How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sunflower Award

This is a get-to-know-you blog tag-up that the talented Deborah O’Carroll of The Road of a Writer tagged me in. It looked like fun, so here goes!

1. Share 11 facts about yourself.
2. Answer the 11 questions set by your nomination blogger.
3. Nominate 11 bloggers.
4. Set questions for the nominated bloggers.

Facts about Me
1. I am Dutch, German, Swedish, and English (there may be some Scottish/Irish, too).
2. I love history—as you can probably tell because the first fact I thought of was about my family heritage.
3. I make endless lists of books—which lately I’ve discovered isn’t too unusual. There are bookaholics out there who are even crazier than I am.
4. I’m a martial artist.
5. I wish was more imaginative. (Helps with the fiction-writing, you know.)
6. I’ve enrolled in a copy editing course.
7. My favorite books tend to be thick British classics.
8. I’m having trouble thinking of four more facts. Now we’re down to three.
9. I’ve played piano for 12 years but only off and on so I’m not advanced. It’s good for me, so I won’t give it up if I can help it. I’m blessed to have a young, very motivated piano student who unconsciously encourages me to keep up the practice.
10. I really like playing sports and am sorry that I haven’t found any outlets beyond high school.
11. I’m studying 2 Samuel right now.

11 Questions for Nominees
1. What’s the last sentence you wrote in a story?
The sisters managed to stay silent through the rest of the trip, except for a comment now and then about their surroundings … even those came as grudgingly as an ill-tempered apology. (Uh-oh … Amy and Lisa were arguing again.)
2. What was the last movie you watched?
Ella Enchanted
3. Do you have a favorite quote?
Do Bible verses count? “‘For this is the covenant I shall make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I shall put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts. And I shall be their God, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall they teach, each one his neighbor, and each one his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD. “For I shall forgive their transgressions, and remember their sins no more.’” I like lots of literary quotes, but I never can memorize them, so I don’t have a favorite at the moment.
4. Favorite food?
Fruits and vegetables … I could go on and on about the delectableness of strawberries, plums, and Jonagold apples, or the perfection of baked Buttercup squash (I don’t mean Butternut, though that’s tasty, too!), colorful salads, and roasted, properly seasoned asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower, or the universality of onions, both raw and sautéed ….
5. Have you ever seen a shooting star?
Yes! I love them. However, I never deem it worthwhile to miss out on sleep to watch a meteor shower. : )
6. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have three books, which would you bring?
Oh, this question is always so difficult! I’ve asked myself this before, and I go back and forth on it. I think we'd all agree the Bible is the easy choice. I think I would also pick Christy, because that seems like a good antidote to living on a desert island, with its description of lush mountains and its community of personable characters. I’d need another long one for my third choice … something by Elizabeth Gaskell should do the trick, because it would keep me busy for days. Her masterful use of language and descriptions of character would helpfully distract me. I think I’ll go with Wives and Daughters.
7. In real life, which appeals to you more: futuristic, modern, or old-fashioned?
Old-fashioned. I find it hard to like futuristic and modern things.
8. In fiction, which appeals to you more: futuristic, modern, or old-fashioned? (Other worlds count.)
Again, old-fashioned, unless the modern has tie-ins with the classic world.
9. What’s the strangest thing hanging on your wall in your room?
Hmm … I think that would be the little woven birdcage my grandma made. Light blue with a white bird inside sitting on a ring-shaped perch, it’s very, very sweet.
10. What’s your favorite bird?
I’m going to make this complicated, because that’s more fun. : ) I like parakeets for their personality, peacocks for their gorgeousness, cardinals for their song and brightness, and swans for their poetry and grace.
11. Robin Hood or King Arthur?
Oh, now that’s a hard one! I’ll go with King Arthur, but it’s difficult to explain why. I think it’s because the mystery of his existence has always captivated me.

