Monday, September 28, 2009

A Slow Burn Reviewed

I first learned of writer Mary DeMuth (author of parenting books: Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, Building the Christian Family You Never Had, and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God and novels:Watching the Tree Limbs, Wishing on Dandelions and Daisy Chain) online through her Relevant Blog. Then I began learning from her on her So You Want to Be Published blog. As if that weren't blessing enough, I had the opportunity to meet her and learn from her in person this summer at the Write to Publish Conference. So you can imagine when Mary asked for bloggers to review her latest book, I jumped at the chance. Perhaps I could bless her back in a small way, I thought. Think again! In reading this book I received a blessing from Mary instead. Here's what I found between the pages:

“Worry had its way with Emory, enticing her to stay up late after her night shift, hoping against hope that her missing daughter, Daisy, would walk through the front door laughing and shouting and singing all at once.” So begins Mary DeMuth’s second book in her Defiance Texas Triology, A Slow Burn, a book that had its way with this reader, enticing me to stay up late after my kids were in bed, hoping against hope that things would turn out okay for Emory Chance.

DeMuth artfully draws us into the story of Daisy’s pot-head waitress, single mother (who we met in book one) as she learns that her teenaged daughter has been murdered and in that learning faces mountains of guilt, regret and self-condemnation. As bleak and hopeless as Emory’s story would seem, it becomes infused with light and hope through the character of Hixon, a black handyman prophet whose mission from God is to woo and marry “Missy”, as he nicknames Emory, even against his own wishes.

We watch Emory navigate through a dual series of mysterious happenings, both chilling and affirming – one her stalking, presumably by Daisy’s murderer; the other, the delivery of type-written prayers that send Emory on a pilgrimage of her daughter’s last days. Between the suspense of these activities, the struggles of faith we see in Hixon’s pursuit of Emory, and the deep emotions evoked as she wields her awkward, potentially lethal grief among her loose web of small-town friendships, we become engaged in this story on all fronts.

DeMuth’s skillful writing not only provides a rich storyline and believable characters, but also a delight for the ears through the subtly of her descriptions. Consider this paragraph from early in the book:
“But when Missy death-marched across the graveyard barefooted in the cold, Hixon’s heart thrummed his ribcage. Frail, whispery, she seemed to haunt the space around her, though he felt for sure if a stiff Defiance wind kicked up its heels, it’d blow her clear to Louisiana. Maybe that’s what she wanted. That being the case, he’d have to follow her on that wind, watch a spindly armed tree tangle her up like an out-of-control kite, and gently woo her back to the grass below. And to him.”

Yes, the subject matter is dark. To be certain, DeMuth avoids any trite telling and clich├ęd happy endings. But the strong themes of redemption, forgiveness and unconditional love leave the reader overwhelmed by a sense of God’s goodness in the midst of chaos. I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid to look with DeMuth at what can occur when the worst that can happen meets the best in God's people.

A Slow Burn releases this Thursday! You can buy it here. Or check out more reviews at A Slow Burn's blog tour. Visit Mary DeMuth's website here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rolling in the dough - or maybe not

I bought 50 pounds of bread flour last weekend. Not ten 5-pound bags. I bought one 50-pound bag. The price on bread flour has really gotten to me lately. Buying the 50-pound bag at Costco cost less than half the price at the grocery store. That can really make a difference for us, especially since we go through a bag about every two to three weeks. I use it for weekly pizza night and for dinner rolls and foccacia. You see, I have one of those fancy bread machines. For the past five or six years I've used it as a dough machine. Not any more.

With that big bag of flour staring me down, things had to change. I scoured my pantry and cabinets and unearthed any and every container I could find to fill with flour. I passed some along to my mom. Then my enterprising husband stopped at Menards Home Depot to get me one of those huge plastic paint type buckets. That left me with only about, oh, say ten pounds of bread flour to use. What's a mom to do? And what's a mom who's run out of bread for her kids' lunches to do? Bake!

