Monday, August 31, 2015

Word of the Week - Espresso

It's release week for The Lost Heiress! So in honor of Brook, this week's Word of the Week is one of Brook's favorite things: espresso.

Now, according to, espresso didn't come into the English vernacular until 1945. But the Italians had created caffe espresso in 1906, literally meaning "coffee that is pressed out" under steam. The first espresso machines reportedly produced a strong coffee that critics said tasted burnt, but that didn't stop it from being a hit and soon gaining die-hard fans. Over the next decades smaller and more economical machines were invented, the "burnt" taste was managed, and now espresso is often the only coffee to be had in many parts of Europe.

Brook got a taste for it in Monaco--she loves espresso, or coffee in general if the specialty variety can't be found (so long as it's strong! Must be strong, she says)...but detests tea. Much to the horror of her newly-discovered English relatives. ;-)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . In Response to Tragedy

Tragedy always strikes. Bad things always happen. Evil always sinks its claws into people and whispers in their ear, Do something about this. Make a statement. Make them see.

Good people always get hurt. Broken hearts always cry out.

This is tragic. And we all hate those stories. We all wish they never happened. That we could spare those families the agony. My heart and prayers follow those who suffer such things.

But tragedy is as old as time. It will happen. The question is:what do we do in the face of it?

Last night, watching a snip of the news after yesterday's horrible on-air violence, I heard the victim's father demand legislation. And I shook my head. My heart goes out to this hurting father. But I also wanted to take his hand and say, "I know you're hurting. But here's the thing--legislation doesn't stop criminals. By definition, they don't care about the law."

So often, our human response to something hateful is limit. Make new laws! Take away freedoms!

Our response instead ought to be to fall to our knees and beg the Lord to set more people free--free of the chains of bondage that enslave them and fill them with hate. Free of the influence of evil that tells them they are the only ones that matter, and that such hatred is good.

We live in a world filled with violence. Filled with rage. Filled with people so very quick to judge anyone who takes a stand, yet shouting all the while that those people "have no right to judge me." We live in a world where it somehow makes sense to people to picket for the rights of an endangered frog and yet sacrifice their own unborn to their convenience. We live in a world that has become self-contradictory in its effort to keep from offending.

We live in a world at the height of offensive.

We can't protect ourselves with laws. We can't protect ourselves with guns. We can't protect ourselves with calls to our representatives. We can protect ourselves only by ushering revival into this land. By opening our hearts before God and saying, "Cleanse me. Cleanse every wicked way from me. Purify me, and then help me to reflect Your light."

Because, you see, if His light floods the land...then the darkness can't stand. The darkness can't cling. The darkness will lose its hold.

The problems today--all the racial tension, all the hatred, all the judgment, all the insistence for "rights" that deny morality--aren't a legal matter. They aren't a social matter. They are a spiritual matter. And until we fight in the throne room of Heaven rather than the courts of the land, we're just, at best, treading water.

Christianity isn't supposed to be easy. It isn't supposed to be comfortable. It's supposed to demand sacrifice.

What have American Christians sacrificed lately for God? Oh, we're sacrificing plenty to the country--giving up rights because we've forgotten that we have to fight to keep them. But for God? What have we been willing to give up--or to fight for--for Him?

Tragedy is supposed to break our hearts. It's supposed to make us cry out.

But please. Don't cry out to Washington. All they can do is change laws.

But we don't live by laws. We live by our hearts. And we need to cry out to the Lord to change those.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Remember When . . . Pirates Roamed New York?

It's the 4th Wednesday of the month, which means my turn on Colonial Quills! Today I'm talking about pirates (arrrr!)--but not the in Caribbean, like we're used to thinking. These pirates roamed New York City! Hop on over to read about it!

