A Kindle Fire Giveaway!

It’s vacation time!
Whether you’re going someplace new or old, planning an exotic trip or a staycation, chances are booklovers like us will be packing a new title or two for those leisure moments of rest and relaxation. And I have just the contest to help!

This summer, I’m thrilled to be included in not one but TWO novella collections. Those quick reads you can enjoy on a beach or on a plane ride, or just before going to bed at night. Quick, romantic, positive stories to uplift and entertain!

Convenient_Brides_RafflecopterI’ve teamed with the nine authors from The Convenient Bride Collection to offer a fun giveaway, starting today and ending on July 10th. We’re giving away a 7″ Kindle Fire, loaded with (what else?) the ebook version of our book, along with several titles including my other novella, The Summer Harvest Bride.

12BridesSummerNovella2_SocialMediaPostsThe 12 Brides of Summer are releasing three stories at a time, and my story, The Summer Harvest Bride, is featured with my wonderful colleagues Mary Coneally and Amanda Cabot. Three romantic novellas for only $2.99!

The Convenient Bride Collection is available in ebook or print, featuring nine different stories where the wedding comes before the romance!

And now for the contest details. Prize Package Includes:

7″ Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Cover (You’ll have a choice of colors)

The Convenient Bride Collection ebook – OF COURSE!

Kindle Versions of:

The Cactus Creek Challenge by Erica Vetsch

A Secret Hope by Renee Yancy

A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears

Two Brides Too Many by Mona Hodgson

The Oregon Trail Romance Collection with Jennifer Uhlarik

The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection with Gabrielle Meyer, Amanda Barratt, and Erica Vetsch

12 Brides of Summer Collection #2 with Maureen Lang

Just click below to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you don’t like Rafflecopter, you may email mjagears AT gmail DOT com for an entry; put Loaded Kindle Fire Giveaway in the subject line to be entered.

Happy Reading!

The Individualism of Taste

TASTE for blogThe other day my husband and I were teasing each other about things we hold dear that the other can do without. Coconut is one of my husband’s favorite flavors; I reject even the slightest hint of it. He fondly remembers 80s rock ‘n roll; I prefer folk (please don’t hold that against me, I just like songs that tell a story!). I recall Young Frankenstein as a funny movie; he shrugs his shoulder over whatever small snippet he even cares to remember.

The appeal of modern art escapes both of us, yet we know that venue offers some of the most expensive items on our planet. And I can’t even count the number of comedians who must make a living at humor that doesn’t work for us. But we do have several we both love (Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan come to mind.)

Another example is in reading taste. One of my favorite books is Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. Over the years, I’ve recommended this book to many people. To my surprise, after a close friend of mine checked it out she confessed she couldn’t get past the first few chapters. She tried, she said, but just couldn’t get into it. Tried! Oh, my! It didn’t take any effort for me to love it from cover to cover. Each and every word is like a lesson in the most elegant use of our language.

Isn’t it curious that whether it’s our taste buds or our funny bone, different things appeal to different people? Even among compatible people raised in the same culture! Let’s not even start on the varieties of tastes from around the world.

Of course there is no right or wrong in matters of taste. It’s simply proof of the variety God gifted to us. We might shake our head when we hear about some popular trend that holds no interest for us. But it should be a reminder that we were created by a God of endless variety!

The Ups and Downs Of My Recent Remodel

If you’ve ever done any remodeling in your home, you probably have stories about your process. Surprises along the way, unexpected expenses, but hopefully satisfying results. Or perhaps you like to watch any number of fixer-upper shows on HGTV (those are positively addictive to me!).

In our house, remodeling usually takes a bit longer than either my husband or I expect. When we remodeled our master bath, the unhooked toilet sat near the foot of our bed for weeks. It’s a good thing we’re not sleepwalkers or easily confused about things in the middle of the night!