Nominate 11 Bloggers
I’m going to skip out on this one, because I can’t seem to come up with 11 bloggers … however, if you have a blog and want to do this, I would absolutely love it! Let me know if you do it! (If you’ve already been nominated, how about answering just my questions in addition to the first ones you were asked?)

11 Questions for the Nominated Bloggers
1. What’s your favorite color and why?
2. What’s your favorite historical time period and why?
3. If you had the choice between being able to read every book you’ve ever wanted to read and going back to any one historical time you wish for as long as you wished, which would you pick?
4. What are three activities that you do just because you love to?
5. What are your favorite things about each season (assuming you can find something!)
6. What is your favorite genre of movie?
7. What’s your favorite smell?
8. What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
9. Do you like classical music?
10. What’s your favorite instrument to listen to?
11. Who’s your favorite Bible character?

If you like, you could even answer as many questions as you wish in the comments!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Yom HaShoah

This Sunday is Yom Hazikkaron LaShoah, Hebrew for Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s shortened to Yom HaShoah. As you can imagine, it’s an emotional time. Although it’s hard to fathom or understand anything so horrible, the Holocaust must always be remembered by the world, in all its details, lest it happen again. By remembering we counteract what Hitler did.

There are articles out there written by Jews who survived the Holocaust with their belief in God still intact, and they are inspiring as they admit that though they don’t understand how it could have happened, they still trust in Him. “Even if He kills me, I will still trust in Him,” says Job 13:15, and that expresses their exact sentiments. I encourage you this Sunday to reflect on and learn about the Holocaust, a part of what you can do to keep its memory, and the memory of the millions who perished, alive … and to state your opposition to Hitler’s purposes.

May we never forget, and may we always be faithful to speak out against injustice.

File:Judenstern JMW.jpg 

A bit different than my usual posts, I know, but I felt the need to solemnize the day. There are numerous resources about the Holocaust … what have you found to be the most meaningful? Here’s my list:

The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
The Seamstress, Sara Tuvel Bernstein
Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen
Remembrance and Repentance, Daniel Hennessy
The Borrowed House, Hilda van Stockum

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Charlotte Brontë

File:Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing.png

Yesterday, April 21st, was the great British novelist Charlotte Brontë’s 198th birthday. She was born in 1816 to Patrick and Maria (Branwell) Brontë, their third child, sister to Maria, Elizabeth, Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne. Of course, this family has fascinated readers ever since Charlotte, Emily, and Anne became known authors. I would need to learn more about them to form more of an opinion, but there is no doubt they were literary geniuses and artists — complete with a peculiar life. I’ve always been intrigued by where they lived: a parsonage in Haworth, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (the middle of northern England), secluded amid rolling hills and moors; and how they lived: after the deaths of their mother and two oldest sisters, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne were extremely close and created rich, imaginary worlds that were probably as real to them, if not more so, than the tangible one. Their eccentric, intelligent father Patrick, an Irish clergyman, was fond of them but often left them alone; they were cared for by their mother’s sister. They didn’t get out much, but they read and wrote and acted. Charlotte mothered her younger siblings and later on helped support them by becoming a governess and teacher.

I only know Miss Brontë from Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books, and a few short biographies, but I hope that will soon change when I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s (another of my favorite Victorian novelists) biography of her, The Life of Charlotte Brontë. Seeing as it was written in the lifetime of her family and friends, it might skirt around some issues, but I think it’s a great place to start. Published 1857, it was largely responsible for stoking our strong interest in the Brontës that has carried on ever since.

