CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CHASING LILACS and Other Fun Stuff

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the release of my upcoming book, Chasing Lilacs. The truth is, I’m not all that comfortable tooting my own horn. I don’t want people—meaning you, my readers—to grow weary of it before it even hits the shelves. And yet, it’s never far from my mind, so please rejoice with me on these latest updates:

I’ve been blessed by endorsements from several fabulous authors that simply take my breath away. You know who you are, and I thank you.

The ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) have been sent to reviewers. Biting my nails on what might come of that.

The Christian MomLogic Book Club has chosen Chasing Lilacs as its next selection, and will be reading the book in late February (pre-release). Thank you FaithWords for providing ARCs for this group.

The FaithWords Spring/Summer Catalog is out, and the cover art of Chasing Lilacs is on their cover. No words to describe how humbling and exciting that is. Also a terrific write up in the New Release section inside. This somehow makes it seem more real that my book is on the precipice of being out there. My prayer is that it blesses the socks off those who read it.

The book is available for pre-order here and here and also available on Kindle.

Marketing and publicity seems to be the next big thing, and I’ll give you links from time to time on where I’ll be guest blogging. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @ChasingLilacs, stop in and say hi on Facebook, or if you’re new here and want to know more about my book, visit my website.

Now for the fun part:

In honor of Chasing Lilacs being set in 1958, here’s a rundown of what things cost back then:

Car: $2,200
Gasoline: 30 cents/gal
House: $18,000
Bread: 19 cents/loaf
Milk: $1.01/gal
Postage Stamp: 4 cents
Stock Market: 584
Average Annual Salary: $5,500
Minimum Wage: $1.00 per hour

The Ford Edsel was released in 1958, and “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry was the No. 1 song of the year. This song, though, was the one playing at Sammie Tucker's first dance. I think you'll enjoy it too.

Ah, the good old days . . .

Since most of you probably don’t remember 1958, tell me what childhood year you do remember and what made that year a standout. Can’t wait to hear your answers!

Friday, January 22, 2010


Saturday, January 23, is National Pie Day.
National Pie Day? Well, why not? There’s no better comfort food. What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, President’s Day without cherry pie, the Fourth of July without . . . uh, well watermelon? Okay, so not all holidays have a pie associated with them, but every holiday is more special with pie.

Some tips from the American Pie Council for ways to celebrate the day:

• Eat pie. Whether you make it yourself, buy it at a supermarket or bakery or order it at a restaurant, eat some pie on National Pie Day. Pie is great with lunch or dinner or as a late-night snack.

• Make pie. Bake your favorite homemade pie on National Pie Day.

• Share pie. If you make or buy a pie, share it. By its very nature, pie is meant to be eaten with others. Have a pie potluck get-together.

• Teach pie making. Stage classes and demonstrations and samplings at stores and schools. Invite seniors who KNOW pie to teach a class. If you don't know how to make pie, ask a pie maker to show you or attend a pie-making class.

• Hold a pie night. Gather family and friends for a pie celebration. Everyone must bring one homemade pie for the pie buffet. We have heard of events where more than 100 folks come with 100 pies.

• Hold a pie-making contest. Invite the best pie-makers in town to compete for prizes in various categories.

• Hold a charity pie-throwing or pie-eating contest or a pie auction. We suggest you donate the proceeds to your local community food bank.

• Pass along pie memories. Our pie heritage is slowly fading away. Call older members of the family and ask them for pie recipes. Ask them to teach you how to make them. Talk about your favorite pies and the family history behind them. Publish pie memories and recipes. Make pie often and serve them to the next generation.

• Eat more pie! You can always have another slice, preferably warm and a la mode.

Check out the website for even more ideas, and no matter how you cut it, pies are a great reason to celebrate! Now . . . drum roll please . . . my hubby Max’s all-time favorite – Old-Fashioned French Apple Pie.


7 c. sliced, peeled cooking apples (about 7)
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
1 tbsp. lemon juice or 1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 (9 inch) unbaked pastry shell

1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In large bowl, mix together apples, brown sugar, spices, and lemon juice. Spoon apple mixture into pie shell.

Make Crumb Topping by mixing 1/3 cup butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar together. Cut in 3/4 cup flour. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle topping over apples in pie plate. Bake for 50 minutes or until topping is golden and apples are tender.

