Wednesday, November 16, 2011
"What's so genius about generosity? After all our world celebrates people who have learned how to have it all ... not those who have learned to give it all away!
But the Bible teaches that the wisest thing to do with our resources is to learn to invest them in His Kingdom, and that becoming a generous person is the smartest way to prepare for an eternal future.
If you'd like to learn principles for wise giving and generous living, this series will both challenge and encourage you. Don't be satisfied with earthly stock options and interest rates; learn the genius of generosity and expand your portfolio of eternal rewards!"
Lesson Titles include:
What is the Genius of Generosity
Generosity: The Gateway to Intimacy with God
Why God Prospers Generous People
How Does God Measure Generosity
How to Become Winsomely Generous All the Days of Your Life
This month of November, my church is investigating a different kind of stewardship; they've titled their theme, Thanks giving. The Genius of Generosity has been given to all small group members to read. It's a small book--only four chapters. It's coinciding with video lessons we see each Sunday.
The premise is that God owns ALL--not just the tithe. To illustrate, the author tells of his own experience as a young pastor. He met with a much older, wealthy member of the church in which he at first thought that there was little they had in common. Boy, did he find out in a fun way just how much they had alike!
I enjoyed the anecdotes included within the book, and I recommend it to anyone who might want to more fully understand giving of time, talent, and money in an interesting fashion.
Monday, November 14, 2011
As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesn't believe that Susannah's ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.
When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husband's home, it isn't long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.
With Adelaide's richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak— and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.
The tale begins with a lovely garden reception for Marielle, the new bride of Carson, a widower, who lives with his two children, and his former mother-in-law, Adelaide, owner of Holly Oak, a southern mansion located in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia. The local group of "blue ladies" (so-called because of their hair color) gossip about the house's ghost, Susannah, Adelaide's great grandmother. Rumors have it that Susannah was a spy for the Union. Adelaide wants the rumors to stop, even though she does feel that Holly Oak brings misfortune to every female who resides there.
An vengeful house! This alone is enough to give me the creeps. Imagine, marrying a widow with two children and living in the haunted house with his former mother-in-law!
Susannah wrote letters to her cousin who lived in Maine. Those letters--once they're found--tell the story of the Civil War and put all gossip about Susannah to rest. I especially enjoyed reading about the Confederate uniforms being made (and hidden from the Union invaders).
In addition to the details of the times, the reader learns that love comes in many shapes. I heartily recommend this historical/romance fiction.
A Reader's Guide is included.
Thank you to FirstWildCard and Laura Tucker at Random House for my copy.
And now, an excerpt:
From the parlor window Adelaide watched as her grandson-in-law, resplendent in a black tuxedo next to his bride, bent toward the guests and greeted them by name, saying, “This is Marielle.” An explanation seemed ready to spring from his lips each time he shook the hand of someone who had known Sara, her deceased granddaughter. His first wife. Carson stood inches from Marielle, touching her elbow every so often, perhaps to assure himself that after four years a widower he had indeed patently and finally moved on from grief.
Smatterings of conversations wafted about on the May breeze and into the parlor as received guests strolled toward trays of sweet tea and champagne. Adelaide heard snippets from her place at the window. Hudson and Brette, her great-grandchildren, had moved away from the snaking line of gray suits and pastel dresses within minutes of the first guests’ arrival and were now studying the flower-festooned gift table under the window ledge, touching the bows, fingering the silvery white wrappings. Above the children, an old oak’s youngest branches shimmied to the tunes a string quartet produced from the gazebo beyond the receiving line.
Adelaide raised a teacup to her lips and sipped the last of its contents, allowing the lemony warmth to linger at the back of her throat. She had spent the better part of the morning readying the garden for Carson and Marielle’s wedding reception, plucking spent geranium blossoms, ordering the catering staff about, and straightening the rented linen tablecloths. She needed to join the party now that it had begun. The Blue-Haired Old Ladies would be wondering where she was.
Her friends had been the first to arrive, coming through the garden gate on the south side of the house at five minutes before the hour. She’d watched as Carson introduced them to Marielle, witnessed how they cocked their necks in blue-headed unison to sweetly scrutinize her grandson-in-law’s new wife, and heard their welcoming remarks through the open window.
Deloris gushed about how lovely Marielle’s wedding dress was and what, pray tell, was the name of that divine purple flower she had in her hair?
Pearl invited Marielle to her bridge club next Tuesday afternoon and asked her if she believed in ghosts.
Maxine asked her how Carson and she had met—though Adelaide had told her weeks ago that Carson met Marielle on the Internet—and why on earth Arizona didn’t like daylight-saving time.
Marielle had smiled, sweet and knowing—like the kindergarten teacher who finds the bluntness of five-year-olds endearing—and answered the many questions.
Mojave asters. She didn’t know how to play bridge. She’d never encountered a ghost so she couldn’t really say but most likely not. She and Carson met online. There’s no need to save what one has an abundance of. Carson had cupped her elbow in his hand, and his thumb caressed the inside of her arm while she spoke.
Adelaide swiftly set the cup down on the table by the window, whisking away the remembered tenderness of that same caress on Sara’s arm.
Carson had every right to remarry.
Sara had been dead for four years.
She turned from the bridal tableau outside and inhaled deeply the gardenia-scented air in the parlor. Unbidden thoughts of her granddaughter sitting with her in that very room gently nudged her. Sara at six cutting out paper dolls. Memorizing multiplication tables at age eight. Sewing brass buttons onto gray wool coats at eleven. Sara reciting a poem for English Lit at sixteen, comparing college acceptance letters at eighteen, sharing a chance letter from her estranged mother at nineteen, showing Adelaide her engagement ring at twenty-four. Coming back home to Holly Oak with Carson when Hudson was born. Nursing Brette in that armchair by the fireplace. Leaning against the door frame and telling Adelaide that she was expecting her third child.
Right there Sara had done those things while Adelaide sat at the long table in the center of the room, empty now but usually awash in yards of stiff Confederate gray, glistening gold braid, and tiny piles of brass buttons—the shining elements of officer reenactment uniforms before they see war.
Adelaide ran her fingers along the table’s polished surface, the warm wood as old as the house itself. Carson had come to her just a few months ago while she sat at that table piecing together a sharpshooter’s forest green jacket. He had taken a chair across from her as Adelaide pinned a collar, and he’d said he needed to tell her something.
He’d met someone.
When she’d said nothing, he added, “It’s been four years, Adelaide.”
“I know how long it’s been.” The pins made a tiny plucking sound as their pointed ends pricked the fabric.
“She lives in Phoenix.”
“You’ve never been to Phoenix.”
“Mimi.” He said the name Sara had given her gently, as a father might. A tender reprimand. He waited until she looked up at him. “I don’t think Sara would want me to live the rest of my life alone. I really don’t. And I don’t think she would want Hudson and Brette not to have a mother.”
“Those children have a mother.”
“You know what I mean. They need to be mothered. I’m gone all day at work. I only have the weekends with them. And you won’t always be here. You’re a wonderful great-grandmother, but they need someone to mother them, Mimi.”
She pulled the pin cushion closer to her and swallowed. “I know they do.”
He leaned forward in his chair. “And I…I miss having someone to share my life with. I miss the companionship. I miss being in love. I miss having someone love me.”
Adelaide smoothed the pieces of the collar. “So. You are in love?”
He had taken a moment to answer. “Yes. I think I am.”
Carson hadn’t brought anyone home to the house, and he hadn’t been on any dates. But he had lately spent many nights after the children were in bed in his study—the old drawing room—with the door closed. When she’d pass by, Adelaide would hear the low bass notes of his voice as he spoke softly into his phone. She knew that gentle sound. She had heard it before, years ago when Sara and Carson would sit in the study and talk about their day. His voice, deep and resonant. Hers, soft and melodic.
“Are you going to marry her?”
Carson had laughed. “Don’t you even want to know her name?”
She had not cared at that moment about a name. The specter of being alone in Holly Oak shoved itself forward in her mind. If he remarried, he’d likely move out and take the children with him. “Are you taking the children? Are you leaving Holly Oak?”
