Merry Monday at the Tuesday Prude

 

 

SugarCookiesAndStreetLamps_prc5539_750It’s November, and you know what that means. Wampanoag and Pilgims, turkey, gratitude, and Christmas novella publicity. Authors of Christmas books write about all things holly and mistletoe around Easter, spend summers by their air conditioners polishing and proofreading the Christmas tree scenes, and cook their Thanksgiving turkeys while figuring out how else to publicize this story they’ve devoted whole sections of the year to getting published.
And all so you and I can spend December cozied up near our Christmas trees, sipping a favorite hot (or cold—we do understand Christmas is celebrated in hot climates also) beverage and reading as many Christmas stories as we can cram into 25 days.

I’ll be interviewing a few of my favorite authors about their contributions to make our Christmases merry and bright. Today I host my friend (and editor!) Susan Baganz. Her novella this year is Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps, a sweet-in-every-way story. (Pop over to Amazon to preorder )

Susan, welcome to the Tuesday Prude! Let’s jump in with a controversial issue.
Christmas: start celebrating and decorating before or after Thanksgiving?
I decorated this past Saturday which goes against my usual “don’t set up the tree till the day after Thanksgiving” policy. The variation this year is only because I’m due to have surgery and want to be able to relax and enjoy healing and the holidays without overdoing it. The lights might not be turned on until then, but no promises. We do love having a Christmas tree and if my kids, now teenagers, had their way, it would be up year round!
Which of the cookies in your book’s comprehensive list intrigued you enough to want to try your hand at baking—and eating?
The funny thing is, I will bake cookies but I’m not a big cookie eater myself, which is probably a good thing! I’ll taste one or two and then I’m done and leave the rest for my husband and kiddos. Having said that, raspberry Linzer cookies, baklava tassies, Irish cream delights and English cranberry orange shortbread, might be a few that would tempt me to bake and taste.

I am a cookie lover, so maybe I better not try my hand at any of those bits of deliciousness. Your sugar cookie recipe at the end of the book is tempting enough!

Give us a quick character sketch of Noelle and Rudy, your protagonists in “Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps.”
Noelle has a Christmas Eve birthday but doesn’t like Christmas. She’s trying to get an event planning business off the ground while working at the library. She’s strait-laced as far as her morals go and has great organizational skills.
Rudy’s ears and nose tend to turn red when he’s embarrassed. He does art and decorates as a hobby but works at an Investment Firm. He loves Christmas and the reason for the season.

HA! I love that Rudy’s NOSE turns red!

What inspired you to have the setting be a Dickens’ village party?
I started the book with a title and went from there. Street lamps. The lyrics to “Silver Bells” came to mind, the city sidewalks, busy shoppers and then I thought of the old-fashioned lights and bright colored store fronts that used to be part and parcel of the holidays and soon I had this quaint and magical idea for an event! Fun to write about, not sure I’d want the hard work of putting it together like Noelle and Rudy did.

That is part of the magic of writing—we can create something really beautiful without ever leaving our laptops.
Speaking of inspiration, what led to the title of the book?
I have written a few Christmas novellas and all of them have been historical. I decided to do something contemporary and put it in Milwaukee which led me to make it part of the Orchard Hill series although few characters from previous books appear. Given my penchant for titles involving food and traffic/road related words in the vein of Pesto and Potholes, Salsa and Speed Bumps etc…it seemed natural to do Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps.
It’s a delightful title! Something else delightful—last Christmas Day you were barely married to the love of your life. Are there any Christmas traditions you’d like to incorporate into your household?
That’s a great question and one I’ve not really found an answer for yet. Christmas is pretty laid back for us. We attend Christmas Eve service, just the two of us as the kids are with their father. Christmas day I fix a special brunch which has to include bacon. I let the kids sleep in. After brunch we open gifts. I’ve done this since the kids were little. Gifts appear under the tree as I purchase and wrap them, so they learned at a young age to be patient. We never told them Santa brought gifts. So they have learned to anticipate but not peek. The rule was if they tried to open something it got sent back and they didn’t dare test me on that! As the kids are older, there are fewer gifts and this year we are giving them a memory instead. There will still be some small things under the tree. Usually the rest of the day is relaxing, possibly watching movies, although the kids won’t do that with us. I might make something special for dinner later. It becomes a day of rest. Our big family celebration with my parents takes place on a different day.

