Monthly Archives: October 2012

Hidden in the Heart by Catherine West

My Review:

Hidden in the Heart
By Catherine West

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Claire Ferguson is a mess to put it mildly. She lost her mother, she lost her baby, and now to numb the pain, she has taken up the ugly habit of drinking. She is on the road of losing her friends, husband, and everything else. Can she stop the slide before it is too late and she loses everyone, including herself? As the book moves on, you discover that Claire has an underlying need to find out where her beginnings started, and that goes back to her birth mother. Will she face more rejection or can she find the message that she does not need human acceptance, but the love of a heavenly Father, whom is not like mainstream churches.

This book has a great message about adoption. It speaks of the lack of understanding that birth parents and adoptees face when they want to find the reasons for their birth. Ms. West had a personal experience that I believe, made this book the well written, gritty, story that it is. I kept wishing that her family was not so judgmental in the beginning, but instead forced her to get help before she had to seek it from strangers. Sometimes though, I think that is what happens, we need someone we are not comfortable with to point out what we need, and reach out to us. This is a great book to show the sides that adopted adults can face as well as what birth mothers can face. Excellent reading!
– Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

OakTara (September 15, 2012)
***Special thanks to Catherine West for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Catherine West is an award-winning author who writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. She and her husband have two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America, and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Everything Claire wants seems to be beyond her reach…

After losing her mother to cancer and suffering a miscarriage soon after, Claire Ferguson numbs the pain with alcohol and pills, and wonders if her own life is worth living. Adopted at birth, Claire is convinced she has some unknown genetic flaw that may have been the cause of her miscarriage. She must find a way to deal with the guilt she harbors. But exoneration will come with a price.

With her marriage in trouble and her father refusing to answer any questions about her adoption, Claire begins the search for her birth mother.

For the first time in her life, she really wants to know where she came from.
But what if the woman who gave her life doesn’t want to be found?

For all those who have loved, experienced loss, and lived life’s roller-coaster

Product Details:
List Price: $16.95
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: OakTara (September 15, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602903298
ISBN-13: 978-1602903296

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Claire Ferguson stood outside Baby Gap, unable to look away from the Christmas display. Red velvet dresses and miniature-sized plaid waistcoats. Tiny suede boots, tiny patent leather shoes, tiny colorful striped hats and scarves.

Everything was tiny.

Claire stared at a little red dress, her eyes filling as she imagined and wished for the impossible.

People filed in and out of the store, smiling, laughing. Happy. An ordinary day filled with ordinary tasks and lists of things that must be accomplished. She had no such list—just an overwhelming need to pass time quickly on this day that was not so ordinary.

Claire steadied herself and glanced at her watch. Late afternoon. Shoppers jostled by, oblivious to her pain, all in a hurry to get their purchases and conquer the next store in the mall.

If only she had a reason to hurry.

‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ crooned from the mall loudspeakers. Claire bit her lip and cursed Bing.

Christmas would be merry when it was over.

Claire tightened her grip around the numerous bags she carried and slowly moved forward. Her heel slipped on a slick patch of tile. She regained her balance before falling, but the effort shook her and sent her pulse racing.

After walking a bit, her arms began to burn. Her overflowing shopping bags were heavy, but gave a sense of accomplishment. She’d gotten out of bed and had the purchases to prove it.

“Claire? Hey…yoo-hoo!” A woman’s greeting floated above the noise of the crowd.

Claire lowered her head and rummaged through her purse. She popped a few breath mints into her mouth and chewed as she weighed her options.

Pretend she didn’t hear. Pretend to be someone else. Or turn around and face the owner of the vaguely familiar voice still calling her name.

Curiosity won out and Claire turned.

“Hi, Claire! I thought that was you.” The woman waved and hurried over. Platinum blonde hair swooshed around her shoulders. “Long time no see. You do remember me, don’t you?”

“Um…” No. Claire pushed through the tangled cobwebs in her brain. “Ashley…right? High school?” The woman’s Colgate-bright smile never faltered. She could have been on the cover of a magazine. Or a toothpaste commercial.

“Amanda. Barrington.” Blue eyes twinkled as though she held some untold secret. “Gosh, it’s been a while. How are you? Have time for a coffee?”

“Coffee?” Claire screwed up her nose. Vodka tonic would be more enticing, but whatever. She didn’t have anywhere to be. Not really. “Sure.”

They settled around a table at Starbucks. Amanda insisted on buying, which was fine with Claire. A few minutes later she sipped an Espresso and managed a smile. “So. Amanda. What have you been up to since high school?”

“Oh, not too much, you know. Busy. You?”

Claire nodded. “Same. Busy. Very busy.” Busy not answering the phone. Busy surfing channels. Busy ignoring the whole world.

Amanda stirred another packet of sweetener into her Caffè Misto. “You got married a few years ago, didn’t you? You and James?”

A bizarre image of Guy Smiley from Sesame Street flashed before her and Claire wondered what she’d done to win a spot on This Is Your Life. She suppressed a giggle. That third drink at lunch probably hadn’t been such a great idea. “Yep. Me and James.”

“Any kids?”

As if on cue, a mother walked past them pushing a toddler. The kid looked her way and released a blood-curdling wail. Claire let out her breath. “Didn’t you go to Vassar?”

“Oh.” Amanda’s pretty smile petered out as she fiddled with the top of her cup. “Yes, but I dropped out. Had a breakdown of sorts.”

“Of sorts?” Maybe that was the same as being a little bit pregnant. A ripple of anxiety washed over Amanda’s face and Claire felt a pinch of guilt. “Hey, it’s cool. I’m the last person to be throwing judgment around.” She pulled at a loose thread on her sweater.

Getting out of bed this morning had been tiresome enough, she hadn’t given much thought to her wardrobe. Just grabbed a pair of yoga pants and a long sweater that covered her butt, and pushed her feet into a pair of Uggs. She took in Amanda’s pristine appearance, fumbled with her hair and tried to remember whether she’d even brushed it. “Are you…okay now?” Stupid question. Of course she was.

“Oh, yes.” Amanda answered too quickly. “Right as rain.”

“Funny, that.” Claire couldn’t stop a grin. “Right as rain. People always complain when it rains, don’t they? I mean, what’s right about it, really?”

Amanda didn’t hide surprise well. She opened her mouth but no words came. She nibbled on a bran muffin and dabbed cherry lips with a paper napkin. “Um. I heard your mother died. Last year, was it? I’m sorry.”

Of course she was sorry. Everybody was sorry. God was probably even sorry.

Claire studied her nails. The pink polish was chipped and faded, most of her nails worn down by her chewing on them. Another habit she couldn’t seem to break. “She had cancer. Only lived a few months after her diagnoses.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Yup.” Claire nodded, still pondering Amanda’s mysterious breakdown. She really wanted to ask how the accommodations were at the funny farm, because if things got any worse she might just be heading there herself. “So, what are you doing now, you know, now that you’re…okay?” Small talk seemed more appropriate.

Amanda perked up at the change of subject. “Oh, a bit of this and that. I’m planning a wedding, so you know how that goes. I got engaged a few months ago.” She waved a hand, a diamond the size of a small country in Africa almost blinding Claire. “You know, Claire…when I saw you, I remembered. You were adopted too, right?”

Hot liquid sloshed out of the small hole in the plastic lid and Claire put her cup down in a hurry. She dabbed at the mess and tried to think what an appropriate response would be. ‘None of your business’ probably wouldn’t go over so well.

“Too?” As Claire lifted the top off her paper cup to clean it, the lid on her memory slid off with it. “That’s right. You were the only other kid I knew who was adopted. Our mothers were friends for a while, weren’t they?”

“When we were in eighth and ninth grade.” Amanda’s eyes got misty. “I used to love going over to your house; you were so much fun. But then we…drifted apart I guess. You ran with the cool kids. I was a geek.”

“Oh.” Claire pushed down the lid of her cup and prayed she hadn’t been completely horrible to this poor girl who had apparently once been a friend.

“Anyway. I found my birth mother.” Amanda sat back, a small smile set in place. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. I thought you…well…that you would understand.”

