An Open Book

 

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the December 2016 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!


Now that December has arrived, the days are shorter and, at least it seems, busier! Despite the Christmas preparations, I love spending some extra minutes reading this time of year. Not much better than a good book, a warm blanket, and a hot cup of herbal tea. I’ll spare you my envy of a roaring fireplace and simply be grateful for a warm house on a cold night.

Love-Powered ParentingMy husband’s between books, so I had to consult his to-be-read pile, and find out what he’d be reading next. Not sure if he’s trying to score brownie points, but he said he wants to read my book, Ornamental Graces, next. ‘Tis the season for Christmas romance and all. He’s also eager to read a book he bought from the rack in the narthex of our church: Love-Powered Parenting by Tom and Chaundel Holladay. It centers around six parenting principles: priorities, love, words, discipline and compassion, serving, and unselfishness. I don’t know precisely why my husband picked this up, but what family couldn’t use more love and unselfishness? Especially with us old, tired parents at the helm.

12 Days of SnowmenSandwiched between books three and four of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (Cress and Winter), I snuck in two short Christmas reads. The first is 12 Days of Snowman by Sarah Monzon. I’ve yet to read her novels, which are in my to-be-read pile, but this short was enough to solidify their place there. Like one of those puffy, red- and white-striped Christmas peppermints, this story is short and sweet. It’ll dissolve quickly because at this length there’s not a whole lot of substance, but sometimes that’s what this busy Advent season requires. One Enchanted EveI followed that with Melissa Tagg’s One Enchanted Eve, which is the second in a series of Christmas romance novellas. I enjoyed One Enchanted Christmas last year, and this year’s installment didn’t disappoint. Hero Colin Renwycke is a simply a fun character, and I enjoyed revisiting his family’s Iowa farm and following his story as he grows into the man he wants to be, falling in love with uptight culinary instructor/recipe stickler Rylan. I’m already looking forward to the third book in this series, which I expect will be available this time next year.

A Christmas CarolMy eighth grader’s class is reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together. How sad is it that I’ve never read that? Even though my husband bought me a lovely hardbound collection of Charles Dickens’ Stories for Christmas to read aloud to the children years ago. Maybe I need to pull that book off of the shelf. My son’s also reading a DK biography of Thomas Edison by Jan Adkins.I also just picked up  Michael Vey 6: Fall of Hades by Richard Paul Evans from our local library, and I’m sure he’s going to tear through that in no time.Thomas Edison bio

Little House in the Big WoodsI’m so happy to be digging out our Laura Ingalls Wilder books from the attic. My eight-year-old started reading Little House in the Big Woods after Thanksgiving. Best conversation starter in that book: how pig bladders apparently make good balloon-like toys! My daughter seems fixated on the fact that baby Carrie doesn’t have a larger part in the story and would Ma just do something with that little girl. At least her preoccupation doesn’t seem to be diminishing her enjoyment.

Skippyjon Jones Snow WhatI’m having a hard time pulling the littlest ones away from the Skippyjon Jones books. After we met the author, Judy Schachner, at our library last month, we’ve been reading Snow What nonstop. I don’t mind. It’s a fun read aloud, and the author event was quite nice. With the advent of Advent, I was able to persuade them to read The Elf on the ShelfThe Elf on the Shelf by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell a few nights to help them remember the “rules” to our elf game. (By the way, the Q&A on this product is hilarious.)

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Ready or Not, Jesus Is Coming

On the first Sunday of Advent, I had the rare opportunity to attend Mass with only my older children, which meant that I could mostly pay attention without having to disentangle a child from my clothes or jewelry or retrieve fallen missals from beneath the pews. Any mind wandering was on me, and not my little cherubs.

I’ve heard the messages of Advent for decades, but despite their familiarity, their repetition seems both more urgent and more fruitful to me as I age. I love the interplay between preparing for this Christmas, this annual celebration of Jesus’s coming, and preparing for Jesus’s second coming.

O Come Emmanuel

From time to time, as a doom’s day prediction has risen to public notice, my kids have come to me, worried. I remember having the same worries when I was young. My mother shared with me that when she was a child (so, probably 1930s), the end of the world was predicted. She lay awake all night, frightened and worried, sure the end was coming.

It didn’t.

The sun rose. Life went on. And my mom never worried about those predictions again. Since she told me that story, neither have I. It’s a lesson I’ve passed on to my own children.

I’m always careful to remind them that not only do we not know the day nor the hour of “the end,” but we also do not know our own end. I trot out the classic, “You could walk out the door and get hit by a bus.” (Ah, the comfort only Mom can give.)

So, again this year, I remind myself that not only do I not know the end, but I also don’t know my end. And so, we’re meant to prepare.