Charlotte wrote what she knew: The infamous girls’ school in Jane Eyre, Lowood, was patterned after the school Charlotte attended, whose conditions killed her two older sisters. Three of the protagonists of her four novels were teachers in one form or another. Their settings are mostly the north of England and Belgium, the places she lived. (Yes, she did get to go out of the country — she taught school for a time in Brussels. Isn’t that neat? She always preferred home, though.) She thought deeply and took keen interest in social issues, so her novels are serious and emotional. She published under the pseudonym Currer Bell to protect her privacy and to sound more masculine, which she thought would make her books more appealing. Jane Eyre (1847) is a fictional autobiography of a girl who becomes a governess. Shirley (1849) is a social novel, set in 1811–1812, about characters in the Yorkshire textile industry. Villette (1853) is about a young Englishwoman who travels to and teaches in Villette, a fictional French-speaking city. The Professor, written first but published posthumously (1857), is another coming-of-age story about a young man who ultimately becomes a professor at a girls’ school. Miss Brontë also wrote poetry and short stories.

It seems like her life was dead-set on being tragic: After seeing her mother die at age 38, her five siblings at ages 11, 10, 31, 30, and 29, respectively, Charlotte was left alone with her father. She married Arthur Bell Nichols in 1854, age 38, but died, pregnant, the following year, on March 31, 1855, shortly before her 39th birthday. Her father died in 1861 at age 84. Wow … the saga of the Brontës sounds just like a grim Victorian novel, doesn’t it? They were all intriguing characters, with strong personalities, great intelligence, and rampant imaginations, they lived in changing times, and they all died young and tragically with the remarkable exception of Rev. Brontë.

To finish, I would like to say that I fully intend to learn more about Charlotte Brontë as I loved Jane Eyre and find her fascinating. I would love to read all her books and a biography or two of her and her family!

What do you know about Charlotte Bronte? Have you read any of her books?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Many Uses of a Voice Recorder

Somewhere I got the idea that a digital voice recorder would be a great tool for my fiction writing, and for many other projects as well. And I was right!

I’m not Inspector Gadget, but this seemed like something I could handle:


It’s been with me for about two months now. I use it for –
  • Brainstorming The Alice Quest at times when I don’t have my computer, frequently when I’m walking my neighbor’s dogs. It helps me feel actively engaged with my story and productive even when I’m not doing the physical aspect of writing. A good, hard think accomplishes the same result, but this is something concrete. It’s fun to replay my thoughts!
  • Remembering lines, word-for-word, that I come up with during those thinks.
  • Recording interviews with my characters. (So far I’ve only interviewed Amy Brown, The Alice Quest’s protagonist.)
  • Remembering what a friend and I brainstorm during a writing session of our co-story. (That was cool because I got to hear two people’s voices in conversation.)
  • Recording things from the radio. (Don’t worry, no copyright violation!)
  • Playing back my piano pieces so I can hear what I need to work on (or, more rarely, so I can think to myself: that’s me!)

I have lots of idea for other things I can do with it, such as:
  • Record interviews with friends to study their speech patterns for characterization. (I have yet to ask anyone to do this with me; I’m afraid they’ll be self-conscious!) 
  • Record an interview with my 95-year-old grandmother.
  • Read aloud my stories so I can hear how they sound to my ear later.
  • Help myself memorize Bible chapters.
  • Practice different voices and accents.

No doubt I’ll think of even more uses. I can download files from it onto the computer. (Speaking of being self-conscious, I was too shy to download a recording for you today. Besides, I don't quite know how to do that yet!) It’s fun and works really well; the sound is perfectly clear and at last I can comprehend exactly what my own voice is like. Several times when I’ve walked with it and recorded myself, the singing of birds came through, too, and that was just lovely. Hey! That’s another function! Recording birdsongs ….

Have you ever done anything with a voice recorder? Do you think it would be of any help to you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

(This is a re-post from last year.)
Today is the first day of the Biblical festival, Unleavened Bread, or Chag HaMatzot in Hebrew (Exodus 12). This is one of my favorite times of the year because of the meaningful symbolism that comes with this holiday. Passover, which happens right before Unleavened Bread, is of course what Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated the night before He was crucified. “And as they were eating, Yeshua took bread, and having blessed, broke and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body.’ And taking the cup, and giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood, that of the covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Mat. 26:26-28). The last few chapters from the Gospel narratives – from the Last Supper to the Resurrection – are perhaps my favorite part of the Bible. This is what our faith is founded on; it is why we can have hope; it is why we live. How blessed, then, is this time of year that we as believers can practically relive that awesome story in our celebrations!