“Will you be leaving?”
Several seconds of silence had hung suspended between them. Carson and Sara had moved into Holly Oak ten years earlier to care for Adelaide after heart surgery and had simply stayed. Ownership of Holly Oak had been Sara’s birthright and was now Hudson and Brette’s future inheritance. Carson stayed on after Sara died because, in her grief, Adelaide asked him to, and in his grief, Carson said yes.
“Will you be leaving?” she asked again.
“Would you want me to leave?” He sounded unsure.
“You would stay?”
Carson had sat back in his chair. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to take Hudson and Brette out of the only home they’ve known. They’ve already had to deal with more than any kid should.”
“So you would marry this woman and bring her here. To this house.”
Carson had hesitated only a moment. “Yes.”
She knew without asking that they were not talking solely about the effects moving would have on a ten-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. They were talking about the strange biology of their grief. Sara had been taken from them both, and Holly Oak nurtured their common sorrow in the most kind and savage of ways. Happy memories were one way of keeping someone attached to a house and its people. Grief was the other. Surely Carson knew this. An inner nudging prompted her to consider asking him what his new bride would want.
“What is her name?” she asked instead.
And he answered, “Marielle…”
Excerpted from A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner Copyright © 2011 by Susan Meissner. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Friday, November 4, 2011
In this moving narrative, Billy Graham once again takes up the pen not only to share his personal experience of growing older but also teach us some important lessons on how to view our time here on Earth. He says that the Bible makes it clear that God has a specific reason for keeping us here. So what is His purpose for these years, and how can we align our lives with it? How can we not only learn to cope with the fears and struggles and growing limitations we face but actually grow stronger inwardly in the midst of these difficulties?
In what may be his most powerful message of the last decade, Billy Graham speaks to all on this side of Heaven as he covers the importance of four key areas:
Building strong foundations and understanding the gift of years
Facing life’s transitions, including the passing of years, retirement, and when loved ones die
Making wise decisions
Understanding our glorious hope
“In this book I invite you to explore with me not only the realities of life as we grow older but the hope and fulfillment and even joy that can be ours once we learn to look at these years from God’s point of view and discover His strength to sustain us every day. I pray that you and I may learn what it means not only to grow older, but, with God’s help, to grow older with grace.”
Because he speaks in a straightforward manner and has always been so easy to understand, I've always enjoyed listening to Billy Graham preach. His newest book reads just like he speaks. His voice comes through this book loud and clear; it's almost as if I can hear him as I read his words!
I found this book to be a positive guideline as I face my golden years. I connected. Although he speaks of the death of Ruth, his wife, his failing health, and other struggles of old age, he encourages readers to trust Christ, to enjoy their lives, and to study the Bible. The book points to the positive and gives the reader some sensible guidelines.
However, this book is not just for the aging. I recommend this work of inspiration to anyone of any age--young and old.
Thank you to BookSneeze at Thomas Nelson for my copy.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
It's April, spring is in the air, and Callie and Tom have just spent a wonderful few weeks getting to know each another after years of a telephone-only relationship. But as their time together draws to a close, they are called to the hospital bed of mutual friend Eli Gold, who has just been shot.
Eli begs Callie and Tom to find out who is responsible for the shooting. The search leads them to the beautiful island of St. John in the Virgin Islands. There they face a sinister enemy among the ruins of an old sugar plantation—an enemy who's willing to do anything to keep his identity secret and the past deeply buried.
Although this novel is the fourth in a series, it can be read and enjoyed by itself; however, the reader might prefer to read the preceding titles as they build on one another.
Romance blossoms as Tom and Callie grow closer, but this mystery gains in suspense as pages are turned. The reader does not know for sure just who is the "bad" guy.
My one caveat is the poor editing. I offer one example of several that made me flinch. "Then you drive while I go it through again." (63) Errors like this should simply not be allowed in a published copy.
Thank you to FirstWildCard and Karri James at Harvest House Publishers for my copy.
And now, the first chapter:
Ignoring the burning in my calves, I kept my gaze on Tom, who had reached the top of the wall almost effortlessly and now waited there for me to join him.
“There’s a grip at two o’clock, up from your right hand about six inches,” he guided, speaking in the low, soothing tones I teasingly called his “rock climbing” voice. Glad for that voice now, I released my handhold and reached upward, my fingers easily finding and grasping the tiny ledge. “Now your foot,” he said. “Slow and easy. You’re almost there.”
As I went I concentrated on all I had learned about rock climbing in the last few weeks. It was Tom’s passion, and we had spent a number of hours practicing on a real rock face while he taught me the basic tricks and techniques. Now we were in an indoor gym, on a simulated rock wall, climbing much higher than we had ever gone in our practice runs. And though I was wearing a safety harness that was roped to the ceiling, that didn’t make it any easier or any less scary—particularly where the wall actually bent outward, pitching me at a difficult angle.
“You are one step away, Cal,” he said, excitement evident in his voice. “Most of the people won’t make it half this far.”
With a final burst of daring, I slid my toes against the next hold and straightened my knees, rising high enough to touch the ceiling at the top of the wall.
“You did it!” Tom cried, and only then did I allow myself to smile and then to laugh.
“I did do it!” I echoed, slapping a high five with Tom and feeling the rush of pleasure and relief he said he experienced every time he finished a challenging climb. Of course, to him “challenging” meant the Red Rocks of Nevada or Half Dome in Yosemite. For me, a big wall in a rock-climbing gym was a pretty good start.
We repelled down together, my legs still feeling shaky once I was on solid ground.
“That was great,” the teenage staffer said as he helped unhook me from the harness. “And to think you were worried. Are you sure you haven’t done this before?”
“Not that high and not indoors,” I said.
“Well, you’re a natural.”
“I had a good teacher,” I replied, glancing at Tom, who was busy removing his own harness. He and I had spent the last three weeks together vacationing in the North Carolina mountains. During that time, we had enjoyed teaching each other our favorite sports—climbing and canoeing—though I liked to tease him that my hobby was the superior one, because one false move with a canoe paddle wouldn’t exactly plunge a person hundreds of feet to their death. Tom had replied that if one were canoeing above Niagara Falls, that wouldn’t exactly be true, now would it?
As the teenager moved on to help the next set of climbers, Tom gave me an encouraging smile.
“Hey, what did you say this is called?” I asked him, pointing at my visibly wobbling knees. “Sewing legs?”
“Sewing-machine legs,” Tom replied. “A common climbing malady. Come on. You need to rest for a bit.”
He bought us two bottles of water from the snack bar, and then we found a quiet corner and sat on a bench there, leaning back against the wall. I felt thoroughly spent, as if I had pushed every single muscle in my body to its very limit.
I sipped on my water, feeling my pulse slowly return to normal, looking around at the activity that surrounded us. Across the giant room, a new group of climbers was being instructed by a guide while about ten more people waited in line for their turn. In the front window was a giant banner that said “Climb for KFK,” and beside the cash register was a table where pledges and donations were being accepted for “Kamps for Kids,” a charity that provided summer camp scholarships to impoverished children. Instead of a walkathon, they were calling this event a “climbathon.” I liked the idea as well as the whole atmosphere of the place, from the easy joviality of the people waiting in line to the upbeat encouragement of the instructors who were manning the ropes and providing assistance as needed.
“So what’s up, Callie?” Tom asked. “You haven’t been yourself all morning.”
“Sorry,” I said. “This is my work mode, I guess. You have to remember, we’re not just here to have fun. We’re on the job, so to speak.”
Tom nodded knowingly and then leaned closer and lowered his voice.
“So how does this happen, exactly?” he asked. “Do you just walk up to the people and say, ‘Hi, here’s a big whopping check’?”
“Oh, sure, that’s usually how it goes. I call that my Big Whopping Check speech.”
“Don’t be hard on me,” he said, grinning. “I’ve never done this before.”
I leaned toward him, speaking softly.
“Well, first of all, you have to wait for the proper moment,” I said. “Like just before you’re about to leave.”
