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Family-Friendly Entertainment

Tuesday Tribute: For My Friend Who Wants to Be a Mommy

6/30/09
Join Angie's blog Seven Clown Circus for Tuesday's Tribute:


We each spend a lot of time talking about ourselves and our lives, but we are also fairly GIVING people too...Tuesday's Tribute is a chance to talk about OTHER people, OTHER blogs, OTHER lives.

My good friend Jean and I went out for lunch yesterday after I helped her with the launch of her blog Loving Family Wants to Adopt. I am so excited for her because this blog may be instrumental in helping her find a birth mother!

Here is a little bit about her from her blog:

We are Bill and Jean. We have been happily married for eight years. We knew early on in our relationship that we were meant to be together and are best friends. We have two dogs: Sparky is a Boxer mix and Hershey is a Labrador mix. We have a loving home that we have wanted to share with a child. After six years of trying, we discovered that wouldn’t be possible on our own. We always considered adoption as a wonderful way to build a family and in no way consider it a second choice. We chose domestic adoption because of the opportunity for our child to know his or her birthfamily. We are excited about the possibility of adding to our family.


Jean has had the desire to become a mommy for many years and has been through so much in trying to conceive a child. Please join me in praying for her and her husband as they search to find a child to adopt! You can help them also by spreading the word about their blog to your friends and family. And please stop by and leave Jean's blog and leave a comment. I'm sure it will make her day!

Blog Design Giveaway

6/29/09
I love looking at other peeps' blogs and seeing their cute designs! I stumbled upon this great giveaway from Loni at her blog. It is her blogaversary and she is giving away a custom blog design from Jessica at This That and Your blog, a $35 value which includes:

- Two or three column template
- Custom Header
- Custom Background
- Signature
- Button
- Custom Categories Font
- Custom Post Title Font
-Design Installation

Today is the last day, so head on over. Good luck!

Not Me Monday: Pools, Cake & A Ghost to Boot!


Welcome to Not Me! Monday! This blog carnival was created by MckMama. You can head over to her blog to read what she and everyone else have not been doing this week.

I wasn't having any fun this past week at the pool with my son. He was not happy to be finally outdoors after lots of days with rain and no swimming time. Z didn't make new friends at the pool and enjoy diving for pool toys and throwing a pool ball to me at the side of the pool. And I didn't notice the fact that I am still white as a ghost in comparison to all the other tanned mamas at the pool. Nor did I notice that some ladies make interesting choices in their type of swimwear that would make the Duggar family say "Nike" at least a thousand times! Nope!

This weekend my hubby didn't do sweet things for me like help with dishes, make dinner, and bake me a cake just because I saw cake on t.v. and thought that cake looked yummy at 10 o'clock at night. No sir!

And it wasn't me who suddenly realized that you shouldn't count out the fun of driving around unknown streets in your neighborhood for cheap entertainment and discovering ways to get around for the directionally challenged. No, not me!

What didn't you do this week? Head over to McMama's blog for more Not Me Monday goodies.

Aloha Friday

6/26/09
writing prompts, blogging prompts

I have always wanted to visit Hawaii, so when I saw this meme on another person's blog, I was very interested. It sounds like a great start to the weekend and a great way to get to know other people.

Here is how Aloha Friday works from Kailani's blog An Island Life:


In Hawaii, Aloha Friday is the day that we take it easy and look forward to the weekend. So I thought that on Fridays I would take it easy on posting, too. Therefore, I’ll ask a simple question for you to answer. Nothing that requires a lengthy response.

My question for you is: What is your favorite Michael Jackson song and what do you like about it?

My favorite Michael Jackson song is "Do You Remember the Time". It has a catchy hook and I remember the music video with the Egyptian theme that I thought was pretty fun(it had Eddie Murphy in it).

If you’d like to participate, just post your own question on your blog and leave your link at An Island Life. You can also leave your link here. Be sure to stop by the other folks' blogs so you can get to know them too!

Things I love Thursday 6/25

6/25/09



We have a really cool backyard and I love it! It's the first time my son has had a yard to play in; we've lived here about 2 years now and are just so thankful to have a home that has lots of room (we moved from a one level town house that was at basement level with 2 small bedrooms & 1 bath). This is our back deck with our covered up hot tub (it isn't working unfortunately). My hubby caught this shot of our backyard friend who was peeking into our sliding door and then darted across the deck when he saw someone was peeking back at him!



For more Things I love Thursday, visit Sarah at 8 Muddy Boots.

Kitty Comfort {Wordless Wednesday}

6/24/09


For more Wordless Wednesday, visit Five Minutes for Mom.

Random Tuesday Thoughts: Pedicure Meets Wart

6/23/09
randomtuesday

It's that time again. Total randomness. Keeps me from having to think up a theme when my brain feels like it's in a coma!

First off, I am very saddened to hear the news that Jon & Kate Gosselin are divorcing. I feel so sorry for their kids. Having been through a divorce, I can relate to how Kate is feeling. I was very surprised to hear that they are still doing a t.v. show despite the mess all of this media attention has caused! I will continue to pray for their family.

My own kiddo is not with me today and I miss him. I hope that he is doing something fun.

There's this annoying little wart on my index finger. Must get some wart remover and kill this thing!

I need a pedicure badly. I painted my toe nails, but even that could not hide the ugly soles of my hideous feet. (I have 10 years of teaching and wearing dress shoes feet.) Must soak feet, scrub off dead skin, and hope there's some life under there somewhere. Otherwise when I go to the pool, may have to wear socks in the water so no one gasps at the grody-ness of my tootsies!

Not awake yet. Must drink Mountain Dew.

What are your Random Tuesday thoughts? You can find more at Keely's blog, The Un Mom.

Father's Day at Boyds Bear Country

6/22/09
Myspace Teddy Bear Comments - Teddy Bear

Meandmyspace.com - More Myspace Teddy Bear Comments



I hope you all had a wonderful weekend with your dad or the special man in your life this past Father's Day.

My hubby took Z fishing first thing in the morning. They caught quite a few fish! They were real troopers too, since it showered on them a few times (we've gotten a LOT of rain lately).

Then we told my hubby to pick out his favorite restaurant to go to for lunch. We drove up to PA to eat at Infinito's. My family LOVES this restaurant; it has a delish buffet with all kinds of pizza, a pasta bar, & salad bar. Oh, and did I mention, they make chocolate chip pizza for dessert as well as yummy cinnamon rolls? MMMMMMMMMMMMM....

Afterwards, we headed out near Gettysburg to Boyds Bear Country. If you have never been there, it's a huge barn filled with all the cutest teddy bears and critters you've ever seen from Boyds Bears. There are some fun things to do there; you can get your picture taken with your head on a bear's body, you can "stuff" a bear or other cuddly creature at the Boyds Super Duper Bear Factory, and you can grab a snack after walking the many floors of great shopping.

We enjoyed looking at all the cute bears, sniffed Yankee candles, and checked out some of the latest baskets from Longaberger. And Z took home a cute stuffed Penguin that he named "Happy Feet."

Have a Father's Day post to share? Click Mr. Linky.

April Showers Blog Design Giveaway!

6/20/09
I just found out about this awesome giveaway! If you are looking for a custom signature or a bloggy button guaranteed for absolutely FREE, check out this great giveaway here.

Details:

Here's what YOU get:

A customized FREE signature to sign every blog post! (Choose your font at http://www.dafont.com/ too!)

OR

A FREE 125x 125 grabby button to match your current blog! (Actually...any 125X125 image you need would be fine.)


This giveaway ends on Sunday night at 9pm. All you have to do is stop by the site and follow the simple instructions.

Happy Father's Day weekend!

Beautiful 2 God: Review & BIG Giveaway!- Kiss My Face

6/19/09

Beautiful 2 God: Review & BIG Giveaway!- Kiss My Face


Have you heard of Kiss My Face organic beauty care products? Sarah @ Beautiful 2 God is having a great giveaway on her blog. She is giving away over $400 of product! Her review includes sheer organic lip shimmer, potent & pure facial cleansing system, & get out stay out suncare.

