Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Substitute Bride:a Novella by Carrie Fancett Pagels, © 2015

O' Little Town of Christmas Collection

A Christmas blessing for a lifetime.

Neato! Maybe I can use this church in my Christmas Town story!!! Shepherd, Michigan MI ~ Christian Church  REAL PHOTO ^:
Shepherd, Michigan ~ Christian Church REAL PHOTO
Another perfect pic for my story, which is set in 1890s in Shepherd, Michigan! 1917 SHEPHERD MICHIGAN ANN ARBOR DEPOT rppc Real Photo Postcard:
Another perfect pic for my story, which is set in 1890s in Shepherd, Michigan! 1917 SHEPHERD MICHIGAN ANN ARBOR DEPOT rppc Real Photo Postcard ~ author Carrie Fancett Pagels

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."
   - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Shepherd, Michigan ~ November 1891
Long shadows fell as Sonja Hoeke concluded her father's rural mail carrier route. Filling in for him as the substitute carrier, Sonja has just left Mr. Welling's house, after the long, winding, unyielding rutted road leading to the Poor Farm overseen by grouchy Mrs. Geisig. With Mr. Welling's passing, there no longer was a near neighbor to keep an eye on upkeep and care of the inmates. His daughter-in-law was visiting from Mackinac Island clearing out the house and preparing it for winter.

Sonja had so much on her mind following the passing of her friend, Cora. Just that day Cora had received a letter of proposal from her longtime correspondent, Mr. Penwell, who worked for the railroad in South Dakota. He as yet did not know of the demise of his intended. The postmaster had approved her opening the mail Cora received to be able to inform him.

Sonja's father has proclaimed that his daughter was to be out of his house by Christmas ~ married to whomever he chose, or shipped off as an apprentice substitute mail carrier elsewhere. Mulling over whether this would be her future, could she stand in the place as the substitute bride for Mr. Penwell? Mr. Penwell had declared that he had received a promotion that was better served by a man with a wife.

There are more surprises ahead for Louis Smith Penwell. His promotion is not where he is, but back in his hometown he hoped he would never return to. Long ago called Salt River, after the town burned it was rebuilt with brick and named after the chief benefactor, a Mr. Shepherd. No matter the name change, the people and the County Farm would still be there. There would be those who had known him as Louis Smith, the son of a former gambling man who hadn't used his last name. Becoming an orphan, Louis had no relatives to take him in. And now Mr. Welling, the near neighbor, had passed too. Nothing for him to come home to ~ except a new beginning with Cora.

I liked how this story wove together with thoughts from each of them. Sonja, wondering how she was going to survive, and Louis who had remembered seeing her at school in their teens. The beautiful story of healing for each of them as they honored one another, going beyond their treatment by others. There is a twist in the story I won't mention; a weaving together of love.

Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D.
“Hearts Overcoming Through Time” Author of Saving the Marquise's Granddaughter (White Rose, 2015) and The Lumberjacks' Ball (April, 2015). Family Fiction Historical Genre winner 2014 for short story, The Quilting Contest now published in an anthology. Amazon bestselling author of The Fruitcake Challenge and Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance. Author of short story “Snowed In” (Guidepost Books, 2013) in A Cup of Christmas Cheer. Contributor to Selah finalist God’s Provision in Tough Times (Lighthouse of the Carolinas, July 2013). Blog Administrator for Overcoming With God and Colonial Quills. Served as a psychologist for twenty-five years. (Website, Pinterest, Twitter)

***Thank you to author Carrie Fancett Pagels for inviting me to be part of the review tour for her novella in the O' Little Town of Christmas Collection, and sending me a review copy of The Substitute Bride. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***


"I will be glad to do a giveaway of the book - winner's choice of
ebook or paperback!" 
~ author Carrie Fancett Pagels

Comment below with your email address[at]...[dot]com ~ winner will be contacted December 6, 2015. If you already have a copy, this one could be ready for your Christmas gift! 

Friday, November 27, 2015

An Amish Christmas Gift by Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid, and Kelly Irvin, © 2015

Three Amish Novellas

For the first time, Amy Clipston’s beloved novella, Naomi’s Gift, is paired with two never-before-seen stories from Kelly Irvin and Ruth Reid in a beautiful, keepsake collection. These stories follow the moments of unexpected love and joy three women experience during the holiday season. Each novella focuses on the importance of family, faith and hope not just during the holidays but all year-round.

