Monday, August 31, 2009

SO cool!

My author/blogger friend Michelle Sutton recently sent me one of her books to review...

I LOVED the book (and its prequel It's Not About Me) but there was one thing that made it even cooler...

That's right... I got THANKED in the acknowledgements section in a real book!!!

Seriously how cool is that?

Thanks right back to you Michelle for writing excellent books!

You can read my thoughts on It's Not About Me HERE.
You can read my review of Michelle's romantic thriller Danger At The Door HERE.
My review of It's Not About Him is still to come :).

The Transformation Study Bible - press release

Legendary Clarity

Acclaimed Pastor Brings Experience, Wisdom to Transformation Study Bible

Dallas/Fort Worth, TX—As pastors seek to make the Word of God more understandable in an age that is unfamiliar with the Bible, and as growing disciples seek to discover the truth of Scripture in a skeptical culture, there is a great need for guidance in both the preaching and study of God’s Word. Whether you’re a pastor, a seminary student, or a truth-seeking disciple, an understanding of the Bible can be made clear to you with the help of one of the most influential, in-depth, and practical Bible scholars in modern history.

For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on the timeless wisdom of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s “Be” Commentary series. Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture have helped readers understand and apply God’s Word with the goal of life transformation. According to Dr. Wiersbe, “It isn’t enough for us simply to read assigned portions of the Bible each day, as helpful as that is. A truly transforming experience involves meditating on what we read (Ps. 1:2), studying it carefully in the light of other verses, and then obeying what God tells us to do (Josh. 1:8).” Now available for the first time, The Transformation Study Bible offers the full text of the highly readable New Living Translation with accompanying notes and commentary from the 50 books in Dr. Wiersbe’s “Be” series.

The Transformation Study Bible will better enable readers to appreciate, appropriate, and apply the Word of God, which will result in ‘purity, joy, right values, hope, comfort, freedom, new life, peace, guidance, wisdom, integrity, encouragement, and effective prayer,’” states Wiersbe. In other words, if you want to be a new person, knowing and obeying the will of God and becoming more like Jesus Christ, there is perhaps no finer tool to encourage that process than The Transformation Study Bible.

One of the most anticipated and comprehensive study Bibles of the year, The Transformation Study Bible has been a lifetime in the making by a man who is widely known as a prolific and trusted writer and theologian. The former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago, an internationally known Bible teacher, and someone who has given his life to a deep examination of the Word of God, Dr. Wiersbe lends his vast experience and scholarly insight to the most beloved and revered book of all time. This effort is to encourage believers of all levels to know and love the Bible and to experience the same transformation that has radically changed his life. The result is a Bible that is clear, understandable, and applicable to the lives of its readers.

Dr. Wiersbe writes, “The remedy for discouragement is the Word of God. When you feed your heart and mind with its truth, you regain your perspective and find renewed strength.” By providing a new set of tools for Bible students of all levels, David C Cook and Warren Wiersbe have partnered to provide an essential tool to help bring the “perspective” and “renewed strength” that comes from a life transforming study of God’s Word. This fantastic and long awaited resource will bring more clarity than ever before to the study of God’s Word.

The Transformation Study Bible with General Editor Warren Wiersbe

David C Cook September 1, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-1434765307/2100 pages/$24.99

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sweetgum Ladies Knit For Love

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Sweetgum Ladies Knit For Love

WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)


RITA Award–winning Beth Pattillo combines her love of knitting and books in her engaging Sweetgum series. An ordained minister in the Christian Church, Pattillo served churches in Missouri and Tennessee before founding Faith Leader, a spiritual leadership development program. Pattillo is the married mother of two children. She lives and laughs in Tennessee.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073952
ISBN-13: 978-1400073955



Every Tuesday at eleven o’clock in the morning, Eugenie Carson descended the steps of the Sweetgum Public Library and made her way to Tallulah’s Café on the town square. In the past, she would have eaten the diet plate—cottage cheese and a peach half—in solitary splendor. Then she would have returned to her job running the library, just as she’d done for the last forty years.

On this humid September morning, though, Eugenie was meeting someone for lunch—her new husband, Rev. Paul Carson, pastor of the Sweetgum Christian Church. Eugenie smiled at the thought of Paul waiting for her at the café. They might both be gray haired and near retirement, but happiness was happiness, no matter what age you found it.

Eugenie entered the square from the southeast corner. The Antebellum courthouse anchored the middle, while Kendall’s Department Store occupied the east side to her right. She walked along the south side of the square, past Callahan’s Hardware, the drugstore, and the movie theater, and crossed the street to the café. The good citizens of Sweetgum were already arriving at Tallulah’s for lunch. But Eugenie passed the café, heading up the western side of the square. She had a brief errand to do before she met her husband. Two doors down, she could see the sign for Munden’s Five-and-Dime. Her business there shouldn’t take long.

Before she reached Munden’s, a familiar figure emerged from one of the shops and blocked the sidewalk.

Hazel Emerson. President of the women’s auxiliary at the Sweetgum Christian Church and self-appointed judge and jury of her fellow parishioners.

“Eugenie.” Hazel smiled, but the expression, coupled with her rather prominent eyeteeth, gave her a wolfish look. Hazel was on the heavy side, a bit younger than Eugenie’s own sixty five years, and her hair was dyed an unbecoming shade of mink. Hazel smiled, but there was no pleasantness in it. “Just the person

I wanted to see.”

Eugenie knew better than to let her distaste for the woman show. “Good morning, Hazel,” she replied. “How are you?”

“Distressed, Eugenie. Thoroughly distressed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Eugenie truly was dismayed, but not from worry over Hazel’s discomfort.

“Yes, well, you have the power to calm the waters, ”Hazel said with the same false smile. “In a manner of speaking, at least.”

Since Eugenie’s marriage to Paul only a few weeks before, she’d learned how demanding Hazel could be. The other woman called the parsonage at all hours and appeared in Paul’s office at least once a day. Although Eugenie had known Hazel casually for years, she’d never had to bother with her much. Eugenie couldn’t remember Hazel ever having entered the library.

“How can I help you?” Eugenie said in her best librarian’s voice. She had uttered the phrase countless times over the last forty years and had it down to an art form. Interested but not enmeshed. Solicitous but not overly involved.

“Well, Eugenie, you must know that many people in the church are distressed by your marriage to Paul.”

“Really?” Eugenie kept the pleasant smile on her face and continued to breathe evenly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, not me, of course,” Hazel said and pressed a hand to her ample chest. “I’m perfectly delighted. But some people… Well, they have concerns.”

“What concerns would those be?” Eugenie asked with measured calm.

Hazel glanced to the right and to the left, then leaned forward to whisper in a conspiratorial fashion. “Some of them aren’t sure you’re a Christian,” she said. Then she straightened and resumed her normal tone of voice. “As I said, I’m not one of them, but I thought I should tell you. For your own good, but also for Rev. Carson’s.”

“I see.” And Eugenie certainly did, far more than Hazel would guess. Eugenie wasn’t new to small-town gossip. Heaven knew she’d heard her share, and even been the target of some, over the last forty years. She’d known that her marriage to Paul would cause some comments, but she hadn’t expected this blatant response.

“I’m mentioning it because I don’t think it would be difficult to put people’s fears to rest,” Hazel said. Her smug expression needled Eugenie. “I know you’ve been attending worship, and that’s a wonderful start.” Hazel quickly moved from interfering to patronizing. “The women’s auxiliary meets on Tuesday mornings. If you joined us—”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Eugenie answered. She was determined to keep a civil tongue in her head if it killed her. “I have to work.”

“For something this important, I’m sure you could find someone to cover for you.”

Eugenie tightened her grip on her handbag. In an emergency, no doubt she could arrange something. But this wasn’t an emergency. It was manipulation.


“Particularly at this time,” Hazel said, barely stopping for breath. “With all the losses we’ve had in these last few months… Well, our community needs leadership. Our church needs leadership.” She gave Eugenie a meaningful look.

Eugenie paused to consider her words carefully. “It has been a difficult summer,” she began. “Tom Munden’s death was so unexpected, and then to lose Frank Jackson like that. And now, with Nancy St. Clair…”

“So you see why it’s more important than ever that you prove to church members that their pastor hasn’t made a grave mistake.”

“I hardly think that my attending a meeting of the women’s auxiliary will offer much comfort to the grieving.” Nor would it convince anyone of her status as a believer. Those sorts of people weren’t looking for proof. They were looking for Eugenie to grovel for acceptance.

Hazel sniffed. “Don’t be difficult, Eugenie. You’re being unrealistic if you expect people to accept you as a Christian after forty years of never darkening the door of any sanctuary in this town.”

