

Welcome Laura Hilton

Laura Hilton, her husband, Steve, and their five children make their home in Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas. She is a pastor’s wife, a stay-at-home mom and home-schools her children. Laura is also a breast cancer survivor.

Her publishing credits include Hot Chocolate and Shadows of the Past from Treble Heart Books; a devotional in a compilation from Zondervan; and the first book “Patchwork Dreams” in her Amish of Seymour series from Whitaker House will be released in April 2011, the second book, “A Harvest of Hearts” in September 2011, and the third in April 2012. Laura has her business degree from Ozarka and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Laura is a professional book reviewer for the Christian market, with over a thousand book reviews published at various online review sites.

About the book Patchwork Dreams Book 1 of The Amish of Seymour

Becky Troyer has committed the ultimate sin, and finds herself on the edge of her Amish community. Jacob Miller believes he was sent to the Old Order Community in Missouri to help out a distant cousin. Instead, he discovers he was part of an arranged swap--sending men from his Pennsylvania district to the Missouri district to bring new blood into the Amish community. Becky dreams of marriage, but doesn't dare hope that anyone would choose her--not with her history. Can God use the lies that have affected Becky and Jacob to bring them together? Or will Jacob rebel and head home to his first love?

Patchwork Dreams is available on, Barnes and Noble, Borders, or your favorite bookstore. Visit Laura's blog at:

Laura, why do you love this book?
It's my first published book. :)  It is a sweet romance between a hurting woman and a confused man.  

Tell us something about the book readers won’t find out from your website.
Becky loves cappuccinos from McDonalds. 

Share something you learned that will give readers or writers an insight into the publication of this particular book
I learned that my critique group is invaluable.  The editor at the publisher didn't have much changing to do. 
All right, McDonald's is okay; a first book is a wonder, and yay! Critique groups!
Congratulations, Laura, and thank you for visiting.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Did the Conference Go?

Hey, thanks for asking!

Boy, was I surprised not just at the amount of guests, but from whence they came. Even though Andrea Boeshaar told me over twenty had signed up, I was floored they all came. And then some.

Furthest distance traveled: Dear Rocky Lewis, whom you've met here and on Reflections In Hindsight, drove from Ohio.

States represented: WI, IL, OH, IN

Topics: Where do stories come from? Soap-opera-uping your characters. The business side - which I must say, got the most attention, from our own Shellie Neumeier.

Funniest: A young man hung around for a while, saw the mistaken sign put up by the book store manager "Romance Writers Workshop" although we weren't specifically targeting romance, waited to see if any men showed up, then left, declaring he'd feel out of place. I saw him come back a couple of times, but didn't stay even though two other male authors attended.

Will we do it again? Oh, yes, somewhere - with some similar and some new topics.

Um--no, it wasn't intentional that I forgot me--I honestly just forgot. :)


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