My Review of the three novellas in An Amish Christmas Gift:

Naomi's Gift by Amy Clipston––The character of Naomi King in A Promise of Hope and A Place of Peace is revisited in a story of her own. 
"Jesus looked at them and said, "It is impossible for people [to save themselves], but everything is possible for God." Matthew 19:26
Naomi King is happily tending the quilt stand with her friend in the indoor farmers market as Caleb Schmucker's driver comes near the market. They are on their way to his sister's for Christmas. His young daughter, Susie, asks to stop to take her aenti Sadie a pie. Amid the English and Amish shoppers, Caleb and his daughter are separated and he frantically searches everywhere for her. Susie is comfortable where she is. She has found a maroon Lone Star quilt like the one her mamm had made in blues and creams, and heads for it.

Thankful to be reunited, Caleb, Susie, and their gift pie continue on to his eldest sister's home.

Image result for amish in the snowImage result for amish in the snowHappily content with her cousins, Susie is enjoying the many activities and a chance to interact with her new freind Naomi again. Susie had lost her mamm in an accident two Christmases earlier.

Her aenti is not so excited to have Susie make the connection with Naomi and steers her brother away every time he seems to get too close. She has plans of her own for her widowed younger brother. This includes his returning to their district in Pennsylvania, and leaving his home in Ohio behind. Caleb had plans for visiting as he always had for the holidays. That is, until he talks to Naomi and feels perhaps his life can go on, with new dreams.

I enjoyed this story of Naomi being true to herself and following God when talk and speculation of her motives are going on around her.
"I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope. Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will hear you." Jeremiah 29:11-12
Have your intentions been judged by others when they are only seeing the external? Other people involved walk off while you are left with the tale-wagging? Thankfully, our Lord sees our hearts and motives. I admired Naomi for standing for right regardless of those avoiding her. Reminds me of the Pharisees who questioned Jesus.
Amy Clipston 
I enjoyed reading this story again. I read it the first time three winters ago, joined with A Plain and Simple Christmas, two best selling books from the Kauffman Amish Bakery Series. You may visit author Amy Clipston at her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

I can just imagine all the feelings Caleb felt climbing the stairs in his childhood home passed down between four generations. Joy awaits.

An Unexpected Joy by Ruth Reid
Image result for older and younger amish women together
Abigail Kemp and Micah Zook's grandmother have come together in an inspiring way. Needing care, Mrs. Zook has welcomed Abigail into her life and heart, after first feeling she didn't need anyone to assist her. Is there more for Abigail, as well? Content she is not to marry, she is busy with her hand work and bakery items. Thankful for her giftings, Abigail is readily available to become Mrs. Zook's companion.
Image result for amish quilted potholders Image result for amish shoo fly pie
Enjoy this excerpt from page 1, Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Abigail Kemp emptied her savings from the Mason jar onto her bed and began sorting the coins into piles. She counted her money each time she added to the jar and kept a detailed journal recording of each deposit––every cent––since last December. Once she realized she may never marry, she began selling baked goods and quilted potholders to save for a horse. In St. Joseph County, Michigan, an unmarried woman at twenty-two was more likely to get run over by a buggy than find a good man to marry––at least that was the joke at the youth singings. She met that milestone over a year ago, and now any offers to drive her home after the Sunday singings had dried up.
   Footsteps clomped outside the bedroom. Her sister Elizabeth stormed into the room. "The next chicken that marks its territory on my dress sleeve is going in the fryer." She pulled the pins from her dress and slipped it off, letting the garment drop to the floor. "Do you want to trade chores this week?"
   "Picking eggs for sweeping and mopping? Absolutely." Now that the weather had turned colder, the chickens weren't laying as many eggs. Besides, doing chores first thing in the morning offered more time to prepare and deliver her baked goods without interruptions. Orders for her fruitcakes were already coming in, and with Christmas only a few weeks away, she would be busy just trying to stay ahead.
Now aren't you just ready to turn the page??

A couple drawbacks, so you know, Abigail is known to be quite talkative and forward, a little uncertain what will happen when you approach her ~ at least, that's what the thought is around town. No one could get a word in edgewise. Oh, well, possibly it will come in handy somewhere...

In the wintry snow, Abigail trudges through to Edith Zook's hearth, unaware of the warmth she will find there. When we open our hearts, our mouth speaks our desires. She confesses she has no one to share her words with. Edith's sweet and comforting words, along with correct direction and advice, are heard by Abigail and entered into her life. Such a sweet story of hope and following through on what we say ~ even from the deepest parts of our being. She is receiving and forgiving, an aid in true gathering of hearts and home.