Who isn't a fan of a good pirate tale? But when we think of Colonial-era pirates, we usually imagine warm Caribbean waters and palm trees, white sand beaches with those ships looming in the harbor. We don't usually think of America's northeast--but we should. In the late 1600s, one of the most bustling pirate dens wasn't Port Royal or Tortuga. It was the City of New York.  Read the Full Article

Monday, August 24, 2015

Word of the Week - Hat

Yes, hat. Not that there's any surprise in the fact that hat itself has been in the English language since the dawn of the English language. But I was interested in some of the idioms containing it. =)

Specifically, today I said something about our right as women to change our opinions at "the drop of a hat." I pretty much knew where the saying came from--dropping a hat as a signal for a race or a fight--but I didn't know when it came about. As it turns out, the first written reference the site I was on could find was from 1837, but it was already being used metaphorically in that context, so one can be certain it had been around for a while already.

"To eat one's hat"--what one will do if the unlikely happens--dates from 1770. "To throw one's hat in the ring" is from 1847, and "hat trick"--3 goals in one game--was originally of cricket in 1879 but was extended to other sports, especially hockey, by 1909. This usage actually comes from literal tricks (sleight of hand/magic tricks) involving hats in the late 1800s, but pulling off the feat supposedly used to entitle the player to a hat from his club too.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Kids These Days

I don't often feel the need to take on Facebook memes. Especially not ones posted by people I actually like. And whose bottom line I can agree with. But I read one yesterday that really got my blood up. It said:

"Back in the old days we came home from school & did our homework, no game playing. We took our school clothes off when we got home & did not go outside & play in them! We didn't sit & listen to grownups talk, we left the room until company left. We ate what was cooked or nothing @ all! When told to do something, we did it!!! We didn't say I will do it later. I am thankful for the old days because it made me the person I am today.... Re post if you agree back in the old days was something America should of stuck to for raising kids."

I'm still mad when I read this. Not because I don't agree that America has lost its way, and not because I don't fear how many kids are being raised today. And not even because the grammar in that meme makes me question that claim about always having done one's homework (should of--really? I wasn't aware that 'of' was a verb...).

But because if you were raised so well, what happened? Didn't you raise your kids the same way? Didn't they then raise their kids that way? And so on? If so, then why did things change?

Why? I'll tell you. Because it's not about the things parents don't teach their kids today, that you were taught. It's about the things parents still teach their kids, just like you were taught.

It's not that you were told, "Eat this or don't eat." It's that you were raised thinking, "I don't want potatoes again. When I grow up, I want more. I want choices." You told your kids, "You're so lucky--I only had one pair of good shoes. Look how many you have! Look how hard I worked to give you something better!" And your kids grew up thinking, "My parents wanted better--I want better too. I want more. I'm going to work hard and make even more money. So I can give my kids even more opportunities." And those kids now rush to ten different extra-curricular activities in their family with three cars, and pairs of shoes get lost and not noticed, and pantries are burgeoning with junk food.

And it's not because one day a generation stood up and decided, "You know what? My grandparents were fools, and I think now's a great time to destroy American society."

It changed because every generation that is given something wants more. It's because our constant quest to give our children better means they don't appreciate what they have. It's because it starts with a generation that's just trying to survive...and then to be comfortable...and then to have a little extra...and spirals out of control.

And too, it's because you're looking at the past through those proverbial rose-colored glasses. You say you always did what you were told. I say, "Tom Sawyer." He's even from generations before, and he made a career of goofing off and putting off chores. You really mean to tell me you never did? Are you aware that the word "hooky" dates from 1848? I call bullcrap. You were a kid. Kids are kids. Kids have always been kids. They ditch chores. They test limits. They forget about obligations in the face of the promise of fun. Maybe some learn that the consequences aren't worth it--but that rests on the parents. So what did you do with your kids?

This is not something new, this tendency. You can see it in literature hundreds of years old. Especially in literature dealing with the spoiled upper classes.

That's what America has become--spoiled. And it isn't the kids who are spoiling themselves--so who should we really blame? Why are you musing about when you were a kid...instead of when you were a parent with young kids?

A society doesn't rot in one generation. It takes, so history tells us, three. Three generations of shifting morals. That means it started with those who are posting these memes, or even with their parents. Please don't blame it all on my generation. We have plenty of faults, sure! And I certainly don't agree with the prevailing mindset of many of those my age. But we're not all like that. And do you know why?

