Monday, December 4, 2017

My Grown-Up Christmas List


  • Timeline in chronological order (all social media platforms)
  • Self-folding laundry
  • Live-in short-order cook
  • Comprehensible income tax instructions
  • Trip on the TARDIS
  • First drafts that write themselves 
  • Obedient hairstyle
  • Local travel via pneumatic tubes
  • Ability to read and sleep simultaneously
  • Abolishment of Daylight Saving Time
  • Pre-broken-in running shoes
  • To wake up magically multilingual  
  • Satisfying ending for Great Expectations
  • An actual Get Out of Jail Free card
  • Teleportation 
  • No more typos
  • Coffee that cools to the perfect drinkable temperature and stays there indefinitely 
  • To surpass Agatha Christie in book sales
  • Back door opens to Narnia 

Friends, I hope you have a wonderful Advent season. This will be my last blog post for the year. I look forward to seeing you back here on January 1, 2018, for my annual book review.

God bless you and Merry Christmas!

Photo Credit:
By Harke (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 27, 2017

Release Week Sneak Peek: Murder on Birchardville Hill



Murder on Birchardville Hill releases Friday, December 1, 2017, as part of Pelican Book Group's Christmas Extravaganza, a series of holiday-themed e-novellas. If you pre-order through Amazon today, all you have to do Friday is fire up your e-reader and huddle on the couch under a fuzzy blanket, prepared to be equal parts horrified and heart-warmed. 

In the meantime, please enjoy this excerpt!

** EXCERPT **

Chapter 1

Birchardville is real.

Not that I believed it at first. I mean…Birchardville. It sounded like the name of a small town in a book about a girl who moves from the big city to find love. Not that I read books like that.

But in my experience, my listeners hardly ever sent hoaxes. I stood before the map above my desk, hunting for the right place to stick the pin. When I couldn’t immediately spot Birchardville, Pennsylvania, I resorted to an online search. Even with the help of the Internet, I couldn’t confirm that Birchardville was an actual town, though I did find record of a Birchardville Cemetery near the quaint-sounding Cobb Hill Road. A quick zoom on the interactive map revealed a Birchardville Church and a Birchardville Hill Road.

OK. So.

Birchardville.

Not made up.

But the online map bore no flags to indicate points of interest: no restaurants, no gas stations, no libraries, no schools—nothing. Just gray space. I zoomed out to locate the nearest town and checked it against the postmark on the mailing envelope. Bingo. Although my name on the address label—Morgan Scott, c/o USUAL SUSPECTS—had been penned in a flowing pseudo-calligraphy, the return address was printed in a tidy, boyish scrawl. And sure enough, it was postmarked from Montrose.

I turned back to the map. Using Montrose as a guide, I stuck a pin in the approximation of Birchardville. I then snapped a photo of the map and posted it to my Vibe account—“Shout out to The Usual Suspects in PA—is Birchardville for real?”

I tossed the mailing envelope containing the fan-compiled case onto the crooked stack of papers next to my computer, making a mental note to dig into it over the weekend. Hopefully it would be interesting enough to distract me from the fact that I’d be spending the upcoming holidays alone.

My computer pinged. I’d forgotten to close Vibe after I’d posted my update, and the comments and responses from the show’s fans were already rolling in. Not wanting to contemplate how many might be from Bev Pickett and her various accounts, I closed the page. I didn’t have to worry about Bev Pickett any more. Not really. That’s why I’d hired my assistant Leah. My crazy, middle-aged stalker wasn’t going to block herself.

As much as I hated the nonstop Internet culture, connecting with fans kept the audience engaged. And an engaged audience bought books. Books that paid for my research trips and—ironically—helped me afford Leah.

Hired only within the last few weeks on recommendation from a longtime friend, Leah Archer had already proven herself a Godsend. Working remotely from her home, she answered standard online questions when I was traveling or too busy writing episodes to interact online. She sorted my incoming e-mail, monitored ongoing cases, and forwarded me pertinent details. Most importantly, she agreed to sift the dregs of social media and send any suspicious activity on my account to my contact at the local cyber-crimes unit.

Although we’re still in the honeymoon phase of her employment, I’m fully sold on the idea of a remote assistant. All the joys of less computer time with no forced social interaction.

After closing Vibe, I padded to the kitchen, the slap of my flip-flops echoing against the high ceilings. On nights like these, I almost regretted the upgrade to a full-blown house. Ironic, considering how long I’d longed for a home of my own.

But living in a house was different from what I’d expected. Instead of feeling independent, I felt isolated. Instead of enjoying privacy, I felt alone.

Friends from church kept tabs on me, of course. They called and texted and sometimes stopped by. But it wasn’t the same as when Mom and Dad Scott had been alive. Writing and recording shows in the morning, lunch at noon, an afternoon dip in the pool, then research until dinner and a quiet walk in the dark before bed. This was my life now.

I padded toward the kitchen. With every step, the slap of my flip-flops beat a mantra against the tile: a-lone, a-lone, a-lone, a-lone.

I couldn’t bear the thought of another solo meal. Jogging back to the study, I nabbed the mailing envelope from the top of the stack. Perhaps the lure of a nineteenth-century Pennsylvania murder would pull me from my funk.

Flipping the manila mailer onto the counter, I opened the rice cooker and lifted out the attachment, dumping the steamed vegetables into one bowl before scooping rice into another. I swiped a spoon from the dish rack and upended the packet, spilling paper and home-printed photos across the counter.