Author Ruth Reid contacts: Website, Facebook, Twitter.
Ruth Reid

A Christmas Visitor: An Amish Christmas Gift Novella by Kelly Irvin
New Hope AmishFrannie Mast returns to Bee County for Christmas, but her heart stays back in Missouri with an Englisch farm boy.

 Unknown to Frannie, decisions may come forth this Christmas she never imagined ~ knowing her true heart. Wondering if what she left behind is what she is to look forward to, Frannie heads to Texas from Missouri to her aenti Abigail and onkel Mordecai's home. Eager to see her cousins, Frannie still has some misgivings of what she might miss at home. Will Abigail fit in, with her thoughts miles away?
Image result for jamesport moImage result for jamesport mo
An unexpected guest appears at dinnertime with an uncertain welcome. Rocky Sanders from back in Jamesport ~ well, from his visits to the restaurant and bakery where Abigail had been a waitress. He was a long way from home just to be moseying. Background:
Frannie knows her parents have the best of intentions when they send her back to Bee County, Texas, to live with her aunt Abigail and her husband Mordecai. After all, she knows nothing can come of a relationship with Rocky, the handsome but Englisch farmer boy back in Missouri. It's best to put those feelings aside, no matter how hard it is. But all bets are off when Rocky follows Frannie to Texas to plead his case. Could he be the Christmas gift to end all gifts?

Image result for older and younger amish Prepare to be surprised what the ending of summer's heat, autumn's beginning, into the cold of winter brings to Mordecai King's farm. Changes of heart and home as Gott––God of all, brings about Gelassenheit (ɡəˈlasn̩haɪ̯t Serenity)––yielding to God's will and forsaking selfishness. (I know, there isn't likely snow like this in south Texas on the farm-to-market road, but isn't this pretty? It actually did snow all Christmas Day when we were in Texas at our daughter's a couple winters ago ~ beautiful flakes, sticking but not remaining long.)

author Kelly Irvin
Kelly Irvin Visit Kelly: Website, Facebook, Twitter.

I have read the first two books in the Amish of Bee County series, The Beekeeper's Son and The Bishop's Son, and thoroughly enjoyed them! Looking forward to the third book in the trilogy.
Here was one of my favorite parts of A Christmas VisitorImage result for amish combination store
and the children's Christmas program coming out from behind the white sheet. Memories of my own!

***Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for this review copy of An Amish Christmas Gift. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl by Susie Finkbeiner, © 2015

A Cup of Dust

  This little cup has been on my desk since I started writing A Cup of Dust. It's what I pictured a character named Beanie carrying around with her in the beginning of the book. I can't wait for you to meet her and the rest of the Spence Family.
   --author Susie Finkbeiner

My Review:

I received an e-mail from Susie Finkbeiner one morning alerting a post she wrote, "Sweet Mary Spence," and this photo found in an antique store that revealed a love beyond measure.

"When I look into the eyes of the woman in the picture I found at the antique store, that's what I see. Grace and determination and fierce love.
"I don't know the real name of that woman. I never will, I guess. But to me, she'll always be Mary Spence. She'll always be Pearl's own mama."
   --author Susie Finkbeiner

The Dust-Bowl Era
Survivors. Doing what they know to do.
Seasonal workers. Going half way across the country to find work picking vegetables, to care for family back home. Migrant worker camps ~ missing those left behind.

Only excitement lately is the train pulling in near us. Until the day one man getting off a boxcar with others, walks right to me and says, "Pearl?" Then he saunters off. How does he know my name? I am silent. I say nothing.

I am handed a birthday card every year that I am to hide from Mama ~ not signed, who is it from? There is more going on than the wind blowing the Oklahoma dust over the land. My Daddy's the sheriff. He and I are close. He is a good man and looks out for us.
Image result for dust bowl A somber story of a harrowing time in history during the Great Depression. The loss wasn't as much about money as it was holding on to hope and dreams. There was not much money could buy. Shriveled up living left behind empty storefronts and a loss of neighbors, as those believing they traveled away to a better time. The better time actually was families ~ clinging to each other and helping out where they could. Sharing what they had, including kind and encouraging words for a better tomorrow as the storms abated and lives returned to an earlier time of green grass and fattened cattle.
I remembered grass. It could get as green as that dress. I remembered how bright the fields were after the rain. Even before the dust came, it didn't rain all that often, but when it did, we thanked God over and over. Back then, I would pretend that I was a flower standing tall in the downpour. Mama would call me in, but I'd only obey after I'd let the drops fall on my head and in my mouth and run all the way down my body.
   Those were days when I never felt thirsty or hungry. Green was the color of enough.
A Cup of Dust, 191-192
Others may have had another view of the time, but this is Pearl's story. Fear held in, afraid if it dispelled all she knew to be true, it would collapse against the faint haze of the sun against the glowing dust piles as far as the eye could see.