While the Passover is the most directly meaningful to Yeshua’s story, one-week-long Unleavened Bread has profound symbolism, too. It is a leaven-free week – foods like sandwich bread and Ritz crackers are banished from the house just as they are banished from our mouths. During this week, leaven symbolizes sin and corruption (“Therefore cleanse out the old leaven, so that you are a new lump, as you are unleavened. For also Messiah our Passover was offered for us. So then let us observe the festival, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” 1 Cor. 5:7-8.) and so we focus on how the death of Yeshua (Jesus) freed us from sin so that we are no longer enslaved to it. We are free to have a sin-free existence! Leaven and the lack of it can have many other meanings, too (such as pride vs. humility), but this is the most powerful.

Passover and Unleavened Bread make up some of the first chapters in the story of Redemption – the greatest story ever told! Centuries before Yeshua, God rescued His people from the physical slavery of Egypt, just as He would rescue us from spiritual slavery. The specific events happened at the exact same time of year. If you’ve never studied how the Exodus prefigures our redemption, I highly recommend the study! It is such a strong way to feel, all over again, the power of salvation.

I like eating unleavened bread, matzoh in Hebrew (which is like a giant, flavorless cracker), because every bite reminds me of what Yeshua has done for me.

Are you getting excited about celebrating the Resurrection?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Snippets of March/April

It’s time to share monthly snippets! Thanks again to Katie Sabelko for creating this blog link-up. I have excerpts from The Alice Quest for you today. Sharing snippets from a mystery can be tricky, since I need to remember not to give anything away ….

File:Victorian House 2.png

What world did this mansion belong to? Fantasy, history, some distant planet? Wherever it was, it was long gone; only the house remained. The siding was olive green; scalloped purple shingles decorated a dozen gables over windows and doors; a raspberry-red door blazed at the middle of a long covered porch. All three colors painted the porch columns and rails so that they looked like beaded jewelry. Semi-circle windows like glass fans topped the rectangular windows wherever they could fit. Red and purple gingerbread decorated corners like solid spider webs. The best thing of all was a round tower in the front left corner, its ice-cream-cone roof thrusting higher than even the trees.
As they went up the arrow-straight cement walkway to the porch, Amy tried to see Alice and her family animating the bright green lawn – strolling among the shrubs and flowers, sitting under the maples, fanning themselves behind the beaded, spindled rails. Which window was Alice’s? What route had she taken to abandon her life?
A tall, thin man stood in the opening, his mouth slightly agape. His head was tall, thin, and bald except for a wispy gray and brown goatee and a shading of gray along the sides where hair should be. His nose was beaked and as long and narrow as the rest of him. Good old-fashioned headphones encircled his neck, the earpieces meeting together under his chin like two red boxing gloves.
(Enter Gordon Spellmeyer – I’ve really been enjoying him. There is so much more to him than I can share in these snippets!)
After taking turns looking into the stereoscope and oohing and ahhing over the miscellaneous scenes in its black-and-white photos, they continued on a tourist-led survey of the house: Mr. Spellmeyer followed the Browns from room to room, talking all the while about the house and his remodeling, with a remark thrown in here and there about other things that constituted the outer skin of his life: history, his teaching experiences, unrevealing bits about his past.
“This is really nosy, Gordon,” Grandma began, looking away from a reproduction painting of a horse and cart, “but I’m notorious for that. How can you afford all this? You’re a teacher, for heaven’s sake.”
“Ah, a historical mystery!” Mr. Spellmeyer rubbed his goatee. “Bringing history into the here-and-now. I wish I could get my students – hey, that gives me an excellent idea!” He raised his index finger. “I need to work in some genealogy next semester. They’ll get to research their own ancestors and events from their lifetimes. It will bring home the reality of history!” He smiled wide and his eyes grew shinier than his glasses as he gazed at Amy. “See? You only just got your degree and you’ve already taught me something!”
He put a long, slippered foot on the carpeted bottom step and froze there as if he were a switched-off robot. “Did you say Alice?”