I expect as the kids leave home that will change and then we’ll have to change with that, but I really like the low-key relaxing day.
Why is a faith message so important in your novels?
I believe I will stand before God for what I write. When I teach at conferences, I tell authors that we will be held accountable for the words we put on the page, and the theology we convey in our stories whether obvious or not. I firmly believe that. Even as an editor I won’t contract stories that violate key principles I believe in as a Christian. And we all need encouragement and a fresh reminder of the truth of the gospel. Story is a powerful vehicle for getting beneath the more obvious roadblocks people can put up to hearing the truth. What if someone didn’t know Jesus and read any of my books? Would they see Jesus there? Either in the actions of the characters or the dialogue? That’s always in the back of my mind. In many ways, writing is an act of worship for me.
Elements of faith, hope and love always seem to pop up in your stories. What else can we find when we read your books?
Faith, hope, and love… and the greatest of these is love. Sometimes humor creeps in although I don’t write comedy and admire people who can do it well. I like to write about the fact that even as believers, life can be difficult and that we need to grow spiritually and emotionally. You can’t have one without the other. Sometimes that process is hard and my hope would be that people can be encouraged to persevere to the other side. While I write happily-ever-afters, I’m fully aware that it is a moment in time, and troubles all come our way. We need to savor those joy-filled moments.

Any holiday besides Christmas that you think would be a good setting for a book?
Thanksgiving could be good as I think family dynamics can be as challenging then as they are at Christmas and gratitude is a good theme. Christmas just seems to hold its own magic though, don’t you think?
I know it does for me! Part of the magic comes from lights and decorations in our darkest month. Are there any memorably magical Christmas displays you’ve seen?
The Paine Art Center in Oshkosh does a wonderful Nutcracker theme at Christmastime which is cool. Fond du Lac, the city near where I live, has a fun light display set to music that is free out at Lakeside Park. I took Ben there last year and he was spellbound as he’d never seen anything like that. It was sweet to see that childlike awe as he watched and we listened.
If you were queen of the world, what would your ideal Christmas Day look like?
Ohhhh! I’d need a bigger house! I would have maids to clean and every room decorated—by someone else of course! And a wonderful feast around a large table with family and friends with holiday music playing in the background. Maybe board games after? Great conversations. Maybe gifts? I think being present with people is more valuable than material things.
When you are queen of the world, I will be angling for an invitation to those Christmas festivities. Just warning you.
Finally, tell us why we should read “Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps.”
It is a sweet story and our family’s favorite sugar cookie recipe is at the end of it. If you want a fresh reminder of the wonder of Christmas in the shadow of the cross, then hopefully this story will refresh you and make this season all the sweeter.

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Susan M. Baganz is living her own happily-ever-after with her husband Benjamin. She chases after two Hobbits, and is a native of Wisconsin. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view.

Susan speaks, teaches, and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. Her favorite pastimes are lazy…spending time with her husband, snuggling with her dog while reading a good book, or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.

You can learn more by following her blog http://www.susanbaganz.com, her Twitter feed @susanbaganz or her fan page, http://www.facebook.com/susanmbaganz.

Oily Grace

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Blog post titles are so hard for me.
Here’s a confession.
Oily Grace” is my version of clickbait.

Unfortunately it sounds like the name of a slimy gang member’s repellent girlfriend.

That is not what I’m writing about, although gang members and their girlfriends need grace.
My focus isn’t even how much I need grace.
I know.
I’ve got grace. By the bucketfuls.

God rains grace on me. I’m forgiven, justified, in the process of being sanctified, someday to be glorified. All showered on me by grace.

It’s the giving of grace to others that I struggle with.
You’d think someone drenched in it would be able to give big ol’ soggy grace hugs to others.
But no.
Grace pours over me, refreshes and rehydrates me. And then it seems to dry up before I can extend it.

I could swear I’m made of microfiber.

Here’s what a Christian like me needs.
Oily grace.
The kind that doesn’t absorb right away.
I need the kind of grace that will drip off from me onto others.
So anyone who gets close to me can’t help but walk away soothed and softened by
the essential oil of grace that I have in abundance. So I leave footprints and fingerprints of grace everywhere I go and on everything I touch.

Not that I haven’t been known to extend grace. And to gracious people, it is SO EASY to give. It’s trying to grant grace to everyone else that dries me up like a potato chip.
By ‘everyone else’ I mean all humans from the ungracious, nasty types to the person in front of me in the checkout lane. Whose sole fault is that they are in front of me in the checkout lane.

One of my favorite hymns starts like this:
“Gracious Spirit, dwell with me, I myself would gracious be;”
It’s a favorite not so much because of the tune or great poetic phrases.
It is my heart’s cry.
And yet every day—EVERY DAY—I grasp more grace for myself than I spare for others.