“Second,” I continued, “you have to have the full attention of the correct person. You don’t want to give that whopping check to just anybody.”
“Get the big wig. Got it.”
“Finally, the act of presentation takes a little bit of flair. It’s a huge moment for them. You want to help them enjoy it.”
“I think I understand.”
“You also want to bring them back down to earth a little. I actually do have a short speech I give every time I hand over a grant. I remind the recipient where the money’s coming from and what it’s for. That seems to go over well.”
I felt funny explaining how I did my job to Tom, because he wasn’t just my boyfriend, he was also technically my boss. Though he lived and worked on the other side of the country, far from our actual office, Tom was the kind and generous philanthropist behind the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation. I worked for the foundation as the director of research, and basically my job was to investigate nonprofits Tom was interested in and analyze their suitability for grants. If they checked out okay, I then had the pleasure of awarding them grant money. That’s what we were doing here today. For the first time ever, Tom was joining me as I gave a little bit of his money away.
“Hey, Tom! Tom Bennett!” a man cried, interrupting my thoughts.
The fellow bounded toward us, grinning widely. He was tall and wiry, with deep laugh lines in a tanned face, and when he reached us, we stood and the two men shook hands warmly. “You said you might come, but I didn’t believe you.”
“I’m glad I was able to work it out,” Tom replied, smiling.
He introduced his friend as Mitch Heckman, owner of the gym and co-organizer of the event. I told Mitch how impressed I was with the gym and with the climbathon concept.
“Most of the credit goes to my wife,” Mitch said, shaking my hand. “I’m just glad we could use the gym to help out a good cause.”
“Have you raised much?” Tom asked.
“Our goal for today was twenty-five thousand dollars,” Mitch said. “You can see how we’re doing on that poster over there.”
He pointed to a drawing of a mountain with a zero at the bottom, amounts written up the side, and $25,000 at the top. Sadly, it had only been colored in about half of the way up—and the event would be over in another hour or two.
“Of course, we had a pretty big learning curve in putting the whole thing together,” Mitch said. “I’m sure we can make up the difference with some bake sales or car washes or something. We’ll get there eventually. Mai pen rai, huh?”
“Yeah, mai pen rai.”
They chatted for a few minutes more, and then Mitch was called up to the front. After he was gone, Tom explained to me their acquaintance, that they had met a few months ago while mountain climbing—specifically, while scaling the limestone cliffs off of Rai Ley Beach in the Krabi Province of Thailand. Tom had been working hard in Singapore and had taken a weekend off to visit the nearby mountain-climbers’ mecca, where he met Mitch atop one of the peaks after a particularly challenging climb. As the two men rested, they talked, and it turned out that they were both avid climbers and eager to explore an unfrequented jungle crag nearby. Together they had hired a guide and ended up having an incredible day of climbing. Though the two men hadn’t seen each other since, they had been in touch off and on ever since via e-mail.
“What were you saying to each other just now? My pen…”
“Mai pen rai,” Tom replied. “That’s Thai for ‘no problem’ or ‘never mind.’ The guides say it to encourage you while you’re climbing, kind of like ‘you can do it.’ ‘Don’t worry.’ Mai pen rai.”
“Does Mitch know about the foundation?”
“Nope. He thinks I’m just another rock jock.”
“He’s in for a nice surprise, then,” I said. “This is fun, giving a grant to someone who never even applied for one.”
This wasn’t our usual mode for doing business, that was for sure. But this particular charity was so new—and the amount we were donating so relatively small—that the investigation hadn’t been all that complicated. Since KFK had never applied for a grant from us, I hadn’t really had the authority to go in and do an extensive investigation. But they did belong to several good nonprofit watchdog groups, so I had felt confident doing the research from our vacation home in North Carolina, mostly over the internet and on the phone with the foundation’s accounting whiz, Harriet, the day before.
“Anyway, now you’ll finally have the pleasure of making a donation live and in person,” I added. “Something I’ve only been bugging you to do for two years.”
“Almost three years now,” he corrected. “And, yes, I’m hoping this might shut you up for good.”
“Oh, you want me to shut up, do you?” I asked. “What about—”
He silenced me with a finger against my lips, which he allowed to linger there.
“No,” he whispered, gazing a moment at my mouth. “Don’t ever stop talking to me. I want to listen to you forever.”
We looked into each other’s eyes as everything else in the room blurred into the background. My legs shivered again, but not from climbing this time.
“We need to get going,” Tom said gruffly, standing and then helping me to my feet. I squeezed his hand, and then we separated into the men’s and women’s locker areas to get cleaned up.
After a shower I dressed quickly in a pair of black slacks and a soft blue knit shirt. I towel-dried my short hair, combed it out, and took a moment to put on some lipstick and a touch of mascara.
As I looked in the mirror, ready to leave, I was suddenly overwhelmed with sadness. In a few short hours Tom and I would go our separate ways, boarding two different flights to head toward our homes on opposite coasts—him to California and me to Maryland. For three glorious weeks we had done nothing more than shut out the rest of the world and spend time together, but we couldn’t hide out and play forever. Our work and other responsibilities awaited us, and as one week had turned into two and then to three, we had already stretched the length of our available time to the very max. Soon our idyllic vacation together would officially be over, and Tom and I would be back to our long-distance romance as usual.
Slinging my bag onto my shoulder, I decided to take this day moment-by-moment. Despite the difficulty of parting, we still had a job to do. We still had a grant to give out.
I emerged from the locker room to find Tom also showered and dressed, standing nearby and squinting toward the front of the room. He had in his hand a check from the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation, dated today and made out to the charity, though the amount had been left blank.
“Callie, can you read that figure?” he asked. “I need the exact amount they’ve raised so far.”
I walked a little closer and then came back to report that they were up to $11,043. Quick with numbers, Tom didn’t even hesitate before he filled out the check for $23,957.
“That’s ten thousand more than they need to bring them to their goal,” I said after doing the math in my head, not surprised one bit by his generosity.
“Yeah, but it’s the least we can do, don’t you think?”
He tried to put the check in my hand, but I pushed it back.
“No, you don’t,” I said. “Enjoy the moment.”
Carrying our bags, Tom and I walked to the front of the gym, where his friend Mitch was chatting with a woman that I assumed was his wife. We were introduced, and I liked her firm handshake and the way she looked me directly in the eye. She thanked us for coming and then moved on to speak with someone else.
“We’re going to head out,” Tom said to Mitch, “but I wanted to give you a check first. I talked my company into making a small grant.”
Of course, the way Tom had said it, you’d never know that it was his company, nor his money—nor that he was using “small” as a relative term. Mitch took the folded check without looking at it.
“Listen, buddy, every bit helps. Thank you so much, and thanks for coming.”
The two men shook hands, and then Mitch shook my hand as well. We said goodbye, and Tom and I departed, walking silently through the packed parking lot toward our rental car.
“You were right, Callie,” he said nonchalantly, pressing a button on his key chain to unlock the car. “Giving away the money in person really is kind of fun.”
I was about to reply when we heard Mitch calling Tom’s name. We turned to see the man running toward us, breathless, his eyes filled with disbelief.
“I don’t understand,” he gasped, holding up the check. “This is so much. Is it some kind of joke?”
“No joke, Mitch,” Tom said. “We’re affiliated with the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation. That’s a grant.”
“Yeah, we give them out all the time. Callie, what is it you like to say when you give grants to people?”
“Basically,” I said, going into my spiel, “we want you to know that the best way you can say thanks is to take that money and use it to further your mission. The foundation believes strongly in what you’re trying to accomplish, and we just wanted to have some small part in furthering your efforts.”
To my surprise, Mitch’s eyes filled with tears.
“Your generosity leaves me speechless,” he said finally. “Won’t you come back inside? Let me tell my wife. She’ll be so excited. Maybe we can get a picture for the newsletter or the website or something.”
I looked at Tom, but he seemed decidedly uncomfortable.
“Mitch,” I said, “we really prefer to do this in a discreet manner. Just tell Jill that the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation gives the money with love and with God’s blessings. We’d rather not receive any individual recognition.”
Bewildered, he looked back down at the check.