Ten minutes later, I placed the spoon across the empty bowl, pulled my phone from my back pocket, and composed a quick text to Leah.

I need you to book me a trip.

* * * * *

See you on Friday for the rest of the story.

Need something to tide you over?

Check out my other releases currently available on Amazon:


And for those who have been wondering, here's how to give an e-book as a gift.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Welcome to Ruthette's (First Ever) Thanksgiving Bingo!

Download, print copies, and play along.

Looking forward to seeing who wins!

(Oh, who am I kidding....We're all winners here.)


Monday, November 13, 2017

The Shakespeare Lover's Coffee Quote Companion


Coffee is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. 
~Saye, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene vii

I find my zenith doth depend upon a most auspicious brew. 
~Prospero, The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii

Coffee is the soul of wit.
~Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Scene v

See how she curls her hand around that mug. O that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that mug!
~Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii

O brave new world, that has such cold brews in’t! 
~Miranda, The Tempest, Act V, Scene i

A coffee! A coffee! My kingdom for a coffee!
~Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv

That I neither feel how decaf should be loved nor know how it should be worthy, 
is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake. 
~Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene i

Instant is a familiar. Instant is a devil. There is no evil angel but instant. 
~Armando, Love’s Labors Lost, Act I, Scene ii

The first thing we do, let's brew all the coffees.
~Dick the Butcher, Henry IV, Part 2, Act IV, Scene ii

What's in a name? That which we call a mocha,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii.

Is this a flat white I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee!
~Macbeth, Macbeth, Act II, Scene i

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true-love's coming
That can brew pour-over both high and low;
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in coffees meeting--
Every wise man's son doth know.
~Feste, Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene iii

I do love nothing in the world so well as cold brew; is not that strange? 
~Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, Scene i

Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more! Caffiene does murder sleep!” 
~Macbeth, Macbeth, Act II, Scene ii

There is nothing either good or bad, but coffee makes it so.
~Hamlet, Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

Coffee shall be my hope,
My stay, my guide, and lantern to my feet.
~King Henry, Henry IV, Part 2, Act II, Scene iii

Coffee sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better.
~Olivia, Twelfth Night, Act III, Scene i

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 
It is the east, and espresso is the sun. 
~Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii

By the pricking of my thumbs, something instant this way comes. 
~Second Witch, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i

Frailty, thy name is decaf! 
~Hamlet, Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii

If coffee be the drink of love, brew on. 
~Orsino, Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene i

* * * * *

Like coffee and Shakespeare? You might like my books as well.

* * * * *

Photo Credit:
By Marco Verch (Coffee and Book) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Sneak Peek: The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles


Excerpt from 
CHAPTER 2:
WAY TO MAKE IT AWKWARD

THE AWKWARD PROBLEM

One Sunday, while away from my home church, I ran into some people who knew my parents. A man I’d never met before instigated the following dialogue, him half-shouting the whole time (possibly due to hearing loss):

MAN: ARE YOU DOUG AND TINA’S DAUGHTER?
ME: Yes.
MAN: ARE YOU MARRIED?
ME: No.
MAN: WELL... GET MARRIED!
ME: Okay.
MAN: YOUR MOM WANTS GRANDKIDS!
ME: My mom already has nine grandkids.
MAN: WELL, SHE WANTS MORE!
ME: Okay.

That was our whole conversation. 

It should be noted that this question would have driven some singles to weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth—especially singles who earnestly desire to marry or have recently suffered romantic disappointment. Fortunately for this man, I don’t embarrass easily, nor am I surprised any more by this sort of behavior. 

Why did this man feel comfortable walking up to me, a virtual stranger, and making pointed comments about my personal life in front of God and everybody? Would this man have approached an unknown young married woman to make loud-voiced comments about her marriage? 

Maybe he would have. But you know what I’m getting at. At least, I hope you do. My single friends know what I’m talking about. We all have some version of that story. 

OPEN SEASON ON SINGLES

For some reason, it’s always open season on singles. I don’t know why, but it seems that because we’re not married, others feel great freedom to ask deeply personal questions while we’re surrounded by an audience.

Even if these people are strangers. Especially if they’re strangers. It’s nearly always unsettling, but we’ve found that if we betray even a hint of frustration or annoyance during these public spectacles, we come across as defensive and are labeled as Bitter Singles. The general consensus seems to be that if we’re going to be single past our twenties, the least we can do is be gracious about it (even though the source of our frustration in that moment is most likely not our singleness but in having been called out in front of a group). 

When people find out that I’m in my late thirties and not married, they generally launch into a specific series of questions: 

You’re not married
Why aren’t you married? 
Did you ever want to be married? 
Do you think you ever will get married? 
What’s wrong with all these guys? 

Those aren’t easy questions to answer (especially the last one, which I’ll tackle in more detail later). Besides that, it’s hard to imagine a world in which, when I meet new married friends, I immediately start grilling them on their personal choices. 

You’re married?
Why are you married?
Do you want to be married?
Do you think you’ll stay married?
What was wrong with all the other people you could have married, but didn’t?

I certainly wouldn’t ask such questions the first time we meet, especially not in front of an audience. So why does this happen so often to singles?

* * * * *

The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members releases Tuesday, November 7, 2017, from Write Integrity Press.