Since then, we’ve decided not to be too rigid about timing. Before Easter, we needed to take advantage of my husband’s spring break from teaching but also knew we were hosting the family meal. So we warned everyone the house wouldn’t be completely settled and forged ahead. At least our kitchen no longer looked like this:

Kitchen_Before

 

It looked a little more like this:Kitchen_2

Just before the kitchen remodel, we’d also decided to add another reading and work space to our home. Since I’d claimed the study as my writing space eons ago, my husband has often taken over our dining room to grade papers or do other desk work. So we decided to turn some unused space in our front hall from wasted to useful. From this:

Before_Loft

To this, connecting the top stair landing to the open shelf across the way:Loft_After

 

 

 

 

 

As you might have noticed, we installed wood flooring, but not just in the kitchen. In the process of taking up old tile just below this loft area, my husband ended up hurting his knee. That was right before Easter, and unfortunately he’s still not really up to par. A burst bursa led to an infection which led to surgery which led to an ongoing recovery from an incision left open to help it to heal from the inside out. Fortunately for all of us, we hadn’t started the other project we’d planned on the tile-removal day by unhooking the powder room plumbing to make way for the new flooring. With a house full of guests coming, knowing things take longer than we expect, we decided to put off that particular remodel until after the holiday. Thank goodness, since it has yet to be started, except for the tile having been taken away!

It’s hard to complain, though, since other than the powder room the rest of the tasks to be done are details we’ve been easily functioning around. The good news is my husband’s knee is mending, and he’s looking forward to finishing up.

We obviously learned our lesson from that first bathroom remodel: unhooked plumbing can remain unhooked for longer than you expect, so consider the possibility of unexpected delays!

A little help from your friends . . .

My youngest son just started his first job this week. While it’s exciting to see this first step into an area of life he’ll nurture until retirement (some 50 years from now!) it’s a bit of a milestone for me, too. My husband and I have raised a son who knows the value of work!

But as he was getting ready for his first day, I told him what my brother told me when I was getting ready for my very first day of work: the first day is the hardest, it’ll only get better once you know the ropes.

Of all the jobs I’ve had over the years there is one constant element that made each one of them memorable. It wasn’t the work, it was the people I worked with. I’ve met some of my best friends among co-workers—something I’m sure my son will discover in the coming years.

Even with writing, one of those careers that seems entirely solo, it’s the friends sharing this journey that increase the pleasure of the job. I’m giving a hearty wave to Vicki Hinze here, who has been one of my favorite encouragers ever since we met! And it’s not only writers, but editors, too, who have added so much to my career. When working with a traditional publisher, the editors come alongside a writer as cheerleader and offer input that can mirror the author’s own enthusiasm for whatever project they’re producing together. And now, having branched out to independent publishing, I’m once again reminded of the value of friends.

Independently published authors must surely rank among the most generous of those in the publishing field. I’ve never been around a group of people more willing to share what they’ve discovered! Everything from the “how-to” steps to various marketing successes, they’re there with input and encouragement.

So today even though I’m thinking of “work friends”, I just wanted to remind everyone not to take any of our friends for granted. Whether our lives go for better or worse, the rich path or the poor one, in sickness or in health, hopefully our spouses will be there, but so will our friends!

Maureen Lang’s The Cranbury Papermaker by Vicki Hinze

Christians Read congratulations CR author, Maureen Lang on the release of her new novel:

Maureen Lang

Maureen Lang

 

Will he steal her inheritance . . . or save it?Arianne Casterton is devastated when her father and his new wife are killed in a train accident. Despite her faith in God, Arianne’s grief soon turns to despair when she discovers one-third of everything her father owned has been transferred automatically to his wife’s son and heir, Jonas Prestwich—someone Arianne never knew existed.Jonas’s mother married a backwoods papermaker much too soon after becoming a widow, embarrassing Jonas who lives among Philadelphia’s elite. Though he’s distressed by his mother’s death within a year after losing his father, receiving a portion of the papermaker’s inheritance feels like justice.God has blessed Arianne with the passion and talent for papermaking in her family’s tradition, but the demands of keeping the business going are nearly overwhelming. When Jonas offers to expand her efforts into something more modern and profitable, Arianne is suspicious, reluctant to give up the art of handmade papermaking. But she realizes without his unwanted help she might lose everything anyway.The Cranbury Papermaker is the 2015 release from award winning writer Maureen Lang, author of thirteen previous Christian romance novels and novellas.