“And you promise this isn’t a joke?” he tried one more time.
“No joke,” Tom laughed. “I give you my word, buddy. It’s for real.”
With a final sincere thanks, Mitch turned and headed back to the building. We stood there and watched until he went inside and the door closed behind him.
On impulse, I turned and threw my arms around Tom’s neck. Startled, after a moment he hugged me back.
“You are such a good man,” I whispered, feeling absolutely, utterly, and completely in love.
He laughed, pulling me in tightly for an embrace.
“Wow,” he replied. “This giving-away-money thing gets better all the time.”
Knowing the clock was ticking closer toward our flight times, we managed to pull apart and get into the car. He started it up and pulled out of the parking lot, driving toward the airport.
We were quiet as we went, both lost in our own thoughts. As we wove our way through traffic, I considered our relationship and the long and winding path my life had taken since my husband’s death. This coming summer would mark four years since Bryan was killed, and in one way it seemed like yesterday, and in another it seemed like decades ago. My husband had been my first true love, the sweetheart I had met at 16 and married at 25. We’d had four wonderful years together as husband and wife, but that had all come crashing to an end that fateful day when we went water-skiing and Bryan was hit by a speedboat. The boat’s driver went to prison for manslaughter, but I also went into a sort of prison myself—a self-imposed prison of mourning, of loneliness.
Only in the last six months had I allowed myself to consider the possibility that there might be life for me beyond my husband’s death. Tom and I had developed a good, strong friendship through our many work-related conversations over the phone, and then, slowly, that friendship had started taking on other dimensions. We finally met in person last fall, when Tom received word that I had been hurt in an investigation and raced halfway around the world to be by my side and make certain I was all right. We had spent a mere 12 hours together—just long enough to begin falling in love—and then we were forced to endure a four-month separation while he went back to Singapore on important business and I healed from my injuries and continued my work with his foundation in the U.S.
Then three weeks ago, in the very heart of spring, we had been joyously reunited. Showing up in a hot air balloon, Tom had swept me away to a gorgeous vacation spot in the North Carolina mountains, where we planned to stay a week or so and give ourselves the opportunity to see if our relationship really could work face-to-face. What we had found was that we were so compatible, so comfortable, and so suddenly and deeply in love that it was nearly impossible to end our vacation and return to our regular lives.
Now, however, our time together had come to an end.
“There’s the car rental return,” Tom said suddenly, pulling me from my thoughts. He followed the signs and turned into the lot, but instead of heading straight to the busy rental return area, he veered over to an empty parking spot nestled behind a big truck. He put the car in park but left the motor running.
“Maybe we should say our goodbyes here,” he told me, “instead of out in the middle of the busy airport.”
I nodded, surprised when my eyes suddenly ﬁlled with tears. I didn’t want to say goodbye at all. Tom’s cell phone began ringing from his gym bag, but we ignored it.
“Callie, have I told you that the past three weeks have been the happiest weeks of my life?”
The ringing stopped. In the quiet of the car, I held on to his hand, looking deeply into his eyes.
“They have been incredible,” I replied. There were many, many moments we had shared that I would relive in my mind in the coming days. “I don’t know if I have the strength to say goodbye to you or not.”
Tom reached up and smoothed a loose lock of hair behind my ear. Such tenderness was in his gaze that I thought it might break my heart.
“Callie, I have something for you,” he whispered. He started to reach into his pocket, and I swallowed hard, wondering what it could be. Then his phone began to ring again.
“You better see who it is,” I said, sighing. “It might be important.”
By the time he got the phone out from his gym bag, the call had been disconnected. Tom was pressing buttons, trying to see who had called, when my phone started ringing from my purse. I dug it out, surprised to see that the number on my screen matched the number that had just called his.
“Hello?” I asked somewhat hesitantly.
“Callie?” a woman’s voice cried from very far away. “Is that you?”
“This is Callie,” I answered. “Who is this?”
“This is Stella,” the voice said. “Stella Gold.”
I put my hand over the phone and mouthed to Tom, It’s Eli’s wife.
Eli Gold was my mentor, a friend of Tom’s, and the person responsible for bringing the two of us together.
“Stella?” I asked, trying to picture a woman I didn’t know very well at the other end of the line. I had met her the day she married my dear friend Eli, but she and I had not really spoken since, except for those times when I called their house and she had been the one to answer the phone. “What’s up?”
“Oh, Callie, I’m so glad I finally reached you. I need you. I need your help. I need Tom Bennett, also, if you know how to reach him.”
“What is it?” I asked, my heart surging.
“It’s Eli,” she sobbed. “He’s in the hospital.”
“In the hospital?”
“Callie, he’s been shot.”
Monday, October 24, 2011
Unfortunately, working with Special Agent in Charge Ash Zinders may be as tough as controlling her charge. Ash has a reputation for being critical and exacting, and he’s also after the same promotion as Meghan.
But when the threats escalate and security on the ranch is breached, it becomes clear this isn’t the work of a single suspect—it’s part of a sophisticated plan that reaches deeper and higher than anyone imagined. And only Ash and Meghan can put the pieces together before it’s too late.
Great read! This intricate puzzle kept the attention of this reader. I was tempted last night to turn the bedside lamp on and read the remaining pages. However, I'm glad that I waited until morning; the novel demands sharp attention, and I didn't want to miss a clue.
Suspense and romance intertwine as tragedies occur. People die. Some are murdered. Who is the cause? Who can be trusted? This is a must-read!
Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Tyndale House Publishers for my copy.
If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.
If you would like to buy a copy, click here.
Announcing a special new release from Bible teacher John MacArthur…a select collection of powerful Scripture readings and prayers that inspire heartfelt communion with God and gratitude for all that He is and has done for us.
For more than 40 years, John MacArthur has steadfastly committed himself to the careful and faithful teaching of God’s Word. A key outgrowth of his study of Scripture is the profoundly God-centered prayers that precede his sermons.
John’s prayers are the offerings of a heart that is fully committed to honoring God, proclaiming and obeying His Word, and calling others to do the same. In this book, prayers and Scripture readings from across his years of ministry have been brought together to stir Christians toward more meaningful and edifying communion with God.
This book will guide readers, in the most intimate way possible, before God’s throne of grace…giving them a renewed passion and appreciation for their Lord.
What a wonderful source for worship!
The book is divided into these categories:
- Prayers on Worship and the Attributes of God
- Prayers on Joy and Longing
- Prayers on the Cross and the Gospel
- Prayers on Personal Holiness
- Prayers on Useful Service
- Prayers on Holy Seasons
Thank you to FirstWildCard and Karri James at Harvest House Publishers for my copy.
And now, the first chapter:
1 John 2:1-19
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.
The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
Our Gracious God, we thank You for our heavenly Advocate,
Jesus Christ the righteous, whose death on the cross
made propitiation for all our sins—
perfectly satisfying every demand of Your holy justice.
It is He who brought us
out of guilt and into forgiveness,
out of darkness into light,
out of our rebellion and into Your love,
out of death and into life.
He delivered us from this evil world, into Your glorious kingdom.
How we praise You for the wonder of Your love in Jesus Christ!
We thank You for sending Your Son, the Incarnate One,
who was despised, rejected, beaten, mocked, and crucified—
all in order to atone for our sin.
In Him Your love has outloved all other loves.
Your mercy extends beyond comprehension to sinners
with complete and permanent forgiveness of our sins
through faith in Jesus Christ.
We therefore long to love You with a love like Yours.
We know that is not possible, so with the apostle Peter
we plead that You would know our hearts, knowing we truly love You
in spite of what it often looks like.
Our hearts are too much like stone; we ask that
You melt them with Your grace.
Our private lives are too often gated and locked as if we could shut You out
and thereby do what we want.
Help us throw open the door and lose the key! May Your will rule our lives.
We worship You, Father, for Your great love and the gift of Jesus Christ,
Your only-begotten Son, which is to say God the Son.
We praise You, Lord Jesus, for the wondrous gift of salvation
You provided for us.
We adore You, blessed Spirit, for revealing to us the truth of the gospel
and for making our hearts Your dwelling place.