“I’ve always felt that faith is a private matter.” That was the sum of any personal information Eugenie was willing to concede to Hazel. “I prefer to let my actions speak for me.”

“There are rumblings,” Hazel said darkly. “Budget rumblings.”

“What do you mean?”

“People need to have full confidence in their pastor, Eugenie. Otherwise they’re less motivated to support the church financially.”

Eugenie bit her tongue. She couldn’t believe Hazel Emerson was standing here, in the middle of the town square, practicing her own brand of extortion.

“Are you threatening me?” Eugenie asked, incredulous.

Hazel sniffed. “Of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m merely cautioning you. As a Christian and as a friend.”

Eugenie wanted to reply that Hazel didn’t appear to be filling either role very well, but she refrained.

“I’ll take your concerns under advisement,” she said to Hazel with forced pleasantness. “I’m sure you mean them in the kindest possible way.”

“Of course I do. How else would I mean them?”

“How else, indeed?” Eugenie muttered under her breath.

“Well, I won’t keep you.” Hazel nodded. “Have a nice day, Eugenie.”

“You too, Hazel.” The response was automatic and helped Eugenie to cover her true sentiments. She stood in place for a long moment as Hazel moved past her, on her way to stir up trouble in some other quarter, no doubt. Then, with a deep breath, Eugenie forced herself to start moving toward Munden’s Five-and-Dime.

She had known it would be difficult, stepping into this unfamiliar role as a pastor’s wife. Paul had assured her that he had no expectations, that she should do what she felt was right. But Eugenie wondered if he had any idea of the trouble Hazel Emerson was stirring up right under his nose.

True, she hadn’t attended church for forty years. After she and Paul had ended their young romance, she’d blamed God for separating them. If Paul hadn’t felt called to the ministry, if he hadn’t refused to take her with him when he went to seminary, if she hadn’t stubbornly insisted on going with him or ending their relationship…

Last year she and Paul had found each other again, all these decades later, and she’d thought the past behind them. But here it was once more in the person of Hazel Emerson, raising troubling questions. Threatening Paul. Forcing Eugenie to examine issues she’d rather leave unanswered.

As the head of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, Eugenie had taken on responsibility for the well-being of the little group several years before. Since Ruthie Allen, the church secretary, had left for Africa last spring to do volunteer work, the group had experienced a definite void. It was time for an infusion of new blood, and after careful consideration, Eugenie had determined that Maria Munden was just the person the Knit Lit Society needed. What’s more, Maria needed the group too. The recent loss of her father must be quite difficult for her, Eugenie was sure. And so despite having had her feathers ruffled by Hazel Emerson, Eugenie walked into Munden’s Five-and-Dime with a firm purpose.

“Good morning, Maria,” Eugenie called above the whine of the door. For years she’d been after Tom Munden to use a little WD-40 on the hinges, but he had insisted that the noise bothered him less than the idea of a customer entering without him knowing it.

“Eugenie! Hello.” Maria straightened from where she stood slumped over the counter. She had red marks on her forehead from resting her head in her hands, and her nondescript shoulder length brown hair hung on each side of her face in a clump. Eugenie had come at the right time. Maria was in her early thirties, but her father’s death seemed to have aged her ten years.

Maria came around the counter. “What can I help you with today?”

“Oh, I’m not here to buy anything,” Eugenie said, and then she was dismayed when disappointment showed in Maria’s eyes. With the superstores of the world creeping closer and closer to Sweetgum, mom-and-pop shops like Munden’s were living on borrowed time. Even if Tom Munden had lived, the inevitable day when the store closed couldn’t have been avoided.

“What did you need then?” Maria’s tone was polite but strained.

“I have an invitation for you.”

“An invitation?”

Eugenie stood a little straighter. “On behalf of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, I’d like to extend an invitation to you to become a part of the group.”

Maria’s brown eyes were blank for a moment, and then they darkened. “The Knit Lit Society?”

“I can’t think of anyone who would be a better fit.” Eugenie paused. “If you don’t know how to knit, one of us can teach you. And I know you enjoy reading.” Maria was one of the most faithful and frequent patrons of the library. “I think you’d appreciate the discussion.”

Maria said nothing.

“If you’d like some time to think—”

“I’ll do it,” Maria said quickly, as if she didn’t want to give herself time to reconsider. “I know how to knit. You won’t have to teach me.”

“Excellent,” Eugenie said, relieved. “Our meeting is this Friday.”

“Do I have to read something by then?” Lines of doubt wrinkled Maria’s forehead beneath the strands of gray that streaked her hair.

Eugenie shook her head. “I haven’t passed out the reading list for this year. This first meeting will be to get us organized.”

Relief eased the tight lines on her face.

“We meet at the church, of course,” Eugenie continued. “Upstairs, in the Pairs and Spares Sunday school room. If you’d like, I can drop by here Friday evening and we can walk over together.”

Maria shook her head. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” She paused, as if collecting her thoughts, then spoke. “I’m not sure why you asked me to join, Eugenie, but I appreciate it.”

“I’m delighted to have you. The others will be as well. ”Mission accomplished, Eugenie shifted her pocketbook to the other arm. “I’d better be going. I’m meeting Paul for lunch at the café.”

Like most of Sweetgum, with the possible exception of Hazel Emerson, Maria smiled at Eugenie’s mention of her new husband. “Tell the preacher I said hello.” Maria moved to open the door for Eugenie. “I’ll see you at the meeting.”

Eugenie lifted her shoulders and nodded with as much equanimity as she could. After years of being the town spinster, playing the newlywed was a novel experience. She hoped she’d become accustomed to it with time—if she didn’t drive away all of Paul’s parishioners first with her heathen ways.

“Have a nice afternoon,” Eugenie said and slipped out the door, glad that at least one thing that morning had gone as planned.

After Eugenie left, Maria Munden halfheartedly swiped her feather duster at the back-to-school display in the front window. Hot sunshine, amplified by the plate glass, made sweat bead on her forehead. What was the point of dusting the same old collection of binders, backpacks, and two-pocket folders? She’d barely seen a customer all day. She turned from the window and looked around at the neat rows of shelving. The five symmetrical aisles had stood in the same place as long as she could remember.

Aisle one, to the far left, held greeting cards, gift-wrap, stationery, office and school supplies. Aisle two, housewares and paper goods. Aisle three, decorative items. Aisle four, cleaning supplies and detergent. Aisle five had always been her favorite, with its games, puzzles, and coloring books. Across the back wall stretched the sewing notions, yarn, and craft supplies. Everything to outfit a household and its members in one small space. The only problem was, no one wanted small anymore. They wanted variety, bulk, and large economy size with a McDonald’s and a credit union. Not quaint and limited, like the old five-and- dime.

From the counter a few feet away, Maria’s cell phone buzzed, and she sighed. She knew without looking at the display who it would be.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Maria, you have to do something about this.” Her mother never acknowledged the greeting but plunged into a voluble litany of complaints that covered everything from the state of the weather to her older sister Daphne’s management of the farm.

“Mom?” Maria tried to interrupt her mother’s diatribe. “Mom? Look, I’m the only one in the store right now. I’ll have to call you back later.”

“Where’s Stephanie? She was supposed to be there at nine.”

“I don’t know where she is. ”Maria’s younger sister, the baby at twenty-five, was AWOL more often than not.

Maria heard the shop door open with a whine of its hinges, not too different from her mother’s tone of voice. She looked up, expecting to see her younger sister. Instead, a tall, dark-haired man entered the store. He took two steps inside, then stopped. His eyes traveled around the rows of shelves, and his lips twisted in an expression of disapproval. The hairs on Maria’s neck stood on end. The stranger saw her, nodded, and then disappeared down the far aisle, but he was so tall that Maria could track his progress as he moved. He came to a stop in front of the office supplies. Someone from out of town, obviously. Probably a traveling salesman who needed paper clips or legal pads. Maybe a couple of blank CDs or a flash drive. Maria had dealt with his type before.

“Bye, Mom,” she said into the phone before clicking it shut. From experience, she knew it would take her mother several moments before she realized Maria was no longer on the other end of the line. Such discoveries never seemed to faze her mother. She would simply look around the room at home and find Daphne so she could continue her rant. Maria tucked the cell phone under the counter and moved across the store toward the stranger. “May I help you?” Upon closer inspection, she could see that his suit was expensive. So were his haircut, his shoes, and his aftershave.

His head turned toward her, and she felt a little catch in her chest. His dark eyes stared down at her as if she were a lesser mortal approaching a demigod.