“Your birth mother?” The words slammed into Claire, went straight for the gut, held tight and twisted. “No kidding?” She took another sip and hoped Amanda wouldn’t notice the tremor in her hand. “How?”

“It wasn’t that hard, really.” Amanda blinked and gazed across the crowded room for a moment. A bizarre heavy metal version of Jingle Bells blasted through the speakers and they shared a smile. “I suppose I just got tired of looking in the mirror and wondering. You know?”

Boy, did she know. Claire shrugged. “When was this?”

“Two years ago. I talked to my parents first, and they were okay with it. I wrote away for my non-identifying information and next thing I knew, Social Services was calling to put me in touch with her.”

“How’d that go?” A slow pounding began in her temples and Claire swallowed down the urge to puke. There was something wrong about this—having this conversation—today, on the anniversary of her mother’s death. Amanda of course, couldn’t know that. Couldn’t know that Claire had, of late, thought of doing the very same thing.

Searching.

Searching for answers. Searching for truth. As if somehow knowing the circumstances concerning her birth would help her get her life back.

Thoughts of whether or not to proceed had become an obsession.

Maybe her best friend, Melanie, was right. “There are no coincidences, Claire. Only Godincidences.” Claire could hear her Melanie now. “It’s a sign. You should do it.”

The only sign Claire wanted to see was the one that said BAR.

She turned her attention back to her long lost friend and hoped she hadn’t missed anything earth shattering.

“We’re not that much alike, and after the first meeting…” Amanda prattled on. “But you know, did you ever think about it? I mean, your mom’s gone now and…”

“Me? Oh, no.” Claire checked her watch and frowned. She was supposed to meet James for dinner. “Hey, this was great, but…you know. My husband…we have plans.”

“Yes, of course. Well…” Amanda foraged in her Marc Jacobs bag and came up with a gold-embossed business card. “Give me a call sometime, Claire. And if you change your mind, you know, about searching, I’m here to help.”
 “Thanks. It was great to see you.”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Sure. You have a good one.”

Claire waded through the sea of shoppers until she reached the doors to the parking lot, and stumbled outside. Cold air brought clarity and she breathed deeply. She clasped her elbows and willed the trembling to stop, willed the world to stop spinning as she tried to get her bearings and headed in the general direction she hoped she’d parked.

She needed to get out of here. But to what?

Claire stopped walking and stared at the slush beneath her feet. The knot in her stomach pulled tight. James would be expecting her.

He wanted to talk. Again.

Claire had run out of words a long time ago.

She turned toward the warm building again, scanned the area inside the doors and spied a TGI Friday’s. It was a bit too early for food, but that didn’t matter.

She wasn’t planning on eating.

Two hours later, Claire peered at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Maybe she should call a cab. She splashed some water on her face, spritzed a little perfume on her neck and picked up her bags.

After waiting half an hour for a cab to come into sight, Claire’s feet were frozen. She gave up and headed back to her car. It would be fine. She hadn’t had that much to drink.

She maneuvered her car down the back roads as carefully as she could. Snow started to fall and got heavier by the minute. Claire shook her head and cursed the snow. Cursed herself for being so stupid.

Staying in bed would have been the more sensible solution.

She’d been doing better. Almost convinced she could make it through the holidays. Now all she could think about was Mom, and that stupid conversation she’d had with Amanda.

Pain rushed her with such force she considered pulling off the road to expel the liquid sloshing around in her stomach. She was re-living it all over again. That long, dark night when her world had shattered like a Christmas ornament dropped from the highest branches of the tree.

“She’s gone, Claire…”

They all thought death was something you could prepare for. Thought if you read up, prayed up and clammed up, it would all be okay.

Her father read books and retreated into silence.

James went to church, put them all on the prayer chain and talked to God.

And Claire just ignored it and hoped the day would never come.

But it had, come and gone, and taken her mother with it.

A blast of sirens jolted her back to the present. Her SUV swerved and she pulled on the wheel, slowing until the vehicle straightened. Obnoxious blue and red flashers intensified the pain in her head. Claire swore, flicked on her turn signal and pulled over. Great. Just what she needed to make a crappy day even crappier.

“Ya better watch out, ya better not cry…” The modern version of the classic blasted from the radio. “Ya better not pout, I’m tellin’ you why…” The Boss’s raspy voice belted out the warning.

Claire almost grinned. Too late, Bruce. Already on the black list this year.

Through the rear-view mirror she watched the officer step out of his vehicle. He sloshed through gray snow, his burly frame shadowed in the setting sun, but she’d recognize that bear-like gait anywhere.

Definitely not Santa Claus.

Claire shook her head, her throat drying up. Why did it have to be him?

She shoved her hand in her purse, pulled out her breath mints and put a few in her mouth, wishing she’d had a second cup of coffee. She chewed quickly and shoved another couple in just before he reached her car.

Robert Ferguson tapped on her car window, a scowl set in place. His dark blue jacket was zipped halfway, his badge glinting. Claire returned the scowl and prayed for an apocalypse.  He rapped again and Claire knew she had no choice. She pressed the button and the window slid down.

“Hello, Claire.” Her brother-in-law stepped back and folded his arms over his chest.

A blast of cold air smacked her face as she shifted to face him, tightening her grip on the wheel. “Robert. What a pleasant surprise.” Not. She forced a smile and thought about sending up a quick prayer, but what would be the point?

God wasn’t listening. Not to her.

Not anymore.

“You okay?” He studied her in silence, suspicion settling in his eyes.

Okay? She had a wet butt from falling in the parking lot, lived through that strange conversation with Amanda and had a case of major indigestion, but whatever. “Sure, I’m okay. Sweet of you to ask.” Her heart rate jumped in time to the music as he let out a sigh.

“Can you turn off the stereo, please?”

“Sure.” Claire blinked at the dash and squinted. The silver buttons were so small and they all looked alike. “Ah. There. Better?”

“Where’ve you been, Claire? You were driving a little erratically.”

“Erratically?” She widened her eyes, surprised he knew such a big word. “Oh, back there, you mean? Yeah, black ice. Thought I was done for.”

His scowl deepened, forming a crater above the bridge of his nose. “Black ice, huh? You were all over the road. Going too fast, then too slow…I’ve been following you about a quarter mile. I guess you didn’t notice.”

“Seriously? Guess I didn’t. You know, female drivers. We never check the rear view mirror unless we’re putting on lipstick.” Her palms grew moist despite the cold air flooding her car.

His bland expression told her he wasn’t buying it. “Have you been drinking?” Robert narrowed his eyes, leaning in a little closer.

Claire shook her head and the interior of the car spun. She covered her mouth with one hand and took a minute. “Of course not. I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Claire,” he growled, placing his big hands on the ledge of the open window, “level with me.”

There might have been a hint of compassion in his eyes but it faded too soon. Claire stared at the falling snow and wondered what she’d look like in orange. “I…um…went out for lunch. I might have had a glass of wine. That’s all. Really. I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” He took a step back. “Want to get out of the car?”

“No,” she squeaked. “Come on, Robby. I just told you, I’m okay. Thanks for checking up on me though.” The back of her neck prickled and her throat constricted. He couldn’t possibly be serious.

Robert yanked the door open. “Get out.”
 “Please, Robert. I’m begging you. I’m not drunk. You can follow me home if you want to.”

“Get out of the car, Claire.” Anger dripped off his tongue and she knew she’d pushed his limit. Maybe if she pretended to pass out she’d wake up and find this was all some weird dream. Maybe she’d just pass out anyway.

“Claire. Today. If you wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m coming.” She struggled to stand, slipped on the slush beneath her and he caught her elbow before she fell. The towering pines across the road blurred into one big green snowball, hurtling toward her. She steadied herself and tried to focus on Robert. This was a nightmare. It had to be.

But no, she’d definitely had too much to drink and now she was busted.

Served her right.

There was always a price to pay.

She just wished Robert didn’t have to be the one to collect.

He barked instructions at her and Claire tried to follow what he was saying, but the buzzing in her ears made it hard to understand him. And she really had to pee.