Wife. Mother. Novelist. Living the story.
Susie Finkbeiner is a stay-at-home mom, speaker, and author from West Michigan. Her previous books include Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother's Chamomile (2014). She has served as fiction editor and regular contributor to the Burnside Writers Guild and Unbound magazine. Finkbeiner is an avid blogger, is on the planning committee of the Breathe Christian Writers Conference, and has presented or led groups of other writers at several conferences.

I needed to give the Dust Bowl folks their chance to say, "See what happened here? See how we survived. What we lost. What we gained. See what you can learn from us about love and loyalty, faith and grit, loss and hardship?"
   --author Susie Finkbeiner

***Thank you to Kregel Publications for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl by Susie Finkbeiner. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt from Susie Finkbeiner's novel, A Cup of Dust ~ Chapter Past


Red River, Oklahoma
September 1934

As soon as I was off the porch and out of Mama’s sight, I pushed the scuffed-up, hole-in-the-soles Mary Janes off my feet. They hurt like the dickens, bending and cramping my toes and rubbing blisters on my heels. Half the dirt in Oklahoma sifted in when I wore those shoes, tickling my skin through thin socks before shaking back out. When I was nine they had fit just fine, those shoes. But once I turned ten they’d gotten tight all the sudden. I hadn’t told Mama, though. She would have dipped into the pennies and nickels she kept in an old canning jar on the bottom of her china cabinet. She would have counted just enough to buy a new pair of shoes from Mr. Smalley’s grocery store.
   I didn’t want her taking from that money. That was for a rainy day, and we hadn’t had anything even close to a rainy day in about forever.
   Red River was on the wrong side of No Man’s Land in the Panhandle. The skinny part of Oklahoma, I liked to say. If I spit in just the right direction, I could hit New Mexico. If I turned just a little, I’d get Colorado. And if I spit to the south, I’d hit Texas. But ladies didn’t spit. Not ever. That’s what Mama always said.
   I leaned my hip against the lattice on the bottom of our porch. Rolling off my socks, I kept one eye on the front door just in case Mama stepped out. She was never one for whupping like some mothers were, but she had a look that could turn my blood cold. And that look usually had a come-to-Jesus meeting that followed close behind it.
   She didn’t come out of the house, though, so I shoved the socks into my shoes and pushed them under the porch.
   Bare feet slapping against hard-as-rock ground felt like freedom. Careless, rebellious freedom. The way I imagined an Indian girl would feel racing around tepees in the days before Red River got piled up with houses and ranches and wheat. The way things were before people with white faces and bright eyes moved on the land.
   I was about as white faced and bright eyed as it got. My hair was the kind of blond that looked more white than yellow. Still, I pretended my pale braids were ink black and that my skin was dark as a berry, darkened by the sun.
   Pretending to be an Indian princess, I ran, feeling the open country’s welcome.
   If Mama had been watching, she would have told me to slow down and put my shoes back on. She surely would have gasped and shook her head if she knew I was playing Indian. Sheriff’s daughters were to be ladylike, not running wild as a savage.
   Mama didn’t understand make-believe, I reckoned. As far as I knew she thought imagination was only for girls smaller than me. “I would’ve thought you’d be grown out of it by now,” she’d say.
   I hadn’t grown out of my daydreams, and I didn’t reckon I would. So I just kept right on galloping, pretending I rode bareback on a painted pony like the one I’d seen in one of Daddy’s books.
   Meemaw asked me many-a-time why I didn’t play like I was some girl from the Bible like Esther or Ruth. If they’d had a bundle of arrows and a strong bow I would have been more inclined to put on Mama’s old robe and play Bible times.
   I slowed my trot a bit when I got to the main street. A couple ladies stood on the sidewalk, talking about something or another and waving their hands around. I thought they looked like a couple birds, chirping at each other. The two of them noticed me and smiled, nodding their heads.
   “How do, Pearl?” one of them asked.
   “Hello, ma’am,” I answered and moved right along.