“I’m looking for a fountain pen,” he said. He turned back toward the shelves of office supplies and studied them as if attempting to decipher a secret code.

A fountain pen? In Sweetgum? He was definitely from out of town.

“I’m afraid we only have ballpoint or gel.” She waved a hand toward the appropriate shelf. “Would one of these do?”

He looked at her again, one eyebrow arched like the vault of a cathedral. “I need a fountain pen.”

Maria took a calming breath. A sale was a sale, and the customer was always right—her father’s two favorite dictums, drummed into her from the day she was tall enough to see over the counter.

“I’m sorry. Our selection is limited, I know. Which way are you headed? I can direct you to the nearest Wal-Mart. You might find one there.”

At her mention of the chain superstore, the man’s mouth turned down as if she’d just insulted him. “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she said, practically gritting her teeth. She resisted the urge to grab his arm and hustle him out of the store. Today was not the day to try her patience. In two hours, assuming Stephanie showed up, Maria was going to cross the town square to the lawyer’s office and do the unthinkable. At the moment, she didn’t have time for this man and his supercilious attitude toward Sweetgum.

“I need directions,” he said, eyeing her dubiously, as if he thought she might not be up to the task.

“Well, if you’re looking for someplace nearby, I can tell you where you need to go,” she said without a hint of a smile.

He looked away, as if deliberating whether to accept her offer. Honestly, the man might be extraordinarily good-looking—and wealthy, no doubt—but she would be surprised if he had any friends. He had the social skills of a goat.

The hinges on the door whined again. Maria looked over her shoulder to see another man entering the shop.

“James!” The second man grinned when he caught sight of the stranger at Maria’s side. “You disappeared.” The newcomer was as fair as the first was dark. “We’re late.”

“Yes,” the stranger replied with a continued lack of charm.

“But I needed a pen. ”He snatched a two-pack of ballpoints from the shelf and extended them toward Maria. “I’ll take these.”

Maria bit the inside of her lip and took the package from his hand. “I’ll ring you up at the counter.” She whirled on one heel and walked, spine rigid, to the front of the store.

“Hi.” The second man greeted her with cheery casualness. “Great store. I haven’t seen anything like this in years.”

It was a polite way of saying that Munden’s Five-and-Dime was dated, but Maria appreciated his chivalry. Especially since his friend obviously didn’t have a courteous bone in his body.

“Thank you. ”Maria smiled at him and then stepped behind the counter to ring up the sale on the ancient register. She’d pushed her father for years to computerize their sales—not to mention the inventory—but he’d been perfectly happy with his tried-and-true methods. Unfortunately, while he’d been able to keep track of sales and stock in his head, Maria wasn’t quite so gifted.

The tall man appeared on the other side of the register. “Three dollars and thirty-two cents,” she said, not looking him in the eye.

He reached for his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Maria refused to show her frustration. Great. Now he would wipe out all her change, and she’d have to figure out a way to run over to the bank without anyone to watch the store. She completed the transaction and slid the package of pens into a paper bag with the Munden’s logo emblazoned on it.

“Hey, can you recommend a place for lunch?” the blond man asked. He glanced at his watch. “We need a place to eat between meetings.”

“Tallulah’s Café down the block,” Maria said. Even the tall, arrogant stranger wouldn’t be able to find fault with Tallulah’s home cooking. People drove from miles around for her fried chicken, beef stew, and thick, juicy pork chops. “But you might want to go soon. The café gets busy at lunch.”

“Thanks.” His smile could only be described as sunny, and it made Maria feel better. She smiled in response.

“You’re welcome.”

The tall man watched the exchange impassively. Maria hoped he’d be gone from Sweetgum before the sun went down. Big-city folks who came into town dispensing condescension were one of her biggest pet peeves.

“C’mon, James,” the blond man said. “I have a lot of papers to go over.” He nodded toward his friend. “James here thinks I’m crazy to buy so much land in the middle of nowhere.”

Maria froze. It couldn’t be.

“Oh.” She couldn’t think what else to say.

“We’d better go,” the tall man said, glancing at his watch. “Thank you. ”He nodded curtly at Maria, letting her know she’d been dismissed as the inferior creature that she was.

“But I thought you wanted—” Before she could remind him about his request for directions, the two men disappeared out the door, and Maria’s suspicions—not to mention her fears— flooded through her.

She should have put two and two together the moment the first man had walked into the store. A stranger in an expensive suit. In town for a meeting. Looking for a fountain pen to sign things. Normally Maria was good at figuring things out. Like where her father had put the quarterly tax forms and how she and Stephanie could manage the store with just the two of them for employees.

What she hadn’t figured out, though, were the more complex questions. Like how she had come to be a small-town spinster when she hadn’t been aware of time passing. Or how she was going to keep the five-and-dime afloat even as the town’s economy continued to wither on the vine. And she certainly had no idea how she was going to tell her mother and sisters that she, as executrix of her father’s will, was about to sell their farm, and the only home they’d ever known, right out from under them.

“Welcome to Sweetgum,” she said to the empty aisles around her, and then she picked up the feather duster once more.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens GIVEAWAY!! CLOSED

This giveaway is now CLOSED! Congratulations to SweetMissa for winning.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens

Personal Stories and Advice from Today’s Most Inspiring Youth

Extraordinary Teens will inspire young adults with its tales of teenagers achieving great success. This book includes personal stories from many well-known young professional athletes, business entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, actors, writers, and filmmakers. Every person shares his or her story along with priceless advice that will show you how you too, can achieve something extraordinary. Each story describes the specific turning points, challenges, and breakthroughs that shaped and motivated these individuals to accomplish incredible things. Learn from these individuals who are walking examples of possibility.


~Leave me a comment here telling me about an extraordinary teen in your life!

Would you like extra chances to win?

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This giveaway will end on September 12 th, 2009. This giveaway is open to readers in Canada and the USA.

Don't forget to enter my other giveaways too:

Win Alive Day by Tom Sullivan HERE.
Win The Unexpected Gift by Atha & Wagar HERE.
Win Tight Curves Protein product for women HERE.
Win nuNAAT hair products HERE.
Win a Cart-Stopper HERE.
Win Essie In Progress by Marjorie Presten HERE.
Win kid's DVD's - Dive Olly Dive and Sid the Science Kid HERE.
Win a $50 GC to Eden Fantasys HERE.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yoga Pretzels

50 Fun Yoga Activities for Kids & Grownups

Stretch your way to a fun and healthy lifestyle with each of the fifty yoga poses in this colorful deck. Written by Yoga Ed., these cards include forward bends, back bends, partner poses, and balance poses.

Founded by Tara Guber, Yoga Ed. develops and produces health and wellness courses, trainings and products for teachers, parents, children and health professionals that improve academic achievement, physical fitness, emotional intelligence and stress management. To find out more about Yoga Ed., please visit

For all ages

Written By: Leah Kalish, Tara Guber

Illustrated By: Sophie Fatus


This cards are a great idea- especially for families who do Yoga on a regular basis. I personally have had very little Yoga experience and I was able to understand the cards and attempt to follow them... even if I was rather clumsy about it! Aiden and Owen had fun doing some of the cards with me. They really enjoyed the cards themselves- taking them out and looking at them all over and over again. The box is very sturdy too which is handy :). Yoga Pretzels actually made me want to give Yoga a try!

The Barefoot Book of Fairy Tales

Book of the Year Award 2005 Silver Medal, ForeWord Magazine

Awake with Sleeping Beauty in the faraway land of fairy tales. The twelve classic stories in this exquisite book are teeming with magic, wonder, action and drama, as new life is breathed into some of the world's favorite tales.

Ages 5 to 11 years

Retold By: Malachy Doyle

Illustrated By: Nicoletta Ceccoli


This book would make a beautiful gift. The stories are engaging and the illustrations are gorgeous. I have read through the stories with my children and, of course, they thoroughly enjoyed them. What kid doesn't like fairy tales? I enjoyed Doyle's retelling of them as well. I am certain we will continue to read from this book for many years to come!

Thanks so much to Barefoot Books for sending us this lovely book to review!

Hope Unleashed

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. Enjoy your free peek into the book!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Hope Unleashed

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Andy Hawthorne is a British evangelist, author, and founder of the Message Trust, an award-winning Christian mission organization dedicated to bringing the gospel message to the poorest neighborhoods of Hawthorne’s hometown of Manchester, England. He is the author of Diary of a Dangerous Vision, also a Survivor book.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764486
ISBN-13: 978-1434764485


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Hope Unleashed by Andy Hawthorne. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

There Is No Plan B

Luke 1:26–56

Toward the end of a life full of amazing words and actions, Jesus said something that was remarkable even by his own standards. Talking to his Father, he said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

It strikes me that, like Jesus, we really do all have a task to complete on this earth and that the goal of our lives should be to get as close to completing that work as we possibly can. Flip the thought over: Isn’t it absolutely amazing to think of all the good works we’ll leave behind when we die? What about all those plans and possibilities that were dreamt up for us? Can we really ignore them so easily?