“You’re a mess,” he muttered. He leaned forward, his eyes blazing into her. “You’re going to blow over, you know that, right?”

 “Maybe we should just skip it then.” Claire held out her wrists toward him and smiled.

 “Just get in the patrol car. I’ll drive you home.”

 “What? You’re not going to arrest me? You’re actually going to give me a break?” Claire stared in disbelief. “That’s…so…unlike you, Robby.”

He shifted and put his hands on his hips, his stance wide. “Claire, seriously? I’m trying to be nice here.”

 “Just spreading a little Christmas joy, huh?” Her eyes landed on the butt of his revolver, his hand dangerously close to it. Tears welled and one rolled down her cheek into the corner of her mouth.

“All right.” He zipped up his coat and propelled her toward the police car. “Let’s get you off the road before you kill somebody.”

“I don’t need your help, Robert.” She tried to squirm out of his grip but he was too strong.

“Do you want me to bring you in, Claire? Honestly, it would be a real pleasure. I’m only giving you a break out of respect for my brother. If you want to throw your life away, fine, I really don’t care, but don’t take him down with you.”

Claire whirled to face him. “Then arrest me! Go on. It’s what you’re supposed to do anyway, right?” The words flew out before she could stop them. She watched his mouth twitch.

“Get in the car.” His glare was enough to silence her into submission.

Claire climbed into the back of the black and white patrol car. It reeked of sweat, cigarettes and coffee. She leaned her head against the plastic-covered seat and waited. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him retrieve her purse from her vehicle while he talked on his cell phone. Her heart raced as she tried to second-guess him. He wasn’t going to arrest her. That was the good news.

Maybe she could get home without her father or James finding out. She’d sleep it off and be fine in the morning.

And never, ever, do anything so stupid again.

Done with his call, Robert tossed her purse onto the seat beside her and slammed the door. The car shook from side to side. Claire winced and closed her eyes. She pulled her knees up, resting her boots on the divider as he pulled back onto the road. “Excuse me?” She rapped on the plastic glass between them. “Can you maybe have my car taken home? There’s a lot of stuff in there. I just went shopping.”

“Before or after you stopped at the bar?”

“Robert!”

“Relax, Claire.” He cracked his gum and sniffed. “There’s a tow-truck on the way. It’ll be impounded. You’ll get it back eventually.”

“Stop kidding around. You can’t do this to me. Come on…”

He slowed at a stoplight along Main. Claire inched down on the seat, searching the faces on the sidewalk. “Where are you taking me? The exit is the other way.”

“I know where the exit is.”

He hated her. He was going to arrest her after all.

Claire swallowed back nausea and chewed on a torn fingernail. “So, um…how’s the family?”

Robert’s shoulders stiffened and he cleared his throat, glancing back at her through the mirror. “Claire?”

“Yes?”

“Stop talking.”

“Sorry.” Claire foraged through the jumbled mess of things inside her purse and came up with a lipstick. Didn’t bother checking the color. After applying a generous amount to her dry lips, she smacked them together. Bad idea. Her stomach rolled again and she popped a couple more mints in her mouth.

When he parked the car at the back of the precinct, Claire glared at the three-story gray building, crumbling in places. She swore it would fall down one of these days. With any luck Robert would be inside when it did.

“You said you were going to take me home.” Claire stared at the back of his big head, watching a fly settle on the short dark hair. Maybe she could smack it for him.

He cleared his throat and she pushed aside the idea.

“You’re staying at your dad’s house now, right?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what I thought. That place is at least a half hour out on the other side of town. That would be going way beyond my family obligations. You can wait here until somebody comes for you.”

“Who’s coming? Who did you call?” Claire pushed herself out of the car but he ignored her and escorted her through the back doors. She walked slowly, determined not to slip. Or fall over. They passed a couple of officers in the hall. Claire saw some raised eyebrows and one of the men let out a low whistle. Wonderful. She’d be the talk of small town Connecticut within the hour.

Robert stopped outside a small office at the far end of the corridor. He kicked the door with his black boot and it swung open. He walked in, checked out the room and glanced her way. “Take a seat. Nobody will bother you. Unless I tell them to.”

Claire’s feet wouldn’t move. “Look, I can just call a cab…I…”

“Nope. You’ll stay right here until you sober up.”

She marched to the desk, threw her purse down and turned on him. “You can’t just shove me in here, Robert! I know my rights! Which you haven’t even read me by the way, and…”

“Claire.” He breathed out her name, sounding tired and beyond reasoning. “Sit down, and for the last time, shut up.” Fury ran across his face. “I told you, I’m not arresting you. But I should be. You should be thanking me, not yelling at me like you haven’t done anything wrong.” Robert stood near the door, his eyes softening. “You’ve got to start dealing with life, Claire. You can’t go on like this.”

She pushed hair off her face and pinched her lips together. “Where do you get off telling me how to ‘deal with it’?” Familiar anger coiled inside her stomach and the dull ache returned. She sank into the chair behind the desk. “First my mother dies; then I have a miscarriage. Why does everybody expect me to just forget, just get over it?” Claire leaned back and closed her eyes.

“That’s not what I meant. But it’d be nice if you started acting more like a mature adult instead of a spoiled, out-of-control teenager.”

“Are you done?” She put her head in hands.

“I’ll be back in a while.”

“Fine.” Claire gazed up at him, unsmiling. “Thank you.”

“Sure. Whatever.” He turned and slammed the door behind him. The noise reverberated around the small room and pierced through her skull.

Claire rubbed her temples and wondered if she could down a couple of Tylenol without water. Robert was probably enjoying every minute of this. He’d hold court later at his favorite watering hole and regale his buddies with the story of how he finally one-upped his wayward sister-in-law.

Claire groaned at the thought. Since Mom’s death, things just seemed to go from bad to worse. Her family, her husband, the whole world was against her. Every single day she had to endure some trial.

She slumped down, put her head on the desk and took a deep breath.

Robert was right though. This time.

She was guilty. She should have known better than to drink and drive. But once she got started, it was so easy to keep them coming. She just wanted to get rid of the pain. But whatever the amount she’d consumed today, it wasn’t enough.

It was never enough.

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Over the Edge by Mary Connealy

Over the Edge
by Mary Connealy

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Callie Kincaid arrives in Colorado under the blaze of bullets in a stage coach! Her first concern is protecting her son from the flying wood and bullets. Once her rescuers show up, she is madder than a wet hen, when her husband Seth Kincaid shows up and doesn’t even seem to have a clue whom she is. After threatening to shoot him, she promptly passes out. Seth is confused, but upon seeing the baby, realizes that the baby is his son and is trying to remember through a haze of lost memories.

This story is a great story dealing with PTSD after the Civil War. As always, Ms. Connealy, gives us spunky heroines, strong men, but Seth is fragile and needs Callie’s help to remember the past, remember her and remember that he even married her. He adores his new found son, learning how to change diapers and recovering from the trauma of not only the war, but a childhood experience with fire.

This book is a good example of how sometimes scars can go deeper than just our skin. It also was a good story of teaches us why a love of a family is very important to heal, not only the outside, but our minds and souls. Ms. Connealy takes a light fiction book and addresses very important issues that face all of us at one time or another!

This book was provided for me for review by Bethany House Publishers. The comments and review is all my own and I was not paid or reimbursed for giving my opinion.

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Menu for this week

Wednesday: BBQ pork in crock pot, homemade whole wheat buns, tomatoes, granola bars.
Thursday: Crock pot Steak and potato soup, homemade bread
Friday: Potato sausage soup, homemade bread
Saturday: Big green salad, boiled potatoes
Sunday: Leftovers, popcorn
Monday: Mini BBQ Meatloaves, baked potatoes in crock pot, Salad
Tuesday: Slow cooked meat, beans and rice dish…with salsa, cheese on top

We are working on using what we have in the freezer and pantry, so it could be an interesting week, but I think it will be fun. I am also trying to use my slow cooker as well as much as possible. I made bread earlier this week and we boiled a large pot of potatoes for snacks too. I experimented with a batch of granola bars, but they did not come out too well, but were still chipped out of the pan and eaten somewhat.