   Across the street, I spied Millard Young sitting on the courthouse steps, his pipe hanging out of his mouth. He’d been the mayor of Red River since before Daddy was born. I didn’t know his age, exactly, but he must have been real old, as many wrinkles as he had all over his face and the white hair on his head. He waved me over and smiled, that pipe still between his lips. I galloped to him, knowing that if I said hello he’d give me a candy.
   Even Indian princesses could enjoy a little something sweet every now and again.
   With times as hard as they were for folks, Millard always made sure he had something to give the kids in town. Mama had told me he didn’t have any grandchildren of his own, which I thought was sad. He would have made a real good grandpa. I would have asked him to be mine but didn’t know if that would make him feel put upon. Mama was always getting after me for putting upon folks.
   “Out for a trot?” he asked as soon as I got closer to the bottom of the stairs.
   “Yes, sir.” I climbed up a couple of the steps to get the candy he offered. It was one of those small pink ones that tasted a little like mint-flavored medicine. I popped it in my mouth and let it sit there, melting little by little. “Thank you.”
   He winked and took the pipe back out of his lips. It wasn’t lit. I wondered why he had it if he wasn’t puffing tobacco in and out of it. “Looking for your sister?” His lips hardly moved when he talked. It made me wonder what his teeth looked like. I’d known him my whole life and couldn’t think of one time that I’d seen his teeth. “Seen her about half hour ago, headed that-a-way.” He nodded out toward the sharecroppers’ cabins.
   “Thank you,” I said with a smile.
   “Hope you catch her soon,” he said, wrinkling his forehead even more. “Her wandering off like that makes me real nervous.”
   “I’ll find her. I always do,” I called over my shoulder, picking up my gallop. “Thanks for the candy.”
   “That’s all right.” He nodded at me. “Watch where you’re going.”
   I turned and headed toward the cabins, hoping to find my sister there but figuring she’d wandered farther out than that.
   My sister was born Violet Jean Spence, but nobody called her that. We all just called her Beanie and nobody could remember why exactly. Daddy had told me that Beanie was born blue and not able to catch a breath. He’d said he had never prayed so hard for a baby to start crying. Finally, when she did cry and catch a breath, she turned from blue to bright pink. Violet Jean. The baby born blue as her name. Just thinking on it gave me the heebie-jeebies.
   When I needed to find Beanie, I knew to check the old ranch not too far outside town. My sister loved going out there, being under the wide-open sky. I was sure that if a duster hit, God would know to look for her at that ranch, too.
   Meemaw had told me that God could see us no matter where we went, even through all the dust. I really hoped that was true for Beanie’s sake. Meemaw had told me more than once that God saved us from the dust. So I figured He was sure to see me even if Pastor said the dust was God being mad at us all.
   In the flat pasture, cattle lowed, pushing their noses into the dust, searching out the green they weren’t like to find. I expected I’d find Beanie standing at the fence-line, hands behind her back so as to remember not to touch the wire. Usually she’d be there looking off over the field, eyes glazed over, not putting her focus on anything in particular.
   Daddy said she acted so odd because of the way she was born. She could see and hear everything around her. But when it came to understanding, that was a different thing altogether.
   I found Beanie at the ranch, all right. But instead of looking out at the pasture, she was sitting in the dirt, her dress pulled all the way up to her waist, showing off her underthings in a way Mama would never have approved of. Mama would have rushed over and told Beanie to put her knees together, keep her skirt down, and sit like a lady. I didn’t think my sister knew what any of that meant.
   Being a lady was just one item on the laundry list of things my sister couldn’t figure out. I wondered how much that grieved Mama.
   Mama had told me Beanie was slow. Daddy called her simple. Folks around town said she was an idiot. I’d gotten in more than one fight over a kid calling my sister a name like that. Meemaw had said those folks didn’t understand and that people sometimes got mean over what they didn’t understand.
   “It ain’t no use fighting them,” she had told me. “One of these days they’ll figure out that we’ve got a miracle walking around among us.”
   Our own miracle, sitting on the ground grunting and groaning and playing in dirt.