Chapter Titles Include:

  • "I See Single People"
  • "Way to Make It Awkward"
  • "Tacked On"
  • "Mind the Gap"
  • "Singles Only"
  • "When Enough Isn't Enough"
  • "Perceptions and Misconceptions"
  • "When Harry Met Sally (and the Whole Church Got Involved)"
  • "Can't We All Just Get Along?"
  • "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
  • "Walking in a Dateless Wonderland"
  • "On Giving Advice"
  • "The Space Between"

Each short chapter concludes with discussion questions and practical action points. Praying for the Lord to use this book to strengthen and encourage the Body of Christ!

* * * * *



Monday, October 30, 2017

The Different Levels of Lostness


I live in a very small space. So small that one would assume it's impossible for me to lose things. But lose things I do. There are, however, different levels of lostness.

Level 1: Huh

I flap a hand against the end table where my eyeglasses should be and encounter dead space. Since I'm not currently wearing my glasses, I have to lean forward and squint myopically to see if they've fallen to the floor. They haven't.

Level 2: I Must Have Misplaced Them

Standing up, I shrug my blanket around my shoulders and shuffle in a semi-circle, peering at all available flat surfaces to see where I absent-mindedly placed my glasses. When they're not immediately apparent, I heave a sigh and shift into second gear, which involves turning on the overhead lights and actually putting in some effort.

Level 3: Is This a Joke?

When all available flat surfaces do not yield my glasses and a search of the floor proves vain and they don't seem to have been accidentally stowed in a desk drawer, the freezer, the medicine cabinet, the closet, the rice bin, or my sock drawer, I step back to gain some perspective. This is a six-hundred-square-foot living space. How lost can one set of glasses possibly be?

Level 4: I'm Sure They'll Turn Up

After several days of this cycle, I decide that the best way to find my glasses will be by not looking for them. The hope is that one day while I'm dusting or straightening a shelf or cooking dinner, there they'll be. I'll post something on Twitter about what kind of person leaves her glasses in the microwave and we'll all have a good laugh. Only that doesn't happen.

Level 5: Right, This Is Silly

I check the pockets of every item of clothing I own. I pull the cushions from the sofa. I army-crawl under the bed. I shoulder bookcases aside and hammer the walls with my fist, listening for hollow spaces. I rip open freezer bags and separate each individual frozen pea. Nothing.

Level 6: Are You Sure You Owned Them

I owned glasses. I did. I have pictures of me wearing them! See, look. These are glasses, right? Not just little smudges. I mean, I think they're glasses. It's sort of hard to see without my glasses. Which exist.

Level 7: Resignation

Either I never owned glasses in the first place, or they've fallen victim to the world's first case of spontaneous degeneration. Either way, the time has come to break down and make an appointment with my eye doctor. Because nothing guarantees that a lost item will turn up quite like buying a replacement. 

But that's okay. Having two pairs of glasses will be cool. 

I'll have a pair to wear while looking for the set I'll inevitably lose. 

* * * * *

Looking to lose yourself for a few hours? Check out my books on Amazon

* * * * *

Photo Credit:

By Dori (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, October 23, 2017

For Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out



Here's an admission: I don't like being scared. 

On occasion, however, when I'm taking a late-evening walk, I like to listen to something that will creep me out--but only a little. If you like to cover similar emotional territory, you've come to the right place. 

I made us a list. 

4 Podcast Episodes for Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out

From Stuff You Missed in History: "The Hagley Woods Murder." Truth is always creepier than fiction. I mean...who did put Bella in the witch elm??

From This American Life: "House on Loon Lake." Enjoy shivering your way through this account of one man's lifelong obsession with an abandoned house. I first listened while road-tripping home in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Perfect conditions. Perfectly creepy conditions.

From Criminal: "A Bump in the Night." What would you do if you realized someone was living in the crawl space above your bedroom...and that he might be in the house right now...? As a woman who lives mostly alone, I found this true story almost too much to handle.

From Fictional: "Give Him a Hand." - A creeptastic modern retelling of "The Monkey's Paw." I listened one blustery night as I walked through my neighborhood at dusk. Palm branches flailed against low clouds and raindrops dribbled down the back of my neck as I shivered my way through this. I was never happier to get back to the house.

* * * *
I've listed the episodes from least creepy to most creepy. Although these things are somewhat subjective, proceed at your own risk.

If you only like being slightly creeped out, consider reading Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder. Also, coming this December from Pelican Book Group, Murder on Birchardville Hill--a heartwarming tale of holiday mayhem. A perfect choice for readers who can only handle being medium scared!

* * * *

Photo Credit: 
By Johnson, Helen Kendrik (Ed.) (?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 16, 2017

How to Read More Books


People always say they're looking for more time to read. If that's the case for you, here are some small, practical steps to get you started.

  • Get up early
  • Stay up late
  • Quit work/school
  • Train your pets to read aloud
  • Send your kids outside
  • Send your kids to Grandma's
  • Send your kids to the moon
  • Fill your swimming pool with books; jump in and never come out
  • Prop a book against the counter while you wash dishes
  • Prop a book in front of the TV
  • Suspend a book from the ceiling on wires and hooks next to the shower
  • Mount a book on the ceiling above your bed; use a T-rex grabby arm to turn pages
  • Listen to audio books while you clean
  • Listen to audio books while you run
  • Listen to audio books while you sleep
  • Give up sleep completely
  • Glue a book to your face

If you're ready to read and looking for a good place to start, consider one of my books - or, honestly, any of the billion other awesome ones out there. There are tons of great books but only one you; you'll never get to them all, but do your best to make a dent.