To find out more, go here.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Veiled Freedom by Jeannette Windle

book tours, book reviewsIt is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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



Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:


Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



author profiles, book reviewsAs the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles,and mountains of Columbia, now guerilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly thirty, including Afghanistan. She has more than a dozen books in print, including the political/suspense best-seller CrossFire and Betrayed.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414314752
ISBN-13: 978-1414314754

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Kabul, book reviews, books, Jeanette Windle
Prologue

Kabul
November 13, 2001
“Land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The radio’s static-spattered fanfare filtered through the compound wall. Beyond its shattered gate, a trio of small boys kicked a bundle of knotted rags around the dirt courtyard. Had they any idea those foreign harmonies were paying homage to their country’s latest invaders?

Or liberators, if the rumors and the pirated satellite television broadcasts were true.

Scrambling the final meters to the top of the hill, he stood up against a chill wind that tugged at his light wool vest and baggy tunic and trousers. Bracing himself, he turned in a slow, stunned revolution.

From this windswept knoll, war’s demolition stretched as far as his eye could see. Bombs and rockets had left only heaps of mud-brick hovels and compound walls. The front of an apartment complex was sheared off, exposing the cement cubicles of living quarters. The collapse of an office building left its floors layered like a stack of naan bread. Rubble and broken pavement turned the streets into obstacle courses.

But it wasn’t the devastation that held him spellbound. So it was all true—the foreign newscasts, the exultant summons that had brought him back, his father’s dream. Kabul was free!

The proof was in the dancing crowds below. After five long years of silence, Hindi pop and Persian ballads drifted up the hillside. Atop a bombed-out bus, a group of young men gyrated wildly. Even a handful of women in blue burqas swayed to the rhythms as they bravely crossed the street with no male escort in sight.

Nor was blue the only color making a comeback against winter’s brown. To his far right, a yellow wing fluttered skyward. There was an orange one. A red. Scrambling on top a broken-down tank, two boys tossed aloft a blotch of green and purple.

Kites had returned to the skies above Kabul.

Another tank moved slowly down the boulevard. Behind it came a parade of pickups and army jeeps, machine guns mounted in their beds. A staccato rat-tat-tat momentarily drowned out the music. But the gunfire was celebratory. The dancing mobs were not shrinking back but tossing flowers and confetti, screaming their elation above the noise.

He shouted with them, the fierceness of his response catching him by surprise. He’d hardly thought of this place in long years, the warm, fertile plains of Pakistan far more a home now than this barren wasteland. Yet joy welled up to squeeze his chest, the watering of his eyes no longer from wind and dust.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave.” Down the hillside behind him, the radio blasted a Dari-language commentary. But the words of that foreign music still played in his mind. The sacred anthem his American instructors had taught their small English-language students in the Pakistani refugee camps.

As they’d taught of their homeland, America. A land where brave and honorable warriors guarded peace-loving and welcoming citizens who lived freely among great cities of shining towers and immense wealth. A land of wheat and rice and fruit trees, grape arbors and herds of livestock that offered to all an abundance of food. The very paradise the Quran promised to the faithful.

And Afghanistan? Land of his birth, his home? Brave, yes. No one had ever questioned the courage of the Afghan tribes. Not the Americans and Russians who were history’s most recent invaders. Nor in turn the British, Mongols, Persians, Arabs, all the way back to Alexander the Great, whose armies were the first to learn that Afghanistan could be taken with enough weapons and spilled blood but never held.

But free?

He blinked away the sudden blurring of his vision. When had Afghanistan ever truly known freedom? Not under all those centuries of alternating occupations. Certainly not when the mujahedeen had finally brought the Soviet empire to its knees because then they—and the Taliban after them—had turned on each other. The rockets of their warring factions had rained down on Kabul in such destruction that his family was driven at last to exile.

“Have faith,” his father had whispered into his ear. “Someday Afghanistan will be like America. A land of freedom as well as courage. Someday we will go home.”

Even then he’d known the difference between wishes and painful reality. And yet, unbelievably, there it was below him. Today the liberators’ anthem, his father’s dream had come true at last for his own country.

Yes, his country.

His people.

His home.

He’d missed dawn’s first call to prayer. Now he stripped his vest to spread it over the dirt. Prostrating himself, rising sun at his back, he began the daily salat: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”

The memorized Arabic prayers were rote, but when he finished, he whispered his own passionate plea against the ground, “Please let it be true this time. My father’s dream. His prayers. Let my people know freedom as well as courage.”

Standing up, he shook out his vest. Beyond shattered towers of the city’s business center and compounds of the poor lay a quiet, green oasis. The Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to Kabul’s upper class. Its high walls, spacious villas, and paved streets looked hardly touched by war.

His sandaled feet slipped and twisted in his haste down the hillside. At street level, his old neighborhood proved less untouched than he’d thought. The walls were scarred by rocket blasts, sidewalks broken, poplar trees lining these streets in his memory now only stumps.

He headed toward the largest compound on the street, its two-story villa built around an inner courtyard. A brightly patterned jinga truck indicated the others had already arrived. The property differed so little from childhood memory he might have stepped back a decade. Even the peacock blue house and compound walls showed fresh paint. The Taliban officials who’d commandeered his home had at least cared for their stolen lodging. Or perhaps it had been his family’s faithful chowkidar who’d stayed when his employers fled.

Music and cheerful voices drifted over walls along with a hot, oily aroma that brought water to his mouth. Frying boulani pastries. He quickened his steps. He’d be home in time for the midday meal.

At first he thought this gunfire too was celebratory, but when the unmistakable explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade shook the ground, he broke into a run. A mound of rubble offered cover as he reached the final T-junction.

His mind reeled. Surely he’d seen this victory convoy from the hilltop. But why were they firing on his home?

Even as he crouched in bewildered horror, the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a Kalashnikov rifle crackled back from a second-story window. Down the street a fighter rose from behind a jeep, an RPG launcher raised to his shoulder. A single blast. Then a limp shape slid forward over the windowsill and toppled from view.

The action unfroze his muscles, and he sprinted toward his home. A shout, the whine of a bullet overhead told him he’d been spotted. Apple trees edging the property wall offered hand and foot holds.

His feet touched brick, then ground on the other side. The acridity of gunfire and explosives burned his nostrils as he raced forward. He stumbled across the first limp shape facedown on the lawn. Turning the body over, he fruitlessly tried to stem a red sea spreading across white robes. Their faithful caretaker would never again tend these gardens or paint these walls.

An explosion rocked him as he raced around the side of the villa. Just inside the main entrance, the painted wooden frame of the jinga truck was burning. Behind it, the blast had blown the metal gates from their hinges. Invaders poured through the breach.

But he only had eyes for another huddled shape on the mosaic tiles of the courtyard and a third sprawled across marbled front steps. The second-story gunman had fallen across a grape arbor. Through tears of smoke fumes and grief, he noticed the Kalashnikov rifle dropped from a dangling, bloodied hand.

Before he could snatch it up, a boot kicked the AK-47 out of reach. Another smashed his face into the grass. Hot metal ground into his temple. He closed his eyes. Allah, let it be quick!

“Don’t shoot! We need live prisoners. Here, you, get up!”

As the gun barrel dropped away, he struggled to his knees. Except for the poorly accented Dari and a shoulder patch of red, white, and blue, the flat wool cap, dark beard, hard, gray gaze, tattered scarf over camouflage flak jacket could have been as Afghan as the mujahid whose weapon was still leveled at his head. He knew immediately who this tall, powerfully built foreigner was. For weeks Pakistani news had been covering the American elite warriors fighting alongside the mujahedeen Northern Alliance.

Our liberators! His mouth twisted with bitter pain.

“Where are your commanders? Mullah Mohammed Omar? Osama bin Laden?” The American must have taken his blank stare for incomprehension because he turned to his companion, shifting to English. “Ask him: where are the Taliban who had their headquarters here? And if any of these—” a nod took in the sprawled bodies—“are bin Laden or Mohammed Omar. Tell him he just might save his own neck if he cooperates.”

“There are no Taliban here!” he said in English. He pushed himself to his feet and wiped a sleeve to clear dampness from his face and eyes. It came away with a scarlet that wasn’t his own. “This is a private home! And you have just murdered my family! Why? The fighting was over. You were supposed to bring peace.”