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Week #9

My mind is full of many things to try to keep the pace of everything up and in order.
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It was cold some mornings, so sitting on my bed makes school warmer.

Monday was full as usual. We are getting close to the end of The Bronze Bow, but we are not as far as we should be in it. I wish I had speakers on my computer to make it louder!
H. had his tutoring lesson and we set off for the library. They are organizing and rearranging everything. I hate change, and it is going to be hard for me to have everything different there, but also, it might mean that I will be doing a different job with volunteering. I helped with CD’s and putting them back in cases, putting them in alphabetical order. It was fun!
The boys had basketball practice and have been going to the exercise club afterwards for a workout and showers. It is nice for them to refresh afterwards.

Tuesday- We had a great school day, getting things done!
It snowed earlier, so they were eager to get outside and build the first snowmen or piles in the yard.
We also listened to the first half of Ben Hur. It was so fitting with what we have been reading in history.
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We had planned on a basketball game, but it was canceled and we had practice instead. I went for a nice brisk walk while they were practicing, and then went home, packed some sandwiches and we went to a concert that my niece was playing in.

Wednesday: The older boys had a class on Orienteering and learned some about Africa as well. I wanted to stay, but it was a long one, so took T. home to work on school.
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The boys had a blast learning about how to use a compass.
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Some of the shortcuts in the class taught about the compass.
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Getting ready to head out…

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Working together

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Walking through the snowy woods…
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They really have this line thing down….sometimes I wonder about how they learned that!

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The best way to learn directions….

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Are you really doing it right?

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He didn’t bring his boots, so he sent his companion through the snow to get clues!
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Whew! That was cold!
Thursday- we did school in the morning and then the boys went off for science, math, and writing classes at the co-op. I got to have tea with a friend with my remaining son, which was nice. We had a basketball game in the evening. It was a tight game with the 5/6th graders, but it was a win for them! The 7/8th graders had more of an issue, but didn’t lose heart. They lost, but kept the fight up and we cheered every score!

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Friday- We finished up with some Language Arts tests, reading aloud to me, as well as our regular subjects. It has been a very good and productive week! I feel like I am getting the hang of this, if I could just stay on top of the housework. I did manage to clean my bathroom, which is so nice!
I have been planning crock pot meals and making dinner simple, but filling. Basketball sure makes them hungry.

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Week #8

When someone asked my son what he learned the last week, he said he didn’t remember! It was a blur!
Monday was a normal day, we did our MFW Rome reading in the morning, practicing our bible verses, learned our root words for Patriarch and Matriarch for the week. We have fun with it!
At 10:45, H. tutor for reading comes to work with him for an hour and we finished up some school. I went over some of his fractions, and taught him a few new things!
In the afternoon we went to the library. They were finishing a move over with their DVD’s and I had the most fun helping them put DVD’s back in the cases and putting them on the shelf. I am not sure why it was so fun, but I loved the order and alphabetizing!

We had basketball practice in the evening and walking.

Tuesday was another busy day: I planned a crock pot chicken stew and put bread in the bread machine, but I thought I remembered it didn’t bake anymore. I came home to a nice risen bread dough that I let rise again and made some yummy bread.

We did school in the morning, like usual, but did extra as we had a field trip the next day of our MFW and then we headed out to try to get the oil changed in the van. I was trying to get it done for awhile, but it seemed to not work out! I had already missed one appt! We got there and I found out I was early, but explained to them that we had a basketball game to get to, so they hurried us through. The boys love it there as they have a big basket of fruit and apple cider/hot chocolate to drink. P. worked on his writing while sitting and waiting and I managed to finish a book I had been working through.

We were almost done, starting to get a little tense, when they called and said the school where we were playing had no power on account of the wind storm earlier and the game was canceled. We were all disappointed and then a few minutes later, they call back and say that the game is back on!! We finished the van, and headed out for the game!

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Pep talk from the coach

It was a super exciting game that was very close, with us being far ahead, but in the last quarter, they advanced and won by one point!
It was a lot of fun to watch how much fun they were having and how much they had improved!

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The 7/8th grade teams played next and it was similar for them. They were quite a bit ahead, and then the other team started edging in on them! They played well and were enjoying themselves as well!

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P. making a basket

They ended up winning by a few points, but it felt good!

Wednesday- We did math and language arts, and then went to the Wastewater treatment plant at 10 am. for a field trip.
I had offered to meet a friend and take her two oldest for her, so we had a couple extra. I knew it would be a stinky field trip, but it was not as bad as I imagined!

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Look at those wrinkled noses!! This is where the final product is cleaned by the UV lights, there were tons of bugs though in there…it really didn’t smell bad, we were just imagining that this was the “clean” water.

They showed us where they filter out the “chunks” and clean it. They clean and use everything. Everything is recycled and reused to the point that it is a little disgusting!
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Here we were looking at one of the tanks where they filter out the silt or leftovers after the chunks were gone.

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There is a final tank where they put air back in before they put it in the creek!
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You had to laugh at this sign!

Thursday- We had classes until 1:30, but with the other ones we did our school in the morning as they have classes 11-1:30. I met T. and went to a friends for tea after grocery shopping. Everything seemed to go a little haywire all day though, and I was ready to fall apart, but they were able to give me some encouragement and I could face the rest of the day!
There was more basketball practice and more walking….and my husband managed to change the oil in the car. I made a large pot of sauce for the pizza party on Friday.

Friday- We did our school in the morning, cleaned the house. My son baked a pumpkin sheet cake that was really good. He was so happy with it! It vanished in minutes at the party! I cooked the sauce down more, and then we headed to the homeschool support group meeting. We had over 66 people expected, but it started pouring rain, so we were unsure of how many could come!
We ended up using over 52 crusts, so we had a good turn out!

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Everyone lining up to fill up their crust with sauce, cheese and toppings.
There was a lot of people, but it seemed like everyone had fun!

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P. and L. waiting for pizza!

It was a little more than what we planned on, but I hope everyone felt encouraged!

We headed over to the Red/White BB game, which was good! They played well, although L. is still getting the hang of it! Afterwards they had practice, so friend and I went for a walk without kids, which was faster and we got a longer, faster walk. It was very nice!

I went home and made 5 lbs. of meatballs and mini meatloaves to put in the freezer and serve with spaghetti for dinner. Hopefully it comes in handy. I then remembered I needed a snack to take to the writing group meeting the next day, so I made some cookie bars.

Saturday was not a school day for the kids, but it was for me when I headed to meet with our writing group with some new friends. I got to listen to Jim and Tracie Peterson teach about plotting and we had a ton of fun! There was lots of good snacks and afterwards we stopped at the mall and had a good dinner.
I was able to regroup after the busy week and be refreshed and ready for week 9!! I am sorry there are more words and less pictures, but I have run out of time to get my pictures off my camera!

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My Menu this week…

Wednesday: Turkey ham alfredo, red pepper strips, tomatoes, Fresh whole wheat bread.

Thursday: Baked potatoes with chili on top, tortilla chips and sour cream
Friday: Spaghetti, sauce, salad, garlic bread
Saturday: Sandwiches, salad, cookie bars
Sunday: Leftovers, popcorn
Monday:Enchilada casserole, salad
Tuesday: Crock pot shredded BBQ meat, buns, carrots. salad

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Filed under Bargain Dinners, Daily Happenings, Recipes

Christmas at Holly Hill by Martha Rogers

Christmas at Holly Hill
By Martha Rogers

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Clay Barlow has just returned from completing a 5-year prison term for helping with a bank robbery. Holly Hill is not the most welcoming town to return to, but he is determined to keep his head low and help his parents out in their general store.
Merry Warner impulsively welcomes him home with a hug and finds her feelings of liking this young man have not changed, but he seems harder to understand, almost cold.
The town is filled with many people, but there are several orphans that Merry teaches as well as a young girl that it has been said is being beaten by her father. Can Clay and Mr. and Mrs. Warner find a way to help her? Can Merry figure out if it is a good idea to think about a relationship with Clay?