* * * * *

Photo credit:

By Deivison Amaral (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons




Monday, October 9, 2017

Why You Haven't Heard of Bezalel and Oholiab


In Exodus 31, Yahweh calls two artists to take the lead in constructing the Tabernacle--the portable tent in which the Israelites would worship Him.
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you (Exodus 31:1-6, emphasis mine).
Some principles from this passage:
  1. Art, beauty, and craftsmanship matter to God.
  2. Artistic gift as worship is an outwork of the Spirit.
  3. Such gifts are given for a purpose.
  4. Bezalel and Oholiab matter.
What do I mean, Bezalel and Oholiab matter? And if they matter so much, then why have most church-goers never heard of them?

Artists Matter

Bezalel and Oholiab were gifted and called by Yahweh for a specific purpose: to create a space in which He would be worshipped by all Israel. 
Bezalel and Oholiab were God's personal choice for this job. And their calling as artists was so sacred that their names were preserved for posterity (Ryken, 19).  
God thought these two men important enough to be named in Scripture, and yet most of us wouldn't recognize their names, despite the fact that they're mentioned repeatedly throughout this section. Why?

While there's certainly something to be said here about biblical illiteracy, even Christians with basic Bible knowledge still struggle to place these two. The sad fact is that they're named in connection with something that the vast majority of society finds boring and unimportant: the process of applying artistic gift to worship.

Art Matters

Notice I don't say that God finds their work boring and unimportant. Far from it! He not only goes out of his way to have their names recorded in Exodus, but he also allows the ensuing passages to go into specific detail regarding the intricate work they will do to erect the tabernacle: the plans, materials, the construction process, the methods.

The implications are clear: Artists and their art both matter to God.

I believe that if art as worship and artists as servants of God were valued by people who crafted children's Sunday school curriculum, more of us would recognize these two.

But we don't.

That says something.

And I'm not sure it's a good thing.

* * * * *

Notes:

Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts. P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, 2006.

Image Attribution:
Dongio

Monday, October 2, 2017

How to Tell If It's Fall in Florida


How to Tell If It's Fall in Florida
  • Homes sport seasonal decorations. No, wait--those are just storm shutters.
  • School is back in session. Unless there's a tropical weather event. Then it's pretty much Summer, Part 2.
  • Trees turn brown and leaves litter the walkways. Because Hurricane Irma killed them. 
  • Pumpkin Spice Lattes have returned. If you don't mind sipping hot drinks while sweating profusely, have at it.
  • It's getting dark earlier. Either that or you left your hurricane shutters up. 
  • It's raining less. Barring the arrival of a tropical system, you're seeing fewer towering thunderheads in the afternoons. Enjoy the fact that your street is no longer a wake zone! 
  • Traffic flow congeals. Whether it's snowbirds returning from up north or storm evacuees trying to make it home, suddenly everyone's on the roads at the same time. But that's fine: it just gives your car A/C time to cool down your pumpkin spice latte enough that you can sip it without suffering heat stroke. 
  • People have traded in their flip-flops for closed-toed shoes. Just kidding. This is Florida. That never happens.
Wherever you are today and whatever weather you're experiencing, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest. 

As for me, I'll just be over here cowering behind my still-up hurricane shutters, praying they're enough to protect me from the molten wrath of Florida's late-autumn sun.

* * * * *

In the mood for a good read? Check out my books on Amazon.

* * * * *

Photo Credit:
By Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Opposite of a Whirlwind: Release Week Ramblings


This coming Friday, September 29, 2017, my novel Collapsible finally releases. 

To say that the whole experience has been a whirlwind would be the opposite of how it's felt so far.

Things So Far

I wrote the first draft in 2014, started sending queries in 2015, signed a three-book contract and completed the trilogy during 2016, wrote and rewrote the story about eighty gazillion times throughout, and now here we are, finally on the cusp publication in the fall of 2017.

So the word whirlwind doesn't quite work. I spent some time trying to come up with a good metaphor to express my publication experiences, but so far I've had trouble hitting on one that really fits the bill emotionally. 

Here are a few options:
  • being slowly compressed in a trash compactor with 1,000 helium balloons 
  • rolling drowsily down a hill to escape a volcanic eruption of maple syrup
  • trapped in refrigerated storage unit while being force-fed ice cream cake by leaders of the Spanish Inquisition
  • enduring a long, listless underwater bus crash set to polka music

This isn't my first publishing rodeo (I have a handful of plays and sacred scripts on the market); but somehow releasing a book feels different.

I think about my books all the time but have a hard time talking about them. (Talking about unpublished work feels impossible for a lot of reasons, but that topic requires its own post.)

I'm fiercely excited and ferociously nervous. 

Perhaps the best metaphor for my release week experience is this: I'm tap dancing in the corner on roller skates with a paper bag in each hand in case I hyperventilate or throw up. (Or both.)

So...you know.

Business as usual.

Some Helpful Information

Of all the questions people have asked me about my books, the most common is this: "Will they be on Amazon?" 