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jane Addams and Hull-House

Occasionally you come across a book that you’d like to turn over and restart immediately once you reach the end, one that you’d put on a list of books you’d choose if you could only have access to a handful. One of the latest ones to go on my list is Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams.

Jane Addams was probably the most famous pioneering social worker. In 1889, at age 29, she and a friend opened Hull-House, Chicago’s first settlement house. It was designed to connect wealthy, idle young people with the poor immigrant population, giving the former an outlet for ministering to society and the latter access to a more cultured American life. “We have in America a fast-growing number of cultivated young people who have no recognized outlet for their active faculties. They hear constantly of the great social maladjustment, but no way is provided for them to change it, and their uselessness hangs about them heavily.” (From Addams’ early paper on her vision for settlement houses.) But people of every age and calling soon became involved with Hull-House as the problems of Chicago’s poor overwhelmed them with a desire to do something.

They opened, among many other facilities, a kitchen to cheaply sell healthy food, a gymnasium for sports and dances to provide a safe, moral place to socialize, and an art gallery for “the escape it offers from dreary reality into the realm of the imagination.” They taught classes of trade and higher learning. They hosted concerts, parties, lectures, and social clubs – anything that would at least temporarily raise Chicago’s poverty-stricken citizens from their life of soot, grime, noise, and mind-numbing labor. They became a voice for the factory-workers and for the improvement of living conditions. They endeavored to show the immigrants what America’s ideals were all about.

Although, as far as I can tell, Jane Addams herself was a Christian (she seemed to identify most with social Christianity), and her motive was to follow the Messiah because He did all the right things, she made Hull-House secular so that people of all faiths would come without hesitation to look for help. She was concerned with lifting the lot of people here on earth, and she rightly perceived that God is very much concerned with that as well. (I’m sure you all know how you love it when your heroes are sold out to the Lord, but if they’re not completely orthodox in their beliefs about the Gospel, it’s disappointing. Hopefully you understand that’s how I feel about Jane Addams. However, religion was welcome there; it’s just that the settlement house didn’t focus its efforts on Biblical discipleship. It encouraged morality more than anything else. Have you ever seen the movie Time Changer? That delves into the inherent problems of removing Jesus/Yeshua’s salvation from morality. This is a whole issue I would love to study more; hopefully I have Jane Addams pinned down more-or-less correctly for the purposes of this post!)

Jane Addams was idealistic, practical, and unbelievably resolute. She traveled, dealt with people from every walk of life, and paid close attention to world affairs. She had to, seeing as she helped men and women from so many nations. “Addams’ philosophy combined feminist sensibilities with an unwavering commitment to social improvement through cooperative efforts. Although she sympathized with feminists, socialists, and pacifists, Addams refused to be labeled. This refusal was pragmatic rather than ideological” ( At times she and Hull-House were accused of aligning with weird political ideologies like anarchy because of the people they were involved with, but that was always far from the truth.

This book, a sort of autobiography of Jane Addams and Hull-House, was packed with anecdotes of Chicago’s inner-city life and the quest for improvement, either encouraging or sobering but always interesting. Jane Addams thoughtfully philosophized on how to alleviate problems; I think readers will be challenged to do more to minister to the disadvantaged around them. I read it mainly for my work-in-progress, The Alice Quest, and found it infinitely helpful as I work with that place and era. But it was also just a plain intriguing read!

Who are some of your historical heroes?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hans Christian Andersen


Wow. How do you sum up the legacy of a great man like Hans Christian Andersen, who was born 209 years ago, on April 2, 1805? Perhaps if I had spent more of my life studying him I’d be equipped to really delve into him here, but since I haven’t, let’s just take a few paragraphs to contemplate his life and contributions to the world of storytelling.