This is getting old. I’m getting old.
And I don’t want to be one of those greedy, grasping old women who behave as though grace were so limited it needs to be hoarded and stockpiled and hidden.

Lord, let me ooze grace. Let me shine with it. Let them smell me coming a mile away.
Let my oily grace be a sweet aroma, let it improve flavor, let it make hurts slide off me, let it give light and energy and let it reflect and refract your iridescence.

I’m too self-absorbent for grace like rain, dear Lord. Give me oily grace, please.

A Surfeit of Archies

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Ask any author. Naming characters is a solemn task. Some of us agonize for hours. Days. Consider and cast away dozens of names till we are satisfied.
But.
Sometimes the name drops from the sky and flutters down onto the shoulders of our protagonist or antagonist or bit player and it is JUST RIGHT.

So when an ex-punk rocker showed up in the book I’m writing, I needed a name that would suit his pierced, tattooed, working class Brit persona. It came to me out of the blue.
Archie.

 

Perfect!!!!!

Archie

No, this is not my Archie.

 

Archie Bunker

This isn’t my Archie either

The more I wrote about my Archie the more I liked him. His name buried itself into his psyche and mine and now whenever I write—or rewrite—a scene with this particular character, he is the personification of all things Archie. The name has shaped the man.

Well, too bad. I’m going to have to perform major surgery and remove “Archie” from Archie and give him a new name. It is all the fault of a 7 pound infant born in England.

I blame his parents. Prince Harry and Meghan, in spite of hundreds and hundreds of names available, chose my punk-rocker’s name and that has changed everything.

Don’t try to convince me to keep the name. I have my pride. Even though my Archie was named before the couple even got married, anyone reading the book (if it gets published. Please let it get published) will be reading it AFTER the world has fawned all over that other Archie. And will assume I got my name from little Mr. Popularity.

Am I bitter? You betcha. This has happened to me before. In my first book, my wonderful hero was originally named Tubal. After Tubal in the Bible. My publisher thought it was after tubal—a woman’s surgical procedure. (Note: my Tubal’s Biblical namesake was around thousands of years before the first woman had her tubes tied.)

I could see her point, though, and after agonizing and searching Scripture I came up with “Ezra.” But he will always remain Tubal in my heart.

So anyway. My Archie needs a new name. A great sort of Cockney or maybe Scots working-class kind of name. It has to be just right for him. He isn’t any happier than I am about this and we are both trying not to hold it against that newborn living in Frogmore Cottage across the pond. We assume him to be unaware that he just stripped my Archie of his name. Nay. His whole identity. Nothing suits my Archie as well as Archie.

So blessings to Baby Archie and his royal family. Maybe I will get literary vengeance if, when he hits 16, he wants to look like MY Archie.

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THIS IS MY ARCHIE

Top Image by Mihai Surdu from Pixabay

Stand before kings, or stoop before peasants?

Proverbs 22:29 reads like this: “Do you see any truly competent workers? They will serve kings rather than working for ordinary people. ” (New Living Translation)

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How do we reconcile this verse with Jesus’ demand that we wash each other’s feet, as He stooped to wash the (no doubt smelly and dirty) feet of His disciples? After all, they were “ordinary people.” The unimportant, the powerless, the peasants. Do we stand? Or do we stoop?

The Scripture verse above gained some notoriety about a decade ago. At least that’s when I started hearing it batted around homeschool circles. It became a life verse that many teens chose for themselves. Or the teen’s parents believed heartily that it would apply to their child as they “launched” him or her into the world.
Work hard! Be diligent! You’ll stand before kings! Or at least presidents, legislators, or CEOs.
It’s a great verse! How can it not be? It’s Scripture. From the book of wise sayings. Work hard, be diligent, have confidence. And you’ll stand before kings. Or presidents, or legislators, or CEOs. It describes a lofty, world-changing goal.

May I share a story?

Recently I spoke to a friend who works in a school system as a paraprofessional educator in a high school classroom of special needs students. Students who are fully grown but need diaper changes regularly. Students who can only communicate with grunts. Students who sometimes leave bruises on her arms and scratches on her face.

She stoops to tie shoes and wipe up “accidents” on the floor. My friend is a grandmother and goes home at the end of the day exhausted. Her rewards are measured on a different scale than say, those assessed of the “gifted and talented” classes. On a good day, she will be rewarded with a sloppy kiss on her ear or a smile of recognition from a child who for months stared right through her.