The answer is yes. As a matter of fact, Friday's release is up for pre-order:


Other Releases

In true over-the-top fashion, I have five books coming out in the next six months. The next two stand alone, and the following two will complete the Collapsible trilogy.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members (November 7, 2017)

Murder on Birchardville Hill (December, 2017)

Flexible: A Novel of Mystery, Drama, Rehabilitation, Spiders, and the Occasional Head Wound (January, 2018)

Unbreakable: A Novel of Relationships, Getaways, Teep Kicks, Bacon, Nuptials, and the Occasional Stabbing (March, 2018)

And yes, they will also be on Amazon. Everything's on Amazon. So keep your beady little eyes peeled, and I'll see you over there.

I'll be the one tap dancing in the corner. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ruth's Rules for Hurricanes


  1. Charge all devices! You might blow away in the storm, but at least you'll have enough battery to call home from Oz.
  2. Give the house a manic cleaning. If you're going to be trapped inside for 36 hours, you might as well not be stuck in a sty. 
  3. Take final shower AFTER cleaning but BEFORE filling the tub with emergency water.
  4. Drill at least one peep hole in your hurricane shutters. How else will you witness your neighbor's palm tree uprooting itself and flying through the air like a javelin?
  5. Log into Overdrive and download every library book. (Your actual books might blow away if the roof comes off). 
  6. Realize you have no safe place to stash your car. Encase it in cling wrap and submerge in the canal behind your house.
  7. Panic-buy supplies because you never got around to stocking your hurricane kit at the beginning of the season. (Don't forget the dried fruit! You'll thank yourself later when everyone else has gone without roughage for a while.)
  8. Realize you never bought water and that it's too late because every store in the Eastern seaboard is sold out. Panic for a full ten seconds; then remember that your kitchen still works. (And still exists.) Fill Tupperware containers and Ziplock bags and mixing bowls and measuring cups from the tap and store them in the fridge like the rational problem-solver that you are. 
  9. Monitor rising water levels, trying not to dwell on the fact that the canal behind your house is full of alligators and that you could soon be facing a nightmare Captain Hook situation. Toss alarm clocks into the canal for gator-tracking purposes. (Just try not to hit your car.)
  10. Respond to panicked texts from out-of-town relatives right away. Assert that no matter what the over-the-top national weather services are reporting, Florida is not going to be wiped off the map. Though we might wake up when it's over and discover a sailboat in the lobby of city hall, the state of the Union will likely be preserved. 
* * * * * *

Photo Credit:
By Daniel Di Palma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, September 4, 2017

If I Wrote the Poems, Part 1 - "The Riddle of Strider" by Ruth R.R. Tolkien


The Riddle of Strider 
by Ruth R.R. Tolkien

All that is cold is not bitter
Not all the condors are lost 
The old and confused often dither 
Teeth roots are not touched by the floss

The silence at last shall be broken
A tiny white rabbit shall sing 
Set fire to the bed you awoke in 
The soundless Big Ben shall then ring

* * * * *

Click Here to read the original poem,
which is supposedly "objectively better" or whatever,
and tune in next week for Part 2 in the series.

I have great plans.

* * * * *

Photo Credit:

By Eagle_and_child_Oxford.JPG: Gunnar Bach Pedersenderivative work: Rondador (talk) - Eagle_and_child_Oxford.JPG, Public Domain, Link


Monday, August 28, 2017

A True Story by Bethany Buchanan

Guest Post by

I thought it was a sweet gig. And it was at first.

I had lived in the barn apartment for almost a year, and things were going well. It had always been a dream of mine to live in a barn and take care of the horses. High aspirations, I know. But I was finally living the dream. My landlords, John and Priscilla, lived in the main house, and couldn’t be nicer.

Every summer they went away for about two months to go sailing in and around Europe. As part of keeping things going at home while they were away, they asked me to drive their three vehicles to keep the batteries charged.

The truck was easy; but Priscilla’s car, a Mercedes, was much fancier a car than I am used to driving. For the past decade, I have driven a Ford F150 STX which is the most basic model of F150 available. It doesn’t even have power windows or power locks. So getting behind the wheel of Priscilla’s Mercedes felt like strapping into the space shuttle.

John’s car was an Audi A4 convertible. I have always had a soft spot for convertibles, so his was the car I was really looking forward to driving over the summer. Trips to the bank, post office, and grocery store would be a delight. But after only a few weeks, the car started having a harder time turning over when I turned the ignition switch. Thinking that perhaps once a week was not often enough to keep the battery well charged, I decided to drive it more often. But soon enough, one evening I found the battery completely dead. 

That weekend my sister Ruth came over for dinner and to hang out on Friday evening. We used her car to jump the Audi, and I drove it over to the mechanic’s which is only a mile away. The guys there said they would be happy to replace the battery, and I walked home. By Monday evening I got the call that the car was ready , and I could come pick it up. However, I waited until Friday evening to do so when I could get a ride over from Ruth instead of taking the time to hoof it over during the day. 

The next day, I was working as announcer at a local schooling Hunter/Jumper show. It was just a couple of miles up the road. I decided to take the Audi. After the show was over and I was leaving, I put the top down for the short drive home. I pressed the button, and the top unlatched, the trunk hatch opened to receive the soft top, and the soft top slowly started to fold itself back into the trunk.

And half-way there it stopped.

The trunk hatch was open, and the soft top was sticking straight up in the air. Nothing was moving. After a few seconds where nothing happened, I pressed the button the put the top back up. To my great relief the soft top started to close over me once again. But when it clunked down onto the top of the windshield, it stopped. It did not latch into place, and the trunk hatch remained open, blocking my view in the rear-view mirror. 

