Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer

If you know me, you know that I often have little good to say about Christian fiction.  You may also know that I'm way too picky for my own good and that I don't like to waste my time reading something I seriously doubt I'll enjoy.  As a result, I don't read Christian fiction often, and I'm especially leery of authors that I haven't read before.  Having read my share of "prairie romance" (think Janette Oke) as a teenager, I have avoided the Amish sub-genre entirely because there are so many of them for one thing, and for another the covers bring to mind such classics as Love Comes Softly and A Woman Named Damaris.  Yikes.

That said, you can imagine my excitement when I opened a box of books to read for a project I've been working on and found Beside Still Waters, which pictures a girl in a kapp with a quilt on her lap.  Still, it had to be a read, so I took a deep breath, asked for good wishes on Facebook, and dived in.  What I found was a well-written and touching story that I was happy to have read.

Marianna Sommers has always felt that her life is shaped by the tragedy that took the lives of her two sisters on the night she was born.  In an attempt to fill that void, she tried to be the perfect daughter, perfect sister, and perfect Amish girl.  She also dreams to be the perfect Amish wife to Aaron, the good Amish boy she's adored forever.  However, her parents have plans to change all that, moving the family from their established community in Indiana to the wild and sparsely-populated mountains of Montana.  Although Marianna dreads leaving everything familiar and comfortable, her parents have grown weary of the way the close-knit community is so involved in - and critical of - the details and problems of their lives.  Montana offers an opportunity for a fresh start.

In Montana, Marianna finds that while she must adjust to many changes, they are not all bad.  In the remote West Kootenai area, people must help each other, both Amish and Englisch.  Marianna finds it suprisingly easy to make friends with the Englisch restaurant owner, Annie, and the very helpful and attractive Ben.  It is not long before she finds herself questioning all she has been taught about God and the ways we should relate to Him.  In her own special spot beside still waters, and through the midst of unexpected circumstances, Marianna encounters the peace of God in a much more personal way than she ever would have imagined.

This book is a well-written and enchanting glimpse into the heart of a simple Amish girl who simply wants to live the best life she can, without knowing exactly how.  I found my heart aching for Marianna at times, as she dealt with the pain of her family's past and the confusion of trying to live in one world while her heart was drawn to another.  Having never experienced the genre before, I can't say whether it's a good Amish book, but I can definitely say that it is a good book, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel ... and learning which man Marianna chooses!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Confessions of a Shopaholic - the movie

I decided to watch this movie on Friday evening while Greg was out of town. It had been sitting on our shelf for about a month and I figured I'd better watch it so that I could send it back to Netflix (or whatever they are now) and get something more interesting, like Thor or X-Men: First Class. So I popped it into the player and prepared myself for a slightly-lame, feel-good romantic comedy.

About 40 minutes into it, I was thinking, "I can totally see where this is going."  I even posted that on Facebook, adding that romantic comedies are supposed to be cute, predictable, and awkward.  This one was living up to expectations.  The main character had woven such a tangled web of poor choices and deception that everything was going to unravel by the end of the movie, but somehow true love and the human spirit would prevail.  And that's exactly what happened, but I was pleasantly surprised by the result. 

In Confessions of a Shopaholic, Rebecca Bloomwood is a less-than-perfect heroine who (pretty much literally) stumbles into a job working for a mostly-perfect boss at a finance magazine.  Rebecca, whose true ambition is to work for a fashion magazine owned by the same company, writes witty, down-to-earth financial advice from a fresh and vibrant perspective.  Trouble is, she's up to her ears in debt and is being stalked by a collector because of her inability to pass by a clothing or shoe store without going in and buying something - or a lot of somethings.  As her column grows in popularity and her working relationship with her editor (played by the charming Hugh Dancy) blooms into something more, Rebecca's double life becomes harder to maintain.  Eventually, she must deal with the consequences of her lies and lack of self-control.

I liked this movie because I thought it had a great message.  There are times when Rebecca is not a very likeable character, but there are other times when you have to ache for her because she clearly has no idea how to deal with the mess she creates for herself.  In the end, she learns an important lesson that I think is often lacking in today's culture: personal responsibility.  The film is rated PG and is very clean, so I would recommend watching it with preteen girls (and older), and using it as an opportunity to discuss how Rebecca's choices hurt herself and the people around her, and how she was able to turn things around and make it right.

One more note: This book is based on the Chick Lit novel of the same name, which I haven't read.  I prefer to watch the movie before I read the book when possible, and now the book is on my "to read" list.  I may review it in the near future. :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This is who I am

Who am I?  Such a little question, but the answer can be so many things.  Who I am is more than the things I do, the (sometimes stupid) things I say, how I spend my time, or the people in my life...although all those things make up who I am.