Jesus’ good works here on earth didn’t start when he came out of the desert in a blaze of glorious healing, teaching, and saving. It was thirty years earlier that it all started, when he was willing to leave the glory of heaven and humble himself to float around as a fetus inside a little bag of waters in the womb of a young peasant girl. That’s how far he had to go in order to get right alongside us, to reach our level and literally put flesh on the bones of God’s master plan of salvation.

Throughout the rest of this book we will be looking at Jesus and seeing what we can learn from the way he reached out with words and actions. But first we need to go right back to the beginning and take a look at his mother. What can we learn from her amazing response to the call of God on her life?

There is no doubt that Mary was a remarkable young woman. How many girls in their early teens, as she probably was, would cope in such a faith-filled and chilled-out way in the face of such earth-shattering news? And it wasn’t as if the delivery was low-key. There was no email, no gentle chat with a familiar family member; just some forty-foot-tall shining white angel called Gabriel. (Okay, so the Bible might not say he was forty feet tall or shining white, but you’ve got to give an evangelist a little room to tell a story!)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30–33)

Let’s be fair: Mary was a risk. What if she had said “No thanks”? What if she got freaked out by the whole thing and changed her mind? What if she ran off and drank a bottle of gin or had a cold bath or found some other way of getting rid of the baby? There must have been others looking for a way of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. What if Mary joined them?

The whole thing was a risk, and it’s not much different today. Imagine choosing you and me to share the most glorious news in the world and to deliver the kindness of God to a hurting world! What if we ran in the opposite direction? What if we gave up on prayer, stopped acting in faith, and acted in fear instead? How much of a mess the world would be in!

But that’s our God. He has staked everything on us getting our act together. He has bet the house on everyday idiots like you and me getting involved and taking our faith seriously. How amazing is that? How scary?

There is a folktale of the angels coming before God as Jesus ascended to heaven. They were asking him what the plan was now that Jesus’ time on earth was up. Who was going to carry on the work of building God’s kingdom? God points down to the ragtag bunch of anger-management failures, hotheads, and oubting Thomases. It’s them. They’re the ones to build it.

“But what if they fail?”

“There is no plan B.”

Those first disciples were the plan, just like that overwhelmed teenage mom, just like you and me. We’re the plan. We’re the potential. We’re the way this thing gets built.

Mary may have been young, inexperienced, and poor, but she was no failure. She had what it took to be used by God; she had a heart that pumped for him, a heart that beat in time with his own work. As the eyes of the Lord scanned Israel looking for a girl who would be suitable for the greatest responsibility in the history of the world, they rested on Mary.

I love Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words. I’m convinced that if we were to respond in a similar way when each of us met our own calling, we would see a lot more success and transformation going

on down here.

Four things stand out to me. First, there’s the whole sense of urgency that we get from Mary. Luke 1:39 tells us that her response to the overwhelming responsibility was to get ready and hurry to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house to tell them the good news. Look at the rest of the gospels, and you’ll see a whole lot of hurrying once people have received a word from the Lord. The gospels are littered with words like immediately, suddenly, and swiftly. Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus was a bit swifter to respond to the command of God to go? How much better would things be if we were to go out of our meetings with a little more pace and passion and deliver the good news in words and actions to this generation? For Mary there was no option. God had spoken, and she started to hurry.

That hurrying carried on over sixty miles of difficult terrain, but it was worth it. Once she arrived at Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth’s baby started jumping for joy in the Holy Spirit. As if she needed it, there was Mary’s massive confirmation that this wonderful miracle really was taking place inside her. In one quick trip Mary demonstrated a truth that lies at the heart of all Christian living: We have to understand the importance of sacrifice and obedience. If God puts people on your heart, don’t just pray for them; go to them quickly and watch what he does. If God puts an neighborhood or a people group or a country in your mind, go quickly; don’t wait until every piece of the jigsaw puzzle is in place

and every penny is in the bank. Step out. Do it. Risk it.

After thirty years of doing this stuff, I can testify that if it’s the Great Commission you’re working on, God really will bankroll the work. Right now his eyes are searching the earth looking for people with a heart for the lost, hurting, or broken of this planet. And when he finds them and sees that they are ready to obey the call and go sacrificially, he will strongly support them (2 Chronicles 16:9).

The second thing that gets me is Mary’s excitement. We’ve just had a few of our team return from a large youth prayer event in America called The Ramp, and to be honest I’m slightly worried they might spontaneously combust. They’re so pumped that every talk we give is now greeted with whoops and hollers American style, and they’re spending literally hours and hours of every day in prayer, worship, and sharing Jesus with people who don’t know him. They’re not doing it because they’re paid or because they are bored or because they think it might just be a bit of a laugh. They’re doing it because the reality of who Jesus is and what he did has burrowed deep under their skin. And when that happens for real,

any aspect of our lives is a candidate for transformation.

I’m quite jealous of their passion right now. Granted, some of it may seem a bit over the top, but I’d rather have overenthusiasm than the numbness that comes from being lukewarm. George Verwer

put it better when he said, “It’s easier to cool down a furnace than warm up a corpse.” I’d rather be a furnace for Jesus, and passion and excitement have always been the currency that young people

deal in.

Luke carries on with the story:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was

filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord

should come to me?” (Luke 1:41–43)

Elizabeth’s joy was palpable. She was telling Mary that she was the most blessed person on the planet, that she had been given the most privileged job that’s ever been given. Because Mary had not been tripped up or freaked out by the news, nor did she feel lukewarm about it—choosing instead to believe, trust, and act—Elizabeth could see that things were going well. There’s a truth in here somewhere, that when we hold on tight to God’s promises and believe that they will come through in spite of all the troubles and opposition around us, then we end up being blessed. So many Christians get disillusioned and discouraged when God’s promises aren’t fulfilled according to their schedules. It can be tempting to

do the opposite of Mary and give in to disillusionment and defeat. But there is no life to be found down that route.

I think Mary knew that, because instinctively she joined in with Elizabeth’s excitement, bursting into a song full with joy and optimism.

Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has

been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me

blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46–55)

For most of my life I’ve been a member of my local Anglican church. Just occasionally I’ve had the joy of sitting through the 1662 prayer-book service. As the name suggests, this is a very old bit of kit. Over 350 years have passed since it was scripted by a bunch of evangelists called the Reformers. They were trying to reach people with the gospel, dragging services out of the world of outdated Latin traditions. They used the language of the street, and in its day it was a truly dangerous and radical thing to do. Their

motto was “always reforming,” and that’s what they did, constantly bringing the services up to date, refusing to settle and be stuck in a rut. There was just one problem: One by one they were burnt at the stake for their efforts. Three and a half centuries later many churches are still using the same services. I’ve got a sneaking feeling that Thomas Cranmer and his fellow Reformers are in heaven right now slapping their heads, wincing their eyes shut, and shouting,


I know I’m on thin ice with some people, particularly those who love the poetry and reverence of the 1662 prayer-book service. And just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean God doesn’t like

it. But I’m sure that what matters more than whether we like the worship service or whether it’s got robed choirs and bells and smells or screaming rock bands up front is whether the people outside the church can understand and connect with it. If that’s not possible, we should do exactly what the Reformers did: Kick it out.

But I’ll say this for the 1662 service: It nearly always includes Mary’s song, called the Magnificat. This is an amazing collection of words held together by full-throttle joy, passion, and excitement. Sadly, in my experience, it usually gets sung to a miserable tune by people with very long faces, which is weird because this is a song of excitement and over-the-top joy and passion.

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.…” The word rejoices here in the original Greek language is agallio. It’s the same word that’s used in Luke 10:21 when Jesus is freaking out with joy as the disciples return from their first mission and report that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (verse 17). It literally means “to leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping, demonstrating excessive or ecstatic joy and delight.” Mary is, in short, quite a happy girl at this point! In fact, it would appear that,

despite the challenges of her pregnant state, she is beaming with excitement and almost bursting with this song of joy and praise to God.