Once more I pressed the button to put the top up, but nothing happened. I pushed it the other was to see if the top would go down, but still no response. I turned off the engine and started the car again, but there was no sign of life from the convertible top. I was in a pickle.

I decided to drive the Audi straight back to the shop, which mercifully was only a few miles away. Since the trunk hatch was still open and sticking straight up in the air, I drove at a snail’s pace. Not daring to go over ten miles per hour, I hugged the right shoulder and crept along the fairly busy two-lane highway which connected the horse-show facility to the garage. 

When the mechanics finally checked the car out on Monday, they called to say the switch would need to be replaced. Finally I got the call that the car was ready, and I could come pick it up any time. Unfortunately, I was insanely busy. So it was a couple of weeks before I got a ride from a friend in the evening to go get it. 

The Sunday after I picked it up, I drove it to church on a beautiful clear morning. It wasn’t too hot yet, so I put the top down on my way to church. When I arrived, I put the top back up, because you can never trust Florida during the summer. A sudden shower can come out of nowhere and soak everything within moments.

After church, I went out to lunch with some friends as is my usual custom. It was quite cold in the restaurant, and I did not have a jacket. By the time we finished lunch I was glad to go out into the heat. Even though it was the hottest part of the day and the sun was shining brightly, I decided to put the top down for the quick jaunt home.

I sat in the parking lot of the restaurant and pressed the button to put the top down. The top unlatched, the trunk hatch opened to receive the soft top, and the soft top slowly started to fold itself back into the trunk. And half-way there it stopped. The trunk hatch was open, and the soft top was sticking straight up in the air, and nothing was moving.

I couldn’t believe it. I pressed the button the put the top back up, and the soft top started to close over me once again. But when it clunked down onto the top of the windshield, it stopped. It did not latch into place, and the trunk hatch remained open, blocking my view in the rear-view mirror. Just like last time. Only this time I was twelve miles from home instead of two or three.

I turned on the hazard lights and crept out of the parking lot. I believe it is an unarguable fact that there are a lot of idiot drivers in South Florida. As I drove slowly along the two-lane road I hugged the right shoulder to make it easier for overtaking cars to pass me when the lines on the road and oncoming traffic allowed it. However, at least one car decided that that meant there was plenty of room on the road for me, him, and the oncoming car to be in the two lanes all at the same time. 

At one point, a man on a motorcycle passed me going the other way; he then turned around, got behind me, and shouted that I should pull over. I pulled in to a fire department and asked if he was a mechanic. “Of sorts” was his response, which meant no. But he wanted to help. He opened the fuse box and checked to make sure it wasn’t a blown fuse. Which it wasn’t, but I told him I appreciated the effort all the same.

Once I was out of traffic on the long stretch of road between counties, things were less stressful, but no more enjoyable. The road has a wide shoulder as well as a bike lane, so I was able to get all the way out of the driving lane and putter down the shoulder. The song “Driving Slow on Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 popped into my head, but I don’t think this was exactly what the singer had in mind.

What should have been a fifteen minute drive took an hour and twenty minutes. I had failed to charge my phone the night before, so my phone battery was only at 5%. I didn't even have my music or podcasts to help pass the time. And I don’t like listening to the radio. I tried not to think of all the things I needed to get done at home. I reminded myself that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. I tried to enjoy the scenery. I tried to be thankful that I didn’t have to walk everywhere. 

Once home, I drove the car straight into the garage. As far as I am concerned, there it can sit until John gets home. John and Priscilla have an office manager who used to have the same car, and as I have been keeping her apprised via text of what’s been going on with the car, her response has been, “Thank you for reminding me why I don’t own that car anymore! Lol.”

Thanks, Linda.


Monday, August 21, 2017

How Not to Make Your Own Solar Eclipse Glasses


There seem to be a lot of crazy ideas floating around about how to view the solar eclipse without sizzling your retinas.

Perhaps this should go without saying, but no matter what you've read on the internet, it is absolutely NOT safe to view the eclipse through any of the following:
  • Fake nose-and-glasses sets
  • Rolled up federal tax forms
  • Two doughnuts
  • Light mist from a garden sprinkler
  • Clear plastic spoons
  • A coconut bikini top
  • Bladder of a Portuguese man o' war
  • Antique monocle and/or pince-nez
  • Two mason jars filled with honey
  • Cheesecloth Zorro mask with no eye slits
  • Half a ping-pong ball on a stick
  • Disposable contact lenses
  • A one-way mirror
  • Straw hat over face
  • Petroleum jelly smeared directly on eyeballs
No matter what, do NOT use any of the above to view the eclipse. If you haven't had time to track down real solar eclipse glasses, make note to figure it out before the next one.

As for me, I plan to spend the day indoors with a cardboard box over my head - just to be safe.

Photo Credit:

By NASA/SDO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Fault in My Stars: My Problematic Book-Rating System

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Cassius, Julius Caesar, (I, ii, 140-141)
William Shakespeare


I've been reviewing books online since 2011. In the last six years, I've read and reviewed over 1,200 books on Goodreads, writing short assessments and assigning star ratings for most of them.

I do have a system for assigning stars - though, admittedly, a subjective one. Since writing is both art and science, there's simply no way to assess a book objectively. However, I try my best to be straightforward.

Below in bold, you'll see how the star ratings are explained in the Goodreads system. Beneath is my explanation for how I assign them.