He faced an upward climb from the day he was born in Odense, Denmark; he was the son of poorly educated parents; his father died when he was 11; he had to support himself while still a teenager; his school years were the darkest years of his life; and no one exactly encouraged him during his early writing career. Only a person with a literary genius like Andersen could go on to become one of the greatest writers the world over.

He published his first story, “The Ghost at Palnatoke’s Grave” in 1822. Although he is best known for his fairy tales and short stories, he also wrote plays, poetry, novels, and travel works. He wrote and published fairy tales, both original and reworked, from 1835 to 1872. While I was researching this blog post, I was surprised by the number of well-known tales that originated from his fertile mind, or at least that we know because he retold them! Without those fairy tales, we wouldn’t have all the entertaining adaptations we’ve enjoyed for over a hundred years. We may also have missed out on stories by other authors that were inspired by Mr. Andersen. Not a happy thought! His tales weave a rich story world, with Christian values, lyrical language, thought-provoking insights, issues to overcome, and characters that creep into your heart. They’re made for remembering and retelling and perfect for whimsical, colorful illustration. They always leave you feeling a strong emotion.

One of my favorite passages (obviously translated) that showcase his artistic storytelling is from “The Little Mermaid”:
Far out at sea, the water is as blue as the bluest cornflower, and as clear as glass. It is very deep, so deep that no anchor can possibly reach the bottom. It would require a great many church towers, stacked on top of each other, to reach from the floor of the sea to its surface.
Now, you should not imagine the floor of the sea as a naked, white sandy bottom. No, indeed! An amazing variety of trees and plants grow there. Their branches are so resilient they move like living creatures at the least movement in the water. The fish, both small and great, dart between them just like birds in the air. And this is where the sea-folk lived.

He published 168 fairy tales (see the complete list on, where you can read most of them, too!) Here are the ones I’m at least familiar with:
Little Claus and Big Claus                                
The Princess and the Pea (This one has always fascinated me.)
Thumbelina (Love this one! I knew the animated movie first.)
The Traveling Companion
The Little Mermaid (This has captured so many imaginations.)
The Emperor’s New Clothes (This one always makes me laugh.)
The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Fantasia 2000! But, not one of my favorites – too sad.)
The Wild Swans (I LOVE this one. Adventure, heartbreak, and a happy ending.)
The Snowdrop
The Pen and the Inkwell
The Racers
There is a Difference
The Nightingale
Clod Hans
A Gift for Hans
The Marsh King’s Daughter (I equate this one with The Wild Swans. So good!)
The Toad
The Snow Queen (Frozen!!)
The Pigkeeper
What the Old Man Does is Always Right
The Ugly Duckling (One of my favorites.)
The Little Match Girl (This story always has the power to depress me.)
She Was Good for Nothing (About a boy and his mother – so moving!)
The Buckwheat
The Fir Tree
It’s Absolutely True!
The Red Shoes

Here’s an episode that rekindles the phenomenon of Hans Christian Andersen in our own generation: In October 2012 a fairy tale called “The Tallow Candle” was discovered in a suitcase of a Danish family’s old documents. It is Andersen’s first known fairy tale; he wrote it as a teenager and dedicated it to a benefactress. For almost two hundred years it lay unknown, even after Andersen became world-famous. In the story, the candle goes unappreciated at first, and it questions its purpose. Why was it made if it is only to get begrimed and ignored? Then it meets a tinderbox, which strikes a flame to its wick and shows it that it indeed has a grand purpose: bringing light to a dark world. Doesn’t that sound a little like its author’s life story? How appropriate that this story surfaced today at a time when its value has no question!

Because Andersen’s birthday is April 2, that day has also become International Children’s Book Day. So, Happy Children’s Book Day! Where would we be without the books we read as children and still cherish today?

What is your favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale?