Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas! (And Bonus Recipe!)


I wanted to take the opportunity today to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas! I also thought I would share one of my favorite holiday (or anytime) recipes. This is a family recipe, handed down with minimal instructions ("mix this, add that, throw it on a sheet and bake until done"), so I've done my best to make it shareable. These cookies are amazing. At least I think so. They have a very cake-like texture, with a taste similar to madelines. They are great with frosting, but equally yummy just plain. And they freeze really well. In fact, my mom used to store them in the freezer or refrigerator and we would pull them out and eat them cold. Weird, but delicious. They're also great for giving away, because a full batch will make about 5 dozen cookies. Enjoy!

With the busyness of the holiday season and family staying with us for the next week, the blog will probably be fairly quiet for the rest of the month. Plus, I'm using our winter school break to edit, edit, edit! But I'm hoping to share new and exciting things with you in the new year. Thank you for making this first year of my blog a successful one. I hope 2014 is filled with joy and brings you closer to your own goals and dreams.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
~Ashley




Monday, December 16, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Pursue}

Dreaming is the easy part. But we all know how hard it can be to chase those dreams and try to turn them into a reality. The pursuit takes persistence, dedication, and lots and lots of courage. But isn't it all worth it? I hope you're encouraged (I need it to!) by this reminder that dreams can come true!


Friday, December 13, 2013

Verily Magazine

Today I wanted to do a different sort of review. Instead of raving about my latest favorite novel, I have to share with you my new favorite magazine: Verily.

Credit for this particular discovery goes to my husband, who stumbled upon this new magazine online and left the sample issue up on our computer for me to read. He knows me well. By the time I was halfway through the sample pages, I was hooked. I subscribed immediately. A couple weeks ago I got my first issue, and let me tell you, this isn't your typical women's magazine. It's sooo much better than that.

Verily's tagline is Less of who you should be, more of who you are. It's a perfect description. No more flipping through page after page of celebrity gossip, million dollar outfits, photoshopped "perfect" bodies, and five steps to fitting into that little black dress by Friday. Instead, you get real stuff for your real life.

I've skimmed the entire issue and I'm about halfway through reading page by page and let me tell you, I'm absolutely in love with this magazine. This issue opens with a letter from the editor, explaining why she thinks a women's magazine should be able to offer serious journalism alongside fashion, cooking, and relationship advice. And Verily does this, in an absolute brilliant fashion. From practical advice on surviving life with in-laws, to music and book recommendations, to a hard-hitting report on violence against women in Egypt, Verily gives us a magazine that is about more than entertainment--it has substance. It's everything you could want and more in a modern magazine for the grown woman, single or married. And an added bonus? They pledge not to photoshop their models, which only adds to the publication's feeling of authenticity. Verily's promise on their website is 100% true--it's a breath of fresh air. I'm looking forward to diving into future issues, and I'll definitely be telling all my girlfriends to check it out.

Take a peek inside the current issue.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Christmas}

Christmas is in full swing at our house! This is our family's favorite time of year. Family is coming to visit, cookies are in the oven, and presents are hiding in the closet. Bing Crosby and Andy Williams are playing on the radio and our favorite old Christmas films are in the Netflix queue (if you haven't seen White Christmas, you must). And of course, there's at least one bookish ornament on the tree. In honor of the holiday season, here's a little peek into my home, and some of my favorite Christmas poems. 

From our family to yours - Merry Christmas! I hope your season is filled with peace, hope, and joy.





Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman + The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Today's book reviews come as a two-for-one post! I read Fortunately, The Milk earlier this week, and then my son reminded me of the awesomeness of The Dark by picking it for bedtime last night and I had to share. Both of these would make great gifts for the kids on your Christmas list!

When Mom is away and Dad is put in charge, the inevitable happens: He forgets to buy the ever important milk. Off he goes to save breakfast--but this will be no ordinary trip to the corner store. Hilarity ensues as Dad returns to explain just why fetching the milk took "ages and ages".