1 star - "I didn't like it." 

I don't use this rating very often, mostly because if I don't like a book, I don't finish it. If I do give one star, though, I explain why; but my reviews aren't mean or vindictive. They're an honest assessment of my reaction to the book: the story, the development, the writing, the dialogue, or some combination of those elements.

2 stars - "It was ok." 

For the most part, the books that I assign two stars aren't horrible: they're just not for me. Though some authors might be insulted by a 2-star review, I don't think they should be. Two stars means I actually read your whole book even though nothing about it particularly gripped me. So even though I clearly wasn't in the book's target demographic, you must have done something right.

3 stars - "I liked it." 


Good news! A three-star review means I stayed fully engaged the whole time. More than that, I got into it. I stressed over the characters or laughed out loud or genuinely learned new things. A three-star book is one I'll recommended - both generally online and specifically to friends and fellow readers who I know will appreciate it.


4 stars - "I really liked it." 

A four-star book offers more than just an enjoyable reading experience. It also has something that sets it apart: at least one element that the author does extremely well. Either the plot's perfect, the development exquisite, or the dialogue just killer. Whatever the reason, these books are clearly a cut above. If the writer has any other books out, I will track them down and read them. And I'll do more than just recommend these books: I'll actually pick up extra copies at used book stores and keep them on hand to loan out.

5 stars - "It was amazing."
Five-star books are better than great. They're rock-my-world amazing. Five-star reads not only do everything right and have standout elements, but they go further. They transcended genre and set a new bar for future reading experiences. I believe that any reader, regardless of taste or usual reading choices, would enjoy these. They're the books I'll come back to again and again. And I will do more than just recommend these and keep extras on hand. I'll buy multiple copies and pass them out unsolicited to friends, family, and fellow readers.

No Stars

Occasionally I don't assign a star rating. In some cases, it's because I have a personal connection to the author (we either know each other, share an editor, or write for the same publisher). In such cases, anything less than a 5-star review might offend; and yet unless those stars are truly earned, I would feel dishonest giving them (since I know that quite a few followers base their book selections around my reviews). Sidestepping the pressure, I write some honest thoughts about the book (although not all my thoughts) and post the review with no stars.

In other cases, I don't assign stars because I recognize that my personal response to the book has been unreasonably negative. Whether I take issue with the plot or the writer's underlying worldview, I dislike the book -- yet I recognize that my reaction is disproportionate, so I refrain.

My Turn's Coming

With my first books set to release this fall, I'm curious to see how my reaction to my books' online reviews will temper how I write them. Because that's bound to happen.

To keep up with my reading, feel free to follow me on Goodreads

See you over there!

* * * * *

Monday, August 7, 2017

Notes from the Back of the Pack


This past weekend, I ran a 5k with my favorite running partner, who is currently thirty-four weeks pregnant. Having decided ahead of time to let her race-day condition dictate the pace, we planned a quick 5-minute warm-up walk and then some tight little run/walk intervals for the duration of the race. We started at the very back of the pack so that we weren't immediately trampled.

As a solid middle-of-the-pack runner, I'm accustomed to a race start quickly giving way to the rhythm of slapping steps and measured breathing. At the back of the pack, however, we joined a cheery throng of good-hearted jokesters, who commenced the race calling encouragement to one another and exchanging friendly insults. Jostling and shuffling their way across the start line, they fell into no recognizable pattern or rhythm. 

These people knew themselves. They were under no illusions about what we were all doing at the back. These were the fast walkers, fast talkers, and don't-care-about-the-clock-ers. 

And let me tell you, we loved it back there.

We quickly learned the advantages of running from the back of the pack:
  1. Less overt competition! No one at the back is in it to win it.
  2. Leisurely pace! You don't feel pressure to stay out of anyone's way.
  3. Entertainment! Surrounding runners actually have wind to chat -- and so do you.
  4. Free ego boost! If you bump into people you know, it's generally because you're passing them.
Not that it's a competition. That's what this race reminded me.

While I've never been fiercely competitive with others, I sometimes feel that I'm engaged in one long war against myself. Running has been no exception, and since I picked up the habit a few years ago, I've been constantly pushing for longer runs at higher speeds. It's never just about the running for me. There's always another goal.

This race reminded me, however, that not every event needs to trigger an internal battle. 

Sometimes it's okay to lean back and enjoy the run.

* * * *

Photo Credit:

By Fit stezky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 31, 2017

10 Book Quotes Guaranteed to Make You Feel Feelings


10 Book Quotes Guaranteed to Make You Feel Feelings:

"It's not time to worry yet."
~
"The rain, it raineth every day."
~
"We shall meet in a place where there is no darkness."
~
"Kiss me, Hardy. Kiss me quick!"
~
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!” 
~
"I have been loved," Edward told the stars.
~
“In this hour, I do not believe that any darkness will endure.” 
~
"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"
~
There was the sudden heart-stopping high-pitched whine of a siren, and the entire square fell silent, listening, and then--as they realized it was the all clear--erupted into cheers.
~
I'll pray, and then I'll sleep.

* * * * *

If these quotes don't make you feel feelings, perhaps you haven't read the books. Or maybe you're a monster. I'm not here to judge.

Do you have lines that always give your feelings a workout? Feel free to share. It's a rainy Monday morning, and I have a mug of hot coffee and a full box of tissues. 