The obvious analogy is to compare awaiting the birth of the Christ child with the arrival of our own children. It falls somewhat flat in my case. None of our children have had a nursery, their own room, or even a crib. We prepared, of course, in other ways. I managed to have diapers, clothes, and an infant car seat on hand, and more importantly, there was a place in my heart for the sweet baby I’d already loved despite whatever fears or difficulties marked the pregnancy.

And yet, it’s never quite real until the baby arrives. Not until I hold the child in my arms, its arrival completely independent of my state of readiness.

And, I fear, as I try to look into my heart with objective eyes – something I’m not very good at – that I’m really not ready for Christ to arrive either.

As I repeat my rote warning about the bus making any one of us a road pancake, do I really take it to heart? A healthy fear of the Lord gives me a little spiritual boost; I make sure that I go to confession. But do I really see or am I so mired in my own sins and shortcomings that I don’t recognize them?

Our house is what people kindly call “lived-in.” These days, it’s considered quite small for six people. We’re not hoarders, but we have stuff. A steady influx of it arriving daily in the mailbox, via backpacks, plastic retail bags, and sealed in Amazon Prime tape. It’s accumulated as our priorities have shifted and life has come busy – all fodder for another post.

The point is, I don’t see my house anymore. When I stop and try to imagine what it looks like to outside eyes, “lived-in” really is way too kind. Nice euphemism, but the truth is, it’s disorganized and dirty. In some ways it’s comfortable enough. In other ways it’s not, but the work required to make it welcoming is so overwhelming that I’m frozen by inaction. Putting off again and again tackling this or that due to x, y, and z. (This really is for another post.)

How different is the 1200-square foot place I hang my proverbial hat from the place where I invite the Christ-chid to dwell? Do I really live as if I’m ready to meet my Lord and Savior? To account for all I have and haven’t done?

How much spiritual clutter am I blinded to? If could see my soul with a fraction of the clarity with which I’m trying to see my home, how horrified would I be?

And of the clutter and filth I have observed – how many times have I put off changing it? As someone who’s struggled to lose weight for decades, I’m well-versed in the “I’ll start Monday,” mentality, Monday after Monday after endless Mondays strung out into months and years where little to nothing changes.

So, my prayer this Advent is two-fold: to see with clarity where change is needed and to have the courage and tenacity to make the changes. Before the bus mows me down.

How do you use the season of Advent to prepare your heart for the coming of Christ?


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5 Faves: Christmas Cookie Contenders

5 Faves

The list of Christmas cookies I bake includes a couple of “must-bakes.” Those would be butter cookies (or cut-out cookies), the buttery shapes we frost and decorate. Our shapes include Christmas trees, Santa with his pack, bells, stars, and a few train engines. My other mandatory treat is fudge-full peanut butter bars. Aside from those, there are a half-dozen or more recipes we rotate in and out. Those include chocolate biscotti, rum balls, and various drop and bar cookies. Nothing too fancy, but always tasty!

My oldest daughter and I have sifted through recipes, looking for something new (to us) to try this year. Which recipe do you think should make the cut?

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Contemporary Romance with an Inspirational Twist: Author Interview with Nicole Deese

The Promise of Rayne is such a well-written, tightly-woven novel. One of the things that struck me most was how well the themes, faith messages, and character resolutions were integrated in the final chapters. How hard do you work at that and how much comes about through the mysterious process of creation?

The Promise of Rayne by Nicole DeeseYa know, I often have a theme in mind before I type the words Chapter One. That said, I never fully know how that theme is going to play out until after I near the halfway point of my first draft. In The Promise of Rayne, where one of the major plot themes in the book is love your enemy, I honestly didn’t know (insert the big twist/spoiler here!) when I started writing. Like, I had no clue! So, I think for me it’s about 50/50. I usually start with an idea of what I’d like to see happen during the big climax moment of the book (usually around the 75% mark). But as I write, and as I discover more about my characters and their individual wounds, personality types, and journeys, that little idea will eventually take on a whole new shape. Continue reading

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Top 10 Tuesday: Reasons You Should Read Intermission NOW

Serena Chase’s contemporary Young Adult inspirational romance novel Intermission releases today on Kindle. This book quickly became one of my favorite novels of the year!

Sixteen-year-old Faith Prescott eagerly awaits the day she will exchange her small Iowa hometown for the bright lights of Broadway, but her success-driven parents want her to pursue a more practical career, labeling “artsy” people—including their daughter—as foolish dreamers worthy of little more than disdain.
When Faith meets nineteen-year-old Noah Spencer she discovers someone who understands her musical theatre dreams . . . because he shares them.

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Ornamental Graces Blog Tour

The blog tour for my inspirational Christmas romance Ornamental Graces begins this week! I’m thankful for the bloggers below who so graciously agreed to participate. I hope you will visit their blogs not only for reviews, author and character interviews, giveaways, and more, but also to enjoy their writing as well!