It's because I didn't leave the room when the grownups were talking. I listened to them. And I learned. I learned how things change. I learned how they shouldn't. I learned what I needed to do to make sure my kids grow up knowing what is right and wrong--and what I need not to do.

I learned it's not just enough to say, "No. You can't have that. We can't afford it. When you grow up and get a job, you can buy that yourself." We have to instead say, "No. We don't need that. We can spend that money helping someone instead. When you grow up, you can do even more good."

It's not enough to say, "Back in my day, we didn't have this problem." Instead, we need to say, "When you grow up, you'll be facing a new set of problems like this. How do you think you should handle it?"

It's not enough to say, "We used to respect our elders." True respect isn't just given, it's earned.  I respect my elders. But I'm also doing my best to make sure my kids respect me.

Don't whine about "kids these days." Don't say, "we used to do it this way." It's the way it was once done that led to the way it's being done now. We don't change it by following the pattern.

We change it by breaking it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Review - For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

About a month ago, I saw that For Such a Time by Kate Breslin was on sale on Kindle. I'd heard a lot of good things about this book, so I promptly decided my book club would read it for August and told everyone to snatch it up. Once we'd had our July meeting, I started reading it. And was a few chapters in when I saw that the author was in the middle of a veritable maelstrom because of this book. Obviously I was interested, given that I was reading it even then, so I read some of the articles. And some of the hate-filled reviews, many written by people who had never read the book and said so openly.

I was baffled. Genuinely baffled. People are up in arms over someone writing a Christian book about the Holocaust. About having a single Nazi officer who sees that he's done wrong.

For Such a Time is a retelling of Esther, set during WWII. It deviates from actual history in order to preserve this retelling aspect and deliver a victory to the Esther-character and her people. Now, those of you who know me, know I consider historical facts sacred. So I get the complaints about "But it didn't happen this way!" It didn't. But as a retelling, as a "If an Esther had risen up, it may have looked like this..." sort of story, I found it intriguing. Kinda like when Tarantino killed Hitler in Inglourious. Didn't happen. But it didn't stop me from cheering.

Of course, my review has even gotten negative ratings on Amazon and a nasty comment on Goodreads. Go figure! LOL. But here it is, and I'll also provide the links to where I've posted it, if you feel the urge to go press a "like" button...

If the beautiful story of Esther had taken place during WWII instead of the days of Persia, it may have looked like this.

Breslin tells a tale of a young Jewish woman singled out of a concentration camp when her inner strength and promise of beauty captures the attention of a Nazi officer. He whisks her out of that life of hardship and employs her as his secretary, intrigued and attracted...and knowing well that she considers him the enemy. That she will never forgive it when she learns the role he must play in the Final Solution. The question is--can he ever forgive himself after she opens his eyes to the truth of her people's plight?

This is a tale that paints vividly the horrors of life for the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. It's a tale that shows that sometimes the heart leads us toward people logic says we should hate. It's a tale that reminds us that sometimes God turns a heart of stone back into a heart of flesh.

The sad truth is that there was no Esther for the Jews in 1944. There was no victory like in the story of Esther. The author gives us one, and then reminds us in her note that that was part of the retelling aspect, and that in reality, no one stepped forward to save these people. That's a failing of humanity.

I've read a ton of bad reviews objecting to the idea of a Christian book about a Jewish heroine, and that it's an atrocity that someone would "save" (i.e. convert) a strong Jewish woman. But they've obviously never read the book, as the heroine doesn't convert to Christianity. I've read similar objections saying the author is dishonoring the plight of the Jews in the hands of the Nazis by redeeming an SS officer. Personally, I don't see how saying that one man might have been led to see his sin through this atrocity in any way diminishes the evils wrought by the regime. Evils that are painted quite clearly as just that in Breslin's book.

Is it a true story? No. I wish it were. I wish the prisoners really had managed, through the help of a brave heroine, the victory they achieved in this book. I wish an Esther--and a Xerxes--had stepped up. The world might be a different place today.

For Such a Time is certainly a book worth reading. You'll get swept away by the prose, cheer for the heroes, and wish, as I did, that history really had happened this way a second time.