Ruth's Feelings-Inducing Cheat Sheet:


Photo Credit

By Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons



Monday, July 24, 2017

A Well-Edited Life


This has been a summer of edits for me. This week is no exception. As soon as I finish this post, I plan to start working my way through a manuscript fresh an editor's metaphorical red pen.

No matter how good my editor is, I'm going come up against some edits that I don't like. What I see as perfectly good phrasings will be rejected. My seemingly-logical thought progressions will be questioned. Entire chapters might disappear. (It's happened before. It could happen again.)

But I'm not wholly dreading the process. For one thing, I've learned to appreciate good editing. While I may question some suggestions in the heat of the moment, I have seen that in the long run, each of my works has benefited greatly from a strong editorial hand.

I'm also aware that editorial pain is temporary. Between the time I revise the manuscript and the time the proofs come out, a funny thing happens. Those edit suggestions that initially incensed me? I can barely remember what they were. They now blend seamlessly into a smoothly-flowing manuscript. Those missing chapters? I can hardly remember what was in them or why I thought they were so important. It's like they never existed.

In that sense, the editing process parallels my life.

As I look back, I see how clearly God has rearranged timelines, re-directed plot threads, and cut chapters (and entire characters!) that I considered essential to my story. Just like any good editor, he's less concerned with temporarily hurting my feelings and more focused on strengthening the finished product.

That doesn't mean the editing process feels good.

But it helps to remember that the pain is temporary.

Weeping endures for a night. Joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

* * * * *

Photo Attribution:

By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 17, 2017

Great Read-Aloud Recommendations for Kids [Updated!]


[Note: This was originally posted on January 23, 2015, and has since been updated for content.]

Every day I read aloud to the five Podlings in my care. This group currently ranges in age from sixteen down to six. Since more than a few people have asked how I choose the books to read aloud (or have asked for lists/recommendations), I thought I'd share what we've read together so far and where I plan to take them in the future.

But first, some disclaimers.

How I Choose Read-Aloud Books 

Since I read a lot anyway, having access to an ever-expanding list of possibilities isn't really a problem.

When the time comes to start a new book with the kids, my decision process goes something like this:

1) Have I read it and enjoyed it? I can't over-stress the importance of this step. I don't care how lauded or "important" or "valuable" the book is. If you don't care for it, they won't either.
2) Will the kids understand it and like it? I balance toward the older ones. The littles get what they get -- which is a lot. 
3) What does the author do well? Humor, drama, storytelling, characterization, suspense, research, etc. I require at least one standout category, but don't expect perfection in all areas from each book. 
4) Does the book match the season? I'm all about reading the right book at the right time, which is why - as you'll see below - we sometimes take a break in the middle of a series to read something that matches the season.

How You Should Choose Books

1) Take advice of the readers in your life. Take recommendations under advisement, but don't take them blindly. Not every book is for every person. 
2) Read the book first. Don't skip this step. No matter how highly the book has come recommended or how much your friends or their kids may have liked it, that doesn't ensure that 1) you will like it (which is so important, since your enthusiasm can make or break the enterprise), or that 2) you will find it appropriate for your bunch. So be responsible about this. Nothing's worse than stopping halfway through a book and not finishing it. That breaks a child's trust. 
3) Don't worry too much about whether the book is important or educational or valuable. Just pick a good read and get cracking. Reading aloud to your kids has great value in itself.

Books I've Read Aloud to the Podlings

Bear in mind that we've been at this for a few years but that I didn't start keeping a master list until partway through the venture. I'm pretty sure I've forgotten a few along the way. [Also, this list doesn't account for the books I study with each child individually. This list is read-alouds only. If you want individual book report recommendations, you'll have to message me.]
  1. The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck
  2. Derwood, Inc., Jeri Massi
  3. A Dangerous Game, Jeri Massi
  4. The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare 
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  6. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  7. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis 
  8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (unabridged)
  10. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  11. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
  12. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  13. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein 
  14. Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  15. Summer of Light, Dennis M. Van Wey 
  16. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle 
  17. The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck (again by request)
  18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  19. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (take two)
  21. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  22. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien 
  23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
  24. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
  25. The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
  26. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia, Sam Wellman
  27. Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, William F. Russell
  28. Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park (pairs well with the documentary On the Way to School, still on Netflix at the time of this update)
  29. Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  30. The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  31. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
  32. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare 
  33. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  34. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck 
  35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  37. Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo
  38. Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
  39. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  40. Peace Child, Don Richardson (Note: Get the updated anniversary edition. Trust me.)
  41. Legends in Sports: Babe Ruth, Matt Christopher
  42. The Velveteen Rabbit and Other Tales, Margery Williams
  43. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller
  44. The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, Book 1), T.H. White
  45. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (yes, again)
  47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  48. The Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber, Paul Hutchens
  49. True Stories of the Second World War, Paul Dowswell 
  50. The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel, Michael Kogge 
  51. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness, Janet & Geoff Benge
  52. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  53. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  54. The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
  55. Bound for Oregon, Jean Van Leeuwen
Still on the list:
  • Red Scarf Girl, Jiang Ji-li 
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen 
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry 
  • Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne
  • Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski 
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
  • Once / Now / Then / After, Morris Gleitzman 
    * * * * *

    Have some great read-aloud suggestions of your own? 

    Please share in the comments here or on Facebook. 

    I'm always on the prowl for the next good read.