Check back throughout the week as I update links and add snippets of reviews!

Ornamental Graces Tour Graphic

Blog Tour

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13
CATHOLIC FIRE (Jean Heimann)

“Ornamental Graces is remarkable because it is an extraordinary story of faith, redemption, healing, forgiveness, and the true meaning of love. It is a beautiful, inspirational pro-life account of the miracles that can occur when we honestly face the consequences of our actions and when authentic love exists in our relationships.”

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14
VIRGINIA LIETO *Giveaway*

“This is truly a page-turner! While reading this book, I couldn’t wait to get to the end of my work day, so that I could get back to the story . . . Carolyn Astfalk does an excellent job at relating what it really means to be Catholic (with a capital C) in today’s world; given the many pressures to succumb to in the 21st century.”

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15
THINGS VISIBLE & INVISIBLE (Theresa Linden)

“With flawed but loveable characters, this story delves into the real-life consequences of the choices we make in relationships. It brings out the importance of offering and accepting forgiveness, and gives hope to those who find it hard to let go of past mistakes and to forgive one’s self. ”

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16
SARAH DAMM *Giveaway*

“Well, I just read a book that surpasses any romantic Christmas movie I have ever watched. And it wasn’t predictable at all! It was quite a page turner that left me guessing what was going to happen next and certainly got me into the holiday spirit. Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk is a new Christmas classic.”

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17
CATHOLICMOM.COM (BARB SZYSZKIEWICZ)

“Ornamental Graces, like Carolyn Astfalk’s previous novel, Stay with Me, is a Catholic romance with Theology of the Body underpinning the story. This is no Harlequin/gothic/bodice-ripper/shades-of-grey novel. That’s not Carolyn’s style.”

THERESE HECKENKAMP

“There’s never a dull page! I was highly absorbed and invested in the story and characters the entire time. The dialogue rings true. There are serious conversations, but also delightfully fun banter.”

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18
PLOT LINE AND SINKER (ELLEN GABLE)

“It’s a beautiful and touching story with well-developed, believable characters.  I highly recommend this inspirational romance that is a great read any time of year.”

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19
THE WRITINGS OF A.K. FRAILEY  (ANN FRAILEY)

“Buy this new book by Carolyn Astfalk and enjoy a great read. But be sure to settle onto a comfortable chair – once you start – it’s hard to put down.”

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20
ERIN MCCOLE CUPP

Check out Erin McCole Cupp’s Sunday, December 4, Sabbath Rest Book Talk for her take on Ornamental Graces.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21
TERRY’S THOUGHTS (TERRY HOUCHIN)

“In this day and time it is difficult to find a good love story without all of the sex. It is even more difficult to find a well written love story that shows Christians who struggle with the moral issues in addition to trying to figure out if this is the person they want to spend the rest of their life with.”

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22
RECONCILED TO YOU (ALLISON GINGRAS)

“Since my entire life’s work focuses on forgiveness and reconciliation, story lines that deftly illustrate the difficulty, blessing and healing surrounding that important aspect of being whole, always win my heart!  Ornamental Graces shines exceptionally well in this area!”

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23
FRANCISCAN MOM (BARB SZYSZKIEWICZ)

“There are some terrific peripheral characters as well; you’ll want to adopt Grandma.” Read Barb’s interview with Ornamental Graces characters Grandma, Robert, Elizabeth, and Kristen!


THANKS FOR STOPPING BY! STAY A WHILE AND LOOK AROUND. LEAVE A COMMENT. SHARE WITH A FRIEND. IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU SEE, PLEASE SIGN UP FROM MY AUTHOR NEWSLETTER TO KEEP UP-TO-DATE ON NEW RELEASES, EXTRAS, AND HOT DEALS!
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Seven Quick Takes

7 Quick Takes

Autumn in the Park Edition

We took advantage of spectacular autumn weather and a day off of school by spending some time in a local park and on the adjoining walking/biking trail. (Never mind that I spent a small part of the afternoon scraping waterfowl feces from the treads of four pairs of shoes with a toothpick.) Our morning, in pictures:

–1–

Autumn tree

A picture perfect day.

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Have Mercy!

Can you hear those words delivered by John Stamos, aka Jesse Katsopolis? I can. In fact, it seems like everywhere I’ve turned these last months, I’ve heard and read “Have mercy.”

Maybe it’s me. Did you ever notice how once you discover something or purchase something, it’s everywhere, bringing on either affirmation or remorse? More than likely, nothing’s changed but you; you’re now attuned and alert to whatever it is. Maybe that’s what’s going on with me and mercy. Or maybe there’s something to this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Or maybe God’s trying to tell me something. Continue reading

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