My review on:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Word of the Week - School

Today begins our first day of the 2015-16 school year! Xoe is somehow in 5th grade. I don't know how this happened. Isn't she still 5??? And Rowyn, who I swear was 3 just yesterday, is going into 2nd grade. I made the boy-o groan and the girl-o jump up and down with excitement by announcing that we'll be adding French to our curriculum this year. ;-)

So today seemed an appropriate time to look at school as a word!

It comes from the Latin schola, which interestingly enough originally meant "leisure." (Kids today might disagree with "school" and "leisure" being related, LOL.) But in Roman days, only those who didn't have to work had leisure time for learning. In those ancient days, the favorite pastime when one had leisure was discussion. Conversation. Philosophy. This is where the idea of leisurely discussions came from, and where it got extended to the place for such conversations. You can see this root reflected in many different languages, and English is no exception.

By the 1300s, the English word was applied not only to this learning and the place where it happens, but also to the students engaged in it. By the 1610s it had been extended to the idea of "people united by similar principles or methods." Hence, school of thought by the 1860s.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cover Design - Soul's Prisoner by Cara Luecht

One of my very first cover design posts was for the first book in Cara Luecht's Portraits of Grace series, Soul Painter. Since the sequel will come out in December and we just finalized the design, I thought it would be fun to look at a behind the scene of this cover too. =)

Since this is a sequel, we knew we'd keep many of the design elements the same--the band of solid color at the bottom with a different, narrow band just above it. The large flourish. The typeface. On this cover, Cara wanted to feature Jenny, one of the two main women in the book. Jenny is facing the prison of her past--the other main female lead faces a literal one. When I found this image, we decided we were totally within our artist rights to be symbolic and have Jenny behind bars, because...well, look at it!

We both just loved that photo. So I downloaded it and got to work. My first step was to zoom it so that it filled my frame.

Now, the cover of Soul Painter had fog, and I wanted something similarly weather-related here. It takes place in the winter, so I went with a snow overlay. Just found one that was white flakes on a black background and then set the layer's blending to "screen" to make the black transparent. (Actually, I used 2 different ones to get the right effect...)

I really like the frosty look of this! But there were still some problems with the girl. For starters, she had so much makeup on! And Jenny definitely wouldn't have. Cara asked if I could remove it, so I created a new layer and quite literally painted off the paint. ;-) Which took it from this...

to this...

Much better. I actually love how you can see the shape of her lips better with the bright color taken off. Such a softer, devastated look she now wore...perfect.

But I was still bothered by something. See, this model is a brunette, and Jenny is a blond. But with the hair in the shadows like that, and pulled back so severely, I couldn't just lighten the hair she has. Or I failed to do so well, anyway, LOL.

So instead, I found a woman with awesome, blowing-in-the-breeze blond curls.

I carefully selected her hair, flipped it around to face the other way, and layered it onto my Jenny. I actually copied it in twice and darkened it once, then faded out the dark layer, to get the shadowed effect at the back of her head.

I didn't run this idea by Cara until I'd seen if it would work or not, so at this point I sent it to her to see if she liked the possibility of adding hair. She declared it awesome, so we went with it. ;-)

From here, it was a simple matter of putting on the title and series title. And here we have it! The final cover for Soul's Prisoner!

About the book:

Chicago, Winter, 1891

Rachel is in danger. She’s seen too much.

She creeps along the cement walls through the dank underbelly of the asylum. She’d never planned to leave her quiet farm life, never thought she’d find a place in the city, never imagined she’d be in the kind of danger that would have her cowering in Dunning’s cold, labyrinthine basement.

Jenny has finally found her place. After a childhood of abuse, she has friends, a real job, and her only wish is to give her adopted son the kind of life she never had.

A life of stability, without the risk and uncertainty of a father.