Heavenly Father, in us may Your Son see the fruit of His soul’s anguish and be glad.
Bring us away from all that we falsely trust,
and teach us to rest only in Him.
Never let us be calloused to the astonishing greatness of the gift of salvation.
May we pursue sanctification—ever-increasing holiness—with all our might!
Lord Jesus, Master, Redeemer, Savior, take possession of every part of our lives—
Yours by right through purchase.
Sanctify every faculty.
Fill our hearts with hope.
May we flee the many temptations that relentlessly hound us
and mortify the sins that continually plague us.
May there be no hypocrisy in us.
Help us trust You in the hour of distress.
Protect us when evildoers pursue us.
And deliver us from the evil of this present world.
Dear Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,
we confess that You alone are the giver of every good and perfect gift,
and You have given us so many things,
richly supplying us with things to enjoy.
And we are reminded by the passage we have just read that
the greatest gift of all is Your Son, Jesus Christ,
who sacrificed His very life in order that
we might be freed from sin’s bondage.
Fill our hearts with gratitude, and may our lives
reflect overflowing thankfulness
so that all who see may honor You.
In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Fleeing small-town gossip, Alice heads to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to the library in the tiny coal-mining village of Acorn. Dropped off by her relatives, Alice volunteers to stay for two weeks to help the librarian, Leslie McDougal.
But the librarian turns out to be far different than she anticipated--not to mention the four lady librarians who travel to the remote homes to deliver the much-desired books. While Alice is trapped in Acorn against her will, she soon finds that real-life adventure and mystery--and especially romance--are far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.
Have you ever read a book that draws you in from page one? Well, this is one of those books! I understood the avid reader, Alice--or Allie. She floats through life letting circumstances guide her. She prefers characters and adventures from the books she reads. For instance, her boyfriend is a convenient guy she's known all her life. Alice accepts him since everyone thinks they are a good couple, but it's a loveless romance--not thrilling like the romances in her books.
The author gives a nod to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; I loved connecting to the allusions. One day, she's dropped off in a strange land. Unable to communicate to the outside world, she has no choice but to make do--at least for a time. Her adventures are compelling. Read this one. You'll love it!
Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Bethany House for my copy.
If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.
If you would like to buy a copy, click here.
A Dime A Dozen takes Callie to the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, to give away a million dollars to a pair of charities that serve migrant apple pickers. When one of the migrant workers turns up dead, however, it's up to Callie to find out who killed him and why—even as the killer targets Callie as the next victim!
Just like that, business investigator Callie Webber finds herself involved in the life of a young wife and mother whose husband has disappeared. . . possibly the victim of foul play.
Callie Webber, the protagonist, in this novel is much braver than me; she pushes forward in her investigation where I'd be curled up in a ball, shivering!
The tale moves at a steady pace, with a few twists and turns. I must admit, I did not know who the antagonist was until the author revealed it.
In addition, I learned a good bit about growing and harvesting apples. This is a good read.
Thank you to FirstWildCard and Karri James at Harvest House Publishers for my copy.
And now, the first chapter:
I stood near French doors that led to the patio, holding a soda in my hand and looking out through the glass at the pool sparkling in the cool March afternoon. Behind the pool was a small lawn dotted here and there with ornamental groupings of shrubbery and plants, all surrounded by a high, thick hedge. I knew that a team of cops was on the other side of that hedge, ready to enter from every direction as soon as I gave the signal.
“Callie, would you like a hamburger? Maybe a hot dog?”
My hostess appeared in front of me bearing a platter of raw meat shaped into patties, and I assumed she was on her way back outside to the grill. My eyes focused on the marbled beef, and then at her expectant face. She was the very picture of charm and hospitality. Oh, and theft.
“No, thank you,” I said, forcing a smile. “I’m fine.”
Her hands were full, so I opened the door to let her out. Music poured into the house, compliments of large speakers mounted under the eaves.
“You should come too,” she urged loudly as she handed the platter off to her husband, Skipper. “It’s a gorgeous day.”
“In a while, perhaps,” I said as I let the door fall shut between us. She turned her attention to a group of guests near the pool, and as she worked the crowd I thought, You don’t want me to go outside, Winnie. The last thing you want me to do is go outside.
I glanced at my watch, wondering how much longer this would take. The police had instructed me to wait until all of the elements had fallen into place, and so far that hadn’t happened. The tension was getting to me, so I set my glass on a nearby countertop and made my way through the small crowd in the kitchen to the upstairs bathroom. I needed to be alone, to catch my breath, to make a call.
Once I was locked inside, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed the number of the police captain. He knew it was me and that I couldn’t say much on my end for fear of being overheard.
“Looks like things are moving along as expected,” he said.
“Have they brought out the hamburgers yet?”
“Oh, yes. Everything’s in full swing.”
He chuckled into the phone.
“I hope they’re enjoying it while they can,” he said.
“They seem to be.”
“We’re all set on our end. Soon as the guy shows up, we’ll text you.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“You found the garage?” he asked.
“Except for the boxes in the freezer.”
“Perfect. Simply perfect. Hang in there, kid. We’re on the homestretch.”
I hung up the phone and slid it into my pocket, wondering if all would go off as planned. There were so many elements coming into play here, and it was important that they close in at the moment when we could nab the greatest number of guilty parties. I shook my head, marveling at the situation I now found myself in. This wasn’t how I usually spent my Saturday afternoons!
As the Director of Research for the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation, my job was to investigate charitable organizations in order to verify their suitability for a grant. I had come here to get a closer look at Dinner Time, a food bank and soup kitchen for the homeless in a suburb of San Francisco. I had gone “undercover” by posing as a volunteer to get a good look at the organization from the inside. Almost immediately, however, I realized there was something stinky in the sauce. Dinner Time may have been providing food to the homeless, but it was also providing a handy second income to its founders and many of its employees by way of food donations that were ending up in places other than on Dinner Time’s tables.
Even this party was an appalling, blatant display of theft, and, according to my source, they had similar such events every few months. From the chips and hamburgers to the condiments, most of the food being consumed here today had actually been donated to the charity, intended for the poor. Instead, our hosts had simply loaded many of the boxes into their cars and driven the food home for this impromptu party. Any minute now a local food supplier would show up and collect his share of the take, which was waiting for him in the garage. Unbeknownst to any of them, however, much of the donated food this time was marked, from the codes printed on the bottom of the mustard bottles to the labels on the frozen steaks in the freezer.
A knock on the bathroom door startled me from my thoughts.
“Just a minute,” I called, and then I washed my hands in the sink and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. My own image still surprised me sometimes. Four months ago I had gone from having long hair to short, from wearing my hair in a tight chignon at the back of my neck to having just enough length to frame my face and touch at my collar. I liked the new look, both because of the years it seemed to take from my features and the way it worked with my usual attire of suits and dresses. I’d spent this week in more casual clothes, however, and today was no exception. I had on jeans and a lightly knit tan shirt, and I felt I looked the part I was playing—that of a woman interested in some simple volunteer work at the local soup kitchen. Little did they know that I was something much more threatening: an investigator with a mission to ferret out the bad guys in the nonprofit world and bring them all to justice!
I opened the bathroom door and found a familiar face waiting to get in, an employee of Dinner Time named Clement Jackson.
“Oh, hey, Callie,” he said, “I didn’t realize that was you in there.”
I moved out of the way so that he could pass me and go into the bathroom. As he closed the door behind him, I made my way back downstairs to the kitchen.
Clement was such a dear man, a tireless worker who served full time at the food bank for a salary so low I didn’t know how he managed to make ends meet. He wasn’t aware that I knew his salary rate or anything about him beyond facts he had mentioned to me in casual conversation. He had told me about his lovely wife of 36 years, his five grown children, his eight grandchildren. But the scope of my investigation had included all of the employees and volunteers of Dinner Time, so I also knew his address, his work record, and much more. In the end, he had turned out to be one of only three people connected to the center who apparently weren’t involved in the theft of the food.