Review: (Courtesy of Amazon.com)
5.0 out of 5 starsAn Old-Fashioned Romance Wrapped in Hand-Made Paper April 17, 2015
Once again Maureen Lang has illumined a slice of life in a bygone period of American history in such a way that the reader can picture what life was life in those days. Before reading this book, I took paper for granted, thinking of hand-made paper as an artsy thing that you see in special greeting cards or fancy invitations. It never occurred to me that at one time all paper was made by hand. So that part of the book was fascinating in and of itself, as well as the advent of machine-made paper which was just at that time coming on the scene.But that is just icing on the cake because the real joy of reading this book in the story itself. I really enjoyed it. We get a glimpse into small-town life in the late 1800’s with a romance that has all the essential elements: a beautiful heroine, a handsome and appealing man of questionable motives, rising tension and a satisfying conclusion. This is a typical Maureen Lang book with her usual use of vivid details, bringing the setting and characters to life in such a way that we can really picture them as we become engrossed in the story. She gives us lots of interesting characters to watch as we go along.Yes, this is entertaining, educational, and inspiring. It’s a delightful read.

Join the Beauty

Spring is a great reminder of the creativity God used to bless us with all of the beauty surrounding us every day. Gray landscapes turn colorful, from budding trees to yellow daffodils. Even in the city, little plots of grass return each year to remind us that nature’s wonders are still there, beyond the concrete and asphalt.

Soon my irises that look like this:

IMG_0553

 

 

 

Will turn to this:

Screenshot 2015-04-01 08.52.35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bible says we’re created in the image of God. We know no one has seen God face-to-face apart from the form He took on through Jesus. But one of the ways we do know we resemble God is the same bent toward creativity. We may differ on the definition of a beautiful creation, but we don’t differ on how we react when we see it: with pleasure.

So today, rejoice in the beauty of the awakening earth around you. Notice it! Thank God for it! And then join in the beauty by exploring and sharing your own creativity the way God gifted you to do. Maybe God inspired you to tell a story, to sing a song, to write a note to a friend or welcoming people into your home or business—or even simply blessing a stranger with a smile. Let’s spread a little beauty!

An Answered Prayer

Late last week, a dear friend of our family passed from this life into the arms of our Savior. She was an extraordinary woman who served the church every Sunday in the Special Friends ministry – a safe classroom filled with soft inflatables, sturdy toys, and best of all: Ms. O.Z.’s never-ending smile as she welcomed and loved the special needs children of our church. Because of her, parents like my husband and I could attend the service together. Before Ms. O.Z. came along, we would attend separate services while one of us stayed home with our handicapped son. It worked, but was anything except ideal since we wanted to worship together.

Until her cancer diagnosis, Ms. O.Z. served every single Sunday, even though during the week she also served her own handicapped son. God gave her a heart for children like her son because we all saw how she loved our kids! She understood them, and had endless patience even throughout the lessons each week. She knew some part of those lessons, somehow, would stick. God would see to it, and she obediently presented the material in the simplest, most engaging ways.

For her funeral, her loving family wanted to celebrate her life by inviting all of the Special Friends kids to be honorary pallbearers. They were to march behind the casket, a little parade of those Ms. O.Z. loved so well.

I wanted to honor that, as did all the parents of the special needs kids from our church. But I was worried, too. I had a fairly accurate picture of what the service would entail, and knew it would be difficult for my son to sit quietly. Have I mentioned one of his favorite sounds is a hearty string of “raspberries”? I couldn’t imagine family members offering memories of O.Z. competing with my son’s noise from the audience. And although I voiced my hesitation about bringing him, everyone I spoke to assured me Ms. O.Z. would have wanted him there and I shouldn’t worry a bit about anything. We all wanted to honor Ms. O.Z., and she certainly was familiar with his sounds.

But I still hesitated. And do you know what? God knew Ms. O.Z.’s favorite time of year was winter. She loved snow! So on Sunday, the day before the funeral, God let the snow fall . . . and fall . . . and fall. Over 19 inches at our O’Hare Airport! Which of course led to school closings on Monday, the day of the funeral, even though the snow had stopped and roads were being cleared. If I wanted to be at that funeral (and nothing was going to stop me) I would have to bring my son along because he was home from school. I could only imagine Ms. O.Z.’s reassuring grin, telling me to stop worrying and that everything would be all right.