   “Beanie.” I bent at the waist once I got up next to her. My braids swung over my shoulders. “We gotta go home.”
   The tip of Beanie’s nose stayed pointed at the space between her spread out legs. Somehow she’d gotten herself a tin cup. Its white-and-blue enamel was chipped all the way around, and I figured it was old. She found things like that in the empty houses around town. Goodness knew there were plenty of abandoned places for her to explore around Red River. Half the houses in Oklahoma stood empty. Everybody had took up and moved west, leaving busted-up treasures for Beanie to find.
   She’d hide them from Mama under our bed or in our closet. Old, tattered scraps of cloth, a busted up hat, a bent spoon. Everything she found was a treasure to her. To the rest of us, it was nothing but more junk she’d hide away.
   “You hear me?” I asked, tapping her shoulder. “We gotta go.”
   She kept on digging in the dirt with that old cup like it was a shovel. Once she got it to overflowing, she held it in front of her face and tipped it, pouring it out. The grains of sand caught in the air, blowing into her face. I stood upright, pulling the collar of my dress over my face to block out the dust. She just didn’t care—she let it get in her mouth and nose and eyes.
   “That’s not good for you,” I said. “Don’t do that anymore.”
   Little noises came out her mouth from deep inside her. Nothing anybody would have understood, though. Mostly it was nothing more than short grunts and groans. Meemaw liked to think the angels in heaven spoke that same, hard tongue just for Beanie. Far as I knew it was nothing but nonsense. Beanie was sixteen years old and making noises like a two-year-old. She could talk as well as anybody else, she just didn’t want to most of the time.
   “Get up. Mama’s waiting on us.” I grabbed hold of her arm and pulled. “Put that old cup down, and let’s go.”
   Scooping a cup of dust, she finally looked at me. Not in my eyes, though, she wouldn’t have done that. Instead, she looked at my chin and smiled before dumping the whole cupful on my foot.
   Some days I just hated my sister so hard.
   “I seen a horny toad,” Beanie said, pushing against the ground to stand herself up. She stopped and leaned over, her behind in the air, to refill the cup. “It had blood coming out its eyes, that horny toad did.”
   “So what.” I took her hand. Scratchy palmed, she left her hand limp in mine, not making the effort to hold me back. “Mama’s gonna be sore if we don’t get home.”
   “Must’ve been scared of me. That toad squirted blood outta its eye right at me. Didn’t get none on me though.” She looked down at her dress to make sure as she shuffled her feet, kicking up dust. Her shoes were still on, tied up tight on her feet so she wouldn’t lose them.
   Mama moaned many-a-day about how neither of her girls liked to keep shoes on.
   “That toad wasn’t scared of you,” I said. “Those critters just do that.”
   We took a few steps, only making it a couple yards before Beanie stopped.
   “Duster’s coming.” Dark-as-night hair frizzed out of control on her head, falling to her shoulders as she looked straight up. Her big old beak of a nose pointed at the sky. “You feel it?”
   “Nah. I don’t feel anything.”
   Her long tongue pushed between thin lips making her look like a lizard. Her stink stung my nose when she raised both of her arms straight up over her head. She would have stayed like that the rest of the day if I hadn’t pulled her hand back down and tugged her to follow behind me.
   After a minute or two she stopped again. “You feel that poke?” she asked.
   “Just come on.” Hard as I yanked on her arm, I couldn’t get her to budge.
   Goose pimples bumped up on her arms. Then I felt them rise on mine. A buzzing, fuzzing, sharp feeling on my skin caught the breath in my lungs.
   The same feeling we always got before a dust storm rolled through.
   “We gotta get home.” Finally, my pulling got her to move, to run, even. Flapping of wings and twittering of voice, a flock of birds flew over us, going the opposite way. They always knew when a roller was coming, all the birds and critters did. Beanie did, too. I wondered if she was part animal for the way she knew things like that.
   We stopped and watched the birds. Beanie’s coal black eyes and my clear blue, watching the frantic flying. Beanie squeezed my hand, like we really were sisters and not just one girl watching over the other. For a quick minute, I felt kin to her.
   Most of the time I just felt the yoke of her pushing me low, weighing about as much as all the dust in Oklahoma.