Let’s be fair, even with the hassle and hard work, Christianity is a phenomenally exciting thing. Living on the cutting edge of God’s purposes, dealing with all the opposition that comes with trying to reach out into our communities, following Jesus’ great commission to tell the world the good news … these are the ingredients that lead to the most real, most inspiring, most satisfying experience of all. Let’s not lose the sheer joy and wonder of what this good news of Jesus can do in the darkest of communities and the most

broken lives. Put another way, the gospel works every time; it’s lost none of its power. As Paul says, we’re plugged into “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

When you think about that, it’s understandable that every once in a while—just like our young men returned from The Ramp—we need to get a little overexcited.

Right now the developed world is suffering from an epidemic of excess that is squeezing all the joy out of so many lives. Look around and you’ll see it: an excess of alcohol, drugs, sex, debt, and isolation that is literally killing people. How about confronting that with the excessive, ecstatic joy and delight that only Jesus can bring?

The third thing that is obvious from Mary’s response to God’s call is her love of Scripture. She is thirteen or fourteen years old, yet she just oozes the Bible. This song she bursts into certainly feels as though it’s off the top of her head, but it includes no less than twelve different Old Testament passages.

It’s clear that Mary didn’t just skim her way through Scripture. She memorized it and held it in her heart, getting to the point where it really was “living and active” and “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The same can be true for us, if only we’d get Scripture off the pages of our Bible and running through our blood. Would life ever really be the same again if we managed this? Why not make a commitment today to learn more of the Bible? How good would it be to be able to know it, live it, and breathe it, so that what pours out of us is God’s Word, pure and simple—whether we are on the streets or facing times of great excitement, challenge, temptation, or failure?

I’ve got a feeling that one of the key reasons Mary was chosen for this amazing task was that she loved God’s Word. And from the moment she became a mother to God’s child, she showed her child how to do likewise.

At her coronation Elizabeth II was presented with a Bible by the Archbishop of Canterbury—just as it has been with all the kings and queens of the British Commonwealth. As he presented it, he uttered these words: “Your Majesty, here are the lively oracles of God, the most precious thing this life affords.”

And that’s the truth. We might not spend much time getting into the Bible, and we might completely forget to treat it with the respect it’s due, but it really is the most precious thing on the planet. It’s the only thing I know of that contains the keys to a worthwhile life here on earth and an eternal one to come. We might want to be used by God for high and holy purposes that last forever, but without immersing ourselves in God’s Word, we’re never going to make it. It is this, and not our own man-sized dreams and visions, that must direct our plans.

The last thing to stand out, as we look at this passage right at the start of Jesus’ life on earth, is Mary’s humility. Her song isn’t full of arrogance or ego but humility and sacrifice instead. It reminds me a lot of David’s song when he was dragged out of obscurity as a shepherd boy to rule a nation:

Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?

(2 Samuel 7:18–19)

Of course the answer is yes—it is exactly God’s usual way of dealing with men and women. Reading the Bible, I get the feeling God just loves to stun the humble with his awesome intervention.

Gideon was the least in the lowest family but went on to defeat the Midianites. Amos the gardener made his status clear with these words:

I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15)

There are others, too, and I love every single story. But it’s more than mere entertainment or good drama. If you and I will get to the place where God really does get all the glory—like Mary, David, Gideon, and Amos—then maybe we’ll find ourselves involved in greater things than we’ve experienced so far.

One thing I’m sure of is that right now the Lord’s eyes continue to range the earth. He’s not on the hunt for talent, giftedness, or sexiness; just a humble heart and a life willing to react quickly and obediently to his Word. When he comes across that, he’ll strongly support it. You won’t find yourself giving birth in the way that Mary did, but you will give birth to some God-sized visions for your community. Bit by bit you will stop living a life plagued by small-minded and insular views. Instead you will live large, bearing

the fruit that he chose for you on the day he went out of his way to select you for eternal life.

Ephesians 2:10 makes this absolutely clear: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Maybe some years in the future, when old age has settled upon you, you might be able to inch a little closer to saying to God, “I’ve brought you glory by

completing most of the work you gave me to do.”

Isn’t that really what life is all about?

Hope reflected

1. If someone looked at your bank statements, Internet-browser history, or phone records, what would he or she say are your priorities? Try doing the exercise yourself or—if you’re brave enough—give someone else permission to do it for you.

2. What place does the Bible have in your head and heart? Do you know it? Do you like it? Do you feel as though you need it to help you through the day? If you’ve answered no to any of those, don’t worry or feel condemned, but do make up your mind to do something about it. Talk to someone at church who is wise and trustworthy and who knows the Bible. Ask him or her to help you get to know it better.

3. Are you feeling as though everyone else has a God-given calling and you do not? Are you still waiting for God to deliver you a dream that matches your hopes and expectations? Stop. Think back over the last seventy-two hours: Have there been times when you have ignored things that God may have been prompting you to do? Are there conversations you avoided, situations you backed out of, or things you simply ignored? If so, you need to repent and rediscover a little more obedience. Or are you struggling to think of anything that God might have been speaking to you about? If that’s the case, you need to know this: God doesn’t stay silent for long. Talk to someone about how you can learn to hear him better.

4. Humility is a hard thing to measure—particularly in ourselves. But it’s worth having a go. Are there people or places or tasks that— deep down—you know you go out of your way to avoid? Are there areas of your life that you’ve fenced off from God? Are there dreams and ambitions that you can’t let go of? If so, take a look back at Mary’s reaction to her unexpected pregnancy. How do you think she would respond in your situation?

I really enjoyed Hawthorne's writing style. He used interesting illustrations and wrote in a way that anyone could understand. Hope Unleashed has a strong biblical message and is definitely worth a read. I think this would make a great group bible study guide.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Princess & The White Bear King

Ride along with the beautiful princess and the majestic white bear on a voyage in the snowy north. When the young princess inadvertently betrays the mysterious white bear, she must prove her loyalty and strength through a series of trying tasks, in order to regain her lost chance at happiness. Book with CD editions include story read by actress Miranda Richardson.

Ages 5 to 11 years

Retold By: Tanya Robyn Batt

Illustrated By: Nicoletta Ceccoli

Narrated By: Miranda Richardson


The Princess & The White Bear King is a fascinating story. I have read it a couple times with my sons (ages 5 & 7) and even though it is longer than the average story we read they listened intently all the way through. The illustrations are beautiful and the CD is a wonderful addition. This book would make a great gift for the fairy tale lover in your life.

Thanks so much to Barefoot Books for sending us this lovely book to review!

Honor in the Dust

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Honor in the Dust

Howard Books (August 25, 2009)


Gilbert Morris is the bestselling author of more than 200 novels, several of which won Christy and Silver Angel Awards. He is a retired English professor, who lives in Gulf Shores, AL, with his family.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (August 25, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416587462
ISBN-13: 978-1416587460


May 1497

Sussex County, England-

Claiborn Winslow leaned forward and patted his horse’s sweaty neck. “Well done, Ned.” He had pushed the stallion harder than he liked, but after so many months away he was hungry for home. He straightened in the saddle and gazed in pleasure at Stoneybrook, the Winslows’s ancestral castle. It had withstood seige and battle, and bore all the marks that time made upon structure——as well as upon men. There was nothing particularly beautiful about Stoneybrook. There were many castles in England that had more pleasing aspects, designed more for looks than for utility. But Claiborn loved it more than any other.

The spring had brought a rich emerald green growth to all the countryside, and verdant fields nuzzled up against the very walls of Stoneybrook. If they were any indication, the summer’s harvest would be good, indeed. The castle itself rose out of a hillside, and was dominated by an impenetrable wall, on the other side of which a small village thrived. Even now, late in the day, people and carts and horses moved in and out of the central gate, and from the battlements he saw the banner of Winslow fluttering in the late afternoon breeze, as if beckoning to him.

“My heaven it’s good to be home!”

He laughed at himself adding, “Well, I guess the next thing they’ll put me in Bedlam with the other crazy ones talking to myself. I must be worse off than I thought.” His mind cascaded back to the battles he had seen, rare but fierce, and the men he had encountered. Some dreaded battle, feared it, and could not force themselves forward. Others found joy in the clash of weapons and the shouts of victory when the battle was over. Claiborn was one of these, finding a natural rhythm to battle, a path from start to finish as if preordained for him. When the trumpets sounded, and the drums rolled, his heart burned with excitement. God help him, he loved it. Loved being a soldier. But this, returning to Stoneybrook, had its own charm.

“Come on, Ned.” Kicking his horse’s side Claiborn guided the animal toward the gate, and as he passed through, he ran across an old acquaintance, Ryland Tolliver, one of the blacksmiths who served Sir Edmund Winslow and the others of the family as well.

“Well, bless my soul,” Ryland boomed, “if it’s not the soldier home from the wars!” He was a bulky man, his shoulders broad, and his hands like steel hooks from his years at the forge. He laughed as Claiborn slipped off his horse and came forward, and he shook his hand. “Good to see you, man. You’re just getting home. All in one piece, I see.”