I found this book a nice Christmas read. It had more to it than I was expecting, rather than just being a sweet, Christmas romance, it discussed forgiveness when someone has done something wrong. It brought up the topic of how child abuse was okayed in that time period if a father or husband did it. It also brought of the topic of unwanted orphans.
Ms. Rogers does a good job of bringing all these topics together in a very wholesome novel set in the holiday season. I especially loved the fact that it helped you think of the orphans and those that need homes, not just a temporary place to call home.
-Martha
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms (September 4, 2012)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Martha Rogers’s novel Not on the Menu debuted on May 1, 2007, as a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Her series Winds Across the Prairie debuted in 2010 with Becoming Lucy, Morning for Dove, Finding Becky, and Caroline’s Choice. Her other credits include stories in anthologies with Wayne Holmes, Karen Holmes, and Debra White Smith; several articles in Christian magazines; devotionals in six books of devotions; and eight Bible studies. Martha served as editor of a monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state president. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom she writes a weekly devotional. Martha and her husband are active members of First Baptist Church.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Can Clayton Barlow prove he has changed his ways in time for Christmas?

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town’s trust.

Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him.

As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton’s relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (September 4, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616388374
ISBN-13: 978-1616388379

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prairie Grove, Kansas, October 1898 

Home for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Clay’s heart pumped blood through his veins at a

frantic pace. After serving five years for his part in a bank robbery, he’d be home for his two favorite holidays. The question looming in his soul was whether he’d be welcomed by anyone other than his parents.

The train hissed and steamed its way into the station with a blast of the whistle as Clay peered through the window. When the cars came to a screeching stop, he remained in his seat, fear gripping his heart. The conductor stopped in the aisle.

“Son, this is your stop. Time to get off.”

Clay willed himself to stand and make his way down the aisle. No one would be here to greet him since no one knew he’d be on the train. He’d planned it all as a surprise, espe- cially for his mother. He stepped to the platform, gripping the handle of the small bag containing all his worldly possessions. Around him the trees wore their best fall colors in welcome, and as Clay made his way to the street in front of the depot, he drank in the sight he’d seen only in his dreams for the past five years.

The good citizens of Prairie Grove moved about on their way to one place or another, oblivious to his presence. The livery still stood close to the station with the post office nearby, and right next to it a new addition announced itself in gold letters. The telegraph office was now the Prairie Grove Telephone and Telegraph center. His hometown had grown more than he realized.

He spotted the hotel and the Red Garter Saloon a few blocks away, then he breathed deeply of the fresh smell of baking bread drifting from the bakery next to his father’s store. The green and yellow letters on the sign hanging in front welcomed customers to Barlow’s General Store, still the only mercantile in town. A slight breeze

sent the sign swinging with a creak he heard from his position near the depot. Dust whirls danced across the street where he’d once played with other boys his age.

By Christmas those streets would most likely be filled with snow, and snowball fights would be the game of the day at the school. His days at the red clapboard schoolhouse had been some of the happiest of life. He viewed the bell tower of the school at the end of the street and could almost hear the sound of it clanging in his memory.

Doubt lodged in Clay’s throat, but he kept walking to the store. When he stepped through the door, it could well have

been ten years ago when he helped Pa. He inhaled the familiar smells of coal oil, fresh ground coffee, fabric dye, and pepper- mint candy. Nothing had changed.

Then he spotted his ma. He observed her for a minute or two, savoring the sight of her graying hair and slight frame. She didn’t move as fast as she once had, and she stopped to catch her breath after placing some items on a shelf.

From the corner of his eye he saw his father coming from the storeroom. A good five inches shorter than Clay, Pa’s sturdy frame handled the box in his arms with ease. He turned to set the box on the counter, and Clay cringed the moment his father recognized him. The meeting he both dreaded and anticipated had come.

Pa didn’t move from behind the counter. He simply stared for what seemed an eternity but in reality amounted to only seconds. His words barely reached Clay’s ears. “Son, you’ve come home.”

At Clay’s nod his father stepped around the counter and called to Ma. “Cora, our boy is home.”

A can clattered to the floor, and his mother turned with hands to her mouth. She hurried toward him and hugged him. “Thank You, Lord, for bringing him home safe.” Tears glis- tened in her eyes. “I’ve waited and waited for this moment to come.” She reached up and placed her hands on each side of his face then kissed his cheeks.

Heat rose in his face, but Ma’s arms and kisses were the welcome he’d hoped for in the past few days of travel. His arms went around her thin frame. She’d lost a good deal of weight since the last time he’d seen her, and that bothered him more than his earlier observations.

He glanced up at his father. His graying hair had thinned some, and his eyes held both a welcome and uncertainty. Gaining Pa’s trust would take time.

His parents stood in front of him and shook their heads. Pa wrapped his arm around Ma. “We’ve waited a long time for this day. Thank God you made it home.”

Clay didn’t know what God had to do with anything, since it had been Pa who had turned Clay over to the authorities five years ago. The road back would be long and hard, but then that’s no more than he’d expected.

Ma grabbed his hands. “Are you planning on staying here in Prairie Grove with us? You’re not going to get mixed up with those . . . those . . . thieves again, are you?”

Before Clay could answer, Pa added his own sentiments. “If you do decide to stay, I expect you to stay away from them. If you don’t, you won’t be welcome here.”

Clay stiffened but kept his voice neutral. “I understand, Pa, but I’m not going to get mixed up with Karl’s gang again. I would like to stay as long as you’ll have me.”

Or until the townspeople ran him off. Two older women in the corner eyed him and whispered between themselves. The prodigal had returned, but not everyone welcomed him. He nodded to the ladies, who immediately turned their backs. So much for the town’s greeting.

“Of course we want you to live here with us,” Ma said, not even seeming to notice the ladies. “Now let’s go upstairs and get you settled in. I know you’re hungry. You always were, and I have supper almost ready.” She held onto his arm and led him to the stairway up to the living quarters above the store.

A voice calling his name stopped him at the bottom. He odded for his mother to go on up and turned to find an old riend, Jimmy Shanks, grinning from ear to ear. “It is you, Clay Barlow.” The blond-headed young man reached out to grasp Clay’s hand.

“Yeah, it’s me. I decided to come home, Jimmy.” He grasped the outstretched hand and blinked at the strength in the grasp.

“It’s James now, and I’m married to Grace Ann Higgins.” Clay had to chuckle at that revelation. Grace Ann had run

away from Jimmy every time he’d tried to get close.

“So, you finally got Grace Ann’s attention. I’m glad since you always liked her.”

“You’ll have to come out to the house for dinner some night so we can catch up on old times.”

“I’ll think on that, Jimmy . . . James.” Not much to catch up on from his side since he’d been behind prison bars for five years. “And you’d better check with Grace Ann. She might not cotton to having an ex-con at her dinner table.”

James blinked. “Don’t you worry none about that; we’ll always be friends.” He stepped back and picked up his pur- chase. “Had to pick up some coal oil. With the days getting shorter, we need more of it.”

Clay walked with him to the door and stepped outside with James, who shook Clay’s hand once again. “I’m so glad you’re home. This is one Christmas your parents will be glad to celebrate.” With a grin and a salute he stepped down to the street and mounted his horse. “See you around, Clay.”

If he’d stayed good friends with Jimmy instead of getting mixed up with Karl, things would have been much different. Still, the warm welcome from his old friend and the greeting from his parents lightened the load in Clay’s heart.

If Pa would have him, Clay wanted to work again in the tore. Being locked up with bad food, hard cots, little sunshine, and no privacy motivated him to stay out of trouble. He’d had a lot of time to think in prison, and one thing remained sure and steadfast. Clayton Barlow would not end up behind bars ever again.

Merry Warner stepped onto the boardwalk up the street from the school where she taught. The wonderful aroma of cin- namon stopped her in front of the bakery. Cinnamon buns for breakfast in the morning would make up for her being late this afternoon. She hurried up to the counter where Mr. Brooks placed fresh pies into the case. On second thought, two pecan pies for supper tonight would be even better.

She grinned at the baker, who reminded her of the pictures she’d seen of Santa Claus, right down to the white beard and rosy cheeks. “I’ll have two of those pecan pies. I’m sure Mama will appreciate them for supper tonight.”