   The winds whipped around us, and a mountain of black dirt rolled along, chasing behind us. Making our way in a straight path was near impossible, so we followed the lines of wire fence, watching the electric air pop blue sparks above the barbs. We got home and up the porch steps just in time. Mama was watching for us, waving for us to get up the steps. Reaching out, she pulled me in by the hand, our skin catching static, jolting all the way through me and into Beanie.
   Just as soon as we were inside, Mama closed and bolted the door. “It’s a big one,” she said, shoving a towel into the space between the door and the floor.
   “Praise the Lord you girls didn’t get yourselves lost,” Meemaw said, stepping up close and examining our faces. “You got any blisters? Last week I seen one of the sharecropper kids with blisters all over his body from the dust, even where his clothes covered his skin. And we didn’t have nothing to soothe them, did we, Mary?”
   “We did not.” Mama moved around the room, busying herself preparing for the storm.
   The nearest doctor was in Boise City, a good two-hour drive from Red River, three if the dust was thick. When folks couldn’t get to the city or didn’t have money to pay, they’d come to Meemaw and Mama. I thought it was mostly because they had a cabinet full of medicines in our house. Meemaw’d said, though, that it was on account of Mama had taken a year of nurses’ training before she met Daddy.
   “That poor boy. We had to clean out them sores with lye soap. I do believe it stung him something awful.” Meemaw shook her head. “Mary, did we put in a order for some of that cream?”
   “I did.” Mama plunged a sheet into the sink and pulled it out, letting it drip on the floor. “Pearl, would you please help me? This is the last one to hang.”
   We hung the sheet over the big window in the living room. Mama’s shoes clomped as she moved back from the window. My naked feet patted. I remembered my shoes, still under the porch. I crisscrossed my feet, one on top of the other, hoping she wouldn’t notice.
   “You can dig them out in the morning,” Mama said, lifting an eyebrow at me.
   Mama never did miss a blessed thing.
   Rumbling wind pelted the house with specks of dirt and small stones. Mama pulled me close into her soft body.
   “Don’t be scared,” she said, her voice gentle. “It’ll be over soon.”
   Then the dust darkened the whole world.
   Wind roared, shaking the windows and rattling doors. It pushed against the house from all sides like it wanted to blow us into the next county. I believed one day it would.
   The dust got in no matter how hard we tried to keep it out. It worked its way into a crack here or a loose floorboard there. A hole in the roof or a gap in a windowsill. It always found a way in. Always won.
   Dust and dark married, creating a pillow to smother hard on our faces.
   Pastor had always said that God sent the dust to fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike because of His great goodness. I didn’t know if there were any righteous folk anymore. Seemed everybody had given over to surviving the best they knew how. They had put all the holy church talk outside with the dust.
   Still, I couldn’t help but imagine that the dust was one big old whupping from the very hand of God.
   I wondered how good we’d all have to be to get God to stop being so angry at us.
   Pastor’d also said it was a bad thing to question God. If it was a sin, sure as lying or stealing busted-up cups or tarnished spoons, I didn’t want any part of it. I didn’t want to be the reason the dust storms kept on coming.
   I decided to fold myself into my imagination instead of falling into sin. I pretended the wind was nothing more than the breath of the Big Bad Wolf, come to blow our brick house down. Problem was, no amount of hairs on our chiny chin chins could refuse to let it in. Prayers and hollering didn’t do a whole lot either, as far as I could tell.
   The daydream didn’t work to push off my fear. Mama’s arm around me tightened, and I turned my face toward her, pushing into the warmth of her body. She smelled like talcum powder and lye soap.
   I stayed just like that, pressed safely against her, until the rolling drumbeat of the dust wall slowed and stopped and the witches’ scream of wind quieted. The Lord had sent the dust, but He’d also sent my mama. I wondered what Pastor would have to say about that. I wasn’t like to ask though. That man scared me more than a rattlesnake. And he was just as full of poison.
   Mama loosened her arms and rubbed my back. “It’s done now,” she said. “We made it.”
   “Praise the Lord God Almighty,” Meemaw sang out.
   Sitting up, I felt the grit the storm left behind on my skin and in my hair and under my eyelids.
   “You think Daddy’s okay?” I asked, blinking against the haze hanging in the air.
   “I have faith he is.” Mama stood and shook the dirt from her skirt. “I would bet he’s worrying about us as much as we’re worrying about him.”
   A flickering flame rose as Meemaw lit a lantern. It barely cut through the thick air. Still, the light eased my fear.
Susie Finkbeiner A Cup of Dust, Kregel Publications, © 2015