It was more than all right. He sat quietly in the warm sanctuary, looking a little tired until we sang Amazing Grace, one of his favorite songs. He swayed his head along in perfect timing. And then . . . he fell asleep! Straight up in the chair, but there he was, peaceful, quiet, not a single, solitary raspberry until near the very end just before the casket was being taken out. He added a few sounds like a proper farewell, then fell in line with the other kids Ms. O.Z loved.

I don’t know why I wasted any time worrying. God wanted Ms. O.Z.’s life to be honored. I’m sure as she stands before His throne He greets her with “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” She was also reunited with her own handicapped son who passed away just last year, now fully healed and sharing eternity together. No worries, Maureen, she whispers to me . . . God answers our prayers.

Speedy Days by Maureen Lang

In recent years a few of my friends have retired. I’m not sure how it happened that I should already be at the point where people in my life are old enough to be in their “Golden Years” but here I am. Or rather, here we are.

One thing that seems universal to those who are now in control of how they spend their day is how fast they fill up. It’s incredibly easy to find something to do! Time never slows down, especially as we get older. I once asked my mother, then in her 70s, if time went slower after she and my dad were both home all the time. She just shook her head and said the days go faster than ever.

At the time I thought that sounded so impossible. How can time go fast for someone with health limitations and living a simple life of leisure? Well, I may not be in my 70s yet but it does seem to me that with each passing year time does seem to be speeding up, not slowing down.

So today my goal is to slow down time. I don’t have hurry through my Bible reading; I can take a moment to marvel at creation; I can certainly find the time to count my blessings instead of just hurtling through life not even aware of how grateful I am to be living where I do, with the people I have around me, and healthy enough to enjoy it all.

Next January will likely be here as quickly as this January arrived. I know I can’t really slow down the clock. But I can make a few moments linger along the way!

Most of Life is Spent “Old” by Maureen Lang

Last night my husband was looking for a video of our house, because we plan to take up a minor remodeling project and he wanted to “see behind the walls” — the video was taken when our house was just being built.

But the video happened to be on the same tape as some old home videos of our family from over fifteen years ago. So we watched some of it, marveling over our kids and how different life seemed back then.

Afterward, I mentioned that we’re not taking as many videos anymore, and my husband reminded me we were more motivated to record things when the kids were little. They changed so much, seemingly overnight. These days no one is changing much any more.

I agreed, although I did see the subtle changes of age that claimed the best of both of us during the last dozen or more years. When does “old” start? Fifty? Thirty-five? Or even twenty-five, after a final graduation from whatever schooling we take? Or perhaps “old” starts when life begins distributing its disappointments to you or to someone you love. I once heard the definition of old is ten years older than your current age.

Whenever old starts, the sad truth is that most of our life is spent being old — or at least not young, when we possess the freedom that comes with the best health, the most energy, and the sharpest capacity for learning. Maybe that’s the way to stay young, to take care of our health, do all we can to stay energetic, and never ever stop learning.

Here we are in the middle of the Holiest season of the year, the time when we reflect on God Himself taking on human flesh so He could provide a way for us to spend eternity with Him. I shouldn’t be talking about getting old! Perhaps we need a reminder, though, to see how precious the years are, especially when they seem to pass quicker than ever. Am I the only one who feels like last Christmas wasn’t all that long ago? If it seems like this year is evaporating in a flash, especially if you have a number of years behind you, take a moment to praise our God Who is the Creator of time itself!

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The Art of Thankfulness by Maureen Lang

When I listen to the news these days, it seems there are countless reasons to boycott any sense of Thankfulness this year. War, pestilence, poverty . . . we don’t have to look far to see a suffering world.

On the other hand, thankfulness might provide our best glimmer of hope. It’s hard for bitterness and gratitude to dwell simultaneously in the same heart, so perhaps thankfulness is the best way to kick off a holiday season that culminates in the reminder than God left Heaven to be with us and make a way for us to spend eternity with Him.