“Your home? With a house full of armed combatants?” The American’s boot nudged the Kalashnikov rifle now fallen to the grass. “You were firing on our troops.”

“They were defending our home. They weren’t soldiers. Just my father and brothers and our caretaker and his sons.”

“You lie!” A blow rocked his head back as the mujahedeen translator snapped in rapid Dari. “You speak to me! I will translate!”

“I am not lying!” He spat out blood with his defiant English. “This has been my family’s home for generations. Any neighbor can tell you. Yes, the Taliban stole it from us, but they have been gone for days. We only came back from Pakistan this very day.”

He threw a desperate glance around. The last pretense of fighting was over, the mujahedeen drifting off except for those making a neat, terrible heap like laundry sacks near the broken gate. Wailing rose from a huddle of burqas and small children being herded out into the street. Were his mother and sister among them? Or had caution left them behind in Pakistan?

Then his gaze fell on a face he knew. A mujahid in full battle fatigues instead of the mismatched outfits of the others. The mujahid turned and stared at him indifferently.

Yes, it was he. Older, gray streaking beard and hair. But it was the family friend who’d supplied his father’s business with imported goods. Who’d been in this home countless times before their exile. Who’d brought him and his siblings small gifts and strange foreign sweets.

“Ask him. He will tell you who I am. He knows my family. He bought and sold for my father when I was a child.”

“Who? The muj commander?” For the first time he saw a crack in the American’s disbelief.

The family friend walked over. His cold, measuring appraisal held no recognition as the translator intercepted him for a brief conversation. Then, unbelievably, he swung around and marched up the marble steps into the villa.

The translator spread out his hands to the American. “The commander says he knows neither this youth nor his family. And it is well known that all in this house have served the Taliban.”

“No, it isn’t true! Maybe he does not recognize me. I was only a child when we left. But he knows this house and my family. Please, I must speak to him myself.”

Another foreign warrior emerged from the villa, clipped yellow hair and icy blue eyes shouting his nationality louder than curt English. “All clear. Body count’s six male combatants. Minimal damage except the gate. This one’s the only survivor minus a handful of female dependants and kids. From what the muj told us, I expected more bodies on the ground. They must have been tipped off.”

“Maybe. Or the muj were fed some bad intel.” The foreign soldiers moved away, and he missed the rest of their low-voice exchange.

Then the yellow-haired American waved a hand. “We followed the rules of engagement. They were armed and shooting.”

“A handful of AK-47s. The kid’s right—that’s practically home protection around here. And the prisoner; he’s no combatant. I saw him come over that wall. Should I turn him loose?”

“You know better than that. The interrogators are screaming for live ones up at Baghram. Besides, you’ve no idea what else he might know. If he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’ll sort it out and let him go.”

A radio on the yellow-haired American’s belt sputtered to life. “Willie? Phil? Either of you available? We’ve got brass touching down at the airport. They need an escort to the embassy.”

“Okay, we’re out. The muj will finish here and deliver the prisoner. They’ve got a load of Arab fighters and al-Qaeda types heading to Baghram this afternoon.”

The translator snapped his fingers, and a knot of mujahedeen stepped forward to take his place. The translator hurried after the yellow-haired American, now marching toward the gate.

But the other foreign warrior hesitated. “Be there in a minute.”

He braced himself as the first American walked over. He didn’t allow himself to imagine sympathy in the foreigner’s gray eyes.

“Look, I’ve got no choice but to send you up to Baghram with the other battlefield detainees. But if you aren’t al-Qaeda or Taliban, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. We don’t shoot prisoners. And the muj commander’s a stand-up guy. If there’s been an intel error, he’ll make things right.

“I can at least report that you arrived after the fighting was over and never raised a weapon. If I can find something to write on.” The American dug through the interior pockets of his flak jacket and pulled out an envelope, removing a folded note paper, then what looked like a snapshot of a yellow-haired young female surrounded by too many children to be her own.

A tiny, olive-colored volume fell into the American’s palm. Western script read New Testament. “I wondered what I was supposed to do with this.” Taking out a pen, he scribbled inside the cover. “Here. I’ve explained what I witnessed and given my contact info if Baghram needs confirmation. It might at least make a difference in where you end up. If you’re telling the truth.” The foreign soldier dared to offer a smile with the book.

Fury and hate rose in an acid flood to his throat. With a scream of rage, he struck at the outstretched hand. “You think this makes up for murdering my family? once again stealing our home? You call this freedom? How are you any better than the Taliban or the Russians?”

A rifle butt slammed him again to his knees. The blow scattered not only the olive-colored volume but the envelope and its other contents. The folded note fell into a sticky puddle, white rapidly soaking to scarlet.

The American made no attempt to retrieve it but scooped up the envelope, snapshot, and book. Above the dark beard, his mouth was hard and grim as he tucked the small volume into the prisoner’s vest. “I really am sorry.” Then he too headed toward the gate.

The foreigner was hardly out of sight when a bearded figure in battle fatigues emerged from the villa’s columned entryway, an honor guard of mujahedeen at his heels. The one-time family friend strolled over. This time his survey was no longer indifferent or unrecognizing. But nothing in the unpleasantness of that smile, the merciless black eyes above it renewed hope.

“So you are the offspring of—” His father’s name splashed in spittle across his feet. “You’ve grown tall since you abandoned your people. And now you think you can simply return to claim this place?” The mujahedeen commander pulled free the American’s offering. Its pages drifted in shreds to the grass. Then a rifle butt slammed into the prisoner. No one called for it to stop.

He closed his eyes, his body curved in supplication, forehead touching the ground. But this time he didn’t bother to pray. His father had been wrong. The dream was over. It would take far more than dreams, a few impassioned prayers to Allah, before his homeland could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.

***

“So who’s the blonde chick? Picking them a little young, hey, Willie?”

The two Americans had commandeered one of the convoy’s pickups and a jeep for the airport run along with a volunteer posse of mujahedeen. Their translator was at the wheel of the jeep. Willie, the only name by which their local allies knew the twenty-two-year-old Special Forces sergeant, and his companion clambered in behind to brace themselves behind the roll bar.

Willie glanced down at the retrieved correspondence still clutched in his hand. The girl who’d drawn his teammate’s suggestive leer did indeed look very young, a pack of preschoolers crowded around her. “Nah, just some kid Sunday school teacher who pulled my name out of a hat. Like we don’t have enough to do looking for bin Laden and taking out Taliban, we’ve got to answer fan mail.”

“Why do you think I don’t bother picking mine up?” As the jeep engine roared to life, his companion plucked away the photo for a clinical scrutiny. “Though maybe I should. Cute kid. How about I take this one off your hands? The way things are shaping up over here, she’ll be old enough to date before we rotate home. So what’s she got to say?”

Willie didn’t bother explaining. But the accompanying note had been brief enough he had no problem recalling its contents:

Dear Sergeant Willie:

My Sunday school class picked your name to pray for. We’re so fortunate to be living here safe in the land of the free and home of the brave, and we’re so proud of how you all are fighting to bring freedom to the people over there. I’m enclosing a class picture and a New Testament if you don’t have one already. Someday when the fighting’s over, I’d like to go to Afghanistan to help make the kind of difference you are. But since I’m only sixteen, I guess I’ll stick to praying and writing for now. Anyway, we’re praying for you to be safe and that you’ll win this war soon so Afghanistan can be as free as we are.

The jeep jolted out onto the street. Willie turned his long body to run a swift appraisal over the rest of their convoy. The mujahedeen volunteers were still scrambling on board as the pickups moved into line behind the jeep. They didn’t look like men who’d reached the finale of a brutal military campaign. They were laughing as they jostled playfully for a position at the mounted machine guns, flower garlands from the morning’s victory parade draped across bandoliers, wrapped around rifle barrels, even tucked behind ears.

But Willie had witnessed these local allies charging suicidally into enemy entrenchments, even with American bombs crashing down all around them. If he was so sick of this war after a few weeks, what had it been like for them to live decades, for many an entire lifetime, of unrelenting fighting and death? Simply to have survived in this country required courage and fortitude seldom required of Willie’s own compatriots.

Freedom was another matter.

Catching Willie’s eye, a fighter barely into his teens raised a flower-festooned AK-47 from the next pickup. “Is it not glorious? We have won! We are free!”

Willie had divested himself of sentimentality before he’d ever made it through basic training. So it had to be the cold winter breeze that stung his eyes, dust gritting in his teeth that made him swallow. Willie had never doubted the value of his current mission. Nor even its ultimate success. Serving his country was a privilege, spreading freedom an honor worth these last difficult weeks.

But not even his rigorous training had prepared him for the brutality and ugliness of combat. The ragged chunks of flesh and bone that had once been human beings. Even worse, the screams from broken bodies that still held life. Too many of them his own comrades.

Yet scarcely two months since plane-shaped missiles had slammed into the heart of his own homeland, the people of Afghanistan were taking to these very streets to celebrate their liberation. Even now his countrymen were touching down to raise the flag over Kabul’s long-abandoned U.S. embassy compound. Okay, so everything hadn’t run as smoothly as their mission training. Maybe there’d been mistakes. Maybe even today. But at least those raucous dancing mobs with their music and kites, the battle-wearied fighters in the pickups behind him finally had a chance for real freedom.

A chance he’d helped to give them.

You can tell your kids their prayers have been answered, Willie composed a mental reply to that bright smiling young face. It’s all over but the mopping up.

The thought prompted him to lean forward, tapping the driver on the shoulder. “You’re heading back over here after the embassy run, right? Do me a favor and check on that kid for me. Make sure whoever’s hauling them up to Baghram delivers him in one piece. Some of the muj are a little trigger-happy.”

The translator turned his head after he maneuvered between rubble heap and a pothole. “I am sure the commander will have given orders for anything you have asked. He is very happy with you.”

“Happy?”

“But of course! Because of the property you have secured for him. The finest residence in the Wazir Akbar Khan. The commander has desired it for his own possession since before the Taliban. And now because of your weapons, it is his at last. We will move our headquarters here this very day.”

Willie went rigid in furious comprehension.

“Hey, easy, man!” The blond soldier’s arm was an iron-hard barrier, his voice low and warning. “Back off. It’s not his doing.”

Willie’s grip tightened to white knuckles on his M-4 assault rifle. “We’ve been had!”

“Hey, it’s not the first time, and around here it sure won’t be the last. Are you that naive? This is war. Their war. We’re only advisors, remember? And that doesn’t include refereeing property disputes.”

That his teammate was right didn’t temper Willie’s mood. The crinkle of paper reminded him his fist wasn’t empty. The envelope was a crumpled mess, and only now did he notice the rusty smudge blurring what had been a return address. He wouldn’t be answering this fan mail. Which was just as well.

Willie tossed the wad of paper over the side of the jeep, the adrenaline rush of this morning’s victory draining to intense weariness, his earlier elation as acrid in his mouth as the smoke rising from a burning truck just inside the wrecked gates. It was going to take a whole lot more than wishes and a few kids’ prayers before Afghanistan could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.






Chapter One

Baghlan Province, Afghanistan
Present Day
A day from the past.

No, a day for the future.

The farmer stood proud, tall as he shuffled down the crowd-lined drive. A switch in his hand urged forward the mule pulling a cart piled high with huge, swollen tubers. They looked like nothing edible, but their tough, brown hide held sweetness beyond the sucrose to be squeezed from their pulp. The firstfruits of Baghlan’s revitalized sugar beet industry.

In a long-forgotten past, when the irrigated fields stretching to high, snow-capped mountains were not known best for landmines and opium, the farmer had worked his family’s sugar beet crop. He’d earned his bride price stirring huge vats of syrup in the sugar factory, Afghanistan’s only refinery and pride of the Baghlan community. Until the Soviets came and Baghlan became a war zone. For a generation of fighting, the sugar factory had been an abandoned shell.

But now past had become future.

The massive concrete structure gleamed with fresh paint, the conveyor belt shiny and unrusted, smokestacks once more breathing life. By the throngs packing both sides of the drive, the entire province had turned out to celebrate the factory’s reopening. In front of the main entrance was a dais, destination of farmer and cart.

The token harvest followed on the stately tread of regional dignitaries making their way toward the dais. Students, neat in blue tunics, offered pink and white and red roses to the distinguished arrivals. Among them the farmer spotted his grandson. No smile, only the flicker of a glance, a further straightening of posture, conveyed his pride. Too many sons and brothers and kinsmen had died in the war years. But for his remaining grandson, this day presaged a very different future.

On the dais, the factory manager stood at a microphone. Behind him, chairs held the mayor, regional governor, officials arrived from Kabul for the inauguration ceremony. “The government has pledged purchase of all sugar beet. Our foreign partners pledge equipment to any farmer who will replace current crops. So why plant seed that produces harvests only of violence? On this day, I entreat you to choose the seed of peace, of a future for our community and our children.”

The procession had now reached the dais. But it wasn’t the dignitaries’ arrival that broke off the factory manager’s speech. The roar of a helicopter passing low overhead drew every eye upward. Circling around, the Soviet-made Mi-8 Hind hovered down until skids touched pavement. Crowds scattered back, first from the wind of its landing, then as the rotors shut down, to open passage.

The government minister who stepped out was followed by foreigners, the allies who’d funded the refinery project designed to entice Baghlan farmers from opium poppies to sugar beet. The newcomers leisurely moved through the parted crowd. The minister paused to speak to his foreign associates, then turned back toward the helicopter.

The explosion blasted through the factory, blowing out every window and door. A fireball erupting from the open entrance enveloped the dais. A panicked swerve of the mule placed the heavy cart between farmer and blast, saving his life but burying him in splinters of wood and beet. He could not breathe nor see nor hear. Only when the screams began did he realize he was still alive.

Pushing through the debris, he staggered to his feet. Shrapnel had ripped through the crowd where the fireball had not reached, and what lay between dais and shattered cart was a broken, bleeding chaos. Those uninjured enough to rise were scattering in panic. The farmer ran too but in the opposite direction. Ignoring moans and beseeching hands, he scrabbled through the rubble. Then with a cry of anguish he dropped to his knees.

The school uniform was still blue and clean, a single white rose fallen from an outflung hand. The farmer cradled the limp form, his wails rising to join the communal lament. For his grandson, for so many others, the future this day had promised would never come.

***

Kabul International Airport
“Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.”

Steve Wilson barely avoided treading on heels as the file of deplaned passengers ground to a sudden halt. A glance down the line identified the obstruction. In pausing to look around, a female passenger had knocked a briefcase flying.

The young woman was tall enough—five foot seven by Steve’s calculation—to look down on her victim and attractive enough that the balding, overweight Western businessman waved away her apology. Platinum blonde hair spilled in a fine, straight curtain across her face as she scrambled for the briefcase. A T-shirt and jeans did nothing to disguise the tautly muscled, if definitely female, physique of a Scandinavian Olympic skier. Though that accent was 100 percent American.

Steve had already noted the woman several rows ahead of him on the plane. With only a handful of female passengers, all discreetly draped in head shawl or full-body chador, her bright head had been hard to miss, face glued to the window as the Ariana Airlines 727 descended through rugged, brown foothills into the arid mountain basin that was Kabul.

Now as she handed the briefcase back, Steve caught his first clear glimpse of her features. It was a transparently open face, hazel eyes wide and interested under startlingly dark lashes and eyebrows. The candid interplay of eagerness, apprehension, and dismay as she turned again to take in her surroundings roused in Steve nothing but irritation. Wipe that look off your face or Afghanistan will do it for you.

As the line moved forward, Steve stepped out of it to make his own survey. Next to a small, dingy terminal only one runway was in service. Down the runway, a red-and-white-striped concrete barrier cordoned off hangers and prefabricated buildings housing ISAF, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Dust gusted across the runway, filling Steve’s nostrils, narrowing his gaze even behind wraparound sunglasses. He’d forgotten the choking, muddy taste of that dust.

The taste of Afghanistan.