“Good choice, Miss Warner. We had a good crop of pecans this year, so Mrs. Brooks is busy with recipes using the nuts.” Mr. Brooks placed each pie in a paper bag then tied the top closed with string. “There, that should make them easier to carry.”

She plunked several coins onto the counter and picked up her purchase. “I hope she makes some of that pumpkin bread for the holidays.”

Mr. Brooks laughed. “Oh, she will. I’m sure of that. You have a nice evening now, and tell your ma I said hello.”

Merry nodded and hurried out to be on her way. She

stopped short when she spotted a man standing in front of the eneral store next door. A gasp escaped her lips, and her heart skipped a beat. He looked just like Clay Barlow, but Clay was in prison. Surely she would have heard if he had come home.

He turned, and his gaze locked with hers. Recognition shot through her with streaks of delight that dissipated almost as soon as they began. No one but Clay had eyes so dark a brown that they penetrated to her very soul.

How could Clay be out of prison already? Then she counted and realized five years had indeed passed since he’d gone away. When Grandma Collins had said she needed Mama and Papa to come back and take care of the orphanage at Holly Hill, Merry’s heart had been torn apart. She loved Barton Creek and wanted to stay there, but the memory of her years in Prairie Grove beckoned for her to return. One of those memories included Clay Barlow and the schoolgirl crush she’d had on him before he got involved with Karl Laramie’s gang.

Shoving aside her misgivings, she gave in to her delight and ran up to hug Clay. “Clay Barlow, it’s been too many years.” Heat filled her face, and she jumped back. She was no longer a sixteen-year-old girl but a young woman who should practice better manners befitting her age.

Clay’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Merry?”

“Yes. We moved  back to Holly Hill last summer after Grandpa died. I’m so glad you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be here too.” He stepped back. “It . . . it’s nice to see you. I . . . I . . . ” His voice trailed off, and he glanced over her shoulder. Without another word he bolted through the door to the store.

Merry stood with her mouth agape. How rude. Then she urned and saw three women staring at her with disapproval written all over them. Mrs. Pennyfeather, wife of the school superintendent, shook her head and frowned.

Heat rose in Merry’s face again. They’d seen her greeting Clay. No sense in trying to apologize. Mrs. Pennyfeather wouldn’t listen anyway. Merry gathered up her pies and fled up the hill toward Holly Hill Home for Children. Along the way her thoughts whirled. She had never expected to see Clay again, figuring that he’d be too ashamed to come back to his hometown. What could his return mean?

She burst through the door then closed it and braced her- self against the smooth wood. Her heart pounded not only from the long walk but also from seeing Clay again.

Imogene and Eileen raced over to grab her around the waist. The blonde-haired ten-year-old-twins wore matching blue-and-white striped dresses with white pinafores over them.

Eileen eyed the bags in Merry’s hands. “You went by the bakery. What did you bring?” She reached for one of the bags.

Merry held it high. “Not until after supper. Then we’ll have pecan pie.”

Imogene jumped up and down, her pigtails bouncing on her shoulders. “That’s my favorite. Oh, I love you, Merry.” The young girl wrapped her arms about Merry’s waist again.

Emmaline appeared with a stack of silverware in  her hands. “It’s about time you got here. Mama Warner could use your help.”

Merry set the pie bags on a table near the door and unwound Imogene’s arms. “I’m sorry I’m late. I stayed at the school to prepare the lessons for tomorrow. Did you know we have ten different varieties of trees around our school building?”

Emmaline shook her head. “No, and I don’t care right now. Are you going to help me or not?”

“Yes, I’m on my way.” Merry removed her shawl and bonnet then hung them on a hook by the door in the entry hall. She picked up the pies and made her way to the kitchen. Emmaline plunked the silverware onto the table behind Merry. At thir- teen Emmaline had begun to rebel against doing so many chores around the home, but Mama could usually get her to cooperate.

Merry sighed and pushed open the swinging door into the kitchen. She kissed her mother’s plump cheek. “Sorry I’m late. I got detained at school.”

Mama ladled stew into bowls and set them on a tray. “I figured as much. Check the cornbread for me. Supper’s about ready.”

Grandma Collins opened up the bakery sacks. “Pecan pie—now that’s going to make for a good dessert. Thank you, Merry.”

“I figured since I was so late coming home, I might as well contribute something to the meal.” Merry opened the oven door and removed two pans of cornbread. She set them on the counter and reached up to the shelf to grab a plate for serving it. She turned one pan onto the counter then cut it into squares and arranged them on the plate.

“Mama, did you know Clay Barlow came home?”

The ladle stopped, dripping stew back into the pot. Mama stood still for a few seconds, as did Grandma. “No, I didn’t. Has it been five years already?” She shook her head. “Such promise that boy had before he got into so much trouble. Where did you see him?”

“Outside the store. I’m . . . I’m afraid I made a spectacle of myself. I ran up and hugged him because I was so glad to see him back. The problem is, Mrs. Pennyfeather and her friends saw the whole thing. They weren’t too happy about it either.”

Mama laid the spoon aside and reached over to pat Merry’s shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll get over it. How did he seem?”

“I don’t know. Embarrassed to see me, I guess. He didn’t say much.”

Mama nodded sagely. “It’s been seven years since we moved away from Holly Hill and went to Barton Creek. You were only sixteen when you thought you were so in love with him. Being in prison changes a man, so he won’t be that same boy you liked so much back then.”

“I know, Mama. It just seems strange that he would be released and come home not long after we moved back home.” Grandma shook her head. “I don’t know what

happened to that boy. I always liked him. Maybe he’s learned his lesson and will make something of himself yet.”

Papa chose that minute to swing open the back door and enter the kitchen with Henry and Kenny. The boys’ arms were filled with logs for the fire. Papa planted a kiss on Mama’s fore- head then motioned to the boys, who had unloaded their wood into the bin near the stove. “Let’s get washed up and have some of Mama’s stew.”

Merry finished piling the cornbread onto a plate and headed to the dining room with it. More talk with Mama and Grandma about Clay would have to wait until they were alone.

She settled in for dinner with her family. Although none of the children were actually her brothers or sisters, every one of them held that place in her heart after the few months she’d been back here with them. Emmaline and Henry had lived at the orphanage the longest, with Kenny and Robert next, but those two had been babies when her family had left. The rest were new to her, but she’d grown to love them quickly. Each one had their own tale of tragedy and loss.

Papa stood behind his chair and bowed his head to ask the blessing on the meal. Papa never varied his blessing, using the one his pa had taught him growing up. Merry only half listened to the familiar words until Papa took a new turn. “And Father, we ask thy blessings on young Clay Barlow. Guide him on the right path now that he’s served his time and come home. May we act and think kindly toward him. Amen.”

Merry swallowed hard and blinked her eyes. She lifted her gaze to her father’s and saw understanding in their blue depths. Around her the others clamored to know who Clay was and why Papa prayed for him. She bit her lip and bowed her head. No man or boy had claimed her heart like Clay. From the encounter this afternoon, she realized he still pos- sessed a piece of it, and she had no idea what to do with that revelation.

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River of Mercy by BJ Hoff

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2012)
***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 BJ Hoff’s bestselling historical novels continue to cross the boundaries of religion, language, and culture to capture a worldwide reading audience. Her books include Song of Erin and American Anthem and such popular series as The Riverhaven Years, The Mountain Song Legacy, and The Emerald Ballad. Hoff’s stories, although set in the past, are always relevant to the present. Whether her characters move about in small country towns or metropolitan areas, reside in Amish settlements or in coal company houses, she creates communities where people can form relationships, raise families, pursue their faith, and experience the mountains and valleys of life. BJ and her husband make their home in Ohio.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


In this third book in the Riverhaven Years trilogy young Gideon Kanagy faces a challenge and an unexpected romance. Meanwhile, Gideon’s sister, Rachel, and the “outsider” Jeremiah Gant add to the drama with their own dilemma and its repercussions for the entire Riverhaven community.

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736924205
ISBN-13: 978-0736924207

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:


 Prologue 

Too Many Long Nights

I feel like one who treads alone
Some banquet hall, deserted.