Before I went to bed Sunday night I read the bread machine manual. Then I poured in the ingredients, pressed all the right buttons and went to bed. Would you believe it that my family was greeted by the smell of fresh baked bread when we woke up the next day? That machine worked! It actually baked a nice loaf of bread.

My kids were thrilled for fresh bread. The first loaf was devoured in a little more than a day. So Tuesday night I repeated the process. Now that loaf is nearly gone. And I've been told by my children that they would prefer I not buy bread at the store any more. They'd just rather have homemade. I can see their point. I'm pretty sure it's costing me less than buying bread at the store too. I'm only wondering why I hadn't done this before.

I still have about 40 pounds of bread flour. At this rate it won't last me nearly so long. But I'll still ask:
anyone have a use for some bread flour? I'm happy to share!

Epilogue: Just learned that a great deal on flour at Jewel (a Chicagoland grocery store) starts tomorrow! Would have been even cheaper. But then again, I wouldn't have bought 50 pounds of it and have all the stories to tell and probably wouldn't be baking nearly as much fresh bread.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sabbatical: Day 4

My plate is nearly empty. I am now officially on sabbatical. And it feels so incredibly good!

What is this about? It's about rest and recharging. It's about taking time to breathe and be. It's about margin.Taking a sabbatical means that I have intentionally dropped all (well, nearly all) volunteer activities that I have been involved in. It means my personal schedule has been trimmed as much as I feel would be wise for right now. It means I've worked hard at practicing saying the word, "No".

Can I tell you that it's been hard to get here? There are so many opportunities for me to give my time. At church, in my moms' group, in my community, at school. And those are all things that I love. Many of the opportunities have been fun. And cutting back hasn't been without a feeling of sadness. I miss the Task Team meetings for GEMS - they are always a great time of encouragement and it doesn't necessarily feel like work. I miss the time with those women. Last week I walked out of my Toastmaster's meeting, knowing I wouldn't return for three months (and Home CFO, come the end of December, you can badger me about coming back). I felt like crying. I love my time at Toastmasters.

But I also know that I've been jumping from one big project to another, from one deadline to another, from one event to another. For years I've lived this way. It's easy to get there. Many people around me are in the same boat. How many of us have actively chosen a busy lifestyle? And how many have simply slowly succumbed to it?

As it is, I will be busy enough shepherding my children from place to place and event to event. Three children and their activities can be pretty time consuming. I get that. Yet those aren't necessarily the stressors of life. It's those activities on top of the ones we have ourselves in that work together to put a heavy burden of stress on us.

So I've gotten out of that for the moment. I will be helping at school on a limited basis. I'll still be going to things like small group and church and work (for the whole 2 hours that I have to spend there each week). Otherwise I'm free. Free to think and explore new things. Free to do that spur-of-the moment activity or opportunity that comes up. Hopefully free to lend a hand more often, but also free to say "no" to that too.

And I plan to do a lot more writing. Certainly here on the blog. But also for wider publication. It's always been my dream. I've given it a little time and attention before now. Just now, it gets to be center stage for a bit. And that feels very good.

How about you? When was the last time you took time off from the busyness of life? How did it feel to take a break? Do you need to give yourself a break right now?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

-- Robert Frost

Last night as we reassembled our room, my husband went through some poster tubes that had been languishing in a corner by his dresser.

"Hey, I think some of these are yours," he said. He carefully unrolled a stack of old posters. Immediately I recognized them: my old Top Gun movie poster, a library poster that said "READ" with a photo of Michael J. Fox holding a book, and one of Patrick Swayze. I didn't see any in that pile, but I recall a number of pin-ups I had of Michael Jackson too. All these guys that I thought were so cool (or maybe "hot") when I was young.