Beyond the 727, a guard detail was uploading passengers into a white and blue UN prop plane. Steve recognized the bear paw and rifle scope logo on their gear. Private security contractors. He’d done contracts for that company, and if he dug binoculars from his backpack, he’d likely spot guys he knew. But the wind was picking up, the other passengers disappearing inside the terminal, so instead Steve lengthened his stride.

He needn’t have hurried. The immigration line was excruciatingly slow, the Afghan official scrutinizing each passport as though he’d never seen one before. The single baggage conveyor was broken, its handlers dumping suitcases onto the concrete floor with complete disregard for their contents. Air-conditioning was broken as well, the lighting dim enough Steve pushed sunglasses to his forehead.

But Steve had endured far worse. Besides, he was already on the company clock, so it wasn’t his loss if he wasted half the morning in here. With a shrug, he peeled a trail mix bar from his pack and settled himself to wait.

“Worse than Nairobi, isn’t it?”

Steve swung around on his heel. “Maybe. But it sure beats Sierra Leone.”

The man offering a handshake sported the same safari-style clothing Steve was wearing. There resemblance ended. Half a foot shorter and twice the circumference of Steve’s own lean frame, he was bald, by razor rather than nature from the luxuriance of that graying red beard, a powerful build sagging to fat.

Though there was nothing soft in his grip. Nor in the small, shrewd eyes summing up Steve in turn. Cop’s eyes. Steve could read their assessment. Caucasian male. Six-foot-one. Dark hair. Gray eyes. Tanned. Physically fit.

“Craig Laube, logistics manager, Condor Security. Call me Cougar. And you’re Steve Wilson, security chief for our new PSD contract.” The file with attached photo in his hand explained why his statement included no question mark. “If you’ll come with me, our fixer’s made arrangements to fast-track your team. The rest came in on the New Delhi flight. They’ve already left for the team house.”

The fixer evidently referred to the Afghan in suit and tie who plucked Steve’s passport from his hand, tucking a local currency note inside before moving to the front of the line. On the nearest wall, a sign advised passengers to report any requests for bribes to airport security. Not that Steve suffered any qualms of conscience at following on the fixer’s heels. In his book, a bribe involved paying someone to break the law. Tipping local bureaucracy to speed up what they should be doing anyway was a survival tactic in every Third World country he’d known.

At least fast-track was no exaggeration. The line had barely inched forward when they left the security area, entry stamp in hand. The scene was repeated at Customs, where Steve’s two action packers and duffel bag were waved through without a glance. A grin tugged at Steve’s mouth as he took in a bright head still far back in the first line. The woman from the plane looked frustrated, one small boot tapping impatiently, by her expression only too conscious of the stares her wardrobe choices were attracting.

Dismissing the hapless blonde from thought, Steve followed Cougar across a parking area to a black armored Suburban. The Afghan driver already had the engine running. Though an unnecessary swarm of porters had accompanied the baggage trolley, Steve counted out a bill into each outstretched hand. “Tashakor.”

Steve’s thank you engendered beard-splitting grins as the porters scattered.

Pulling his head from inside the Suburban, Cougar raised bushy red eyebrows. “So you speak Dari. I’d understood this was your first contract in Afghanistan.”

“It is.” Steve sliced into one of the action packers. The tactical vest he strapped on was not the screaming obvious black of a private security detail, where you wanted unfriendlies to know you were on alert, but a discreet utility vest style. “But I was in Kabul during liberation. And after. Picked up a fair amount of Dari and Pashto along the way. I assumed you knew that’s why I pulled this contract.”

“Sure, your bio says Special Forces. So you were Task Force Dagger, first boots on the ground, all that. That must have been a trip.” Cougar studied his taller companion’s clipped dark hair and deep tan. “Your coloring, I’ll bet you pass as a native if you grow a beard. Gotta be useful in these parts. So when did you make the jump to the private sector?”

“I was in Afghanistan about eighteen months. Got tired of being shot at so switched to a Blackwater private security detail. Then ArmorGroup embassy detail. Back to PSDs. Most recently Basra in southern Iraq. That was Condor Security, so when this came up, they gave me a call.”

Steve could have added, “And you?” But his contact info had included a bio. Craig “Cougar” Laube had done an army stint a lifetime ago, then put in twenty years with NYPD, more of them behind a desk than on the street. A second career as a security guard hadn’t proved lucrative enough to support an ex-wife and three kids because he’d jumped at the post 9/11 boom in the private security industry.

Strapping on his own tactical vest, Cougar retrieved M-4s and Glock 19 pistols for both from the back of the Suburban before handing Steve a manila envelope. So the guy had his priorities right.

The SUV’s air-conditioned interior was a far more comfortable ride into Kabul than the dust and jolting of an army convoy. As the Afghan driver eased past a mounted Soviet Mig fighter jet that marked the airport entrance, Steve rifled through the manila envelope. Mini-Bradt Kabul guide. Dari-English phrase book. List of embassy-cleared restaurants and lodging. An invite to an open house Thursday evening at the UN guesthouse. It was a welcome packet! Underneath were some blueprints and a city map.

“The diagrams are your two primary security zones.” Cougar carried his M-4 unslung, looking out the double-paned windows as he spoke. “How much did they fill you in?”

Steve stuffed the material back into its envelope, retaining the blueprints and a personnel data printout. “Just that CS picked up a private security detail for some Afghan cabinet minister, and they want me to pull together a team ASAP. So who is this guy, and what’s the big rush?”

“Our principal’s the new Minister of Interior. He figures he’s got a bull’s-eye painted on his back. Which isn’t such a stretch when you consider what happened to his predecessor.”

“You’re talking the sugar factory bombing.” Steve straightened up with sudden alertness. Bombings had become a dime a dozen lately in Afghanistan, but that incident had been significant enough to make international news. Reopening a sugar factory in the northeastern province of Baghlan was the crown jewel in an alternative development program intended to soften the impact of the US counter-narcotics campaign against Afghanistan’s proliferation of opium poppy. Any number of dignitaries had been on hand when a bomb went off inside the factory. With more than fifty killed and hundreds wounded, it had been the largest single-incident civilian death toll since liberation.

“Sure, I saw the Minister of Interior on the list of VIP casualties. And weren’t there Americans involved too? But that was more than two weeks ago.”

“It’s taken this long to get all the ducks in a row. There weren’t any American casualties, but a helicopter load that included embassy and DEA reps had just touched down for the ribbon cutting when the bomb went off, one reason the incident got so much international press. In fact, the chopper belongs to the current minister. If he hadn’t forgotten his briefcase in the chopper and just happened to turn back, there’d be two dead ministers instead of one.

“What makes this more interesting is that the late MOI had just been in office a couple months himself, appointed when his predecessor was removed for gross corruption and incompetence. Only after plenty of pressure from the West, I might add. The MOI’s by far the most powerful cabinet seat short of the president himself. It oversees the Afghan National Police, counternarcotics, the country’s internal security, and provincial administration. Which includes appointing the governors and regional law enforcement officials.”

Steve let out a low whistle. “So what’s left for the president?”

“There’s a reason they call our friend in the Presidential Palace the Mayor of Kabul. Not that anyone really runs the provinces except the provinces themselves. A lot of people point to MOI for Afghanistan’s current security failings. Not that there isn’t plenty of blame to go around, but the Afghan National Police are a joke, and too many provincial officials are former warlords up to their own ears in drug trafficking. Our late MOI had made it his mission to clean house and rein in the regional warlords.”

That drew Steve’s sharp glance from the data sheets. “You don’t think—”

“The sugar factory bombing could be payback—or just the local opium cartels trying to stamp out competition. But the new MOI’s taking it personally. He asked for a personal security detail as soon as he nailed the promotion. No local bodyguards either. They might be infiltrated. Western. And since Khalid’s a former muj commander—”

“Khalid!” Steve interrupted. “Khalid Sayef?”

“That’s right.” Cougar looked at Steve. “Hey, come to think of it, Khalid was part of the coalition that took Kabul. Any chance you ran across him?”

“Yes,” Steve responded. “Though when I left Afghanistan, Khalid was up to his neck in local politics, nothing like this.”