Thomas Moore

Amish settlement near Riverhaven, Ohio

November 1856

Rachel Brenneman had always liked to walk by the river at twilight.

There had been a time during the People’s early years at Riverhaven when she gave no thought to walking alone, day or night. After she and Eli were married, the two of them liked to stroll along the bank of the Ohio in the evening, discussing their day, planning the workweek, dreaming of the future. After Eli’s death, however, Rachel no longer went out alone after dark, although sometimes she and her ten-year-old sister, Fannie, took a picnic lunch in the early afternoon and sat watching the fine big boats and smaller vessels that traveled the great Ohio to unknown places.

Now though, venturing away from the community no longer felt safe, even in the middle of the day. In truth, there was nowhere that felt safe, not after the deadly attack on Phoebe Esch and the other troubles recently visited upon the People. At night, especially, Rachel stayed inside, sitting alone in her bedroom with the window scarcely open in deference to the weather, which had recently turned cold.

November was a lonely month. Rachel still loved to listen to the river from insider her home, but the nighttime sounds—the distant lapping of the water, the blast from a boat’s horn, the night creatures in communion with one another—never failed to set off a stirring of remembrance and an ache in her heart. Yet she couldn’t resist sitting there night after night, watching and listening, trying not to let her memories struggle to the surface of her thoughts, trying not to let new hope ignite the ashes of her dreams…

Trying not to think of Jeremiah.

But how could she not think of him? How did a woman love a man, even if their love was forbidden, and not see his face in her mind or hear his voice in her ear or remember the imprint of his smile upon her thoughts?

Common sense seemed to tell her it should be easy to put the man out of her head. They couldn’t be alone with each other. They couldn’t even pass the time of day unless they were in the company of others. If they happened to meet by accident, they were expected to separate as quickly as possible.

Yet even with all the rules and restrictions that kept them apart, Jeremiah Gant was still a part of her life. He flowed through her heart and traced the current of her days as surely and completely as the Ohio flowed through the valley, winding its way through the land, coursing through the days and lives of Rachel and the other Plain people.

Lately, there had been talk of leaving. Two years and more of unrest and harassment and threats— even death—had begun to wear on the Riverhaven Amish. It was rumored that talks were taking place among the church leaders, discussions of whether to remain in this once-peaceful valley that had become home to the entire community or to consider moving on.

There was no thought of fighting back, of seeking out the unknown adversaries and taking a stand against them. Even if the People could identify their tormenters, they would not confront them. The Amish were a people of nonresistance. They would not fight, not even to protect their own lives. It wasn’t their way. To strike out at another individual under any circumstances was strictly against the Ordnung, the unwritten but strict code that guided how they were to live.

The only person Rachel had ever known to defy the rule against fighting, even in self-defense, was Eli, her deceased husband. He’d gone against the Amish way when he defended Rachel against those who ambushed them on another November night, now four years gone. He had fought with desperation and all his strength, only to die at the hands of their attackers while allowing Rachel to escape.

She knew it was a grievous sin to have such a thought, but many had been the time she wished she could have died alongside Eli that terrible night rather than live through the grief-hollowed, barren days that followed his death. She had been totally devoted to Eli. Their marriage had been good, for they had been close friends as well as husband and wife. Rachel had thought she could never love another man after losing Eli.

And then Jeremiah Gant had come to Riverhaven, turning her life around, enabling her to love again— only to have that love forbidden. Even though Jeremiah had made it known he would willingly convert to the Amish faith, Bishop Graber refused to grant permission, once again leaving Rachel with a lost love and a broken heart.

Perhaps it would be better if they were to leave Riverhaven…leave the fear and the dread and the pain-filled memories behind.

Leave Jeremiah…

The thought stabbed her heart. Could she really face never seeing him again? Never again hear him say her name in that soft and special way he had of making it as tender as a touch? Never again see the smile that was meant for her alone?

In truth, it wasn’t only Jeremiah she would miss if they were to leave this fertile Ohio valley. She loved the land, the gentle hills, the singing river. She had come here when she was still a child, come from another place that had never truly been home to her. Here in Riverhaven though, she had felt welcome and accepted. At peace. At home.

At least for a time. It was almost as if she had become a part of the land itself. Even the thought of leaving made her sad beyond telling.

She sighed, knowing she should stir and make ready for bed, even though she felt far too restless for sleep. Would this be another of too many nights when her thoughts tormented her, circling like birds of prey, evoking an uneasiness and anxiety that would give her no peace?

Finally she stood, securing the window to ward off the cold, even though she sensed that the chill snaking through her had little to do with the night air. All too familiar with this icy wind of loneliness, she knew there was no warmth that could ease its punishing sting.

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21 Ways to Connect to Your Kids by Kathy Lipp

My Review:
I love Kathy Lipp’s books! They are down to earth and full of great, practical advice.
I loved this quote in the Chapter 2…”Your parenting road is going to have it’s share of take the hub-caps off potholes. And it may be a long time before you hear the words “Mom! Dad! You did just fine!”

In the Dinner together chapter, there are recipes to use, which is great fun!! This is a great, great handbook and general guide to connecting with your kids and shows you that it is easier than you think. You don’t have to be elaborate, plan amazing trips places, but do simple things and it makes a difference. -Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2012)
***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathi Lipp is a busy conference and retreat speaker, currently speaking each year to thousands of women throughout the United States. She is the author of The Husband Project and The Marriage Project and has had articles published in several magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Discipleship Journal. Kathi and her husband, Roger, live in California and are the parents of four teenagers and young adults.

Visit the author’s website.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids offers a straightforward, workable plan to create new avenues of connection between parents and their kids. This handy guide coaches moms and dads to do one simple thing each day for three weeks to connect with their kids even in the midst of busy schedules.

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736929673
ISBN-13: 978-0736929677

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Book I Almost
Didn’t Write

I argued with God for a long time before writing this book.

When I originally came up with the idea to write a book about connecting with your kids, I was on a “Mom High.” My husband, Roger, and I had been married for five years, and we had successfully blended a family. Two of his, two of mine, my cat, our dog.

Even the challenges I’d had with my stepson, Jeremy, after Roger and I got married were a mere memory. We had learned to care for each other, hang out together, and enjoy each other. And my relationship with my stepdaughter, Amanda, was growing, and we loved being together. All our kids would come over for Sunday night dinner and would often hang out during the week. While I knew we were far from perfect parents, I was excited that Roger and I both had close relationships with our kids.

But then all that went up in smoke.

My son, Justen, was going through a tough time in his life. He grew cold and distant from me. We were fighting and arguing and going through an awful, awful time.

And I needed to write a book about how to be close to your kids.

I cried out to God. I felt betrayed by him. I had poured all this love and energy, time and prayer into my son, and he was barely speaking to me. I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud. And on the rare occasions that Justen and I had a conversation, I would curl up in a ball and cry as soon as we were done talking. I hated where our relationship was.

I talked with my husband about not writing the book. Not out of shame or embarrassment (and trust me, I felt both of those) but simply because I felt like the principles I had practiced didn’t work. My son was distant from me, and all the praying in the world was not helping. I asked friends to pray for Justen, pray for me, and pray for what this book was supposed to be about.

I’ve written much of this book during my desert time with Justen. I had nothing to hold on to but God’s Word, especially Philippians 4:6—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

So I waited and I prayed. And I prayed some more.

And now, as I finish writing this book, God has used time and the healing that only he can bring to restore Justen to a good place. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of prayer. But when I talked with Justen’s counselor, the one thing he said that I will never forget is this: “Justen felt safe enough with you to express his anger to you, because even with all of his anger, he never questioned your love for him.”

I’m afraid that each of my kids—and probably yours—are going to go through hard times. They are going to go through loss and disappointment and sadness, and they are not always going to behave as if all this “connecting stuff ” will make a difference. But let me tell you, it does.

Trust the process and trust your parenting. God has given you everything you need. You are not always going to feel like connecting. Do it anyway. Your kids need you to invest in them when they are young so that when they are older, they don’t ever have to question your love for them.