I was so glad, because it confirmed what I had felt to be true about him all week, that he was a wonderful person with a true heart for charity. His personal side mission was to collect and distribute free used books to all of the children who came to the food bank and, whenever he had time, to sit and read to them and encourage them to read more for themselves.
“Reading can get you through some mighty tough spots,” I had heard him say more than once this week. “Even if your feet can’t always go somewhere else, your mind sure can.” Poor Clement was going to be stunned when this sting came together, for he believed most people were motivated by the same altruism and good faith he himself possessed.
“Callie, can I get you something to drink?”
This time, Winnie’s husband, Skipper, was playing the host, walking toward me with a newly filled ice bucket.
“No, thanks,” I replied. “My drink’s right over here.”
As if to prove it, I walked to the spot where I had left my soda, picked it up, and swirled the liquid. Skipper’s very presence made me so nervous I didn’t dare speak for fear I would begin to babble. Unfortunately, he persisted.
“How about a little ice then,” he said, using the tongs to load up my drink with ice. Holding my tongue, I watched as he clunked square cubes into the glass I was holding in front of me.
“So what do you think of our weather here in California?” he asked. “Winnie said you just recently moved here, right?”
Actually, I hadn’t told her that. What I had said was that I had never lived in California before, implying, I guess, that I lived here now. It was the kind of half-truth that going undercover necessitated and the very reason I hated playing a role. As a Christian, lying was hard for me to rationalize, even when the ends seemed to justify the means.
“It’s certainly a beautiful day today!” I said, glancing toward the window. I was desperately trying to think of some other sort of socially acceptable patter when I was saved by the bell—or the ring, to be exact, because Skipper’s cell phone began ringing from his hip pocket.
With a smile, he thrust the ice bucket at me, extricated the phone, and turned it on.
“Skipper here,” he said amiably, winking at me as he did so.
Clutching the ice in front of me, I took a step back, wondering if I could seize the moment and get away before his conversation was finished. Unfortunately, it seemed to last all of about 15 seconds. He said, “Yep. Okay. See ya,” and then hung up the phone.
“You’ll excuse me, won’t you, Callie?” he asked smoothly, slipping the phone back into his pocket.
I held the ice bucket toward him, but he didn’t take it.
“Um, could you bring that ice out to Winnie?” he asked. “I need to get something from the garage.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked down the hall. I stood there for a moment, knowing I couldn’t do as he had requested without taking a step outside myself. Instead, I passed the bucket off to someone else who was heading that way. As the door fell shut behind him, I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. I moved away from the crowd and went into the empty dining room. Holding my breath, I whipped out my phone, pushed the button, and looked at the screen. As expected, it was a text from the captain: Our guy just turned into the driveway. Give it about two minutes and then take a peek in the garage.
Okay, I texted back.
I then pocketed my phone, glanced at my watch, and waited, my heart suddenly pounding in my chest. For an absurd moment, I wondered if there was any hidden firepower here, if perhaps Skipper and Winnie kept a Colt .45 tucked in the nearest flowerpot or something. Just because their crimes of theft were of a nonviolent nature didn’t mean they didn’t know how to defend themselves when push came to shove. As it was about to.
At one minute, forty-three seconds, I heard my name called from the other room. I looked through the doorway to see Clement just coming down the stairs on the other side of the kitchen. Clement, who could be in the line of fire if things went down in a nasty way. Clement, who was heading toward me with a genial smile, eager to start a chat just when it was time for me to move.
“I need a favor!” I said urgently, walking forward to meet him. “I can’t find my contact lens. I’m afraid it came out in the bathroom. Do you think you could go back up and look for me? Check all over the floor, the sink, you know.”
“Well, I’ll try, Callie,” he said, nodding his head, the tightly curled gray hair a sharp contrast to his brown skin. “But my eyesight’s not so good myself. Come up and we’ll look for it together.”
I glanced at my watch. Two and a half minutes.
“You go on up,” I said. “I’ll be there in just a bit.”
“And, listen, if you can’t find it, at least stay there and guard the door until I get there. I don’t want someone else stepping on it and breaking it.”
He dutifully trudged back up the stairs as I slipped from the kitchen, walking toward the long side hall Skipper had gone down less than three minutes before. I reached the door of the garage at the end, put my hand on the knob, and turned it.
The door swung open to reveal Skipper and another man lifting boxes into the open trunk of a black Cadillac. Both men looked up to see me, their faces about as guilty as two boys caught dipping their fingers in the peanut butter.
In a way, that’s exactly what they were doing.
The men recovered quickly. Both put the boxes into the trunk, but the man I didn’t know turned and stepped away where I couldn’t see his face. Skipper, on the other hand, took a step toward me, putting on a wide, fake smile.
“Can I help you, Callie?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was looking for some more soda. Maybe root beer?”
“There’s nothing like that out here,” he replied. “Try the pantry, off the kitchen.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, returning his fake smile before stepping back out of the garage and pulling the door shut.
I turned on my heel and walked up the hall with my heartbeat pounding loudly in my head. Despite the chatter and confusion around me, I made straight for the French doors, opened them, and stepped outside. This was my signal to the police who were in hiding on the other side of the hedge, watching the party, waiting to pounce. Once on the patio, I simply kept walking through the loud music, heading around the pool and toward the backyard.
“Callie, can I help you with something?” I heard Winnie call after me.
Suddenly, before I could reply, there were shouts and screams and the sight of at least 20 police officers descending on the partygoers on the patio. I heard the words “freeze” and “raid” and “you have the right to remain silent.” Once I finally turned around and looked at the scene, all I could do was pray that Clement was safe, that the cops had apprehended the men in the garage before anyone could do anything stupid.
I waited at the back of the yard until I saw the captain come to the kitchen door and give the “all clear” signal to the cops outside. Breathing a great big sigh of relief, I headed toward the house, allowing myself to be herded into the corner of the patio where they were sorting everyone out. Counting heads, I realized they had managed to nab almost every single person who was on the list of those who had either stolen food or accepted food they knew was stolen. The cops didn’t single me out but merely pointed me in the direction of the innocent parties, the few standing near the garden shed who hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on.
Eventually, Clement was sent out from the house to join us. I gave him a big hug, certainly much bigger than our seemingly casual acquaintance would allow. Obviously shaken, he hugged me back even tighter.
When the police told us we were free to leave, I stuck with Clement, offering to take him home. In somewhat of a daze, he accepted that offer. Sitting in the passenger seat of my rental car, he stared blankly ahead as I drove toward his house and gently tried to explain all that he had just seen.
By the time we reached his house, he was still quite shaken. He invited me inside and I accepted, eager to see him safely delivered into the arms of his wife.
She wasn’t home, however, so I insisted that he call one of his children, perhaps Trey, since I knew he lived right down the street and could be here in a matter of minutes. While we waited, I heated some water on the stove for tea and essentially made myself at home in the kitchen. The house was small but tidy, and everything was easy to find in the neatly organized cabinets. As the water began to bubble on the stove, Clement took a seat at the table, silent, his expression blank. As I was setting his tea in front of him, Trey burst through the door, concern evident on his face.
Short but muscular, with his father’s coffee-colored skin and deep brown eyes, Trey was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, both of which were covered with spatters of blue.
“We were painting the baby’s room,” he added, sounding breathless, looking from me to his father. “What’s going on?”
Clement didn’t answer, so I introduced myself and tried to explain the situation as best I could. The place where Clement worked, I said, had been busted for fraud and theft. Clement was in the clear, but he had been fairly traumatized by the whole event.
“And who are you, exactly?” Trey asked, looking at me as if this were all my fault. In a way, it was.
“My name is Callie Webber,” I said, carrying over two more cups of tea and taking a seat at the table. “I’m a private investigator.”
Clement turned toward me, his face suddenly registering disbelief rather than shock.
“You’re a what? ” he asked.
“A private investigator.”
“Since I was old enough to get certified in the state of Virginia,” I said. “I’m also a lawyer. I work for the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation out of Washington, DC.”
Clement shook his head, as if to shake off the confusion. Before he could launch into more questions, I continued.