“All in one piece.” The two man shook hands, and Claiborn had to squeeze hard to keep his hand from being crushed by the burly blacksmith. “How are things here? My mother and my brother?”

“The same as they were when you left. What did you expect? We’d fall to pieces without you to keep us straight?”

“No, I’m not as vain as that. I’m sure the world would jog on pretty well without me.”

“Tell me about the wars, man.”

“Not now. I need to go see my family, but I’ll come back later. We’ll have enough ale to float a ship. I’ll tell you lies about how I won the battles. You can tell lies about how you’ve won over the virtue of poor Sally McFarland.”

“Sally McFarland? Why, she left here half a year ago.”

“I thought you were going to marry that girl.”

“She had other ideas. A blacksmith wasn’t good enough for her.” He looked at Ned and said, “Not much of a horse.”

“He’s a stayer. That’s what I like. He needs shoeing though. I’ll leave him with you and feed him something good. He’s had a hard journey.”

“That I’ll do.” He took the reins from Claiborn. “What about you, Master? What brings you home at long last?”

Claiborn glanced back at him, and a smile touched his broad lips. “Well, I’m thinking about taking a wife.”

“A wife? You? Why, you were made to be a bachelor man! Half the women in this village stare at you when you walk down the street.”

“You boast on my behalf, but even if it was God’s own truth, I’ll not have just any woman.”

“Ahh, I see. So have you got one picked out?”

“Of course! Grace Barclay had my heart when we courted and never let it go.”

“Oh, yes, Grace Barclay.” There was a slight hesitation in the blacksmith’s speech, and he opened his lips to speak, but then something came over him, and he clamped them together for a moment.

“Ryland, what is it? Grace is well?” Claiborn said, his heart seizing at the look on the blacksmith’s face.

“She is well. Still pretty as ever.” Ryland had ceased smiling, and he lifted the reins in his hand. “I best go and take care of the horse. He must have a thirst.”

“As do I. I’ll return on the morrow. Give him a good feed too. He’s earned it.”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The servants were busy putting the evening meal together, and as he passed into the great hall Claiborn spoke to many of them. He was smiling and remembering their names, and they responded to him well. He had always been a favorite with the servants, far more than his brother Edmund, the master of Stoneybrook, and enjoyed his special status. He paused beside one large woman who was pushing out of her clothing and said, “Martha, your shape is more…womanly than when I departed.”

The cook giggled and said, “Away with you now, m’lord. None of your soldier’s ways around here.”

He grinned. “You are expecting a little one. It is nothing shameful, I assume.”

“Shush! Mind that we’re in public, Sir. Such conversation is unseemly!” Her face softened and she leaned closer. “I married George, you know. A summer past.”

“Well, good for George. With a good woman and a babe on the way; he must be content, indeed. What’s for supper?”

“Nothing special, but likely better than some of the meals you’ve had.”

“You’re right about that. Soldier’s fare is pretty rough stuff.”

Passing on, Claiborn felt a lightness in his spirit. There was something about coming home that did something inside a man. He thought of the many campfires he had huddled next to out in the fields, sometimes in drizzling rain and bitter cold weather— dreaming of the smells and the sounds of Stoneybrook, wishing he was back. And now, at last, he was.

“Edmund!” He turned to see his brother, emerging from one of the inner passages.

Claiborn hurried forward to meet him and said, “It’s good to see you, brother.”

“And you,” Edmund said, holding him at arm’s length again to get a good look. “No wounds, this round?”

“Nothing that hasn’t healed,” Claiborn returned.

“Good, good. Mother will be so relieved.”

The two turned to walk together, down a passageway that would lead to their mother’s apartments. Claiborn restrained his pace, accommodating his smaller older brother’s shorter stride. “All is well here, brother? You are well?”

“Never better. There is much to tell you. But it can wait until we sup.”

A servant had just departed, after breathlessly telling Lady Leah Winslow that her son had returned. She wished she had a moment to run a brush through her gray hair, but she could already hear her sons, making their way down the corridor. She rose, straightening her skirts. How many nights had she prayed for Claiborn’s return, feared for his very life? And here he was at last!

The two paused at her door, and Leah’s hand went to her chest as her eyes moved between her sons. Claiborn’s rich auburn hair with just a trace of gold; Edmund’s dull brown. Claiborn’s broad forehead, sparkling blue eyes, high cheekbones, generous lips that so easily curved into a smile, determined chin. Here, here was the true Lord Winslow, a far more striking figure than his sallow, flabby brother. Her eyes flitted guiltily toward her eldest, wondering if she read her traitorous thoughts within.

But Claiborn was already moving forward, arms out, and she rushed to him. He lifted her and twirled around, making her giggle and then flush with embarrassment. “Claiborn, Claiborn!”

He laughed, the sound warm and welcoming and then gently set her to her feet. “You are still lovely, Mother.”

“You are kind to an old woman,” she said. She reached up and cradled his cheek. “The wars…you return to us unhurt?”

“Only aching for home,” he returned.

He took the horsehide-covered seat she offered and Edmund took another. A servant arrived with tea and quickly poured.

“Are you hungry, Son?”

“Starved, but the tea will tide me over until we sup.”

“Well, tell us about the wars,” Edmund said.

“Like all wars—bloody and uncomfortable. I lost some good friends. God be praised, I came through all right.”

Edmund let out a scoffing sound. “Don’t tell me you turned religious!”

“Religious enough to seek my Maker when facing death.”

Edmund laughed and Leah frowned. He had a high-pitched laugh that sounded like the whinnying of a horse. “Not very religious when you were growing up. I had to thrash you for chasing the maids.”

Claiborn reddened and guiltily glanced at Leah. “I suppose I was a terrible.”

“You were young,” Leah put in. “Now you are a man.”

“She forgets just how troublesome you were,” Edmund said.

“You might have been the same, had you faced manhood and the loss of your father in the same year. You were fortunate, Edmund, to be a man full grown before you became Lord Winslow.”

Edmund pursed his narrow lips and considered her words. “Yes. I suppose there is a certain wisdom in that, Mother. A thousand apologies, Claiborn,” he said, with no true apology in his tone.

“None offense taken. So tell me, what’s the feeling here about the king?”

“Most are for Henry. He’s a strong man—but it troubles all that he seems to have a ghost haunting him.”

“A real ghost?”

“No, but it might be better if it were,” Edmund grinned. “Henry defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and he claimed the crown. But he’s always thinking that someone with a better claim to the crown will lead a rebellion and cut his head off.”

“Do you think that could happen?”

“No. Henry’s too clever to let that happen.”

Leah fidgeted in her seat, wondering when Edmund would tell his brother what he must. Would it be up to her? She kept silent for ten long minutes as the men continued to speak of Henry VII and his various campaigns. When it was silent, she blurted, “Has Edmund told you of his plans?”

Edmund shot her a quick, narrowed glance, but then turned to engage his brother again.

“Plans?” Claiborn’s bright, blue eyes lit up. “What is it?”

“I’m to be married,” he said, uncrossing his legs and crossing them again in a studied, casual way.

“Well, I assumed you already long married. Alice Williams is your intended bride, I suppose.”

Edmund’s face darkened, and he took two quick swallows of tea and then shook his head. “No,” he said in a spare tone. “That didn’t come to fruition. She married Sir Giles Mackson.”

“Why, he’s an old man!”

“I expect that’s why Alice married him. She expects to wear him out, then she’ll be in control of everything.”

“I didn’t think Alice was that kind of a woman.”

“Come now, most women are that kind of woman. Apart from our dear mother, of course.” He reached out a hand to Leah and she took it. He held it too tightly, as if warning her. “You truly haven’t learned more of women as you’ve traveled?”

“Not of what you speak.” His eyes moved to his brother’s hand, still holding their mother’s. “Well, who is it then? Who is the future Lady Winslow?”

Leah couldn’t bear it then, watching her handsome son’s face. She stared studiously at her tea, waiting for the words to come.

“Obviously, I’ve considered it for some time,” Edmund said, releasing their mother’s hand, setting down his cup and rising to stand behind her chair.

Claiborn frowned but forced a curious smile. Why was he hesitating? “Cease toying with me, Edmund. Who is she?”

“I have selected Grace Barclay.”

Claiborn’s fingers grew white as he gripped the tea cup. With a shaking hand, he set it down before he crushed it. “Grace Barclay,” he whispered.