But when Jeremy, Rachel’s brother, stumbles into their warehouse, asking for help to find his missing sister, Jenny’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Word of the Week - Booty


I occasionally have a pirate in my house--this is to be expected when one has a 7-year-old boy. I never quite know when a rather adorable little figure is going to appear with his sword in hand and demand all my booty. But last time he did, his sister--being so very much my daughter--asked, laughing, "Where does that come from, anyway? Did they put treasure in a boot or something?"

As it ;-) Booty is from the Old French butin, which is turn from the Germanic bute, which means "exchange." So booty is quite literally something gotten in exchange for something else (in the pirate's case, they got it in exchange for a fight, I suppose...) But in Old English we also had the word bot that meant "an improvement," which had, by the time butin came into our vernacular, become boot. So we combined the two into booty, making it something profitable.

The noun that means "a woman's posterior" is from the 1920.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . I'm Not Called

I'm not called to build a wall.
Just a section of it.

I'm not called to change a nation.
Just a family.

I'm not called to right all wrongs.
Just my wrongs.

I'm not called to understand it all.
Just to seek understanding through Him.

I'm not called to single-handedly fund the church.
Just to give my part.

I'm not called to be the best friend of everyone.
Just of those God has given me.

I'm not called to win awards.
Just to glorify Him with my efforts.

I'm not called to have the best of the best.
Just to be a good steward of what I'm given.

I'm not called to be everything to everyone.
Just to be be His.

I'm not called to do your part.
Just to do mine.

But if we all do ours...

Then the wall gets built.
The nation changes.
The world improves.
Understanding grows.
Things get done.
Love spreads.
Good deeds are the order of the day.
God is glorified through what our hands touch.

And the world will look and say, "There is a people whose God is the Lord."

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Remember When . . . The City Disappeared?

The Svetloyar Lake near Nizhny Novgorod brings together a lot of legends about Kitzeh, the “Russian Atlantis.”

In the final book of my Ladies of the Manor series, which I just finished writing, I have a character from Russia. Now, I've longed loved Russian literature, which has given me a bit of an understanding of that famed Russian soul, but it's been a while since I've read any. So I picked up an awesome book on Russian culture and the ideas and morals behind it to help me write Kira Belova in a believable way.

Throughout the book, she peppers in some of her Russian-peasant stories and traditions, which I think are oh-so-intriguing. And tells one of their most prevalent folk tales, about the mystical city of Kitzeh.

Kitzeh, so tradition goes, was the most righteous city in the world, filled with true believers--those of the Russian Orthodox faith who practiced it as Christ and the disciples themselves instituted, with none of the compromises and corruptions that had crept into other faiths over the years. Kitzeh was so righteous that it was like Heaven on earth.

But when the Mongols invaded the Nizhegorod province where Kitzeh resided by a lake, the waters swallowed up this holy city to keep it from being overrun by the faithless invaders--but it was no tragedy for the occupants. No, they were all saved when this happened. And the story goes that the city is still alive and well under the surface of the waters...but only those of the truest faith can see it.

Every year on the summer solstice, people would go on pilgrimage to this lake in the Nizhegorod province, tacking icons to trees and gathering together in a sort of outdoor church, praying and singing...and listening for the tolling of the church bells under the water. Hoping, praying it will resurface.

Did Kira ever hear those bells? Well, you'll just have to read the book to figure out that one. ;-)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Word of the Week - You're Fired! (or sacked)

No, not in honor of Donald Trump. ;-) The question arose this past week with my hubby and son, as to where "fired" and "sacked" come from. So naturally, I ran out to my computer to answer it.

Fire, as in to terminate employment, is an Americanism from about 1885 that's right up my alley, since it's a total play on words. Before then, "discharge" had been the word used in this context. But "discharge" is also what a weapon does when it...fires. Which, yes, was another word for that early on. So people thought, "Ha! Since discharge has two meanings, and one of those meanings is 'to fire,' let's apply 'fire' to its other meaning too!" So they did. I love it. =) (Not that I love getting fired...well, not that I've ever been fired per se, know.)

Another word that means the same thing is sack. This one dates from about 1825. It was originally a noun--"to give someone the sack." This appealed to the visual idea of handing them their sack full of tools when they were done a job. It then just became used as a verb as things are wont to do in English. =)