Gratitude might be harder for some to develop than for others, for all kinds of reasons. Sooner or later we all have reason to grieve. But remember Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol? He didn’t have much to be thankful for, being raised in near-poverty and suffering a physical ailment. But his famous last words are what people remember, “God bless Us, Every One!” Somehow he possessed a soft heart even in the middle of a challenging life. Scrooge, on the other hand, had to be taught a lesson that softened his heart.

Developing a thankful heart can be an art, and for some people (anyone on the Scrooge spectrum) more effort is required. But even the sour pusses among us, if they can be urged into looking, can find something to be grateful for. Maybe it’s up to us to give someone a reason to try this thing called gratitude. Send a smile to someone who needs one; share a kind word (even with someone who doesn’t deserve it); give an anonymous gift to someone in need; pray for others; donate to or help out at a local food pantry. Generosity leads to a lighter heart, and lighter hearts can more easily hold gratitude.

If gratitude is born from a positive attitude, I suppose developing thankfulness is a bit like asking a pessimist to turn into an optimist, if only for one day a year. An impossible task? Perhaps, but isn’t it worth a try?

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Do You Have A Happy Place?

Not long ago my family teased me about going to bed so early. Okay, so they might have a point since technically I go “to bed” around 8:00—and in the summer months, that’s before the sun goes down. I also realize that’s when some people are just sitting down to dinner. In my defense, though, it’s all part of a wonderful routine I’ve established with my disabled son. He’s nineteen, but chronologically functions closer to a two-year old. I think of him as a handicapped version of Adam before the fall. He has absolutely no knowledge of evil, either doing something evil or thinking anyone else would do him evil, either.

Anyway, before I go farther off topic than that, my son comes with quite a bit of noise. He is the champion of “raspberries” which for him is a necessary sensory thing but for the rest of us is . . . well, annoying. A while back we introduced him to our Kindle Fire, so he can watch kid’s videos. And guess what? Putting on those earphones must be a balm to his sensory needs. It quiets him. Sadly, the earphones don’t seem to work during the day, when he can easily move from activity to activity. But by the end of the day he’s happy to be sitting comfy, and we’re happy to have him where he won’t drop the Kindle on a hard surface or . . . well, anyplace wet if you know what I mean.

So while he’s watching kids programming, I can read a book, work from my laptop or watch regular t.v. myself. My room has become my happy place, and our bed the “family bed” at least for a couple of hours on most nights. I suppose it’s a strange picture to imagine all of us together on this family bed: me with a book, my 19-year-old son with his Kindle and my husband either reading or watching something of his own choosing. But as a family with a handicapped loved one, it’s not the only strange picture we’ve created! More importantly, it’s the one time of day when we can enjoy the quiet. It’s a happy place for all of us.

Do you have a happy place? A room in your home or a favorite haunt that brings you peace? A place that offers comfort? Maybe it’s someplace outside of home, perhaps connected to special memories. Wherever it is, I hope you get to visit it often!

 

SH_Fall2014_coversUPDATED_200wP.S. On another note, I invite you to my website this Friday to take part in a Scavenger Hunt! The prizes are spectacular, from a Kindle Fire HD to books from 30 different Christian authors. The Hunt actually starts at noon (Mountain Time Zone) on Friday, October 17th and runs through Sunday, October 19th. It originates on Robin Lee Hatcher’s site. Many of us are running smaller contests within the Hunt, so it promises to be lots of fun – I hope you can join us!

Memoirs, Anyone?

I have a friend who reads almost no fiction. Although she isn’t much of a reader, when she does choose a book it’s either non-fiction or a memoir. I suppose she might secretly believe reading fiction is a waste of time, since it isn’t an account of actual happenings. Reading a novel, after all, takes a lot more time than escaping into a two-hour movie, so justifying that much time spent for pure enjoyment might not make it on the to-do list.

Being a fiction writer, I like to think there is a lot of truth between the pages of most novels. We can learn not only about various settings, historical or contemporary, familiar or exotic, but also about people and why they do things. Through fictional characters we can deepen our faith or expand our education, we can learn compassion for a different experience or point of view, feel emotions as we step into the shoes of someone entirely different from ourselves.