“Khalid’s still governor of his home district up in Baghlan. But like most of the muj commanders, he picked up a cabinet seat when the new government was signed in. But when the Minister of Counternarcotics threw in the towel a couple years back, it seemed like Khalid was in the right place to move up. Instead they brought in a complete outsider. Minister of Commerce originally. Moved up to Counternarcotics Minister a couple years ago. Since counternarcotics is the biggest piece of MOI, everyone figured Khalid would take over when his boss got the boot. Instead . . . outsider.”

Cougar’s shoulders hunched under his tactical vest. “Well, Khalid’s got the job now, and it’s our responsibility to keep the guy alive. The contract’s a Level One three-month renewable personal security detail. We should have on hand most equipment you’ll need. Ditto, transport. Scrambling a team wasn’t as easy on such short notice. But the bunch that flew in this morning are pretty decent. Their bios are in that packet. All Special Ops, all with security detail experience. Navy SEAL. Ranger. Delta. SAS.”

Steve’s attention shifted from data sheets to the windshield as the militarized airport zone gave way outside to bustling streets. Kabul had changed since he’d last passed this way—and it hadn’t. Steve wasn’t sure which was worse.

The biggest change was congestion. Vehicle traffic must have multiplied ten times over without a corresponding expansion of the street system. If there were traffic lanes or even sidewalks, no one was taking them seriously. Toyota Corollas, wood-framed trucks, motorcycles, and mule carts oozed through swarming pedestrians and street venders. Late-model SUVs, mostly white, bore acronyms on doors and roofs. Agency vehicles of the numerous Western government and aid organizations now making Kabul their home.

“The two security zones are Khalid’s personal residence and the Ministry of Interior,” Cougar continued. “The residence’s already in a high security district, but the MOI building’s smack downtown.”

City limits too now crawled much farther up the mountain flanks. Construction was still largely mud brick, but the glitter of Kabul’s new business skyline thrust itself like misplaced jewels above a haze of dust and smog. The Mashal Business Center, all futuristic blue glass and chrome. The five-star Serena Hotel rising like a sultan’s palace on a busy intersection. The Safi Landmark shopping mall where, according the welcome packet, any number of trendy restaurants offered foreign cuisine and forbidden alcohol.

Who in this dirt pile has disposable income to support this kind of infrastructure?

Cougar pointed at another new glass and brick department store. “Kabul isn’t the hardship post you all rolled into. Anything you want, some Afghan will have started an import outlet. The expat social scene’s pretty decent too. Mostly in what we call the green zone, Wazir Akbar Khan, Shahr-e-Nau and Sherpur districts where security’s tight enough you don’t have to worry about locals crashing the party. Or some mullah screaming over Jack Daniels or bikinis. Stay here awhile with all those burqas, and you won’t believe how good any woman in a bikini starts to look.”

Steve grunted. Astonishingly, the burqas hadn’t changed. He spotted many headscarfs, many of them expatriates by their features, as well as the more enveloping black chador. But the burqa remained the female norm, flitting like silent white or pale blue ghosts through an overwhelmingly male pedestrian mob, the face panels thrown triumphantly back when he’d last been in these streets now firmly in place.

The commercial district wasn’t the only construction boom. Steve counted the third rounded dome and tall minaret the SUV had passed in the space of five minutes. This one was a massive complex, gleaming with sparkling new mosaic tile. Behind it rose a series of five-story buildings Steve had assumed to be a housing development until he saw that the mosque’s perimeter wall enclosed them.

Cougar caught his stare. “Really something, isn’t it? That’s a new Shiite madrassa built by Iran. Bigger than the university. New mosques have been going up all over Kabul, mostly donations from other Muslim governments.”

“Useful outlay of aid funds,” Steve commented sardonically.

Cougar shrugged. “We build malls; they build mosques.”

For all the city’s new infrastructure, the acute poverty Steve remembered seemed little diminished either. They’d passed miles of hovels clinging to hillsides like human-size termite cells. How did people live without running water, sewage, or electricity? As for that apartment complex mujahedeen rockets had ripped open, Steve could swear it hadn’t been touched in all these years. Then he spotted plywood and plastic tacked down across a concrete cubicle, a burqa hauling a bucket up a shattered staircase. People were living in that ruin!

Beggars remained everywhere. Men missing limbs squatted on sidewalks or negotiated traffic on wheelchairs crafted from bicycle tires. Women in burqas exposed a cupped palm at intersections, small, ragged children at their skirts. Nor in the glut of automatic weapons and armed vehicles did Steve see any indication of a country at rest from war. It wasn’t just the ISAF convoys with their armored Humvees and turret guns. A dozen different uniforms belonging to the Afghan police, army, or hired security firms roamed sidewalks, stood guard at intersections and outside buildings, and crouched behind sandbags on the tops of walls.

And I thought we’d freed this place.

Just what did those war victims in their wheelschairs and burqas scrabbling for a daily food ration, the shopkeepers and street venders with their watchful eyes think of the new Afghanistan he’d helped create? Or of the Westerners flooding their city with new cars and shining towers and shopping malls and restaurants few Afghans could ever afford to enter? For that matter, of those equally ostentatious new domes and minarets that did nothing to put food on their tables?

Steve felt a sudden weariness that was not from jet lag. Why did I come back here?

Because it’s safer than Iraq, and the money’s even better. I was tired of being shot at, remember? After all, who was Steve to sneer when his own latest contract would net him five times what he’d ever earned as a proud member of his nation’s Special Operations Command?





Things I love Thursday: The Beach & The Ocean

6/18/09




I wish the rain would go away so we could head off to the beach. I took these shots last summer. I love squishing my toes into the sand. Strolling hand-in-hand with my hubby down the beach. Reading a great book while soaking up the heat of the sun. Listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean waves crashing. And I love watching my son jump in the waves. There's nothing like it!


Lighthouse photography




Hurry up rain and go away! I want to jump in that water!



photography





Photography

For more Things I love Thursday, visit Sarah's blog.

Wordless Wednesday: Bird Nest

6/17/09
Hanging artificial plant on our Porch

Nature photography, photography, birds nests

My hubby says the photos look like a fake bird in a fake basket, but there is a real life morning dove nesting in our basket!

photography
Photography, nature photography
nature photography, photography



For More Wordless Wednesday, visit Five Minutes for Mom.

Random Tuesday Thoughts: Oh No You Didn't!

6/16/09
blog memes

I have been totally annoyed by a neighbor several houses down who has this annoying Black Camaro (or Firebird or whatever the car is) that constantly revs his engine day and night. I mean really, do you need to rev your engine at 11pm? Do you really need to sit outside the house just hitting the gas pedal and annoying everyone on the street? Does that make you feel validated as a man or something? Some people actually try to sleep in this neighborhood...

I wish that these thunderstorms would just go away. We had another one at like 4 AM and it totally woke me up. If you wake me up at that time of day, then I am pretty much cranky the rest of the day. And a cranky mama isn't something you wanna deal with. The pool is finally open for daily operations this week, and guess what, the weather forecast says THUNDERSTORMS! GRRRRR....

I need to stop leaving Facebook open while I work. People IM me and then I get wrapped up in conversations rather than doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I love talking to friends, don't get me wrong. I just end up getting nothing accomplished and, before I know it, it's 3pm and I haven't done half of what I'm supposed to do for the day. Note to self: Facebook doesn't need to be open all the time!

Is it bad that I haven't showered yet or gotten out of my Tinkerbell pajamas at 3 in the afternoon?



What are your random thoughts today? Share them. And link up to Keely at the Un Mom.

FREE Family Film Festival from Regal

6/15/09
Did you know that Regal is starting their FREE family film festival this week? You can take your child to see a movie in the a.m. for FREE! I had my son circle movies that he wanted to see so we can plan out our week day activities. What better fun than to get to go to the movies (especially when you haven't gone for a long time because of financial issues) for FREE?

Here is the description from their website:

REG’s Free Family Film Festival is Now Showing!
When school’s out, kids around the country visit selected Regal theatres for the Free Family Film Festival. It’s a fun-filled nine weeks of movies for kids and parents. Since 1991, Regal has provided this service to the community, and best of all it’s FREE!
Selected G & PG movies start at 10AM each Tuesday and Wednesday during the festival. First-come, first-served seating is limited to theatre capacity. The Free Family Film Festival is safe, lots of fun and a great way for kids to spend a weekday morning in the summer.
Tickets for our 2009 Free Family Film Festival are exclusively available at select theatres’ box office on the day of the show.