  Paint Chips

Saturday, November 7, 2015

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ESV Men's Devotional Bible © 2015 by Crossway; ESV Text Edition: 2011

ESV Men's Devotional Bible
The print is easily readable with clear font with 8.5-point Lexicon type, two-columns to a page. The devotional readings reflect on biblical text. The placement of the devotions have a footnote leading to the next devotion. They are not dated, but applicable to the Scriptures you are reading. There is a brief introduction to each Book of the Bible. In the back are articles addressing issues of interest to men. There is a dictionary of key terms, devotions index alongside Scripture references. This copy is hardcover.

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Here is an excerpt of a devotional reading:

When God Seems Far Away ~ Psalm 88
Psalm 88 is surely the darkest of all the Psalms. Almost every other psalm ends with, or at least includes, some note of hope or praise. Not this one. There appears to be no relief.
   We all experience this at times. Even though, as men, we want to be perceived as strong, we are privately aware of our weakness and frailty. Any deep disappointment or loss, any deep hurt, any prolonged sickness, any betrayal--really, any number of things--can make us feel what this psalmist, Heman, was feeling--lack of strength (Ps. 88:4), helplessness (v. 15), even despair (vv.5-6). The fact is, being in a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ does not mean that we will escape deep discouragement and even darkness. We will experience hard things, sometimes in waves, and sometimes for prolonged seasons. God has promised that we won't walk through those times alone, but he also hasn't promised that we won't at times feel alone.
   So it's a good thing that God has lovingly included this psalm in his Word. Otherwise we'd be left to wonder if God's sovereign love extended all the way to even our darkest experiences.
   But Psalm 88 doesn't just describe a common human experience; it also provides a "prompt" on what to do during such an experience. Three times the psalmist tells us that he "cried out to God" (see vv. 1, 9, 13). That repetition provides a bit of structure to the psalm, but far more importantly it tells us what this psalm is and what it's here for. Psalm 88 is a turning to God in the darkness, and it calls us to do the same. Psalm 88 is a telling to God of the darkness, and it calls us to do the same. And Psalm 88 is a trusting of God despite the darkness, and it calls us to do the same.
   Right at the beginning of this psalm the writer declares, "O LORD, God of my salvation..." Isn't that a striking statement, given the darkness of this psalm? Yet this is where Heman has put his hope. This is where there is a stake deep down into solid rock, and he has anchored himself to that stake.
   Let's not miss that this psalm is a prayer. God does not belittle the prayer of the deeply discouraged or even despairing man. He wants us to remember that there is both safety and salvation in coming to him.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

A Respectable Actress by Dorothy Love, © 2015

A Respectable Actress   Actress Fanny Kemble, the inspiration for A Respectable Actress.:
Actress Fanny Kemble, the inspiration for A Respectable Actress.
                                     --author Dorothy Love
All the world's a stage and all the men and
women merely players. They have their exits and
their entrances and one man in his time plays
many parts . . .

Savannah, Georgia, December 20, 1870

The packed theater is erupted with gunfire as the leading man, Arthur Sterling, goes down.

Image result for police wagon horses 1870  Visiting actress, Miss India Hartley, is rushed off to the Chatham County Jail. Theatrical noises during the performance of Suspicion at the Southern Palace Theater could not buffet the sound shattering the night.
   Father had often reminded her that every situation seemed less daunting in the light of a new day...
A Respectable Actress, 3
One moment, one change in the script by house director Cornelius Philbrick, rearranges lives forever.

Image result for map savannah st simon island

St. Simons Island, Georgia, January 5, 1871 ~ Indigo Point

Defense attorney Philip Sinclair has been hired by a benevolent socialite to defend actress India Hartley. Mrs. Sutton Mackay has long been an admirer of the theater and wants to divert scandal for Miss Hartley.

Image result for West Indies Antebellum Homes
   The house was of the West Indies style, built above a tabby basement, with wide, covered verandas and tall windows framed by shutters.
   Ibid., 33
Mr. Sinclair's sister, Amelia, and housekeeper, Mrs. Catchpole, are in residence at their plantation home as they deem to keep it from further decay and ruin since the war. As with her heart, India hopes to keep in the same repair as she faces what the future may bring to her silent, hesitant thoughts, intermingled with hope and assurance that Truth will prevail.

  Returning on the steamer back to Savannah for the trial, would her sanctuary at Indigo Point following the inquest be enough to quench her fears ~ of the unknown beyond her innocence?

Image result for oak and spanish moss"From the ruin of her old life had come this love, this priceless treasure."
Would her heart be summoned?

Join this story as secrets become evident and freedom hopeful.

Image result for dorothy love authorA native of west Tennessee, Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels. Contact author Dorothy Love: Facebook, Website, Twitter.
***Thank you to author Dorothy Love and to Thomas Nelson for this copy of A Respectable Actress for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***