Archive for June, 2008

Traveled Down the Road and Back Again…

Hmmm I should be sleeping but I cannot seem to get my brain to stop…So I will start with a funny little story…

As you know I have a puppy dog named Sami.  Sami is interesting to say the least.  She is so clumsy and has a tendency to be very vocal…but that is not the oddest thing about Sami.  The oddest thing about her is that she will stop whatever she is doing and run to the television any time she hears the Golden Girls theme song and she proceeds to watch the whole theme song and move her head back and forth like she is trying to figure out what is going on…

Now if that were not crazy enough I recorded an episode to our DVR and have proceeded to play it several (umm ok a LOT of times) this weekend to watch her reaction.  She is obsessed (and what, my friends, does that say about me?!?! She had to get it from some where!)   

Oh. My. Word.  Have we laughed this weekend about it. 

It was quite the boring week here in Critty world.  Went to work and also had my staff evaluation this week.  We had a graduation and a few meltdowns too.  I love how every week is different at work…and some weeks are much better than others!  But the good thing is it is never boring.  And there is always redemption in the bad weeks even when we feel like pulling our hair out.

And as for what is on my heart…

I ordered of the book Gianna this week, in fact, I read the whole book on Saturday. It is a great book with an awesome story as to the power of my God. I must admit I have a hard time with the abortion issue: limitations, late term, viability of life. It is such a hard concept for me as to when it is okay and when it is not okay. When is life, life? Is it at conception, when the heart starts beating, or when the baby can live outside of the womb? I know each person has a different opinion and personally I think life is from the moment of conception. Which of course leads back to the fact as a Christian do I vote morally in an election (does the bible have a politics section?) or do I vote for who can do the best job as President and the other offices available this year. I know sometimes it can be both, but when it is not what am I called to do? I must admit I am tired of the election stuff…not just nationally but locally too. One of the major downfalls of growing up and living in a small town, especially a southern small town, is the fact that it can get very, very personal. I think some where along the line we have skewed the process and not enough people are wanting or willing to do what it takes to fix the problem. Sigh. Let’s just say I am ready for November to be over and leave it at that….

Wow that was a heavy topic for a midnight blog post :o)

On that note….

Cheerio

 

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Word Filled Wednesday

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
John 12:46

I love this photo it took many tries to get it…and yes that is the moon and the beach. I love how all around is dark and the moon is so bright….Just like our Light of the World, Jesus, is shining in the darkness so is the moon in this photo. And the amazing thing…WE are light too if He lives in us…whoohoo!

Hope you have a blessed WFW.

For more WFW check out The 160 Acre Woods.

Cheerio

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

Along Came a Cowboy

Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Award-winning author and past president of American Christian Romance Writers, CHRISTINE LYNXWILER has numerous novels and novellas published with Barbour, including Arkansas, Promise Me Always, and Forever Christmas. She and her husband, Kevin, along with their two daughters, four horses, and two dogs live in the foothills of the beautiful Ozark Mountains in their home state of Arkansas.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597898961
ISBN-13: 978-1597898966

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter One

Babies complicate life, but the human race can’t survive without them. Maybe I should write that on the dry erase board out in the waiting room—Dr. Rachel Donovan’s Profound Thought for the Day.

Ever notice how some months are all about weddings? When you turn on the TV or pick up a magazine, everything is white tulle and old lace. Then there are what I think of as baby months. Unlike June and December for weddings, baby months can pop up anytime.

And here in Shady Grove, Arkansas—just in time for summer, when the irises are pushing up from the ground, the new leaves are green on the trees, and the crepe myrtles are starting to bloom—we’re smack dab in the middle of a baby month.

I finger the latest birth announcement on my desk. One of my patients just had her fifth child. You’d think, at this point, she’d be sending out SOS messages instead of announcements, but the pink card proudly proclaims the arrival of her newest bundle of joy.

The front door chime signals the arrival of our first patient, so I send up a silent prayer for the baby. Then my eyes fall on the family picture on my desk.

Lord, please be with Tammy, too, in her pregnancy.

My thirty-eight-year-old sister was so thrilled when she called a couple of months ago to tell me she was pregnant and so scared yesterday when the doctor put her on temporary bed rest.

While I’m on the baby thread, I mention my friend Lark who is desperate to adopt. I say amen, steadfastly ignoring my own out-of-whack biological clock.

My receptionist, Norma, sidles into my office like a spy in an old movie, softly shuts the door and turns to face me, her brown eyes wide. “Whoever warned mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys,” she whispers, “never saw the man in our waiting room.”

“What?” I absently flip through the small pile of files on my desk. Not long ago I remodeled my entire clinic—repainted the walls with calming blues and browns, added new chiropractic tables and new waiting room chairs, and even got solid oak office furniture with nifty little cubbies. For about a week I could find things.

And did she just say the word babies? What did I tell you? It’s one of those months. “Do you know where Mrs. Faulkner’s file is? I thought it was here, but I can’t find it.”

Norma raises her eyebrows. “You saw her after hours Tuesday night, didn’t you? I think it’s on my desk waiting for charges.”

Now I remember. “No charge,” I say automatically.

She puts her hands on her hips. “C’mon, Doc, you can’t fall for every sob story you hear.”

I grin. “We make it, don’t we? If I can’t help out a sixty-two-year-old woman who lifts and bathes and cares for her grown son around the clock, then I’d just as soon not be in practice.”

She shrugs. “You’re the one who has to worry about paying your bills. I get my paycheck regardless.” Her round face lights up and she motions to me. “Now come look.”

Norma’s always slightly out of sync with reality, but today is shaping up to be odd even for her.

“At the man in the waiting room,” she clarifies, as if I’m a little slow. “You have to see him.”

“I usually do see everyone who’s in the waiting room, don’t I? Eventually?”

She blows out her breath and folds her arms. “It’ll only take a second.”