To find the schedule of movies in your area, visit Regal Movies.

Loving My Husband Friday

6/12/09
blog memes, working on your marriage, uplifting your husband

Loving My Husband Friday is for taking the time to focus on the positives of marriage. A time to build up your marriage and your spouse. Focus on something you love about your husband,
something he did to encourage you this week, or just a tip on how to keep your marriage strong. Let your husband know you're bragging on him...everyone loves praise and accolades. Try to spend the rest of your week focusing on all the great traits of your spouse...especially when your tempted to focus on the bad! And don't forget to pray for your husband and marriage as you write your post.



I am so blessed to have a husband who supports me and understands what I have to deal with in regards to family dynamics. He is a wonderful step-dad to my son! I don't think I could get through some of the stresses I've dealt with without him. It isn't easy having a blended family, but he is so patient and loving. I love you honey!

For more Loving My Husband Friday posts, see Mominin at the Peer Review.

FIRST WildCard Tour: The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love by Angela Elwell Hunt

6/11/09
Angela Elwell Hunt, christian fictionIt is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


author bioChristy Award winner Angela Hunt writes books for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected. With over three million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of The Tale of Three Trees, The Note (which became a Hallmark holiday film), and more than 100 other titles. Angela has won gold and silver medals from ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year Award and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from a major readers’ magazine.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414332955
ISBN-13: 978-1414332956



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Angela Elwell Hunt, books made into movies, book tours
With one elbow propped on her desk, Peyton MacGruder chewed on the edge of a fingernail and glared at the clock on the wall. On days like this, when she was twenty minutes away from her deadline and far from finished with her column, she could swear that the minute hand swept over the clock face at double speed.

She transferred her gaze to the computer monitor and fluttered her fingers over the keyboard. Some days the magic worked and the words flowed. Other days she might as well be typing gibberish.

She skimmed the half-completed column on her screen and tried to focus her thoughts. Last week a reader had written that she was afraid to trust a brother-in-law who had stolen from her in the past. Peyton had answered that forgiveness was important, but experience could not be ignored. And when it came to matters of the heart, caution should always trump passion. Dozens of readers had e-mailed, filling her in-box with responses, most of them supportive.

Now she was working on a recap that included reader comments, but everything she’d written so far looked like extended self-congratulation. She needed a corroborating opinion . . . and any column could be improved with an appropriate quote, couldn’t it? She reached for her dictionary of popular quotations, scanned the index, and jabbed her finger at an appropriate entry. Smiling with satisfaction, she propped her reading glasses on the end of her nose and worked the quote into her piece:

And so, dear readers, when it comes to dealing with relationships, perhaps we should keep the words of Eumenides in mind. That venerable sage once wrote, “There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls. There is advantage in the wisdom won from pain.”

Perhaps a happy heart is, at its core, a cautious heart.

There. She leaned back and clicked the word count tool. Seven hundred words—not bad. The dragon lady shouldn’t have to cut any of this column.

After a quick proofread, Peyton clicked Send and addressed the file to Nora Chilton, senior features editor. Another click and away it went.

She turned as something slapped the surface of her desk. Mandi Hillridge, an overenthusiastic intern from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, stood in the aisle, her arms filled with folders. Peyton picked up the envelope Mandi had tossed her way and studied the return address. “Am I supposed to know this Eve Miller?”

Mandi shifted her burden from one arm to the other. “I doubt it. I think she’s a reader.”

Peyton ran her fingertip across the ragged edge. “Why has this letter been opened?”

“Because Phil Brinker didn’t check the address before he tore into it. Our stellar mailroom staff mistakenly delivered it to him while he was in New York working on that story about the media covering the media. He just got back and told me to bring it to you.” Mandi stepped closer, her eyes gleaming. “You want me to go fuss at the guys in the mailroom? One of them’s kinda cute.”

Peyton glanced over the short walls of the reporters’ cubicles and saw Nora stepping out of the elevator. “No.” She propped both elbows up on her desk. “I want you to get me two Tylenol. Extra strength.”

“You have a headache?”

“Not yet.”

Mandi turned in time to see Nora approaching, a folded newspaper in hand. Even from her desk Peyton recognized the distinctive banner that contained her byline and staff photo. Had Nora come down to complain about a column that had already run? She wouldn’t, unless one of the higher-ups sent her to confront Peyton about some obscure point.

“About that headache—” Mandi lowered her voice—“I’ll bring the bottle.”

The young woman hurried away as Nora approached Peyton’s desk. The editor waved the paper before Peyton’s anxious gaze and nodded. “By the way, about this column last week? You were absolutely right.”

“That’s a nice change.” Peyton managed a smile. “About what?”

“Passion. It should always be tempered with caution. Especially when it comes to affairs of the heart.”

Peyton straightened in her chair, not certain why the editor had felt compelled to personally deliver this bit of elaboration. “You speaking from conviction or firsthand experience?”

Nora managed a coy smile. “None of your business. Anyway, you’ve been doing really good work lately. I had my doubts at first, but you’ve grown into the job.”

“You came all the way down here to pat me on the back?”

“Actually, I came down here to tell you that in addition to writing the Heart Healer, I’m going to need you to handle a feature or two for the Lifestyles section. We got the call last night; Marlo Evans had a baby boy, so she’ll be out on maternity leave for the next several weeks.”

Peyton dropped her head to her hand and groaned. “Why not use freelancers?”

“Because I don’t have the patience or the finances to deal with neophytes. The budget cuts have made it necessary for all of us to pick up the slack now and then. Besides—” her mouth curved in a wry smile—“you’re fast and you’re good at researching. A feature or two shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

“But I’m swamped with—” Peyton swallowed the rest of her complaint as sports editor King Danville moved into her line of vision. A warm feeling settled in the pit of her stomach and brought a smile to her lips. Would she ever stop feeling all gushy and girly whenever King approached her desk?

King glanced at the features editor before returning Peyton’s smile. “Hello, Nora.”

Nora’s chin dipped in a stiff nod. “Kingston.”

Like a flower seeking the sun, Peyton shifted to face the man who had recently brought new joy to her life. “I was just telling Nora that these days I don’t have time to keep up with my column and write a weekly feature, no matter how occasional it is.”

Nora glanced from Peyton to King and then arched a brow. “Perhaps if you temper your newfound passion, you’ll find the time.”

King grinned as the editor smiled and moved toward the elevator; then he pulled a white bottle from his jacket pocket and shook it. Peyton placed the familiar rattle within seconds: Extra Strength Tylenol, as requested.

“Ran into Mandi in the coffee room,” King explained. “She said you were going to need these.”

“She was right.” Peyton sighed. “Nora seems to think I can sit down and whip up a decent feature while I’m outlining my next column. I don’t know where she got the idea that I’m some kind of writing machine.”

“Maybe from the fact that you write so fast you make the rest of us look like we’re moving backward.”

Peyton shook her head, unwilling to accept praise she didn’t deserve. She knew the truth—she could turn an assignment around quickly because outside the newspaper office she had no life. While other writers struggled to work amid the pressures of family schedules, children’s homework, school events, sporting activities, and the needs of a spouse, Peyton only had to take care of herself and her two cats.

At least that’s the way things were before King and Christine came into her life. The situation was a little different now, and she was feeling the pressure.

“I’m not that fast,” she insisted. “And I’m not that versatile.”

“Then don’t cave so quickly, MacGruder. Just because Nora’s your boss doesn’t mean you have to let her push you around.”

“I was ready to push back until she played the guilt card. When she mentioned the budget cuts, I realized how lucky I am to even be employed. How can I not agree to write whatever she wants?”

“That’s what I like about you—you’re a solid team player.”

“I’m a pushover.”

King smiled and stepped to the side of Peyton’s desk. “In that case, I’d better prescribe two of these—” he held up the bottle of pain relievers—“or one of these.” Before Peyton could point out that they were surrounded by coworkers in cubicles, he bent and pressed a kiss to her lips. She closed her eyes, ready to forget about an audience of staff reporters, clerks, and copy editors, but the kiss didn’t last.