Think of those who work in nursing homes. Not the lovely resort type homes with spas and golf courses and movie theaters. They labor where the destitute go to live out their days. You know, the places that reek of disinfectant vainly trying to cover the smell of urine. And worse. They feed, clean, clothe, diaper, and salve those who can no longer care for themselves.

They stoop to pull on slippers, trim toenails, place swollen feet on wheelchair footrests. On a good day, their gentle hug will be returned, a tender brushing of the hair will elicit a slurred “thank you,” or a carefully-tended bedsore will heal.

We all know those who work, who volunteer, who live lives of stooping to help those who can’t help themselves—-much less help the helper. The rewards are rated on a different scale than the usual success stories.

Please follow the link to Heartwings to read how I believe God reconciles the promise we will stand before kings and the directive that we stoop before the needy.

http://www.heartwingsblog.com/2019/05/stand-before-kings-or-stoop-before-peasants/#comment-20912

 

Traveling in the Limp Lane

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No one can accuse me, once I get started on a metaphor, of giving it short shrift. (Have I mentioned before that short shrift comes from the ancient term “shrift” or the penance given to a confessing death row inmate? Since in the bad old days the sentence—usually hanging—was carried out almost immediately, the prisoner had, of necessity, a short shrift, or penance. Every cloud has a silver lining, no? Give the phrase a couple hundred years and it has come to mean “give cursory/little/no attention or consideration to.”)

Back to the metaphor (no one can accuse me of staying slavishly on topic). Everyone recognizes the one about life as a journey and all of us merely travelers. It should, I decided,  be expanded to an analogy. Add more body, more polish, more power, maybe a customized grille.
We may all be traveling the highway of life together, but most of those on the road with us will remain strangers. We barely glance their direction. Some, of course, catch our eye because they are fast and shiny, hurtling down the express lane. Some we watch limp to the shoulder hoping for roadside assistance, and we’re glad we aren’t them.SONY DSC

Some are fresh from the car wash and glistening in the sun. Some may be freshly clean, but the shine is camouflaged by a recent spray of mud and muck. A tune up lets even the most economy-ranked vehicles hit on all cylinders and make good time. For awhile. Soon comes a laborious lurching from one service station or rest stop to the next. Those with new tires guaranteeing 40,000 more miles learn that tires can sadly expire before the warranty does. The thing is, we are all so concentrated on our own journey, we don’t know what is going on with theirs. Except what we see—or think we see.

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We watch our speedometer and odometer and check engine light. When we aren’t scanning the dashboard we’re watching the rearview mirror to see who might be going faster than us, taking up more lane space then seems fair, who is getting caught by their misdeeds and who isn’t. Which vehicles do we want to avoid, or whose slipstream can we take advantage of?

But the shiny vehicle speeding in the passing lane may crash just around the bend, or limp along on a blown tire, or get in trouble with authorities because so much attention is paid to shiny speeding vehicles. The rusting jalopy we passed miles back gets a temporary engine boost and zips in and around everyone else for miles and miles before falling back to the far right lane with everyone honking in annoyance. Expensive conveyances don’t last forever. No matter how well they are maintained. Everyone traveling alongside us needs maintenance, needs to slow down or stop at signs of trouble or danger, runs out of gas. Then we move to the limp lane.

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No one stays in the express lane, at least not for long.
We’re all limping.
We may not see our counselor, our hometown hero, our mentor limp because they are too far ahead or behind us.
But it will happen.
We all need to slow down. Let others in ahead of us, give roadside assistance, be patient with the old, and the slow and the damaged. Avoid envying those racing in the express lane, flying along the passing lane, because the speed is impossible to maintain.

We all came from the same place.
We’re all on the same road.
We’ll eventually get where we are going, whether we want or not. Haste and road rage and rudeness won’t make life’s journey any better.
Only cooperation and kindness can do that.
Let’s limp together.

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A Wednesday Recipe from the Tuesday Prude

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This recipe might be all over Pinterest. But no one has shared it on Facebook with me yet.
If no one has shared it with you, let me be the first.
Please.
I’m never first.

It’s been languishing in a stack of old Macmillan activity packs I used with my boys in the mid-1990’s. None of them remembers me making this and I sure don’t. If I had, the recipe would have landed in my cherished recipe box Middle Son made for me when he was about 8.

My grandsons had them at Granny’s Preschool last week. Had them? They inhaled them. These pancakes (oh hey—this is the first I’ve mentioned what they are, isn’t it?) were in their tummies before I could cut them in tidy little squares.