“Yes. She’s comely enough, and I’ve come to a fine arrangement with her father. We shall obtain all the land that borders our own to the east. That’ll be her dowry. We’ll be able to put in new rye fields and carry more cattle. It’ll add a quarter to the size of Stoneybrook. You know how hard I tried to buy that land from her father, years ago. Well, he wouldn’t sell, never would I don’t think, but when he mentioned the match I thought, well, why not? It’s time I married and produced an heir for all of this. I’ll show you around the property tomorrow.”

Claiborn said nothing further, and felt frozen in place. Edmund prattled on about the new land that would soon be added, how it would benefit them all, and finally turned toward the door and said, “Come along, you two. They ought to have something to eat on the table by now. You can tell us about the wars in more detail, Claiborn, now that you know all that’s new here.”

“Edmund, may I have a word with your brother?” Leah said quietly.

Edmund stared, as if having forgotten she was there. After a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Certainly, Mother. I shall see you both in the dining hall.” Then straightening his coat, he exited the room.

Claiborn struggled to speak. At last he asked, “When will the marriage take place?”

“The date has not been set, but it will be soon.” Leah turned warm eyes on her son. She reached out to touch his arm, but he flinched. She had stood idly by! Watched this transgression unfold! “Claiborn, it is a business arrangement. Nothing more.”

“But she was mine. He knew I courted her.”

“And then you left her. She has been of marriable age for some time, now. For all we knew, you could have already died on foreign soil, never to return. Like it or not, life continues, for those of us left behind. Grace needed a husband; Edmund needed a wife. It was a natural choice.”

Claiborn rose. “What of love? What of passion? Grace and I shared those things.”

“Years ago, you shared those things. Now you must forget them. Your brother, Lord Winslow, has chosen.”

“Chosen my intended!” Claiborn thundered, rising.

“You did not make your intentions clear,” Leah said quietly, pain in every word.

“I could not leave Grace, with a promise to marry. It was a promise I could not be sure I could keep. Too many die on the battlefield…” He turned away to the window, running a hand through his hair, anguished at the thought of never holding Grace in his arms, never declaring his love, enduring the sight of her, with him. His brother. His betrayer.

His mother came up behind him, and this time, he allowed her touch on his arm. Slowly, quietly, she leaned her temple against his shoulder, simply standing beside him for time in solidarity. “I’m sorry, Son. But you are too late. You cannot stop what is to come, only make your peace with it. It will be well in time. But you must stand aside.”

Claiborn went through the motions of the returned soldier through the rest of the evening. He was not a particularly good actor, and many of the servants noticed how quiet he was. Edmund did not, however, continuing to fill the silence with endless chatter. After the meal was over Claiborn said, “I think I’ll go to bed. My journey was long today.”

“Yes, you’d better,” Edmund said, mopping the gravy from the trencher with a chunk of bread “Tomorrow we’ll look things over, find something for you to do while you are home. Will you return to the army?”

“I’m not quite sure, Edmund.”

“Bad business being a soldier! Out in the weather, always the danger of some Spaniard or Frenchman taking your head off. We’ll find something for you around here. Time you got a profession. Maybe you’d make a lawyer or even go into the church.” He laughed then and said, “No, not the church. Too much mischief in you for that! Go along then. Sleep well and we’ll discuss it further on the morrow.”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

As Claiborn rode up to the property owned by John Barclay, he felt as if he were coming down with some sort of illness. He had slept not at all, but had paced the floor until his mother sent a servant with a vessel of wine, which he downed quickly, and soon afterward, fell into a dream-laden sleep. As soon as the sun had come up, he had departed, only leaving word for Edmund that he had an errand to run.

Now as he pulled up in front of the large house where Barclay lived with his family, he dismounted, and a smiling servant came out. “Greetings, m’lord, shall I grain your horse?”

“No, just walk him until he cools.”

He walked up to the door, his eyes troubled and his lips in a tight line. He was shown in by a house servant, and five minutes later John Barclay, Grace’s father, came in. “Well, Claiborn, you’re back. All safe and sound, I trust?”

“Yes, Sir. Safe and sound.”

“How did the wars go? Here, let’s have a little wine.”

Claiborn’s head was splitting already from the hangover, but he took the mulled wine so that he might have something to do with his hands.

John Barclay was a small man, handsome in his youth, but now at the age of forty he was beginning to show his age poorly. He pumped Claiborn for news of the wars, customarily passed along the gossips of the court and of the neighborhood. Finally he got to what Claiborn had come to address. “I assume your brother has told you that he and my girl Grace are to be married?”

“Yes, Sir, he did.”

“Well, it’s a good match,” he rushed on. “She’s a good girl and your brother is a good man. Good blood on both sides! They’ll be providing me with some fine grandchildren. A future.”

Claiborn did not know exactly how to proceed. He had hoped to find Grace alone, but Barclay did not mention her, so finally he said, “I wonder if I might see Miss Grace? Offer my future sister-in-law my thoughts on her impending nuptials?”

“Certainly! She’s up out in the garden. Let her welcome you home. She’ll tell you all about the wedding plans, I’m sure.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Getting up, Claiborn walked out of the castle. He knew where the garden was, for he had visited Grace more than once in this place. He turned the corner, and his first sight of her seemed to stop him in his tracks. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. A tall woman with blonde hair and well-shaped green eyes, with a beautiful smile. He stood there looking at her, and finally she turned and saw him. She was holding a pair of shears in her hands, and she dropped them and cried out, “Claiborn—!”

Moving forward, Claiborn felt as if he were in some sort of dream world. He came to stand in front of her and could not think of what to say. It was so different from what he had imagained it would be like when he first saw her after his long absence. How many times had he imagined taking her into his arms, turning her face up, kissing her and whispering his love, and her own whispered declarations…

But that was not happening. Grace had good color in her cheeks as a rule, but now they were pale, and he could see her lips were trembling. “Claiborn, you’re—you’re home.”

“Aye, I am.”

A silence seemed to build a wall between them, and it was broken only when she whispered, “You know? About Edmund and me?”

“I knew nothing until yesterday when Edmund told me.”

“I thought he might send you word.”

“He’s not much of a one for writing.” Claiborn suddenly reached out and took her by the upper arm. He squeezed too hard and saw pain rise and released his grip. “I can’t believe it, Grace! I thought we had an understanding.”

Grace turned her shoulders more toward him. “An understanding, of sorts,” she said quietly. “But that was a long time ago, Claiborn. Much has transpired since you left.”

He couldn’t stop himself. He reached out his hand to take her own, gently. “I’m sorry. I was a fool.”

“You were young. We both were. Perhaps it is best that we leave it as that.” She turned her wide, green eyes up to meet his.

He frowned. “Is that all it was to you? The passion of youth? Frivolity? Foolishness?”

“Nay,” she sais softly, so softly he wondered if he had misheard her. But then she repeated it, squeezing his hand. His heart surged to doubletime. Her voice was unsteady as she said, “I did everything I could to get out of the marriage, Claiborn. I begged my father, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s determined…and so is your brother.”

“I know Edmund is stubborn, but there must have been some way, Grace.”

“No, both your brother and my father see a woman as something to be traded. I don’t think my father ever once thought of what I wanted, of what you and I once shared, of would make me happy. Nor Edmund. He’s never courted me. It is purely an arrangement that suits well…on the surface.”

Suddenly Claiborn asked, “Do you think you might come to love him, Grace?”

Tears came into Grace’s eyes. “No,” she whispered. “Of course not! I love you, Claiborn. You must know that.”

Then suddenly a great determination came to Claiborn. He could not see the end of what he planned to do, but he could see the beginning—which would undoubtedly bring a period of strife. And yet any great battle worth fighting began the same way. “We’ll have to go to them both, your father and my brother,” he said. “We’ll explain that we love each other, and we will have to make them understand.”

Grace shook her head. “It won’t do any good, Claiborn. Neither of them will listen. Their minds are made up.”

“They’ll have to listen!” Claiborn’s voice was fierce. “Come. We’ll talk to your father right now—and then I’ll go try to reason with Edmund. My mother will come to my aid, I am certain.”

“I fear it will do no good—”

“But we must try.”

She accepted his other hand and met his gaze again. “Yes,” she said with a nod, “we must try.”

“Grace Barclay, if we manage this feat, would you honor me by becoming my bride?”

“Indeed,” she said, smiling with fear and hope in her beautiful eyes.

“Come, then,” he said, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. “Let us see to it then.”

The two of them went inside, and found Grace’s father eating grapes. Claiborn knew there was no simple manner to enter the discussion at hand so he said, “Mr. Barclay, forgive me for going against you and your arrangement with my brother, but I must tell you that Grace and I love each other. We want your permission to marry.”