So how about you? Ready for some pie? What's your favorite? Do you make them from scratch, call on Sara Lee or visit the bakery? I have a sneaky feeling I'll be in the kitchen tomorrow working on an Old-Fashioned French Apple Pie.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Remember when you were a kid splashing in the kiddie pool looking over at the ten-year-olds jumping off the side, laughing and having the time of their lives? Two summers later, there you are, heart pounding, plunging into water that’s two feet over your head.

You sign up for swimming lessons, learn the strokes, and hang around the pool afterward, watching the lithe, stringy teens swan dive off the high board, and you promise yourself that someday that will be you.

Becoming a writer is a lot like becoming an accomplished swimmer. You don’t go from the kiddie pool to being a published author in a heart beat. But there is a passion born in the tenderness of youth, a desire to one day realize your dreams. At least there was for me. At a young age, books became my best friends, and someday I knew I would write my own book.

Then, one day I did. Wrote another one. Looked for some seasoned coaches. Sought out others who shared my passion. And after several seasons of practice, competition, and more practice, I had a manuscript I believed in. Before long, someone offered me a chance to be on the team. An agent. Then a publisher who wanted to pay to publish my book. In no time I knew I'd be swimming in the fast lane.

Uh . . . not so fast. No one knew me from the thousands of other contracted authors.

Enter the unknown waters of marketing. I’m back in the kiddie pool. Things are a little murky, but everywhere I turn, I keep hearing the same thing.

“What’s your platform?”

“Well, a few people read my blog.” (THANK YOU, friends, who faithfully read my drivel and still come back – you are my life raft).

“What else?”

“Umm. Facebook?”

“Good start. How about Twitter?”

Ugh. Too personal. I have nothing interesting to say. No one wants to know what I had for breakfast or the latest adventures of my doxie, Zelda. What can I possibly say in 140 characters?

“But this is the best way to create buzz about your book.”

Yeah. Yeah.

I don’t jump into deep waters without considering the cost and the reward: time, learning new technology (not to mention a whole new set of vocabulary words), finding people who would follow me. Following other people. Making new contacts. Building a platform. Learning more about the industry I’m honored to be part of. Yes, it’s clearer now. It's time to jump off the high dive. Twitter, here I come.

Okay. Today was the day. I slowly climbed the steps one by one. Only looked back a couple of times, then stepped onto the board. Crept to the end and took a couple of practice bounces and four deep breaths. Then I took the plunge and made my first tweet.

I’m taking it slow, dog-paddling in the oceanic water of Twitterdom. I have less than a dozen followers and am following a few more than that. Care to join me? If you do, my user name ChasingLilacs. I’d love to have you on board.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


My first introduction to this tasty meat-filled pastry was from my mother-in-law (who I’ve mentioned before was an amazing cook). It is said to be a German dish, and the area Mennonite women did make bierox, but actually, it was more like the “community” specialty. My mother-in-law took them hot (wrapped in foil) to the field during wheat harvest. Students made them by the tens of dozens as fund raisers. Even the school concession stand gained regional fame for having bierox on their menu. Most nights they sold out.

It takes the better part of an afternoon to whip up a batch of bierox, and there aren’t any shortcuts. Believe me, I’ve tried commercially prepared bread dough, and the end result just doesn’t cut it. It’s been a while since I’ve made them, but today I picked up the ingredients. We have a special occasion coming up – our son from California will be here. His Coast Guard career doesn’t allow him many trips back home, and I want to give him a nice welcome. Some things are simply worth the effort, you know.


5 ¾ to 6 ¾ cups flour
1/3 cup instant milk (powdered)
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
2 pkg. active dry yeast
1/3 c. soft margarine
2 cups very warm water

Mix 2 cups flour, dry milk, sugar, salt, and dry yeast. Add margarine. Gradually add water to dry ingredients. Beat 10 minutes (large stand-alone mixer w/ dough hook works best) on medium speed. Add 3 cups flour and beat an additional two minutes. Stir in enough flour for a stiff dough. Turn out on lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic, 8 – 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl (covered with plastic wrap or a tea towel) until double—about 45 minutes to one hour.

Meanwhile, prepare filling.