After a glorious repeat performance this evening for Husband and Youngest Son, I realized they are too good to keep to myself. Without further ado, I give you:

Autumn Apple Cakes

2 apples, chopped fine (We cut them into reasonable, manly chunks)
2 cups pancake mix. Bisquick worked fine.
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar
cooking oil

Mix all ingredients except oil until smooth.

Heat a skillet to about 325 degrees. Or whatever is your favorite pancake temp. Mine is “pretty hot but not smokin’ hot.”

Coat the surface with about a teaspoon of oil.

Drop batter onto hot frying pan (I’m going to call it a griddle from here on out. And the pancakes just became flapjacks. I’m feeling mighty autumn-y and yesteryear all of a sudden.)

The recipe says 2 tablespoons batter for each flapjack. I probably used about a third of a cup.

Fry till golden brown and turn. Ever notice how the first side of a flapjack takes almost a millennium to brown and side #2 is char in half an eye-blink?

Oil the griddle again and repeat.

The recipe make about 12 good size pancakes from this. Recipe says 25 if you follow directions. (Seriously. What are directions for if not to flout?)
We did top with butter and maple syrup, but Macmillan tells you to serve with applesauce. We like a little contrast, ourselves.

If you make them, let me know what you think, could you? I don’t always trust my taste buds. After all, I like Miracle Whip.

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No name is credited on the recipe but it is from a Macmillan Seasonal Activity Pack from 1996.

Grand Old Flag

 

SONY DSCIt’s almost Flag Day folks! I’m gettin’ my stars and stripes on this Thursday, June 14, and you know why?
Because it’s also Granny’s Preschool day and I couldn’t think of another topic.

Truly, I love my country and what my flag stands for. But I don’t usually spend much time thinking about Flag Day. Saving that burst of red, white and blue for 4th of July, don’t you know.

But since small people expect me to teach them something on Thursday—or at least I like to pretend they sit at my feet thirsting after knowledge—I’ve done some research on Old Glory. It really is a Grand Old Flag.

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First:
I don’t care what anyone says. I’m choosing to believe Betsy Ross stitched the flag after a visit from George Washington. If you try to reason with me about this I’ll turn on the song “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground” and sing along at full throttle.*

Second:
Why the song “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground”?
Thank you for asking. It has SUCH A COOL STORY.
William Carney, slave born, soldier in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, was the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor.
During the Battle of Fort Wagner in 1863, under heavy fire, the color guard for Carney’s regiment was killed. Carney caught up the flag.images-2
On hands and knees, under heavy fire and with multiple serious injuries, Sgt. Carney crawled back to his regiment, making certain that the flag never touched the ground.

If you want to know more about this lovely and honorable man please look him up. He is worth your time.
Sgt. William Carney is my new love, (almost but not quite displacing Elihu Washburne). He also puts me to shame. That kind of respect for the flag and what it is meant to represent? I fall so far short.

Third:
Martin Van Buren was the first president born under the flag we know as the Stars and Stripes. Please don’t tell me what what an ineffective president he was.

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-His name was Martin. So was my dad’s.
-He was Dutch. Prick me and I bleed tulips and windmill cookies.
-His hometown is Kinderhook, New York. How can you not love a town called Kinderhook? And all its native sons and daughters?

Fourth:
The idea of Flag Day was birthed by a Wisconsin schoolteacher. I am a Wisconsin schoolteacher! (emeritus)

Fifth:
(because don’t you sort of like the idea that the U.S. isn’t quite like any place else on earth?)
We are the only country that officially pledges allegiance to the flag. Our national anthem is in homage to it, Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” honors it, we have laws protecting it and societies that tell us how to handle it. No other country does any of the aforementioned. Oh yeah. Our flag is our brand.

Sixth:                                                                                                                                                     The current pattern incorporating the 50 stars on the blue field was designed as a class project by a high schooler. He got a B-minus.

There’s so much more to learn about the flag of the United States of America.
At Granny’s Preschool we’ll probably recite the Pledge of Allegiance, do a stars and stripes craft, hear the apocryphal story of Betsy Ross and eat red, white and blue food.
But I hope that my grandchildren will begin to grasp the meaning of the flag. They’ll learn that not everything done in its name is decent or honorable or right, and many people don’t so much wave it as wield it. But what it stands for now is what it was always supposed to stand for. Liberty and justice for all.
I hope these little ones grow up willing to contend for all the good and true things Old Glory represents.

SONY DSC*This is an idle and empty threat. I can’t find any recording of “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground” and therefore can’t sing it at any volume. Although I could recite the lyrics at the top of my voice…