Neil Gaiman's latest children's book, Fortunately, The Milk, is an absolutely brilliant work of utter nonsense. I loved everything about it. It's a very quick read--it took me about an hour (and that includes the inevitable interruptions that happen when you're trying to read with children about). I'm not going to tell you anything more because I don't want to spoil the fantastic surprise of reading it and finding something marvelous around every page. Just go out, get it for your kids for Christmas, read, and then wrap.


Laslzo is afraid of the dark and all the places it lives in his house. But when his trusty nightlight suddenly goes out, he discovers that the dark might be friendlier than he thought.

Lemony Snicket's foray into the picture book world comes with wonderful results. The Dark is a charming story with equally charming illustrations and an encouraging message for little ones who aren't too fond of nighttime. While the dark is mysterious, I love that it's never portrayed as overly frightening, and by the end it feels like you could even be friends with the dark (or at least mutually respecting acquaintances). Overall there's something very calming about the book and its simple but beautiful text, which makes it a perfect bedtime story. From a mom who has read A LOT of picture books--this one is a keeper.

What books are you planning on buying for your kids this Christmas? I bought my daughter (who is very into fashion design) Different Like Coco, a picture book biography of Coco Chanel. And for my son, something that combines his two great loves: Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary. Share your holiday purchases in the comments below!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Author Interview: Erin Healy

It's my pleasure to be hosting the lovely Erin Healy on the blog today! Erin is a best-selling author and award-winning fiction editor who has worked with talented novelists such as James Scott Bell, Frank Peretti, and Ted Dekker. She is the author of Kiss and Burn (co-authored with Ted Dekker), and several other novels, including her last book Afloat (click to read my review). Her latest supernatural thriller, Stranger Things, comes to stores on New Year’s Eve.

Library Journal says: “Serena Diaz’s teaching career came to an abrupt end when a student falsely accused her of sexual misconduct. Seeking solace in the woods, she discovers that a gang of sex traffickers has taken over a vacant house. Serena is almost captured by one of the criminals but is saved by an unknown man who has been shadowing her. He is shot, and Serena escapes with her life. But she is drawn to know more about this stranger who died for her. What follows is a suspenseful story of danger and pure evil. Whom can Serena trust in a world that seems intent on serving its own self-interests? VERDICT Healy (Afloat; coauthor with Ted Dekker, Burn and Kiss) has written an edgy, fast-paced spiritual thriller that will please Dekker fans.”

How was your idea for Stranger Things born?

Two years ago, during a Good Friday service, my pastor (Kelly Williams of Vanguard Church, Colorado Springs) asked the congregation: “If a complete stranger died while saving your life, wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about that person? Wouldn’t you want your life to honor that person’s death?” He challenged us to consider Jesus Christ in a new light—as a stranger, as a savior we might not know as well as we think we do. This idea has roots in Romans 5:8—“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before I ever had the chance to know him, while he was a complete stranger to me, Christ died for me. The Message translation says “when [I was] of no use whatever to him.” Why would he do that? Have I investigated him thoroughly enough to connect my own life with his purposes? This is all background, though. Stranger Things isn’t an overtly Christian tale as my previous novels have been, but it’s a parable about these questions.

Stranger Things sounds like a pretty dark read. Why did you choose to write about sex trafficking?
Human trafficking (of which sex trafficking is a subcategory) is the world’s third-fastest growing illegal industry behind drugs and weapons. It is the most horrifying kind of modern captivity I can imagine, and my research proved that even my imagination fell short of reality. I picked it because it’s a real contemporary crisis, but also because it profoundly symbolizes the kind of bondage that Christ came to end (Isaiah 61:1-3). Freeing the captive, physically and spiritually, is a high calling for followers of Jesus who want to express their gratitude for his sacrifice and demonstrate his love through the continuation of his work.

What does all this have to do with the “thin places” that you’re always talking about?
The traditional (Celtic) definition of a thin place is a physical location in the world where the division between physical and spiritual realities falls away, a place where we can see the greater truth of our existence. In my stories I use the term “thin place” to define moments when a person experiences a sharpened spiritual awareness about what’s really going on in his or her life. Stranger Things  is the first novel in which I’ve combined both ideas. The thin place is a physical location, a burned-out house in a sparse terrain, where Serena discovers her purpose. “There are places in the world where you will encounter things so real that you will be surprised others don’t have an identical experience,” Serena’s father tells her. “But then you will realize that the clarity given to you is a gift from God. Perhaps this gift is just for you, maybe also it will touch the lives of others.”

Did anything surprise you while writing the novel?
I started with intentions to write about an Asian-based trafficking ring, but in the course of my research was distressed to learn just how close to home the problem lies. Though it’s impossible to get a precise count of how many people are victims of sex trafficking in the US, most estimates fall between 100,000 and 300,000 (mostly women and children). Since I learned this my own awareness has expanded, and I’m happy to see just how many efforts are already underway—not only in the US—to end this atrocity. The Polaris Project is a great place to begin learning about global human trafficking.

What do you hope readers will take away from Stranger Things?
I hope the novel is layered enough to meet each reader individually. Maybe some will be challenged to investigate Jesus Christ further. Maybe some will use their new awareness of trafficking to do something about it. (I’ve joined the prayer team of a local home for girls rescued from sexual slavery.) To date my favorite response to the book was from the person who found herself looking in a new way at the strangers who surrounded her. She felt unexpectedly protective and concerned, on heightened alert to ways in which she might be able to help them. In other words, ways in which she might be able to do what Christ did for her. So many opportunities! If we all moved through the world with eyes like that, what might change for the better? I love to think of all the possibilities.

Along with the provided interview, I had the privilege of asking Erin some additional questions of my own. One of the things I love about Erin is her desire to interact with her fans, which she does in such an easy going and warm way. Here's her reply to my questions:

You’ve worked as an editor for some very talented novelists. What inspired you to take up your pen as an author?
Though writing has always been a large part of whatever work (and a lot of play) is at hand, I started writing novels because Ted invited me to. (We co-authored Kiss and Burn before I wrote my solo books.) It wasn't that I'd never thought of it so much that the demands of career and family had prevented it. So to write publicly in the context of my established career was a fantastic opportunity.

Your books have had a great impact on my life, both as a reader and a writer. Can you share with us some ways your own life has been impacted through telling these stories?
That's wonderful! As for me, writing has made me a better editor. I think I'm kinder, more perceptive, and less frustrated to have my own creative outlet. I started writing in the same year of the national economic crisis, which was about the same time the publishing industry entered its own upheaval, so I've learned a lot about how to be patient, humble, and peaceful instead of anxious. I'm also learning (still very much in process) about how to be a better listener--to people and to God--and how to find my personal worth in God and not in the reception of my work.

What advice would you give to those of us who are chasing the dream of becoming a published author?
If you go into writing aiming to be successful, brace yourself for a real challenge. The percentage of hard-working, good writers who are successful from an economic, numeric, or literary point of view is excruciatingly small, though they do everything “right.”  If you go into writing because you have something to say and you believe God called you to say it, you’ll have to set aside empirical notions of “success,” because God’s definition of that word is largely hidden from us earthlings. He is the Master Creator of us creative types. We will always be His apprentices, and never the master. His opinion is the only one that ultimately counts. So you have to consider—when the rejections stack up, reviews are harsh, and you’ve only sold ten copies of your self-published work—if the ten people who bought those copies were exactly the people who needed to hear what you had to say. Maybe your book was for the person who borrowed it from the library and didn’t pay a cent. Maybe your book was just for you, to learn something about yourself in the process of writing it. Someday you’ll know. But probably not today.

Again, a huge thank you to Erin for allowing me to host her on my blog today! If you'd like to have a peek at Stranger Things, you can read the first two chapters here. Prepare to be hooked! And don't forget to fill out the form below to be entered to win one of ten copies. (A US shipping address is required and books will ship on January 1, 2014). You can enter each day through December 8th, and earn more chances to win by visiting other host blogs--you'll find those links here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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