2 -3 pounds hamburger
1 small head cabbage, chopped in blender or food processor
1 or 2 onions, chopped fine
Seasoned salt and lemon pepper to taste

Brown hamburger in large Dutch oven. Drain grease. Combine meat, cabbage, and onion in Dutch oven. Season. Cook until cabbage and onion are tender. Check for seasoning. Drain off any excess liquid.

Punch down the raised dough. Roll out ¼ of the dough at a time into a large square (about 1/8 inch thick). Cut into four six-inch squares. Place ¼ cup of the meat filling in the center of a square. Bring the four corners to the center, pinching all edges securely. Place seam side down on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until nicely browned. Brush tops with melted butter when done.

Yields: 12 to 16 bierox. These freeze well. Reheat in foil.

I’ll be busy in the kitchen, up to my elbows in flour most likely. How about you? Do you ever make bread dough from scratch? Have you ever tasted bierox? There’s nothing quite like the warm from the oven yeasty goodness.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Like most people across America, we had great expectations of a Christmas season spent with family—watching the delight in the kids’ eyes when they opened the gifts they’d wished fervently for, overeating at numerous family gatherings, reflecting anew on the holiness of Jesus’ birth. And according to our plan, we dropped our little dachshund, Zelda, off to be boarded two days before Christmas, loaded the SUV, and headed out. We did have a great time: first at the nursing home party where my mother-in-law now lives (She looked radiant in the brightest red lipstick I’ve ever seen), then on to my dad’s where we enjoyed our traditional Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner at my sister’s house was yummy. Turkey and dressing always taste better when someone else cooks it, don’t you think? Thanks, Marsha! Another round at my sister-in-laws on Saturday. Four days of laughing, eating, playing games. Thanks, Chet, Leslie, and Avery! Christmas met all our expectations and more.

Home on Sunday. We enjoyed nice dry roads until we were about fifty miles from Tulsa when we encountered the first of many stretches of ice and snow and arrived home to the remnants of Tulsa’s unexpected white Christmas (a horrific blizzard according to those who live here).

The house was quiet and didn’t seem quite right without Zelda curled under her blanket on my lap, but I looked forward to picking her up the next day and spending the next few days getting ready for company (Act II of the holiday gatherings) on New Year’s weekend.

Monday morning, the vet called while I was still contemplating getting out on the ice-rutted streets to pick up Zelda. “Uh, Mrs. Stewart, I’m afraid there’s been an accident.” A million things rushed through my head in the next few seconds as he went on to explain that on Sunday, while he was taking Zelda out to potty, she switched directions between him and the snow drift in the play yard, and he fell on her. “She’s just bruised, but wanted you to know before you picked her up what to expect.”

I had expected to be met with the usual dash into my arms and puppy slobbers, but now I had a bad feeling. I took her home, and poor Zelda hopped on three legs onto the grassy area that Max had shoveled for her. I held her the entire day. And the next. She didn’t complain much, only the occasional whimper when I touched a tender spot, but I also knew she wasn’t getting better.

Wednesday morning we were back at the vet. X-rays. Then the bad news. Her pelvis was fractured in two places. The vet felt terrible—first that he had fallen on her to start with and then that he hadn’t x-rayed her in the beginning. I felt bad, too. And so did Zelda. The surgery to wire her tiny bones together went well, and I brought her home on Thursday with pain pills, a plastic collar that looked like an upside down funnel framing her normally happy, but now confused face, and instructions that she had to remain confined for a minimum of four weeks.

It’s been almost a week since her surgery, and she’s doing as well as can be expected. I give her a break from her crate periodically and let her cuddle on my lap. And of course, I have to carry her outside to do her business. She gets a pill twice a day wrapped in smoked turkey, and will, in time be the spunky, mischievous critter we dropped off at the vet two days before Christmas. I know there’s a lesson in here on forgiveness and grace, and I must say I’m not harboring ill feelings, but what I’m feeling most is gratitude that the smile has returned to Zelda’s eyes and she’s back to thumping her tail when I talk to her.

Life can throw us some strange curves, but now that the crisis has passed, it’s time to get back into the routine and engage in what I expect to be a productive year in 2010. That’s the plan. Let’s hope for the best.
Zelda with our grandson during happier days last summer.