“Who is it?”

She shakes her head, her short brunette curls springing with the movement. “I’m not telling. You’ll have to see for yourself.”

I sigh. I know I’m the boss, but once Norma has something in her head, it’s easier just to go along with her. She turns to lead the way out to her desk where a large window overlooks the main waiting room. I promise she’s tiptoeing.

“Hey, Nancy Drew,” I say quietly.

She jumps and spins around. “What?” she hisses.

I grin. “Let’s try not to be so obvious.”

She presses her back against the wall and motions for me to go ahead of her. I saunter to her desk. Right on top is the file I was looking for. At least this wasn’t a wasted trip. I retrieve it while I give the waiting room a cursory glance. The cowboy chooses that moment to look up, of course. A slow grin spreads across his face.

I fumble with the file and almost drop it.

Jack Westwood.

I don’t believe it. Alma Westwood could give the-little-engine-that-could lessons in persistence. I return his grin with a quick professional smile and—holding the file high enough that he can see I had a valid reason for being there—walk back to my office.

Norma is right on my heels. She closes the door. “So? What did I tell you? That’s Alma Westwood’s son. The rodeo star.”

“I know who he is.” I toss the file on my desk and plop down in my chair to look at it.

“You know him?”

I shake my head. “We were friends when we were kids, but I don’t know him really. I’ve just seen his picture in the paper like everyone else.” And since he moved back a few months ago, I’ve seen him around town enough to know that women fall all over themselves when he walks by. Definitely not my type. Which is one reason I’ve avoided him.

“Oh yeah. His hat was shading his face in that picture.” Her brows draw together. “Which is a cryin’ shame.”

I look up at her cherub face. “Hey, remember old What’s His Name? The handsome guy you’re happily married to?” I grin.

She shrugs. “Doesn’t mean I’m blind. Besides, you aren’t married.”

Thanks for the reminder.

“So when Alma signed in, she said she brought her son to see her new X-rays.”

“How nice.” Not that I’m falling for her flimsy excuse. Alma is just one in a long line of Mama Matchmakers. My patients with unmarried sons seem to take my singlehood as a personal affront. Ever since Rodeo Jack moved back to run his family ranch next door to my parents, Alma has upped her efforts
to make me her daughter-in-law, or at least reintroduce me
to him.

Don’t ask me why Jack needs his mama to fix him up with someone in the first place. Norma is not exaggerating. He was passably cute back when we were kids, and he’s one of those men who gets better-looking with age. If he’s lost any teeth or broken his nose riding in the rodeo, he’s covered it well. Not only is he a real cowboy, but he could play one on TV. Last week at the diner, I was two tables away from him when he smiled at the waitress. For a moment I was jealous that the smile wasn’t for me. But only for a moment.

Then common sense kicked in. Me and Jack Westwood? Not likely. Which is just as well, because on a less personal note. . .a chiropractor and a rodeo star? What a combination. I’d spend the rest of my life trying to fix the mess he makes of his body. Besides, I can’t imagine myself with someone whose belt buckle is bigger than his IQ. And even though he seemed smart when we were in school, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who’ll willingly climb on a bucking bull over and over is a few calves short of a herd.

Still, it’s my job to educate patients and their families about their health. I turn back to Norma. “After you put them in a room, pull Alma’s X-rays for me, okay?”

Norma starts to leave then smacks her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Oh, I almost forgot. Lark Murray is on line one.”

I glance at the phone. Sure enough, line one is blinking. “Thanks.”

Never mind that we let Lark sit and wait while we sneaked a peek at Alma’s cowboy son. Norma marches to her own drummer, and I run along behind her trying to stay in step.

I reach toward the phone, and for a split second, I consider having Norma take a message. Lark is one of my three closest friends. I’m a few years younger than the rest and came late to the Pinky Promise Sisterhood group they formed in childhood. But ever since the night they found me crying in the bowling alley bathroom, the Pinkies have been family to me. We share our deepest secrets and craziest dreams and—now that we all live in Shady Grove, Arkansas, again—regular face-to-face gabfests.

And any other day of the year, I’m happy to hear from any of them. But this particular anniversary day is always filled with awkward conversations. They never know what to say, and neither do I.

I snatch the handset up before I give in to my cowardice. I’ll just make it short and sweet. “Hey, girl.”

“Rach, I’m so glad I caught you. I was afraid you’d already started with patients.”

“No. Sorry you had to wait.” Here it comes. The gentle “You okay today?” Or the “Just called to say hi and wish you a good day for no particular reason.”

“I can’t take this anymore.” Her voice is trembling.

Okay, I wasn’t expecting that. “What?”

“The waiting. Why do they make us go through an in-spection worthy of a Spanish Inquisition if they’re not going to give us a baby?”

I release a breath I didn’t know I was holding and sink back onto my chair. Lark is focused on one thing and one thing only these days, so thankfully this call isn’t about me. “They’re go-ing to give you a baby. They’d be crazy not to. These things just take time.”

“You sound like the caseworker.” She sighs. “I called her last night even though Craig didn’t think I should.”

“Lark, honey, I know it’s hard to wait now that you’ve finally decided to adopt. But you’re going to have to. God has—” My throat constricts, but I push the words out. “God has the perfect baby for you.”

“It doesn’t feel like it.” She must be upset, because that’s definitely a bit of a whine, something she never does.

“Has He ever let you down?”

“No. But maybe I was right before. Maybe it’s just not His will for me to be a mom.”

I thought we’d settled all that a few months ago when she showed up on my doorstep late one night with a suitcase because her husband wanted to adopt. Still, I can totally relate to old insecurities sneaking back in when you least expect them. “You’re going to have to think about something else for a while, Lark. Are you helping Allie today?”

“I’m supposed to. I was thinking about seeing if she can make it without me though.”