“I live in Maryland now,” I explained, “and I just came to California to investigate Dinner Time on behalf of my employer. Dinner Time had requested a grant, and it’s my job to verify eligibility.”
“You don’t even live here?” Clement asked me, still incredulous. “You mean you’ve been pretending all week?”
“I’m sorry, Clement,” I said. “Sometimes that’s the only way I can really see what’s going on.”
Trey slid into the seat across from me, ignoring the tea I had put there for him.
“So what happened today?” he asked. “I’m still confused.”
“In the course of the investigation of Dinner Time, I uncovered fraud, theft, tax evasion, distribution of stolen property, you name it. I took that information to the police, only to learn that they already knew about it and that they were very close to making some arrests. We worked together on a sting operation, and today we caught most of the guilty parties red-handed.”
“I can’t believe they were stealing food,” Clement said, shaking his head sadly.
“I always told you there was something slick about that Skipper person,” Trey said to his father. “‘Skipper and Winnie,’ good grief. Sounds like a pair of Barbie dolls.”
“Will Dinner Time have to close down?” Clement asked.
“Probably,” I answered. “Even if someone were to try to keep the place up and running, I doubt it would be able to stay open for very long. Between the bad publicity and the incarcerated principals, I think it’ll soon fold. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” Clement said. “I’m sorry I was so blind, so stupid.”
Trey put a reassuring hand on his father’s arm.
“C’mon, Pop,” he said. “You couldn’t know. You were just doing your job.”
“Oh, yeah, my job,” Clement said. “Guess I’m out of a job now.”
“We’ll find you something,” Trey said. “Maybe Tanisha can get you on over at the grocery store.”
“I liked working at a nonprofit,” Clement said, shaking his head. “I liked feeling that my efforts were making just a little difference in the world.”
I reached into my pocket, grasping the familiar square of paper there. I pulled it out and set it on the table in front of me, still folded in half.
“I’d like to talk to you about that,” I said. “And I’m glad Trey is here, because this would involve him too.”
Both men looked at me, their faces somber.
“In the course of my investigation,” I continued, “I had to check into everybody’s background. Including yours, Clement. Your life story paints a picture of a good man, a steady reliable worker who knows the value of a dollar.”
“That’s my dad,” Trey said suspiciously. “But what are you getting at?”
“Well, I’ve watched you this week reading to the children down at the food bank, Clement. I’ve heard you talk about the benefits of reading, of being read to. I want you to think about starting a charity of your own. Something that lets you go around and give away books and have regular reading times with homeless children.”
“Like a bookmobile?” Clement asked.
“Perhaps,” I said. “Or maybe you could get some space in the recreation center or a homeless shelter or another food bank. Somewhere that you could set up a little reading corner filled with books and beanbag chairs and stuffed animals. It’s not hard to get people to donate children’s books to a charity. You could provide reading times, give the books to the children who seem to want them, encourage their parents to read with them…”
I let my voice trail off, seeing that a spark was lighting up behind Clement’s eyes.
“What do I have to do with this?” Trey asked.
“Your father told me that you’re an accountant,” I said. “Maybe you can help him get started and then keep the books for him.”
“Well, yeah, I could do that.”
“And I understand your sister is a graphic artist? Maybe she could put together some brochures and promotional materials. You’d be surprised how many resources are available, usually right at your own fingertips.”
I looked at Trey and then at Clement, surprised to see the fire quickly fading from the older man’s eyes.
“As good as our intentions may be,” he said, shaking his head, “There’s one thing standing in the way. I can’t afford it.”
I smiled, fingering the square of paper in front of me.
“Well, then let me take it a step further,” I said. “My job allows me a certain amount of leeway with small monetary grants. What would you think if I gave you a check to get started? You could get yourself incorporated as a nonprofit, file for federal tax exemption, and cover your basic start-up costs. Once you’ve got that tax exemption, I would encourage you to fill out a grant application from the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation for a much larger amount of money. We believe strongly in what you could accomplish, Clement, and we would like to have some small part in furthering your efforts.”
I sat back, thinking that in the two and a half years I had worked for the foundation, this was the first time I had to talk someone into taking our money!
“Still, I don’t see how it would work,” Trey said. “He’d need at least a thousand dollars just to get set up.”
“How does five thousand sound?” I asked, unfolding the check and handing it to them. It was already made out to Clement Jackson, who picked it up and studied it as if it were a ticket to somewhere important. “And, like I said, once you’ve got that tax exemption and your policies and procedures in place, you can apply to us for more. I have a feeling we’ll be very generous as long as you can show you’ve got a good business plan.”
The two men looked at each other and grinned, and not for the first time I wished my boss, Tom, the philanthropist behind all J.O.S.H.U.A. grants, could be here to witness their joy. Tom was half a world away right now, and though later I would recount this entire scene for him over the phone, it still made me sad that he wasn’t here experiencing it for himself.
Then again, he never was. Tom always donated anonymously through the foundation and then enjoyed the moment of presentation vicariously through me. I was happy to recreate every word, every detail, but I had never understood why he chose to remain so removed from the whole process.
Of course, he and I talked frequently during every investigation, and in fact it was the time we spent on the phone that had allowed us to become friends and then eventually something much more than friends. Four months ago, after several years of a phone-only relationship, Tom and I had finally been able to meet face-to-face.
At the time, he had been out of the country for his work, but he had surprised me by flying back to the States and showing up at my home. We had spent exactly 12 hours together—12 amazing hours that I had relived again and again in my memories ever since—and then he had to leave, returning to Singapore and the urgent business that awaited him.
Now, four months later, Tom was still in Singapore, though his business there was quickly drawing to a close and soon he would be coming home for good. His home was in California and mine was in Maryland, but our plan was to meet somewhere between the two in exactly seven days at some quiet place where we would finally, finally be able to spend some real quality time together—time getting to know each other even better, time exploring the possibilities of a relationship that had gone from friendship to something much more in the space of one 12-hour visit. I was already counting the minutes until we could be together again, knowing that once he returned, a new chapter in my life would begin in earnest. Tom was handling the logistics of our reunion, and my primary concern was to wrap up my next investigation by the following Sunday, because I didn’t want work or anything else to detract from the time we were going to spend together.
Clement spoke, snapping me out of my thoughts and back to the moment at hand.
“I’ve been praying for something like this for quite a while,” he was saying, looking at his son, and I realized there were tears in his eyes. “For so long,” he repeated, blinking. “I didn’t think the Lord was hearing me. But He was. Because He sent me an angel.”
I held up one hand to stop him, emotion surging in my heart as well.
“I’m not kidding, girl. You are an angel. A very generous angel.”
“So you’ll take the money and start your own charity?” I asked.
“Oh, thank You, Lord,” he said, grinning up toward the ceiling. Then he looked back at me. “Yes, Callie. Yes. Most definitely yes.”
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
For many women, dread turns to panic around 4:00 in the afternoon. That’s when they have to answer that age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” Many resort to another supermarket rotisserie chicken or—worse yet—ordering dinner through a drive-thru intercom.
In The What’s for Dinner Solution, popular author and speaker Kathi Lipp provides a full-kitchen approach for getting dinner on the table every night. After putting her 21-day plan into action, women will
- save time—with bulk shopping and cooking
- save money—no more last-minute phone calls to the delivery pizza place
- save their sanity—forget the last-minute scramble every night and know what they’re having for dinner
The book includes real recipes from real women, a quick guide to planning meals for a month, the best shopping strategies for saving time and money, and tips on the best ways to use a slow cooker, freezer, and pantry.
With Kathi’s book in hand, there’s no more need to hit the panic button.
This little book will help the cook to easily get prepared, get organized, go shopping, and cook simple meals.
I like the way the book is laid out in an easy-to-understand fashion. I can see this as a useful shower gift for the bride.
Included is a list of forty dinnertime questions that will spark family conversation!
Thank you to FirstWildCard and Karri James at Harvest House Publishers for my copy.
And now, the first chapter:
“Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely only on know-how;
it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life.”
