The Women of Troy Hill

One of the things I love most about used book stores is the possibility of unearthing a jewel. Sometimes a jewel is a book I’ve been searching for and haven’t been able to find. Suddenly it’s there, glittering like a diamond. I snatch it up before someone else sees. But even more exciting are the hidden jewels, the books I’ve never heard of but that catch my eye and capture my interest. At the time of purchase, they are simply an interesting rock. But sometimes the reading of them chips away at the unknown and leaves a valuable gem I am glad I didn’t miss.

Such is the case with a book I recently found. The Women of Troy Hill: The Back-Fence Virtues of Faith and Friendship is a book I will cherish. Clare Ansberry, the Pittsburgh bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal wrote this book eight years ago. It is the story of a Pittsburgh neighborhood, Troy Hill, and the women who live there—some of whose families have lived on Troy Hill for three or four generations. It is a story of ordinary women’s lives, and yet, none of their stories seemed ordinary. It is stories of family ties and of friendships strengthened over the course of decades, not just years. It is the story of faith that is lived daily, practically, not just on Sundays. It is a reminiscence of earlier eras, of daily life as our mothers and grandmothers experienced it. It is a celebration of lives well lived. And it is a challenge to raise our sights and standards to encompass some of what we have lost.

Oh—and the bonus? My current novel is set in Pennsylvania, my husband’s home state. This book happened to have a couple of tidbits of information that actually helped with my characters, given that my characters, too, are long time Pennsylvanians of German descent!

This beautifully written tribute to women who spent their lives loving their God, their families, and their friends, will always remain on my library shelf.


Ready for a Change

I love winter. I really do. But by this time of year I’m ready for a change. Winter feels like a houseguest that has overstayed his welcome.

Yesterday I thought spring had arrived for good. For two or three weeks now the birds have been chirping me awake and flitting from tree to bush all day long. Usually that’s the first indication. Then yesterday the sun burst out in all its springtime brilliance and warmed us to 83 degrees! It was glorious!

But by the time we exited the Mavericks game last night (thanks to friends who invited us to sit in some awesome seats!), we were shivering again. Yup. Another cold front. Spring may be nudging its way in, but it hasn’t bested winter yet.


Fahrenheit 451

Somewhere in my education I missed Fahrenheit 451. I corrected that this past week. Have you read this book? It was fascinating and terrifying all at once! I kept looking back at the original copyright date because it bore a freakish similarity to direction of our culture. Everything going fast, fast, fast. The people bombarded with images and sound. No time to think. No reason to read. A stupefied population walking blankly through their days talking about nothing, thinking about less.

If you are a writer—or a reader—and you haven’t read this book, or haven’t read it in a long time, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. It will energize you to continue to do what you to, to continue to value thoughts and ideas and words. And if you get a chance to buy the 50th Anniversary edition—get it. It includes a fascinating interview with the author!


Leslie's New Website!

Want to see a great new website? My friend and critique partner Leslie Wilson is a very funny lady, whether writing or speaking. She’s also very practical. She writes and talks about her two favorite subjects: being a wife and being a mom. She calls her ministry "Reality Motherhood." Her website reflects the whimsical and the practical in her. Check it out here! She’s started a blog, too, as well as a weekly ezine full of tips and stories. And don’t miss the “store” on her site, where you can buy CDs of her speeches and her famous “tip” sheets—reusable, laminated lists of all kinds of different things, from chore charts to beach vacation packing for your family to birthday party planning, formulated to help keep moms organized and sane.


Ministering With My Kids

I spent the morning at the North Texas Food Bank with a group of ninth and tenth graders. We took food donated by individuals through local grocery stores during Super Bowl week and packed it in boxes to be distributed to food pantries and other ministries in the North Texas Area. The North Texas Food Bank distributed 3 million pounds of food last month alone.

We did this through our school’s mission program, instituted three years ago. I love going on these quarterly mission days with our middle school and high school students. Today I realized why.

Not only do these days give me a time and place to do something “others” focused, but working alongside my children and their friends gives us a shared experience. It’s not like a regular field trip where the moms cluster together and talk while the kids do whatever the activity is. On mission days, the parents work with the kids, often letting them take the lead role. And as we work together, we see each other as people instead of as “adults” and “teenagers.”

I like, too, that our mission days give the kids—and adults—the opportunity to experience different kinds of ministry work. Some prefer the opportunities to minister directly to people by feeding the homeless, interacting with refugees, taking meals to shut-ins, while others (like me) prefer task oriented ministry—doing a more “menial” task that is but one cog in a large wheel of ministering to a persons’ needs, like organizing donated clothes or packing boxes of donated food. We all have a place, and a gift. And I like that we help the kids discover what fits the way God made them.

We will go out again on a Friday in April. I can’t wait to see what opportunities await us!


Another Season Ends

The books are closed on another basketball season. The final game—last night—was a playoff tiebreaker game against an archrival to see who got the final playoff spot. We lost. But the boys played hard.