Do you ever wonder who you are?  Or who you are meant to be?  Or do you think you know, but are you afraid to admit it to anyone else?  Because putting it out there, saying "This is who I am," can be a scary thing.  What if you make that announcement and then no one likes it?  Or likes you because of it?  Or what if you don't even like it very much?  Or you wish you were more than who you have become?  What then?

In thinking about this, I can't help but think of the ultimate "I AM."  He wasn't afraid to put Himself out there.  All throughout the Bible, God tells us who He is.  He is holy.  He is righteous.  He can't stand sin, but in His grace He provides a path for the sinner.  When Moses asked Him, "Who should I say you are?" He answered: "I AM WHO I AM."  Unapologetic.  Unafraid.  He simply is who He is.  And yet, He cares for each of the people He created so much that He gave each of us an identity, too.  We are made in His image.  As His Holy Spirit flows through us, we reflect that image to the world around us.  We are not cookie-cutter copies, but something different.  Something richer and so much more creative.  God is so infinite that we can all be made in His image and still be individuals, with a unique set of gifts and personality quirks that can all be used for His glory.

So who am I?  Can I tell you a secret?  I have always known who I am, but it has always scared me.  For years I tried to be something else, anything else, as long as it fit into whatever I thought was "normal."  I took my identity and called it a dream, an ambition, something that I would maybe do someday if I had enough time or money.  I set it aside for awhile because I knew there were other things God wanted me to do, but it never changed.  Now I've grown up a bit, I'm a little braver than I used to be, a little more confident that God has a plan and He can do whatever He wants to in me, and a little more willing to step out of "normal" and into the unknown.  I believe that God is giving back what I gave Him years ago.  I don't know what He'll do with it, but this is what I know: I am a writer.  People can attach any number of labels to that.  I might be a good writer, or a bad writer, or a crazy writer, or a novel writer, or a freelance writer, or maybe even a published writer, but none of that changes who I am.  Of course I am other things, too.  Look on Facebook, Twitter, or my profile on this blog and you can see all those other things.  But the scary secret is out.  The truth is, whatever else I may also be, I am a writer.  Always have been, always will be.  I have always known.  Now you know, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What’s not to love about green chile?

I have been loving my NM green chile this year. I know Puebloans love their Pueblo chile, but I’m a New Mexico girl. Give me some hot long greens straight from Hatch, and I’m in chile heaven. So far this year I’ve enjoyed my green chile fried in rellenos, diced on a baked potato, cooked into breakfast burritos, and sauced up and smothered on those breakfast burritos, then topped with cheese. If you’re blessed to have access to some green chile, here are some “recipes” for you. “Recipes” is in quotes because I have a terrible tendency to never measure anything. Perfectly fine in cooking, not so much with baking, which is why I am a good cook but a mediocre baker.

(Only New Mexicans know how to do these right. I never trust a relleno outside of New Mexico)
2 whole green chiles, slit up one side, most of the seeds removed
About ½ cup flour
Seasoned salt
Baking powder
Sliced cheese (preferably Jack, but Cheddar works too)
Vegetable oil

Whisk egg with a little milk. Mix flour, seasoned salt to taste, and a dash of baking powder. Stuff chile with cheese. Dip in egg mixture coat and coat with flour mixture, then repeat. Fry in hot oil until lightly browned and crispy. Serves one.

Breakfast Burritos
1 lb. breakfast sausage
8 eggs
1-2 diced green chiles
Shredded cheese
About 6 flour tortillas

Brown sausage. Whisk eggs with green chile and a little milk. Add to skillet with sausage and cook, mixing with sausage. Heat tortillas one at a time in a clean frying pan. Fill with sausage and egg mixture, sprinkle with cheese, and fold burrito. Serves about 6.

Notes: You can add potatoes (cook them with the sausage) and reduce the number of eggs if you’d like. I have nothing against potatoes, I just usually don’t have them. Also, you can use corn tortillas instead of flour. I call these "breakfast tacos" and I think they're quite tasty, too.

Green Chile Sauce
(This is NM-style green chile sauce with no meat)
About 1/4 cup olive oil
About ½ cup chopped onion
About 1 tsp minced garlic
About 1 Tbsp flour
About 1 cup chopped green chile
About 1 cup water

Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet. Add onions, then garlic, and cook until transparent. Stir in flour with a wooden spoon and cook for a minute or two. Add chile and water and cook until the sauce has a nice sheen. Add water in small amounts if sauce is too thick. Sauce can be used to smother burritos (be sure to top with shredded cheese), or in enchiladas, or really however you want to use it.

Note: All the amounts are approximate because I sort of just toss stuff in the pan until it looks good. Feel free to adjust as necessary. You can also add salt if you'd like.

Feel free to comment with questions, or to let me know if you tried one of these. Enjoy!