Georges Blanc, from Ma Cuisine des Saisons
I was not the kind of kid who grew up at my mom’s knee, helping her chop carrots for Sunday night’s chicken soup. I never really helped with any meal preparation, preferring to turn my attention in the kitchen to baking. There was always some social event with friends or a youth group party where I needed to bring brownies. The one memorable time I tried to make instant potatoes? Instead of the specified one-quarter tablespoon of salt, I used a quarter cup salt. That incident happened over twenty-five years ago, and I have yet to stop hearing about it from my loving and encouraging family.
Suffice to say, I was a bit ill-prepared for the cooking adventures that lay ahead as I lived on my own for the first time. And to complicate matters? My first apartment was in Uji, Japan, approximately seven thousand miles from my mother’s loving embrace and her pot-roast recipe (as if I could afford beef in Japan).
The recipe cards were stacked against me. No cooking skills to speak of, living in a foreign land where most of the time I couldn’t identify what I was eating much less figure out how it was prepared, a kitchen the size of my coat closet back home, and an oven so small it made me long for the Easy-Bake one of my childhood.
I was terrified going to the supermarket without an escort and a translator. I didn’t speak the language (as a short-term missionary teaching conversational English, speaking Japanese was actually a disadvantage in my job), and as unfamiliar as I was with food shopping in the U.S., shopping in Uji was like watching a foreign movie without subtitles and then having to write a paper on the plot.
Oh, and eating out? So not an option. While my cooking skills were limited, my food budget was near nonexistent.
A few things were easy to recognize. The bread in Japan was amazing. It was buttery and flaky and perfect. And there was some really lovely cheese and ham. So, for the first three months of exploring this exotic new culture, I ate ham and cheese sandwiches every single night for dinner.
As I started to get to know some of my students and coworkers better, I had this urge to invite them over to hang out with me. But I had a sneaking suspicion they would want to be fed. I knew that my students would love some authentic American dishes. The question was, Who would I get to cook them?
Another short-term missionary, Diana, had a cookbook called More-With-Less. This wonderful little book produced by the Mennonite community had tons of recipes that used simple ingredients most cooks would have in their kitchen. While I didn’t have a lot of pantry staples in my four-story walk-up, I was now armed with a grocery list as well as an English-to-Japanese dictionary for my trips to the store.
I started to look for simple things I could make: salads, sandwiches, curries, and mini-pizzas out of English muffins and ketchup. (I promise, my culinary skills and taste have gotten better over the years.) As I grew braver in all things cuisine, I started to ask my mom to send some of my favorite recipes from back home.
In fact, when I threw a Christmas celebration with my friend Spenser in my micro-sized apartment, we managed to make a fondue-potless version of my mom’s Pizza Fondue. Shopping for the ingredients proved challenging, even for Spenser who spoke near-fluent Japanese. After several attempts to translate cornstarch into the native language (One would think corn + starch = cornstarch, right? Wrong. It’s pronounced korunstarcha.), we headed back to my kitchen and made one of the best meals I have ever eaten—lots of tomato sauce, some ground beef, loads of cheese, and just the right amount of korunstarcha.
½ lb. ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 10½-oz. cans pizza sauce (I use marinara sauce)
1 T. cornstarch (or korunstarcha, if you prefer)
1½ tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. garlic powder
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 loaf French bread
Brown the ground beef and onion; drain. Put meat, sauce, cornstarch, and spices in fondue pot. When cooked and bubbly, add cheese. Spear crusty French bread cubes, then dip and swirl in fondue. This is also delicious with breadsticks. Serves 4 to 6.
From that point on, I was hooked on collecting my favorite recipes. I bought my own copy of More-With-Less when I got back to the States, and when I got married a few months later, I received my very first copy of everyone’s favorite red-and-white-plaid Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, with every recipe an emerging home cook could want.
I think most of us home cooks have a similar story to tell. OK, you probably didn’t have your first significant cooking experience in Uji, Japan, but I bet the first few times you got dinner on the table all on your own, you might as well have been in a different country.
Maybe your mom had you peeling potatoes before you could walk. Maybe you have a rich heritage of recipes passed down from your grandmother. None of our cooking histories are going to look the same, but we do have one thing in common: We all need to get dinner on the table.
I am not a professional cook. Tom Colicchio will never be critiquing my braised kale and chocolate with bacon foam on Top Chef. But over the past twenty years I have put dinner on the table almost every single night. And while my family still likes a pizza from the neighborhood shop, our kids who have left home really look forward to coming back for a home-cooked meal.
That is all the reward I need.
Why This Book?
So, you discovered my deep dark secret—I’m not a professional chef. I don’t have my own show on Food Network, my own brand of spatulas, and I’m not going to be appearing on any morning show making a frittata for Kathie Lee Gifford.
Still, I’m required to feed our large family almost daily. So when I come across a cookbook, I have an unnatural need to own it. I’m always looking for new recipes to keep dinner interesting at our house. I have an entire bookshelf in my kitchen for my ever-growing collection.
But to be honest with you, most of the money I’ve spent on those cookbooks could have been better spent on a good set of knives or a heavy iron skillet.
I have found that most cookbooks are aimed at the fantasy life many of us aspire to—entertaining regularly, having unusual and exotic ingredients on hand, and hours and hours in the kitchen to create these masterpieces, from scratch.
And then there is my reality. Yes, sometimes I like to spend a Saturday afternoon cooking up a big feast for friends and family. But most days? I want to get a delicious, healthy meal on the table quickly.
My test when I’m purchasing new cookbooks? I flip to a half dozen or so recipes throughout the book and ask myself, Can I imagine cooking this recipe in the next couple of weeks? If most of the recipes fail the test, the book stays at the store.
I want the reality. I want dinner on the table every night without being seduced by pictures of stylist-arranged food that—let’s be honest—I’m never going to prepare.
While those books offer up a lot of grilled-chicken-in-a-peanut-sauce-in-the-sky dreams, I need some reality. It’s not just about the recipe; it’s about all the aspects of getting dinner on the table.
By the end of this book, my hope for you is that you will be able to:
save time, money, and energy when it comes to
have less stress when it comes to shopping
get your kitchen prepared for battle
learn some stress-free ways to get dinner on the table
get out of your cooking rut
This book is all about the process, the how of getting dinner on the table. It reflects the collective wisdom of hundreds of women who don’t have prep cooks or a crew of interns trying out new recipes. We are the women who spend a significant part of our days thinking about, shopping for, and preparing dinner. And all these wise, wonderful women are going to show you a better way to get dinner on the table no matter what your cooking background or skill level.
This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started cooking, as well as when I was raising my brood of pint-sized food critics.
Don’t worry, there will be plenty of recipes. We all love to find that one recipe that is going to become a family favorite! But this book has much more than that. My hope is that you will be able to use the recipes you already have, the ones in this book, and the new ones you find along the way to set a big, bountiful table for your family.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
When it comes to love, one thing's for sure--it doesn't follow a script!
Athena Pappas is the head writer on Stars Collide, one of the most popular sitcoms in television history. But when Vegas comedian Stephen Cosse is brought in to beef up the show's suddenly sagging ratings, she starts to worry about her job. Sparks fly as the competition--and attraction--between the two writers heats up. Athena has never had a problem writing the romances of her characters. So why is her own love life so hard to script?
With humor and a Hollywood-insider viewpoint, Hello, Hollywood! delivers lots of laughs as Athena and Stephen discover that not being in control of the plot of their lives might just be the best thing that ever happened to them.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Athena Pappas, a twenty-eight year old, unmarried, head writer of a hit television sitcom. With much of the activity centering in Athena's parents' Greek sandwich shop, the reader learns many things about Greek tradition. Athena helps every Saturday, by making baklava, a delicious honey-nut pastry.
Love flows freely and all are happy, happy, happy.
As the plot unfolds, humor is interwoven with romance. Although the storyline is predictable, I enjoyed the read. However, the conclusion is disappointing as it winds up too quickly.
The novel made me long for some Greek food. Fortunately, I live in Florida, close to Tarpon Springs, a Greek city. I plan to get a gyro and some yummy baklava soon!
Thank you to Donna Hausler at Baker Publishing Group for my copy.
Available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.