2

Why You’re a Better Parent than You Think You Are

I can tell you one thing about yourself right off the bat: You’re a better parent than you think you are. I know that’s a bold statement (especially since we’ve never met), but if you are anything like me and my friends, someone needed to tell you that.

I remember looking at the other moms at church, the dads out in the parks pushing their kids on the swings, and just knowing they all had it way more together than I ever would. Those thoughts started exactly one day after I became a parent.

It was time for us to check out of the hospital with Justen, who at one day and nine pounds and four ounces was just about the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen in my life. I was having a small (OK, enormous) panic attack. I couldn’t believe that the authorities, whoever they were, were going to let me take him home. Didn’t they realize I’d never handled a human baby before? What kind of broken system do we have that would let me (me!) take home this not-so-tiny baby boy?

And that’s when I knew I was sunk. In my mind, no one had ever had those thoughts before. All around me were happy couples who were dying to get their babies home and do what? I really had no idea. But I felt as though everyone else had been given a secret manual, and I had missed that day of orientation.

And the feeling persisted. All the other moms acted as if they had been parenting for decades. They had their parenting methods all picked out and were parenting on purpose.

I had a sneaking suspicion that they had their kids sleeping through the night after thirty days, were breastfeeding without tears, and woke up hours before their children so the house would be clean and activities laid out—activities that were not only creative but also educational. I felt like the world’s biggest loser of a parent.

But then something miraculous happened. I started talking to other parents. I mean really talking. And guess what I found out?

I found out they were just as unconfident, strung out, and secretly ashamed as I was. They too thought their kid was the only one to ever have a meltdown in the middle of Whole Foods. They too thought they had the only child on the planet who insisted on wearing his Spiderman underwear on the outside of his pants. They also thought that everyone else cooked homemade spinach muffins for their kids every morning and did alphabet-training drills starting at age two.

If you can relate to any of this, let me give you a few words of encouragement.

God gave the right parent to the right kid. There are days when this statement couldn’t feel further from the truth. You feel ill-equipped to meet your child’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Because, for the most part, you are. God wants you to rely on him and the people he’s surrounded you with. You are not designed to do this parenting thing alone, even if you are a single parent. There are no gold stars for parents who never ask for help.

God gave the right kid to the right parent. All those things that God needs to grow in you to draw you closer to him? He sent those in a neat little package called “your child.” Each of my kids has taught me something about myself—often things I would choose to ignore if given the opportunity. I would have never thought that I had a patience problem, for example, until I had a patience tester named Kimberly. But there is no chance to ignore such things when they need to be bathed, fed, and loved pretty regularly. I had to confront the parts of me that needed, desperately, to be more like Jesus—and often, I needed to confront my problems with a lack of patience before Kimber woke up from her twelve-minute nap.

Prayer is key. For years, when a kid issue reared its ugly head, I would go to my friends, I would go to my mom, and I would go to my wall of “how to raise a great kid” books to find the answer. I needed answers, and I needed them quick! But as my friend Erin MacPherson, author of The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Survive (and Love) Your Pregnancy, says when it comes to pregnancy as well as parenting, “Go to God before Google.”

God will direct your heart as you parent. From day one, what I really needed was to know the heart of God and to let that direct me as a parent. Yes, I’m a big believer in wise council, but I am a bigger believer in not using God only when things hit the crisis stage (or the principal’s office).

•   •   •   •   •

Now, if you have a couple of years under your parenting belt, would you do us all a favor and tell the other mothers around you what went wrong?

• Tell us how the helpful junior higher you now are raising once threw a toy and knocked out her older brother’s tooth.

• Tell us that you faked dizziness so they wouldn’t release you from the hospital and you could stay another night.

• Tell us that your one and only prayer for the first year of your daughter’s life was, Dear God, please don’t let me screw her up.

When I was in high school, I had a youth leader named Emily Nelson. Emily had it all together. She’d married a great husband and started having great kids. Emily was the kind of person that I would spend a lot of time comparing myself to. You know the kind. You think to yourself, I bet they’re the kind of parent that grows their own organic food while teaching their kids French, as opposed to my kid who learned how to read from frequent exposure to packages of Chicken-Dino-Nuggets.

So imagine my glee when I read this essay by Emily about being a not-so-perfect mom:

As we cruised down the coast, singing along to Veggie Tales, I tossed carrots to my 3 sons who quickly gobbled them up. We arrived at the beach with our fresh-from-the-library-checked-out book about seashells and started collecting. After making sandcastles and letting them bury me neck deep, I pulled out the ice cream maker and made homemade, organic ice cream. I snapped a funny picture of them. “This one is for the scrapbook!” I exclaimed, and they tackled me with a hug. This was a perfect day, but…it never happened.

My REAL beach day started with screaming them into the car to beat traffic, telling them to forage the van floor if they were hungry, and throwing beach toys onto the sand, while I collapsed in my beach chair devouring the latest People magazine. I didn’t even bring the camera.

Looking back I’m tortured with what I didn’t do with my kids: take them hiking, educate them in museums, have family devotions. And I moan about what I did do: harsh words, wishy-washy discipline, and over-involvement in non-family activities. I look at the creative moms, the outdoorsy moms, the homemade-everything moms, the spiritual moms and think they parented so much better than I. Yet one day, as I was recounting my lack of mothering skills to my 27-year-old, he encircled me in a hug, saying, “Mom, you did just fine!” That boy never has to buy me another gift, as he gave me the gift of peace that maybe, just maybe, I did okay.

Every parent has struggles. Every parent has those nights when they toss a loaf of bread and some peanut butter on the table and call it dinner. But every parent also has those moments—probably more often than not—when they are a rock, an encourager, and a God-given gift to their children.

Your parenting road is going to have its share of take-the-hubcaps-off potholes. And it may be a long time before you hear the words, “Mom/Dad, you did just fine!”

But remember 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” God is sufficient for all your needs. Even your parenting needs.

You see? You really are a better parent than you think you are.

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Week 7 school

We do a lot of the same things each week! It might seem a little boring when you are looking at it!
Monday, we normally go to the library in the afternoon after school, from 2-4. I volunteer for that time and the boys get computer time.
This week, however, the library was closed for Columbus day. The boys had basketball practice as well that night!

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T. showing off his books! He is working through the reader that is pretty easy, but I am trying to get his speed up!
(Notice the upside down handwriting book)
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L. reading time!!!
L. is working on the computer with Teaching Textbooks for math, grade 5 math (which is really more like middle of grade 4). He is doing CLE Reading 4 and Language Arts. He is enjoying reading for pleasure as well!

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Lunchtime is always an important part of every school day!
(Side note…donuts are my husband’s treats!! I still cannot convince him that sugar and fried food is bad for you!)
Wednesday- We were working on the senses in MFW science and the field trip for the day complimented it!
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In the car on the way up there! We go up to this nature/State park visitor’s center to take these classes. They are really educational and informative. They are above T.’s level, but good for him to sit and listen.

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It was on Skull, Skin and Bones….and they learned a lot about different animal senses.

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Discussing the skin

I was so tired out, I have not been sleeping well and managed to take a break during the class to read a bit.

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Piano practice

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T. finished another chapter in his math book. He is on Chapter 11 now and speeding along. He will likely be in the third grade book sooner than later!

Thursdays we have multiple outside classes….
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T. is taking a Measurement class right now!

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L. is taking Beginning Writing and a Science class

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P. is taking Pre-Algebra (but also learning some Geometry and Algebra) and Writing 2 (An IEW course). It is really helpful to have the class to help encourage him and keep him on task. He does his work throughout the week and reports in once a week.

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H. is doing a lot at home right now, so no classes for him this session, but he got to enjoy lunch out with his aunts and mom.

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More basketball practice and we had a parent meeting. Basketball will be a major part of our lives for the next two months.

After basketball, we went for a three and half mile hike up the small mountain. It was a good workout, and I feel ready to sleep! I am so ready for the weekend!

Today, we finished up Week 7 of MFW, practiced bible memory, spelling words and did our regular subjects.
I am looking forward to a couple days off before Week 8!
They have a basketball game this afternoon….and baking to be done!

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