Then it struck me - life has had its way with many former teen idols. And it hasn't been pretty. Michael J. Fox struggles with the devastating effects of Parkinson's disease, Michael Jackson is gone and as of yesterday, so is Patrick Swayze. Going, gone. When I was a teen these guys all seemed so vibrant, so full of life, even larger than life. But I'm no longer a teen and they no longer have that same hold on life. Frost summed it up well: "Nothing gold can stay".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chaos Before Comeliness

My house is a wreck today. All of the rooms upstairs have been nearly gutted, except for the one room packed floor-to-ceiling with furniture (through which I had to crawl spelunker-like to get to my printer this morning. With all the contorting and twisting I had to do, I was sure I was going to get stuck and they'd have to send a rescue crew. Thankfully it wasn't dark in there like a real cave or I would have freaked). My living and dining rooms could double as a resale shop - table crammed with knick-knacks and clocks and lamps, floor strewn with the contents of five closets and beds. Even the family room got into the act and absorbed all of our laundry baskets and piles of sheets and mattress covers. Yep, it's utter chaos here.

But there's a purpose for all of it: we're getting new carpet in all but one of our upstairs rooms. Considering the carpet looked worn and stained when we moved in six years ago, it's long overdue. We're pretty excited. Tonight we'll be walking on soft plush carpet instead of the matted down berber we're used to. And in due time the chaos will disappear and order will be restored. That makes all of the clutter and mess today worth it. It doesn't make it any less messy. It doesn't negate all the hard work it took to tear things apart and all the effort it's going to take to restore things. But knowing the end in mind, this woman-who-hates-clutter can tolerate the current state of our house.

I need to remember this. So often when life gets messy I throw a fit. I don't like relationships that are full of junk, where I'm constantly navigating a minefield and often getting stuck in tight places. I don't care for situations where everything I had so neatly planned out gets pitched into a pile somewhere else for a while. But in life, if we're patient enough to leave those piles be, if we're gutsy enough to try new ways of contorting ourselves through tight spots, if we can trust that there's a purpose to the messiness - we just might find something beautiful at the end. All too often though, we'd just rather live with the old issues that we've known were there for years, than to go through the work of ripping things apart to get to an unstained, soft heart. But, my friends, it just might be worth it.

I'll be glad when we're through with the carpet installation and all the rooms are put back. It's going to look so nice. If you happen to come by before we're done, don't be afraid to come in. Our door is still open. And in the meantime, if I seem angry at times or too pushy about getting my way, or somehow or another just don't live up to what they say a Christian should be like...I'm in the midst of a bit of construction work myself. Sorry if you see the mess, but I'm keeping the door open anyway. I'm hoping when it's all done I'll have a pretty great looking heart. It happens to be taking a little chaos inside to get there.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Book Review: Havah

I have so many thoughts rattling around in my head these days. Five or more posts are waiting to get written down to share with you. But in light of the long weekend, and perhaps everyone's last chance to sit beside the pool with a good book, I'd like to share a book review with you. So here it is:

I recently read a book that altered my perception of the earth’s first woman in startling ways. If you haven’t heard of Tosca Lee’s new book, Havah, then you’ve been missing out.

Lee brings to life Eden and Eve’s life in it starting from the moment of Eve’s first breath. Her skill with descriptive language places us in Eve’s skin and has us experiencing this new life with her. We get the otherworldly-yet-not feel from how Lee portrays this paradise and we marvel with Eve at “the adam” who is with her. We also marvel the complete knowledge they have of each other, how they read each other’s thoughts and sense each other’s whereabouts. This man and woman are perfect for each other. They never argue. There’s no misunderstanding. Ah yes, this is what paradise would be!

The funny thing is, even though as readers familiar with the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, we know how it’s going to turn out, Lee manages to keep us turning pages. She deftly draws us into the story. She shows keen insight into human nature. And she captures the devastation of The Fall in ways I had not ever considered.

Much of what takes place in the story comes in the time after Eden. Lee fills in the gaps of years between the lines of Scripture and gets us out of our preconceived stereotypes of the characters in the familiar stories. Her use of the Hebrew names (“Havah” for Eve, “Kayin” for Cain and “Hevel” for Abel) not only aid that shift but also add to the ancient feel of the narrative. All throughout the story her use of unusual terms and surprising descriptions add depth and emotion to the story.

Lee is an incredibly gifted writer. And as a former Mrs. United States, she obviously has talent to spare. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a book about being a woman, about relationships, and ultimately, about hope. Get yourself a copy today!