It was a wonderful season in many respects. Our daughter matured so much, learning to keep her cool on the court, learning to enjoy the game and her teammates whether winning or losing (and mostly losing!) My middle school son learned how to lose graciously and he learned a lot about the game of basketball from a young coach who played at the college level.

But one of the greatest joys of this season has been watching my ninth grade son. He is an athlete, though and through, but he is small and not particularly fast. He is sports-smart, however, understanding the complexities of the game, and he hustles. As one of two freshmen, he knew he’d sit the bench all season, like he did in football (small school, not enough kids for a JV team.) That frustrates him, because he loves to play. But he did it anyway, working hard in practice, taking care of the boys who played in games by having water and an encouraging word ready when they came out of the game, just like he did in football.

The coach noticed. What I think started as an effort to reward his hard work prior to district play became a habit and then an official proclamation: my son was given the duties of captain of the team. He even got to play several times, sometimes even for a few minutes in a close game.

Last night was an example of what he’s done all season. After getting the water and encouraging the guys during time outs, coach put him in the game in the fourth quarter for about three minutes. He hustled, had a couple of assists and a couple of rebounds. Plenty of glory for a teenaged boy. He went back to the bench—and back to getting the water. A servant leader if I’ve ever seen one. I wish I could say we taught him that, either by words or example. But I think not. I think if I boast I must boast in the Lord, for He made my son that way. What most of us spend a lifetime learning, He gave to this child as a gift. And it humbles me to watch it.

So our lives will slow a bit now—but just a bit, mind you! The school musical is in three weeks, with my daughter playing a major role. Middle school baseball starts up soon. The yearbook deadline looms, as do academic and art competitions. A small school keeps everybody busy. But when it affords me the chance to watch my children grow and change, becoming more and more like Christ, and gives then opportunities to discover and develop talents and abilities bestowed on them by God that they had no idea they possessed, it’s worth the effort and the busyness.


The Exact Perfect Gift

It’s been a technologically frustrating 2008 for me. First, after months of having the colors on my laptop screen skew at random, I tweaked it too much and cracked the screen. Now, besides the black line across one corner, everything on my screen is tinted blue. Makes it hard to see things in red, such as anything done in the Track Changes mode of Word.

On top of that, my wonderful laser printer informed me that it needed a new drum. No problem. I ordered and installed one. So now every few lines are faded. Makes each page a bit hard to read. My poor critique group has endured this for several weeks.

Add to that a bit of a money crunch at our house and I have been left to endure. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m not even throwing a fit. I know how insignificant these things really are. They are just annoying. So fellow Life Sentence-ers Mary DeMuth and Leslie Wilson conspired to give me a boost for my birthday. They gave me a gift card to Office Max to help remedy whatever it could.

Simple, right?


Backstory: Apparently when they went to get the gift card, they were out. Completely out of gift cards! Go figure! So they had to buy something and then return it to get a Merchandise Credit card. Okay. No big deal. But in doing so, it made an odd amount, because of tax.

After much consideration, I went to Office Max to buy a new printer, one that was on sale and, with my “merchandise credit” and a coupon, would cost me $5 or so. Again, never as simple as it seems. The first store was out of the desired printer. Today I went across town to another Office Max. No printers on the shelf, but a wonderful guy found one in the back. I took it to the register, handed the man my coupon and my card, and waited, cash in hand, to hear what I owed.

The man looked at me, incredulously. “It’s the same amount.”

“What do you mean?”

“The card.” He looked back at his register. “It’s exactly the same amount as the printer. To the penny.”

I just laughed. God is so good. He let my friends give me the EXACT perfect gift for my birthday! So here’s to happy printing, where all the words come through on the page. Thanks Mary and Leslie!


Cheering Them On

A local high school is performing Les Miserables this weekend. As that is a favorite at our house, my daughter and I went last night. They did a great job. No, it wasn’t Broadway caliber, but for a group of 16, 17, and 18 year-olds, it was fantastic.

I loved the music and the story, as usual, but most of all I loved watching high school students take on such an enormous challenge. It’s what I love about watching high school sports, too. And seeing high school art pieces. And observing high school leadership in areas of school government or service projects. It’s seeing young people learn to overcome obstacles, to persevere, to become disciplined, to encounter adversity, to be humble in success. To grow up. We are given a glimpse into who God made them to be and how He is shaping them to be it.

Some years, it happens through success, through accolades and awards. Some years, character is forged in the fires of failure, of hard choices, of unfairness. But none of it is wasted.

When it is my own kids (and sometimes their friends), I get the added responsibility of talking through the situations, helping them process their course of action or their feelings, helping them recognize God’s hand in every situation. But in every situation, such as by standing and clapping at the end of the production last night, I get to encourage, to cheer on these young people striving to become adults. And in that, I find great joy.