“How are y’all coming along?” Our Pinky friend Allie Richards recently won the Shady Grove Pre-Centennial Beautiful Town Landscaping Contest and consequently landed the town landscaping maintenance contract for the year. She has some real employees now, but during the contest her crew consisted of Allie’s brother, Adam, Lark, me, and our other Pinky, Victoria Worthington. So we all have a vested emotional interest in TLC Landscaping.

Lark sighs. “We’re swamped trying to get everything in perfect shape before the centennial celebration really gets going. I guess I really should work today. I know Allie needs me.”

Good girl. “You know what your granny always said—a busy mind doesn’t have time to worry.”

“You’re right. I’m going to have to trust God to handle this and go get ready for work. Thanks for talking me down off the ledge.”

“Anytime.”

“See you tonight, Rach.”

“I’ll be there.” When the connection is broken, I close my eyes.

Lord, please give me strength to face today.

I open my eyes and push to my feet. Time to cowgirl up.

v

As soon as I walk into the adjusting room, Alma stands. “Dr. Donovan, I’m sure you remember my son, Jack.”

Jack holds his cowboy hat in his left hand and offers me the right. I promise I expect him to say, “Ma’am,” and duck his head. “Dr. Donovan,” he drawls, and from the boy who used to pull my braids, the title sounds a little mocking. “Nice to see you again.” As we shake hands, he flashes that heartbeat-accelerating smile again.

“You, too.” His hands are nice. Slightly calloused. Working hands, but not so tough that they’re like leather.

I look up into his puzzled brown eyes and then back down at his hand, which I’m still holding. Behind him, his mother beams as if she has personally discovered the cure for every terminal illness known to humankind. I jerk my hand away. Should I tell him that I always notice hands, since my own hands are what I use most in my profession? Or would he think that was a pickup line? I’m sure he’s heard some doozies.

Better to ignore it. I slap the X-rays up on the view box then focus my attention on Alma as I point out the key spots we’re working on.

When I finish, Jack crosses the room in two steps and points to the X-ray. “This increased whiteness is arthritis, right?”

My eyebrows draw together. “You’ve had experience with X-rays?”

He shrugs and gives me a rueful grin. “Occupational hazard.”

Of course. “In any case, you’re right. It is arthritis, but no more than normal for someone your mother’s age.”

“Thankfully, Dr. Donovan keeps me going. Otherwise I’d be like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz,” Alma pipes up from her chair in the corner.

“To hear Mom tell it, you’re the Wizard of Oz,” Jack mutters, still standing beside me. He turns to Alma. “Your X-rays are normal?”

Her eyes open wide. “Yes.”

“Totally normal?”

She blinks at him. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Yes, but—”

“I thought you’d be pleased to know your old mom was going to be getting around without a walker for a few more years.” Alma’s voice is soft and sweet.

He frowns. “You know I am. But since Dr. Donovan has apparently already explained these X-rays to you, you could have told me that on the ph—” He stops, apparently realizing that I’m like a reluctant spectator at a tennis game, watching their verbal volleying.

“But this way you can see for yourself,” Alma says with a satisfied smile.

He opens his mouth then closes it and nods.

Game, set, match to Alma.

I turn back to her. “Any questions?”

She smiles. “Not a one. Thank you so much for taking the time to go over this with us.”

“I’m always glad to help you understand your health better.”

“I’m going to go freshen up before we head home,” Alma says. And just like that, she’s gone, leaving me with her son. No doubt the whole point.

“Jack,” I say in what I hope is a coolly professional voice, “thank you for coming by.”

He nods. “I’m sorry we wasted your time. I don’t know why I’m surprised this was a setup. Our mothers have been singing your praises ever since I got back in town.”

“Our mothers?” My mother and I barely speak, and I’m certain she’s never sung my praises a day in my life. At least not since I was a teenager.

“They make you sound like Mother Teresa and the Alberts all rolled into one.”

I raise a brow. “The Alberts?”

“Einstein and Schweitzer.”

I can’t keep from laughing. “Now that’s an appealing combination. And don’t forget the Wizard of Oz.”

“They’re probably not far off, actually. It’s just that—” He runs his hands around the brim of the hat he’s still holding. “Thanks for being a good sport.” He grins. “And at least now when we see each other at the diner, we can say hello.”

A hot blush spreads across my face. The curse of being a redhead. I blush easily and at the oddest times. It’s not like he knows I was admiring him the other day while I was waiting for my food. At least, I sure hope not. “True.” I open the door and step back for him to go through.

“I guess I’d better go. I’ll just wait for Mom out here,” he says dryly and saunters down the hall.

“Not a moment too soon,” I mutter under my breath and retreat to my office for a few minutes. The last thing I need is a blast from the past. Especially in the form of a rugged, sweet-smiling cowboy.

Then sings my soul…

I could not sleep last night I had so many things going on inside my head.  My friend Laina is moving today…to Fort Lauderdale.  As sad as I am that she is leaving I am also so very excited for her and the new adventure that awaits her.   I often think of Laina as my “music friend”.  She loves it, okay that is an understatement, but words really cannot express how she feels about music.  She can sing and she can also play guitar.  She has done open mike nights for several months and everyone loves her! One of my most favorite memories with her is going any where music happens to be involved and her pronouncing “I LOVE this song” which she seemed to do for every song.  My heart is so endeared to her. As I thought and prayed for Laina I started thinking about music in general.

Music is possibly one of my favorite things in this world…right behind books that is!  But I never realized how much it spoke to me until a Third Day concert several (and I do mean several!) years ago.  I remember standing at the concert and feeling a stirring in my soul.  A stirring that is still there today when I hear certain songs.  I love that stirring.  Music is by far my favorite way to worship my Abba Daddy.  I love to sing even though I cannot carry a tune very well.  I think that is why Third Day has remained a constant favorite of mine…because I discovered a soul stirring love of all things music that night at their concert and things have not been the same.

Music changes the way I look at things.  For example the Cardboard Testimonies video really spoke to me, but part of the reason it did was because it was paired with a song that has been stuck in my head (and my soul) for a couple of weeks. I love that! I love that this is one way Abba Daddy speaks to me. He knows the music stirs my soul and he uses it. To convict me, to love me, to show me something and the list could go on.

I often do searches for quotes (another thing I learned from Laina!) about my favorite things…music being one of them I have collected several but I love this one:

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Berthold Auerbach

I look at that quote and see why it stirs me…why it moves me. And I am even more endeared to it :o)

And of course there is always one that speaks to my counselors heart….

Music is the shorthand of emotion.
Leo Tolstoy

As I work with the adolescents at the Joy House they all tell me music speaks to them…I love using this in my sessions…because it speaks to me as well. That is my connection with them.

And my favorite…

You are the music while the music lasts.
T. S. Eliot

So enjoy some Music today…and let it stir your soul.

Cheerio

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and her book:

Calico Canyon

Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

MARY CONNEALY is married to Ivan a farmer, and she is the mother of four beautiful daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy. Mary is a GED Instructor by day and an author by night. And there is always a cape involved in her transformation.

Visit her at her website and her blog.

Product Details

List Price: $10.97

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1597899380

ISBN-13: 978-1597899383

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter One

Mosqueros, Texas, 1867

T he Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode in.

Late as usual.

Grace Calhoun was annoyed with their tardiness at the same time she wished they’d never come back from the noon recess.

They shoved their way into their desks, yelling and wrestling as if they were in a hurry. No doubt they were. They couldn’t begin tormenting her until they sat down, now, could they?

Grace Calhoun clenched her jaw to stop herself from nagging. Early in the school year, she’d realized that her scolding amused them and, worse yet, inspired them. To think she’d begged their father to send his boys to school.

Her gaze locked on Mark Reeves. She knew that look. The glint in his eyes told her he was planning. . .something. . .awful.

Grace shuddered. Seven girls and fifteen boys in her school. Most were already working like industrious little angels.

Most.

The noise died down. Grace stood in front of the room and cleared her throat to buy time until her voice wouldn’t shake. Normally she could handle them—or at least survive their antics. But she hadn’t eaten today and it didn’t look as though she’d eat soon.

“Sally, will you please open your book to page ten and read aloud for the class?”

“Yes, Miss Calhoun.” With a sweet smile, six-year-old Sally McClellen, her Texas accent so strong Grace smiled, stood beside her desk and lifted the first grade reader.

Grace’s heart swelled as the little girl read without hesitation, her blue eyes focused on the pages, her white-blond hair pulled back in a tidy braid. Most of her students were coming along well.

Most.

Grace folded her skeletal hands together with a prayer of thank-fulness for the good and a prayer for courage for the bad. She added prayers for her little sisters, left behind in Chicago, supported with her meager teacher’s salary.

A high-pitched squeak disrupted her prayerful search for peace. A quick glance caught only a too-innocent expression on Ike Reeves’s face.

Mark’s older brother Ike stared at the slate in front of him. Ike studying was as likely as Grace roping a longhorn bull, dragging him in here, and expecting the creature to start parsing sentences. There was no doubt about it. The Reeves boys were up to something.

She noticed a set of narrow shoulders quivering beside Mark. Luke Reeves, the youngest of the triplets—Mark, Luke, and John. All three crammed in one front-row desk built to hold two children. The number of students was growing faster than the number of desks.

She’d separated them, scolded, added extra pages to their assign-ments. She’d kept them in from recess and she’d kept them after school.

And, of course, she’d turned tattletale and complained to their father, repeatedly, to absolutely no avail. She’d survived the spring term with the Reeves twins, barely. The triplets weren’t school age yet then. After the fall work was done, they came. All five of them. Like a plague of locusts, only with less charm.

The triplets were miniature versions of their older twin brothers, Abraham and Isaac. Their white-blond hair was as unruly as their behavior. They dressed in the next thing to rags. They were none too clean, and Grace had seen them gather for lunch around what seemed to be a bucket full of meat.

They had one tin bucket, and Abe, the oldest, would hand out what looked like cold beefsteak as the others sat beside him, apparently starved half to death, and eat with their bare hands until the bucket was empty.

Why didn’t their father just strap a feed bag on their heads? What was that man thinking to feed his sons like this?

Easy question. Their father wasn’t thinking at all.

He was as out of control as his sons. How many times had Grace talked to Daniel Reeves? The man had the intelligence of the average fence post, the personality of a wounded warthog, and the stubbornness of a flea-bitten mule. Grace silently apologized to all the animals she’d just insulted.

Grace noticed Sally standing awkwardly beside her desk, obviously finished.

“Well done, Sally.” Grace could only hope she told the truth. The youngest of the three McClellen girls could have been waltzing for all Grace knew.

“Thank you, Miss Calhoun.” Sally handed the book across the aisle to John Reeves.

The five-year-old stood and began reading, but every few words he had to stop. John was a good reader, so it wasn’t the words tripping him up. Grace suspected he couldn’t control his breathing for wanting to laugh.

The rowdy Reeves boys were showing her up as a failure. She needed this job, and to keep it she had to find a way to manage these little monsters.

She’d never spanked a student in her life. Can I do it? God, should

I do it?

Agitated nearly to tears, Grace went to her chair and sat down.

“Aahhh!” She jumped to her feet.

All five Reeves boys erupted in laughter.

Grace turned around and saw the tack they’d put on her chair. Resisting the urge to rub her backside, she whirled to face the room.

Most of the boys were howling with laughter. Most of the girls looked annoyed on her behalf. Sally had a stubborn expression of loyalty on her face that would have warmed Grace’s heart if she hadn’t been pushed most of the way to madness.

Grace had been handling little girls all her life, but she knew noth-ing about boys.

Well, she was going to find out if a spanking would work. Slamming her fist onto her desk, she shouted, “I warned you boys, no more pranks. Abraham, Isaac, Mark, Luke, John, you get up here. You’re going to be punished for this.”

“We didn’t do it!” The boys chorused their denials at the top of their lungs. She’d expected as much, but this time she wasn’t going to let a lack of solid evidence sway her. She knew good and well who’d done this.

Driven by rage, Grace turned to get her ruler. Sick with the feeling of failure but not knowing what else to do, she jerked open the drawer in her teacher’s desk.

A snake struck out at her. Screaming, Grace jumped back, tripped over her chair, and fell head over heels.

With a startled cry, Grace landed hard on her backside. She barely registered an alarming ripping sound as she bumped her head against the wall hard enough to see stars. Her skirt fell over her head, and her feet—held up by her chair—waved in the air. She shoved desperately at the flying gingham to cover herself decently. When her vision cleared, she looked up to see the snake, dangling down out of the drawer, drop onto her foot.

It disappeared under her skirt, and she felt it slither up her leg. Her scream could have peeled the whitewash off the wall.

Grace leapt to her feet. The chair got knocked aside, smashing into the wall. She stomped her leg, shrieking, the snake twisting and climbing past her knee. She felt it wriggling around her leg, climbing higher. She whacked at her skirt and danced around trying to shake the reptile loose.

The laughter grew louder. A glance told her all the children were out of the desks and running up and down the aisle.

One of the McClellen girls raced straight for her. Beth McClellen dashed to her side and dropped to her knees in front of Grace. The nine-year-old pushed Grace’s skirt up and grabbed the snake.

Backing away before Grace accidentally kicked her, Beth said, “It’s just a garter snake, ma’am. It won’t hurt you none.”

Heaving whimpers escaped with every panting breath. Grace’s heart pounded until it seemed likely to escape her chest and run off on its own. Fighting for control of herself, she got the horrible noises she was making under control then smoothed her hair with unsteady hands. She stared at the little snake, twined around Beth’s arm.

Beth’s worried eyes were locked on Grace. The child wasn’t sparing the snake a single glance. Because, of course, Beth and every other child in this room knew it was harmless. Grace knew it, too. But that didn’t mean she wanted the slithery thing crawling up her leg!

“Th—ank—” Grace couldn’t speak. She breathed like a winded horse, sides heaving, hands sunk in her hair. The laughing boys drowned out her words anyway.

Beth turned to the window, eased the wooden shutters open, and lowered the snake gently to the ground. The action gave Grace another few seconds to gather her scattered wits.

Trying again, she said, “Thank you, B-Beth. I’m not—not a-afraid of snakes.”

The laughter grew louder. Mark Reeves fell out of his desk holding his stomach as his body shook with hilarity. The rest of the boys laughed harder.

Swallowing hard, Grace tried again to compose herself. “I was just startled. Thank you for helping me.” Taking a step toward Beth, Grace rested one trembling hand on the young girl’s arm. “Thank you very much, Beth.”

Beth gave a tiny nod of her blond head, as if to encourage her and extend her deepest sympathy.

Grace turned to the rioting classroom—and her skirt fell off.

With a cry of alarm, Grace grabbed at her skirt.

The boys in the class started to whoop with laughter. Mark kicked his older brother Ike. Ike dived out of his chair onto Mark. They knocked the heavy two-seater student desk out of line. Every time they bumped into some other boy, their victim would jump into the fray.

Pulling her skirt back into place, she turned a blind eye to the chaos to deal with her clothes. Only now did she see that the tissue-thin fabric was shredded. A huge hole gaped halfway down the front. It was the only skirt she owned.

Beth, a natural caretaker, noticed and grabbed Grace’s apron off a hook near the back wall.

Mandy McClellen rushed up along with Sally and all the other girls. Mandy spoke low so the rioting boys couldn’t overhear. “This is your only dress, isn’t it, Miss Calhoun?”

Grace nodded, fighting not to cry as the girls adjusted the apron strings around her waist to hold up her skirt. She’d patch it back to-gether somehow, although she had no needle and thread, no money to buy them, and no idea how to use them.

Grace looked up to see the older Reeves boys making for the back of the schoolroom.

“Hold it right there.” Mandy used a voice Grace envied.

The boys froze. They pivoted and looked at Mandy, as blond as her sisters and a close match in coloring to the Reeves, but obviously blessed with extraordinary power she could draw on when necessary. After the boys’ initial surprise—and possibly fear—Grace saw the calculating expression come back over their faces.

“Every one of you,” Mandy growled to frighten a hungry panther, “get back in your seats right now.” She planted her hands on her hips and stared.

The whole classroom full of boys stared back. They hesitated, then at last, with sullen anger, caved before a will stronger than their own. Under Mandy’s burning gaze, they returned to their seats. Grace’s heart wilted as she tried to figure out how Mandy did it.

When the boys were finally settled, the eleven-year-old turned to Grace, her brow furrowed with worry. “I’m right sorry, Miss Calhoun,” she whispered, “but you have to figure out how to manage ’em yourself. I can’t do it for you.”

Grace nodded. The child spoke the complete and utter truth.

The girls fussed over Grace, setting her chair upright and returning to her desk a book that had been knocked to the floor.

“Miss Calhoun?” Beth patted Grace’s arm.

“Yes?”

“Can I give you some advice?”

The little girl had pulled a snake out from under Grace’s skirt. Grace would deny her nothing. “Of course.”

“I think it’s close enough to day’s end that you ought to let everyone go home. You’re too upset to handle this now. Come Monday morning you’ll be calmer and not do something you’ll regret.”

“Or start something you can’t finish,” Sally added.

Grace knew the girls were right. Her temper boiled too near the surface. She was on the verge of a screaming fit and a bout of tears.

My dress! God, what am I going to do about it?

These boys! Dear, dear Lord God, what am I going to do about them?

She tried to listen for the still, small voice of God that had taken her through the darkest days of her life during her childhood in Chicago. He seemed to abandon her today. The good Lord had to know one of His children had never needed an answer more. But if God sent an answer, her fury drowned it out. She’d been putting off a showdown with these boys all term. It was time to deal with the problem once and for all.

Sally slipped her little hand into Grace’s. “Boys are naughty.”

Grace shared a look with Sally and had to force herself not to nod. Seven sweet little girls stood in a circle around her. Grace wanted to hug them all and then go after the boys with a broom, at least five of them. The other ten weren’t so badly behaved. Except when inspired by the Reeves.

God had made boys and girls. He’d planned it. They were supposed to be this way. But how could a teacher stuff book learning in their heads when they wouldn’t sit still or stop talking or quit wrestling?

Digging deep for composure, Grace said, “You girls return to your seats, please. And thank you for your help.”

Beth shook her head frantically, obviously sensing Grace wasn’t going to take her advice.

“It’s all right, Beth. I’ve put this off too long as it is. And thank you again.”

Beth’s feet dragged as she followed her sisters and the other girls to her seat.

Grace waited as the room returned to relative quiet, except for the usual giggling and squirming of the Reeves boys.

Glancing between her chair seat and her open desk drawer, Grace was worried she might develop a nervous tic. She sat down but left the drawer open. An almost insane calm took over her body. “School is dismissed except for Abraham, Isaac, Mark, Luke, and John Reeves.”

Forehead furrowed over her blond brows, Beth shook her head and gave a little “don’t do it” wave.

Grace could tell by the way the sun shone in the west window that it was only a few minutes early for dismissal. Good. That gave her time to settle with these boys, and then she’d have it out with their father. Things were going to change around here!

The rest of the students, stealing frequent glances between her and the blond holy terrors in her midst, gathered up their coats and lunch pails and left the schoolhouse in almost total silence.

And that left Grace.

Alone.

With the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

It’s June 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book’s FIRST chapter!

and her book:
 
 

Zondervan (May 1, 2008)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer…arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a “one man” show.

Visit the Melody’s website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don’t miss the second book in this series: Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2)

And one of her latest, A Mile in My Flip-Flops will be featured on FIRST Blog Alliance on July 1st!

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714885
ISBN-13: 978-0310714880

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Desiree,” called Inez as she knocked on the other side of the closed bedroom door. “Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs.”

“The name is DJ.”

“I’m sorry, but your grandmother has instructed me to call you Desiree.”

DJ opened the door and looked down on the short and slightly overweight middle-aged housekeeper. “And I have instructed you to call me DJ.”

Inez’s dark eyes twinkled as she gave her a sly grin. “Yes, but it’s your grandmother who pays my salary, Desiree. I take orders from Mrs. Carter. And she wants to see you downstairs in her office, pronto.”

DJ grabbed her favorite Yankees ball cap and shoved it onto her head, pulling her scraggly looking blonde ponytail through the hole in the back of it.

“You’re wearing that?” asked Inez with a frown. “You know what your grandmother says about?—?-”

“Look,” said DJ. “My grandmother might pay you to take orders from her, but I’m a free agent. Got that?”

Inez chuckled. “I got that. But you’re the one who’ll be getting it before too long, Desiree.”

“DJ,” she growled as she tromped loudly down the curving staircase. Why had she let Dad talk her into living with her grandmother for her last two years of high school? She’d only been here since last spring, late into the school year, but long enough to know that it was nearly unbearable. Boarding school would be better than this. At least she’d have a little privacy there and no one constantly riding her?—?-telling her how to act, walk, look, and think. She wished there were some way, short of running away (which would be totally stupid), out of this uncomfortable arrangement.

“There you are,” said Grandmother when DJ walked into the office. Her grandmother frowned at her ball cap and then pasted what appeared to be a very forced smile onto her collagen-injected lips. “I want you to meet a new resident.” She made a graceful hand movement, motioning to where an attractive and somewhat familiar-looking Latina woman was sitting next to a fashionably dressed girl who seemed to be about DJ’s age, but could probably pass for older. The girl was beautiful. Even with the scowl creasing her forehead, it was obvious that this girl was stunning. Her skin was darker than her mother’s, latte-colored and creamy. Her long black hair curled softly around her face. She had high cheekbones and dramatic eyes.

DJ noticed her grandmother smiling her approval on this unhappy-looking girl. But the girl looked oblivious as she fiddled with the gold chain of what looked like an expensive designer bag. Not that DJ was an expert when it came to fashion. The woman stood politely, extending her hand to DJ.

“I’d like to present my granddaughter, Desiree Lane.” Grandmother turned back to DJ now, the approval evaporating from her expression. “Desiree, this is Ms. Perez and her daughter Taylor.”

DJ shook the woman’s hand and mumbled, “Nice to meet you.” But the unfriendly daughter just sat in the leather chair, one long leg elegantly crossed over the other, as she totally ignored everyone in the room.

Grandmother continued speaking to DJ, although DJ suspected this little speech was for Taylor’s mother. “Ms. Perez and I first met when my magazine featured her for her illustrious music career. Her face graced our cover numerous times over the years. Perhaps you’ve heard of Eva Perez.”

The woman smiled. “Or perhaps not,” she said in a voice that was as smooth as honey. “According to my daughter, kids in your age group don’t comprise even a minuscule part of my fan base.”

DJ smiled at the woman now. “Actually, I have heard of you, Ms. Perez. My mom used to play your CDs. She was a serious Latin jazz fan.”

“Was?” She frowned. “I hope her taste in music hasn’t changed. I need all the fans I can get these days.”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree’s mother?—?-my daughter?—?-was killed in a car accident about a year ago.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

DJ sort of nodded. She never knew how to react when -people said they were sorry about the loss of her mother. It wasn’t as if it were their fault.

“Desiree,” said Grandmother, “Would you mind giving Taylor a tour of the house while I go over some business details with her mother?”

“No problem.”

Grandmother’s recently Botoxed forehead creased ever so slightly, and DJ knew that, once again, she had either said the wrong thing, used bad grammar, or was slumping like a “bag of potatoes.” Nothing she did ever seemed right when it came to her grandmother. “And after the tour, perhaps you could show Taylor to her room.”

“Which room?” asked DJ, feeling concerned. Sure, Taylor might be a perfectly nice person, even if a little snobbish, but DJ was not ready for a roommate just yet.

“The blue room, please. Inez has already taken some of Taylor’s bags up for her. Thank you, Desiree.”

Feeling dismissed as well as disapproved of, DJ led their reluctant new resident out to the foyer. “Well, you’ve probably already seen this.” DJ waved her arm toward the elegant front entrance with its carved double doors and shining marble floor and Persian rug. She motioned toward the ornate oak staircase. “And that’s where the bedrooms are, but we can see that later.” She walked through to the dining room. “This is where we chow down.” She pointed to the swinging doors. “The kitchen’s back there, but the cook, Clara, can be a little witchy about trespassers.” DJ snickered. “Besides, my grandmother does not want her girls to spend much time in the kitchen anyway.”

“Like that’s going to be a problem,” said Taylor, the first words she’d spoken since meeting DJ.

“Huh?” said DJ.

“I don’t imagine anyone is going to be exactly pigging out around here. I mean aren’t we all supposed to become famous models or something?” asked Taylor as she examined a perfectly manicured thumbnail.

DJ frowned. “Well, my grandmother did edit one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, but I don’t think that means we’re all going to become famous models. I know I’m not.”

Taylor peered curiously at her. “Why not? You’ve got the height, the build, and you’re not half bad looking .?.?. well, other than the fact that you obviously have absolutely no style.” She sort of laughed, but not with genuine humor. “But then you’ve got your grandmother to straighten that out for you.”

DJ just shook her head. “I think my grandmother will give up on me pretty soon. Especially when the others get here. She’ll have girls with more promise to set her sights on.” At least that was what DJ was hoping.

“Has anyone else arrived?”

“Not yet.” DJ continued the tour. “This is the library.” She paused to allow Taylor to look inside the room and then moved on. “And that’s the sunroom, or observatory, as Grandmother calls it.” She laughed. “Hearing her talk about this house sometimes reminds me of playing Clue.”

“What?”

“You know, the murder game, like where Colonel Mustard kills Mrs. Peacock with a wrench in the observatory.”

“Oh, I never played that.”

“Right .?.?.” Then DJ showed Taylor the large living room, the most modern space in the house. Grandmother had put this room together shortly after deciding to take on her crazy venture. Above the fireplace hung a large flat-screen TV, which was connected to a state-of-the-art DVD and sound system. This was encircled by some comfortable pieces of leather furniture, pillows, and throws.

“Not bad,” admitted Taylor.

“Welcome back to the twenty-first century.”

“Do you have wireless here?”

“Yeah. I told Grandmother it was a necessity for school.”

“Good.”

“This house has been in our family for a long time,” said DJ as she led Taylor up the stairs. “But no one has lived here for the past twenty years. My grandmother had it restored after she retired a -couple of years ago.” DJ didn’t add that her grandmother had been forced to retire due to her age (a carefully guarded and mysterious number) or that this new business venture, boarding teen “debutantes,” was to help supplement her retirement income. Those were strict family secrets and, despite DJ’s angst in living here, she did have a sense of family loyalty?—?-at least for the time being. She wasn’t sure if she could control herself indefinitely.

DJ stopped at the second-floor landing. “The bedrooms are on this floor, and the third floor has a ballroom that would be perfect for volleyball, although Grandmother has made it clear that it’s not that kind of ballroom.” She led Taylor down the hall. “My bedroom is here,” she pointed to the closed door. “And yours is right next door.” She opened the door. “The blue room.”

Taylor looked into the pale blue room and shook her head in a dismal way. “And is it true that I have to share this room with a perfect stranger?”

“Well, I don’t know how perfect she’ll be.”

“Funny.” Taylor rolled her eyes as she opened a door to one of the walk-in closets opposite the beds.

“I try.”

“It’s not as big as I expected.”

“It’s bigger than it looks,” said DJ as she walked into the room and then pointed to a small alcove that led to the bathroom.

“Do I get any say in who becomes my roommate?”

“I guess you can take that up with my grandmother.”

Taylor tossed her purse onto the bed closest to the bathroom and then kicked off her metallic-toned sandals. “These shoes might be Marc Jacobs, but they’re killing me.”

“So, you’re really into this?” asked DJ. “The whole fashion thing?”

Taylor sat down on the bed, rubbing a foot. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.”

DJ felt the need to bite her tongue. Taylor was her grandmother’s first official paying customer to arrive and participate in this crazy scheme. Far be it from DJ to rock Grandmother’s boat. At least not just yet.

“Well, thanks for the tour,” said Taylor in a bored voice. Then she went over to where a set of expensive-looking luggage was stacked in a corner. “Don’t the servants around here know how to put things away properly?”

“Properly?” DJ shrugged.

Taylor picked up the top bag and laid it down on the bench at the foot of one of the beds and opened it.

“Don’t you want to go down and tell your mom good-bye?” asked DJ as she moved toward the door.

Taylor laughed in a mean way. “And make her think she’s doing me a favor by dumping me here? Not on your life.”

“Here are some more bags for Miss Mitchell,” said Inez as she lugged two large suitcases into the room, setting them by the door.

“Put them over there,” commanded Taylor, pointing to the bench at the foot of the other bed. “And don’t pile them on top of each other. This happens to be Louis Vuitton, you know.”

DJ saw Inez make a face behind Taylor’s back. But the truth was DJ didn’t blame her. Inez might be a housekeeper, but she didn’t deserve to be treated like a slave. Suddenly, DJ felt guilty for snapping at Inez earlier today. She smiled now, and Inez looked surprised and a little suspicious. Then DJ grabbed the largest bag, hoisted it onto the bench with a loud grunt, and Taylor turned around and gave her a dark scowl.

“Thank you,” she snapped.

“Later,” said DJ as she exited the room with Inez on her heels.

“Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs, Desiree,” announced Inez when they were out on the landing.

“Again?” complained DJ. “What for?”

“Another girl just arrived. Your grandmother wants you to give her a tour too.”

“What am I now?” asked DJ. “The official tour guide?”

“That sounds about right.” Inez gave her a smirk.

DJ wasn’t sure if she could stomach another fashion diva with an attitude problem, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to risk another etiquette lecture from her grandmother either. Once again, she clomped down the stairs and made her appearance in the office, suppressing the urge to bow and say, “At your ser-vice, Madam.”

“Eliza,” gushed Grandmother, “This is my granddaughter, Desiree Lane. And Desiree, I’d like you to meet Eliza Wilton.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Desiree.”

DJ nodded. She could tell by how formal her grandmother was acting that Eliza Wilton must be someone really important?—?-meaning extraordinarily wealthy?—?-even more so than the Mitchells. And that’s when she remembered her grandmother going on about “the Wilton fortune” this morning at breakfast. Of course, that must be Eliza’s family.

“Nice to meet ya, Eliza,” DJ said in a purposely casual tone. This girl was pretty too, but not like Taylor’s dark and dramatic beauty. Eliza was a tall, slender, impeccably dressed, blue-eyed blonde. She wasn’t exactly a Paris Hilton clone?—?-and she didn’t have a little dog as far as DJ could see?—?-but there was a similarity, except that Eliza’s face was a little softer looking, a little sweeter, but then looks could be deceiving.

DJ wondered if the Botox was starting to wear off, as her grandmother studied her with a furrowed brow, probably comparing her to Miss Perfect Eliza. Naturally, DJ would not measure up.

“Eliza is from Louisville,” said Grandmother. “Her parents are presently residing in France, where her father just purchased a vineyard. But Eliza’s grandmother and I are old friends. We went to college together. When she heard about what I was doing up here in Connecticut, she encouraged her daughter to send dear Eliza our way.”

“Lucky Eliza,” said DJ in a droll tone.

Eliza actually giggled. Then Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree will give you a tour of the house,” she said. “And she’ll show you to your room.”

“Which is .?.?.??” asked DJ.

“The rose room.”

Of course, thought DJ as she led Eliza from the office. Next to her grandmother’s suite, the rose room was probably the best room in the house. Naturally, someone as important as Eliza would be entitled to that. Not that DJ had wanted it. And perhaps her grandmother had actually offered it to her last month. DJ couldn’t remember. But she had never been a flowery sort of girl, and she knew the rose wallpaper in there would’ve been giving her a serious migraine by now. Besides she liked her sunny yellow bedroom and, in her opinion, it had the best view in the house. On a clear day, you could actually glimpse a sliver of the Atlantic Ocean from her small bathroom window.

DJ started to do a repeat of her earlier tour, even using the same lines, until she realized that Eliza was actually interested.

“How old is this house?”

“Just over a hundred years,” DJ told her. “It was built in 1891.”

“It has a nice feel to it.”

DJ considered this. “Yeah, I kinda thought that too, after I got used to it. To be honest, it seemed pretty big to me at first. But then you’re probably used to big houses.”

“I suppose. Not that I’m particularly fond of mansions.”

“Why aren’t you with your parents?” asked DJ. “In France?”

“They’re concerned about things like politics and security,” said Eliza as they exited the library. “In fact, they almost refused to let me come here.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I think they felt I was safer in boarding school. If our grandmothers hadn’t been such good friends, I’m sure they never would’ve agreed.”

“So, you’re happy to be here?” DJ studied Eliza’s expression.

“Sure, aren’t you?”

DJ frowned. “I don’t know .?.?. I guess.”

“I think it’ll be fun to go to a real high school, to just live like a normal girl, with other normal girls.”

DJ tried not to look too shocked. “You think this is normal?”

Eliza laughed. “I guess I don’t really know what normal is, but it’s more normal that what I’m used to.”

“But what about the whole fashion thing?” asked DJ. “I mean you must know about my grandmother’s plans to turn us all into little debutantes. Are you into all that?”

“That’s nothing new. Remember, I’m from the south. My family is obsessed with turning me into a lady. That was one of the other reasons my parents agreed to this. I think they see the Carter House as some sort of finishing school.”

Or some sort of reformatory school, thought DJ. Although she didn’t say it out loud. Not yet, anyway.

 

Cardboard Testimonies

I am not usually one for posting videos but this one…well words cannot describe it. It has the song that has been stuck in my head for weeks and then for these people to be so authentic and real was so touching. I cried when I watched it….so humbled by the Love of our Father. He can change us it we let Him and if we want Him to.

here are the lyrics to the song in the video:

How He Loves Us

Verse 1:
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

Pre-Chorus:
And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us so

Chorus 1:
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

Verse 2:
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And the heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

Chorus 2:
He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

*Verse 3:
Well, I thought about You the day Stephen died,
And You met me between my breaking.
I know that I still love You, God, despite the agony.
…They want to tell me You’re cruel,
But if Stephen could sing, he’d say it’s not true, cause…

Chorus 3:
Cause He loves us,
Oh how He loves us.
Oh how He loves us.
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.*


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