Memoirs can do this, too, but one thing I’ve come to warn myself when reading a memoir is that the author can fall into an easy pitfall – letting too much pride show, whether intentionally or not. In the memoir I’m reading now, the person is usually one step ahead of everyone else, recounting things that make her look just a tad bit better than those around her, either smarter, more selfless, or more brave. Of course memoirs are usually written by people who have admirers of one sort or another, so there is likely something to – well, admire – about that person to begin with. But when memoirs feel like the world spins with this person at its axis, that’s when a memoir stops working for me.

Maybe if more of us, myself included, ever wrote a story of our lives we too might be tempted to describe our experience as just a little bit better than reality. Or worse, depending upon the point of the memoir. We’re all so naturally self-centered, and of course memoirs feed this.

Can you guess I’m not the biggest fan of memoirs? I should probably apologize to those who love them. But there may be hope for me – perhaps I just haven’t read the right ones yet!

 

 

On My Reading Book Shelf by Maureen Lang

You can always tell a reader from a non-reader. Just say something like “I’m reading this really great book right now . . .” and watch their eyes sparkle with interest and hope to learn about a book they might like, too. Or else their eyes will glaze over and they’ll be quick to change the subject, unless they’re so polite they suffer through a topic they have absolutely no interest in.

But since this is a blog for readers, I can safely mention this topic knowing which kind of friend I’m talking to! I just finished this really great book. :-) It’s called The Whiskey Rebels, by David Liss. Basically it’s the tale of two main characters who live in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. The author vividly created the era in my mind, filled it with fascinating characters that were at times brave or weak, cunning or heroic, loyal or selfish. The most delightful surprise for me was the self-deprecating humor in the male lead. If you like intricate plots and schemes that have no less than America’s early days as a teetering nation on the line, you’ll like this novel.

I also recently finished Her Royal Spyness, the first in a series of mysteries by Rhys Bowen. It’s set in the UK in the 1930s, an entertaining portrayal of an impoverished British Royal (34th in line to the throne, but still . . .) who must clear her brother from a murder charge. I don’t normally like series books, especially when I have to wait any length of time for the next in the series. But since these books have been out for a while, I can satisfy my impatience and jump right in to the rest of the books in line. They promise a fun mystery with just enough romance to keep this romance reader happy, and a heroine even this ordinary American can somehow identify with.

38689f201f02b3fc76308db4bc635e96

 

I also have a number of nonfiction books to be read, research material for future writing projects. Among them are titles like Smoldering City, Chicago and the Great Fire (1871-1874) by Karen Sawislak, and The Gospel of Germs by Nancy Tomes. I may not read these kinds of books from cover to cover, just enough as time permits to learn more about each historical era or setting to add texture to the novels I’m planning. I know so much history is at our fingertips online, but I love having a book in front of me, my own that I can underline or take notes from. Somehow it lasts a little longer in my head that way. :-)

 

That’s it for now, but like you I’m sure, I’m always adding books to my to-be-read pile. So, Happy Reading!

 

 

God’s View by Maureen Lang

This summer I was blessed to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world: Victoria, British Columbia. The trip was amazing—and for so many reasons. To start with, my expenses were paid by a wonderful organizations called Caregifted. My cousin actually heard about Caregifted before I did. She attended graduate school in Colorado and learned from her Alumni magazine that one of her colleagues started a foundation with the goal to provide respite for long-term family caregivers. Many people don’t realize how many of us are out here, since a hefty portion of our lives are spent in relative isolation. (It’s just so much easier to stay home with a severely handicapped loved one than to go out where so many things can go wrong.)

And so when I heard about Caregifted, I immediately submitted the necessary paperwork to be considered. Much to my delight, I was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to beautiful Victoria. We paid for my husband to come along, since the trip is awarded to the main caregiver only, but needless to say the expense and the planning was made easily doable because of Caregifted’s generosity and vision.