John Barclay stared at the two, then hastily swallowed a mouthful of grapes. The juice ran down his chin, and his face was scarlet. “What are you talking about, man? I’ve told you, she’s to marry your brother!”

“Father, I never cared for Edmund,” Grace said at once. She held her head up high, and added, “I’ve loved Claiborn for a long time.”

“Have you lost your senses, girl? Sir Edmund is the lord of Stoneybrook. He has the money and the title. What does this man have? A sword and the clothes he has on his back!”

“But father—!”

“Not another word, Grace! You’re marrying Edmund Winslow, and I’ll hear no more about it!” Barclay turned to Claiborn, and his face was contorted with rage. “And you! What sort of brother are you? Coming between your brother and the woman he’s sought for his wife! You’re a sorry excuse for a man! Get out of here, and never come back, you understand me?” He turned to Grace and shouted, “As for you, girl, go to your room! I’ll have more words for you later…!”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

As Claiborn rode out of the environs of Barclay Castle, he felt as if he had been in a major battle. He loitered on the way home, trying to put together a speech that might move Edmund after so utterly failing with John Barclay. When he reached the castle he saw his brother out in the field with one of the hired hands. He was pointing out some fences, no doubt, that needed to be built, and he turned as Claiborn rode up and dismounted.

“Well, you ran off early this morning. What was so pressing that you could not even stop to break your fast?.”

“I must have a word with you, Edmund.”

His brother said something else to the field hand and then turned to walk beside him. “Well, what is it? Have you given thought to your profession?”

“No, no, it’s about Grace.”

Edmund’s eyes narrowed. “Grace? What about her?”

Claiborn faced his brother and said, “Grace and I love each other. We have for a long time. Forgive me for this, but we wish to be married, Edmund.”

Edmund’s face contorted into a look of confusion. “Have you lost your mind, Claiborn? She’s engaged to me! Everyone knows about it.”

Claiborn began to try to explain, to reason, and even to plead with Edmund, but Edmund scoffed, “You were always a romantic dreamer, boy. But you are a man grown now. You must embrace life and all its practicalities, as I have. Think if it. The woman is handsome, yes, but what she brings to this estate is even more attractive. There will be another girl for you.”

“Perhaps Barclay will still give the land as Grace’s dowry if she marries me.”

“Of course he won’t! Are you daft? I’m the master here! Now don’t be difficult about this, Claiborn. It’s for the good of the House of Winslow. Let’s hear no more about it.”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The thing could not be kept a secret, and soon everyone at both houses knew what had happened. Edmund made no secret of his displeasure, and finally, after three days, he found Claiborn, and his anger had hardened, but he gave Claiborn one more chance to change his mind. “Look you now, Claiborn,” he said. “You know you have no way to provide for a wife, without me. And if you stubbornly pursue this one as your wife, I shall turn you out. What kind of a life would a woman have with you then? You know as well as I she’d be miserable. Grace has always the best of everything. What would she have with you, outside of the House of Winslow? Dirt, poverty, sickness, misery, that’s what she’d have. You must see that.”

“But Edmund, we love each other. If you’d help me fit myself for a profession—”

“I will help you! I’ve said so already—but I’d be made to look ridiculous if my own brother took my choice for a wife from me. A lord cannot be made to look the fool. It will bind me in every future arrangement I make. No, the die has been cast. You must live with what has transpired in your absence.”

Claiborn had never asked his brother for anything, and he hated to beg, but he pleaded with Edmund until he saw that it was useless.

“You cannot remain here,” Edmund said flatly. “Not feeling the way you do about my intended. Refusing to act as a man. Refusing the way of honor.”

“I cannot be the man God made me, honor what he has placed on my heart, and do anything but this!” Claiborn cried, arms out, fingers splayed.

Edmund stared at him for a moment and said coldly, “I never want to see you again, Claiborn. You have betrayed me, turned away from all I’ve given you!”

“And you did not betray me? You knew I courted Grace!”

“Once upon a time, as a young whelp! How was I to know you fancied a grand return, a romantic reunion? No, I deal with a man’s responsibilities, and I shall move forward as that, as a man.”

Claiborn stared hard at him. “Mother will—”

“Mother will side with me. With the Lord of Winslow. She knows her place.”

“Just as Grace will know it, right? Pretty, and placed in a corner, until you have need of her in your bed.”

“Get out. My bride is my family, my business. And you, you are no longer kin to me.”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

“Grace, I’ve hoped you’d show more sense,” her father said. “You don’t see life the way it is, so I can’t let you make such a terrible mistake.”

“It would be a terrible mistake if I married a man I didn’t love.”

“Nonsense! You’ve been unfairly influenced by those French romances. I knew I should not have allowed them in my house!”

Grace sighed. To be fair, she had placed him in a terrible position, and never challenged him on anything of note. Up until now. “Father, I believe in love. Did you not once love my mother?”

“There was no nonsense. She understood how things progress, between a man and a woman. She…” He colored, growing so frustrated in choosing his words that he shook his finger in her face. “My father and her father saw that there were advantages to our marriage, and we were obedient. We had a good life.”

Grace lost her mother to the fevers when she was fourteen, just as Claiborn had lost his father at the same age—but she well remembered how unhappy she had been, how she longed for affection, but got very little from her husband. John had loved her mother, just as she knew he loved her, but he seemed incapacitated when it came to showing it. “I love Claiborn, Father,” she repeated. “I beg you, don’t force me to marry a man I don’t love.”

John opened his mouth as if to say something in fury, then abruptly closed it, turning away from her. He took a step toward the fire, burning in the hearth, and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “We shall discuss it no further. You are marrying Sir Edmund Winslow. I shall see to it myself.”

. . . . . .

“We’ll have to leave here, Grace.” Claiborn had come under cover of darkeness to meet with her in the garden. The air was heavy for the rain had come earlier and soaked the earth.

“Yes, we will.”

“I have nothing to offer you.”

Grace looked up. “But I have something to offer you. You remember my Aunt Adella?”

“She married an Irishman when we were but children, didn’t she?”

“Yes, and he died, and now she’s dead. She left the farm in Ireland to me. That’s where we must go and make our lives.”

It sounded like a dream—an unfavorable dream since Claiborn had no good opinion of Ireland. But it seemed they had little choice. Perhaps it was of God, this provision.

“This asks much of you, Grace. You’d have the life you were born to, here, if you married Edmund.”

“No, my life would be tragic, living with a man I didn’t love and never again seeing the man I do. There is no choice. Come for me, in two days’ time. I shall meet you by the side gate, when all are deeply asleep.

.. . . . . .

Two days later, Claiborn waited outside the Barclay estate in the dark, nervously shifting from foot to foot. He had stolen away from Stoneybrook as soon as even the lightest sleeper was deep into his dreams. But if she didn’t emerge soon…if Edmund discovered he was gone, and here, or if Grace’s father came upon them…his hand went to his sword. He would do what it took to get his intended away from here. But if anyone died as they departed, it would haunt them forever. “Please Lord,” he muttered under his breath. “Make a way for us. Help us depart in peace.”

Two men approached and Claiborn narrowly ducked around a copse of trees in time. But the lads had been too deep into the ale to notice him—-nor Ned’s soft whinny in greeting to their own horses. They trotted past, laughing so giddily Claiborn wondered how they stayed astride their mounts. His eyes moved back to the side door, where he had sent word for her to meet him. “Make haste, Grace,” he begged through gritted teeth. “Make haste!”

Edmund was not a fool. He was certain to have encouraged servants to keep an eye out for him and any suspicious actions within Stoneybrook. With each minute that ticked by, their risk of exposure increased. Claiborn’s eyes traced the outline of the side door, willing it to open. Had she changed her mind? Or been intercepted? His mind leapt through different options, should she not emerge within a few minutes. Steal inside? Summon a servant and demand he see her? Or walk away?

But then, there she was. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if his mind was playing tricks upon him. No, it was her. She had come! He hurried forward, wincing as the cart behind Ned creaked in protest. Her head swung toward the sound and she hurriedly shut the door behind her, turning a key in the lock and pocketing it.

He took her hands in his. “All right, sweetheart. We’ll find someone to marry us straight away, and then we’ll make a life together in Ireland. Thank you for this honor. Thank you for trusting me.”

“I’m trusting you and God, Claiborn.”

Claiborn was well aware that he did not really know God in the way that Grace did She had a firm faith in the Lord, and his religion had been more of a formality, but now he put his arms around her and kissed her. “I hope you’re right, Grace. At least we’ll have each other.”

“Yes,” Grace smiled up, tears in her eyes. “We’ll have each other.”

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