She looked up at him, unsatisfied.

“Do any good?” he asked.

“Not sure. Try again. Maybe increase the dosage.”

He bent, his lips warming hers with more passion this time. When he finally pulled away, Peyton exhaled a long sigh of happiness . . . and the writers around her erupted into applause.

Peyton grinned as her cheeks warmed. “They approve.”

“I don’t give a fig about them. What did you think?”

“Um . . . better.”

“Only better? Well, you know what they say about practice making perfect . . .”

As the other reporters hooted and King leaned in for yet another kiss, Peyton pressed her palm against the center of his chest. “You know, it’s this kind of temptation that led to Marlo Evans’s maternity leave. And in turn, to my impending headache. So maybe we should get back to work.”

With a roguish grin, King straightened and stepped away from her chair. “Yes, ma’am.”

“But after work—” Peyton squinted at him—“would you want to go for a jog with me and Christine? We wanted to run the paths down by the shoreline.”

King shook his head. “Enticing offer, but I’ve got to run out to the university after I finish up today. David needs to talk to me about something. He says it’s important.”

Peyton nodded, once again reminded that their relationship was not as simple as it would have been if they’d met in their twenties. She had Christine to consider, and King had David. Both children, hers and his, were nearly grown, and both had been forced to deal with the aftermath of their parents’ unwise decisions.

“MacGruder.” King’s voice, warm and insistent, drew her from her thoughts. “Maybe I’ll stop by your place later.”

“I’d like that.” Peyton offered him a forgiving smile. “I’ll be waiting.”

King took two steps toward his office, then halted. “Hey—” he turned, propping his arms on the cubicle wall—“I found an interesting e-mail in my in-box this morning. A friend in New York said my name recently came up in a board meeting at the Times.”

Peyton felt a frigid finger touch the base of her spine. “The New York Times?”

He chuckled. “Hard to imagine, huh? Moving from the Middleborough Times to the Gray Lady?”

“Your name came up in a board meeting? What does that mean, exactly?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ll keep you posted.”

As he walked away, exchanging gibes with other writers as he passed their desks, Peyton felt fear blow down the back of her neck. Any other journalist would be salivating at the thought of writing for the Times, but King never seemed to get ahead of himself. Contentment was one of his primary virtues, and Peyton hadn’t realized how much she’d been counting on his ability to remain satisfied with the status quo.

What would she do if she lost him?

The thought struck like a blow to the chest, stealing her breath. Until recently, she had managed to keep herself detached from complicated personal relationships. But then the tragedy of a horrific plane crash taught her about the brevity of life and the importance of connection. Now she was desperate to understand two precious people, but understanding took time, and time was something she no longer possessed in abundance.

She forced herself to take a deep breath and steady her pulse. No one was abandoning her; the world had not shifted on its axis. Her imagination was simply working overtime, a tendency that nearly always resulted in needless worry and borrowed trouble.

With her gift for imagining disaster, maybe she should have been a novelist.

When she swiveled toward her computer, determined to set her fears aside and tackle her e-mail, her gaze fell again on the envelope from Eve Miller. The postmark was five days in the past, so by now the woman’s comments were old news. And in an electronic society, old news was dead news.

Peyton tossed the envelope into a bin filled with unopened letters and turned her attention to her in-box.

***

Peyton slid behind the wheel of her car, tossed her purse into the empty passenger seat, and fumbled with the buckle of her seat belt. When she was certain the car’s computer wouldn’t scold her for forgetting some vital procedure, she turned the ignition switch and waited for the automatic seat to slide forward, tilt, rise, and whatever else it did to adjust to her frame.

King had talked her into buying this vehicle last weekend, insisting that her old car was only a few miles away from imploding. “Ninety-eight thousand miles?” he exclaimed after glimpsing her odometer. “Good grief, MacGruder, are you going for some kind of endurance record?”

She had to admit the new vehicle was nice, but its myriad bells and whistles bewildered her. She hadn’t taken the time to read the manual, and she barely managed to sit through the salesman’s demonstration. “I don’t have time to fuss with fancy gadgets,” she told the desperate young man who had greeted her and King at the auto dealership. “So just point me toward something safe and inexpensive. Something I won’t have to give up chocolate to afford.”

Like a village matchmaker, the salesman grinned and fixed her up with this sleek blue machine, which he kept calling a crossover—a cross between a sedan and an SUV. She had a feeling the vehicle was too big to be economical or politically correct, but since an entire row of similar vehicles waited behind a fence at the dealership, the manager was probably eager to move his inventory. Regardless, the car earned good crash ratings, it used less gasoline than a tank, and it had the one accessory she couldn’t live without: a CD player.

Before putting the car in gear, Peyton punched the button of the stereo system and relaxed when the professional reader’s voice poured through the surround sound speakers. She’d bought this audiobook about mothers and daughters shortly after telling Christine the truth about their relationship—yes, they were reporter and reader, but they were also biological mother and daughter. Eighteen years and difficult circumstances had kept them apart, but a series of newspaper columns had brought them back together.

Now Peyton wanted nothing more than to be the mother she would have been if tragedy hadn’t intervened. A heaven-sent miracle had restored the child she’d been forced to surrender for adoption, and Peyton didn’t want to forfeit this second chance to love. And parent. And occasionally nag.

She and Christine were still in the midst of that awkward getting-to-know-you phase, but Peyton felt they’d made great strides in their relationship. They tried to talk every day, even if only briefly, and though Christine still lived in the house she’d inherited from her adoptive parents, she felt free enough to drop into Peyton’s home unannounced, as any daughter naturally would.

Still, Christine rarely called Peyton “Mom.” When necessary, she called Peyton by name . . . or she didn’t call her anything at all.

“By late adolescence,” a confident voice intoned as Peyton put the car in gear and backed out of the parking space, “most daughters can be placed in one of three categories—distant, dissatisfied, or dependent. Do any of these words remind you of the young woman in your life?”

Peyton shook her head and shifted into drive. The author needed a fourth category for Christine—maybe delightful. They were still in the honeymoon phase, each of them unbearably grateful to have found the other. They might have disagreements later—in fact, they probably would—but for now Peyton was thrilled to be able to know and love the young woman who had never been far from her thoughts and prayers.

“Outstanding mothers devote most of their time to their children, instilling healthy values into daughters who will become outstanding mothers themselves,” the reader continued, “but unsuitable mothers abandon and abuse.”

Peyton winced at the author’s use of the word abandon.

“Bottom line, if you provide your child with what she needs—clothing, shelter, food, affection—you, concerned mother, are off the hook if your daughter makes unwise decisions. After you have taught your child right from wrong, your daughter has the freedom to choose . . . right or wrong. Do not blame yourself if she chooses to learn life’s lessons through negative experiences.”

Peyton frowned as she pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic. Over the years, she’d covered dozens of stories involving teenage delinquents—wayward boys who got mixed up with guns and drugs, runaway girls who ended up on the street or in the hospital because they went looking for love in all the wrong faces. Behind every sad teenager’s story, Peyton found a distraught mother who couldn’t seem to understand how her child ended up in such a deplorable state.

She hated to admit it, but every time she interviewed one of those mothers, she’d walked away feeling resentful and slightly smug, convinced that she would have managed better if only given a chance. But now that she was being given an opportunity to mother a teen, she had no idea what she was supposed to do.

To make matters worse, her time of greatest influence would be limited. After the plane crash in which her father died, Christine had taken time off to grieve, but soon she’d go back to school and get busy with her studies. She’d probably meet a young man on campus and want to settle down. Then she’d center her world on her husband and her children, and she’d expect Peyton to focus on being a doting grandmother, not a mom. So this precious opportunity to parent her daughter would be relatively short-lived.

Peyton pulled up to the red light at an intersection and snapped off the CD player. The bookstores were loaded with books about how to parent newborns, toddlers, middle schoolers, and teens, but no one had much advice for brand-new parents of young adults.

No one even seemed to be able to answer Peyton’s most basic question: at eighteen, which did Christine need most: an authority figure or a friend?


Copyright ©2009 by Angela Hunt. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.


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