Victoria, I was told by a resident, is Canada’s Florida. The weather is always mild, it rarely rains in the summer (although you wouldn’t know that to look at the incredible gardens everywhere) and they offer all kinds of attractions. Whale watching, castle tours, museums, shopping!, a Victorian tea, a vast selection of the best restaurants ever, and the most beautiful gardens anywhere.

I wanted to mention the gardens in particular, because Butchart Garden has come to mind so often since having been there. It is a place of true respite. Except for paths paved in limestone rather than gold, I thought it must be a lot like Heaven. Colors more vibrant than I imagined and in every variety. Incredible designs, every plant so healthy I think they must snip off a leaf or petal the moment it starts to wilt. When I first saw the pictures I assumed it had been enhanced somehow, but having been there to see it in person I know it’s real.

Butchart Gardens is the result of Jennie Butchart’s vision and hard work. Her husband, a cement magnate, mined limestone to use in his cement factory in the early 1900s. When the quarry was mined out, leaving only one large section untouched in the center because it was inferior quality, Jennie had the idea to make a garden of what was then just a big, rather ugly hole in the ground—smoke stacks of the factory looming above. She brought in countless wagon loads of black dirt from surrounding farmland, even did some planting herself. She tucked dirt and ivy along the steep edges of the quarry and on the remaining block of limestone in the middle so the result would be a stunning display of living beauty no matter where a visitor’s gaze traveled.

Sunken_Garden_BeforeAbove is actually a picture of a picture that my husband took at the garden, showing the history of the spot. You can see the early planning of the garden, with a pathway, a small original arborvitae bush to the left (one of two on each side of the path) and the design around the remaining stand of limestone. The white pillars in the background were later removed, two of five smokestacks used to make cement. Only one smoke stack remains today, not pictured, a tribute to the garden’s history.

And this is what the sunken garden looks like today:

Screenshot 2014-09-02 18.22.05

The colors are every bit as beautiful as depicted here, in this photo from the Butchart Garden website. Over a million bedding plants are on display every year! Beside the sunken garden shown here, they have an incredible rose garden, a peaceful Japanese garden, a formal Italian garden, and the loveliest array of hanging plants I’ve ever seen.

These two pictures remind me of how God might view us, because of His incomprehensible love for us. I don’t know anything about Jennie Butchart except for the amazing garden she left behind. But I wondered if she worked under divine inspiration when she had her idea for the garden. What the world might see as just a worthless, mined-out hole in the ground, God sees as beautiful. Jennie’s garden seems to me a perfect example of how God might view each of us right now.

And so my summer respite continues, every time I recall one of the loveliest spots on earth.

Is it better to love a reader?

256px-Photograph_of_a_man_and_a_woman_reading_a_bookThe other day while I was out with my daughter, my son-in-law texted her a link describing the many benefits of falling in love with a reader. As you might guess (or know if you’ve read past posts of mine) my daughter is the very definition of an avid reader. So after I sighed with delight over the sentiment expressed in the text itself, I listened with interest as she read the article aloud.

Basically it poses the idea that voracious readers experience life through “deep reading” – in other words, when we’re immersed in a story world we experience a wide spectrum of emotion, learning to see the world not just through our own eyes but through the eyes of a vast array of characters. We become them, and can often understand and then articulate multiple sides while still maintaining our own set of beliefs and values.

This is, of course, the goal of every writer: to create characters so real that when our heroine’s heart thuds at the sight of her hero, the reader’s heart pounds along too. As the first reader of whatever we’re writing, if we writers experience what the characters do, it’s a good bet the reader will go along for the ride. Books that create the ride are a success.

The article itself might be a little fanciful, giving too much credit exclusively to readers (after all, I believe non-readers can be objective, well-versed and empathetic, too). And the title is misleading; it’s not terribly scientific article despite a few links; it’s merely this writer’s opinion. I was, however, surprised at the variety of comments—many supportive, but at least half if not more were offended by the way the article was written. I found that interesting, that people would object to an article extolling the benefits of reading when nearly everyone agrees it’s a good thing. Perhaps the topic caught on among those “skimmers” the article laments are taking the place of deep readers. The original article that inspired this post was from a Time magazine article, and that one evoked only positive responses.

See for yourself! Click here to read the article.

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