Prayer Walking: Travel With Purpose

16 October 2013

“A prayer journey is going somewhere – around the corner or around the world – for the primary purpose of intercessory prayer on location, better known as prayer walking.”


From Prayer Walking: A Journey of Faith by Dan R. Crawford and Calvin Miller

Writing for One in a Million

8 July 2013

Kip Langello wrote 9 novels and sent them out diligently to various agents and publishers. All were rejected. He even received contradictory feedback from industry gatekeepers, one person telling him that his plot was great but his characters were weak, another telling him — about the same story — that his characters were great but his plot was weak.

But then, a breakthrough: his 10th manuscript was accepted and published. Not only that, but he received a six-figure advance, a two-book contract, and a TV movie option. And has published 4 books since.

What made the difference?

“Before writing No. 10,” Langello writes in the September 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, “I asked myself who was going to read my book. I visualized one person …. The same way I create characters when I write, I created a reader — my ideal reader … And I gave her a name: Peggy.”

“Peggy forced me to use a consistent voice and style, to be consistent and focused and true to a single reader, representative of a larger niche readership. And so my novel read that way — consistent, focused, true.”

In writing The Mystery of the Jade Avenger, my “Peggy” is named Seth. Seth is almost 9 years old and is certifiably Gifted & Talented. And he’s a real person — my nephew — which makes it a lot easier for a beginning novelist like myself to figure out how to write to a young audience, since I can simply ask him questions and be showered with his many thoughts on any subject. By writing for him (and often with him since he is generous about sharing his many ideas!), I can focus on entertaining him, focusing on what interests him, frightens him, and engages him.

I love this technique because it really does help keep the focus on that one person in a million that you are writing for.

My Partner in Crime

8 July 2013

My 9-yr-old nephew Seth and I have talked for hours about the Mystery of the Jade Avenger. He’s provided invaluable insight for me into a young boy’s mind and likes/dislikes but has also sidelined all my main characters in favor of his own! Not sure who will get the last word on that one.

Initially, I wanted to write the Mystery of the Jade Avenger as a surprise for him. But this collaboration is working out much better. He has come up with a ton of ideas. One thing that was a pleasant surprise was that two of his great plot ideas, I’d already thought of! Which was good for the old ego. At least it confirmed what I thought a young boy might like in a novel.

One thing I found interesting and insightful was that he basically pushed all my adult characters out of the way (most of my characters were adults and I hadn’t even realized it) and replaced them with children characters. My two heroes used to be Richard (11) and his sidekick Antonia (7) but Seth basically buried Richard in a gang of boys who are friends and who form the “good guys” and poor Antonia has been totally sidelined. Well, actually, he eventually condescended to give her two other girl friends who are also 7, and whose names all start with an A.

We spent 3 straight hours today discussing plot and characters. When I was talking, he often interrupted with “Can I ask a question?” or “I have an idea!” He is very enthusiastic, has an abundance of ideas, is really great at figuring out plot possibilities and reasons behind people’s actions. I could go on. He’s going to be a very talented writer if ever he decides to get serious about writing a novel. He gave me lots of great ideas, and also invaluable insight into a little boy’s mind.

Last night, he asked me very hesitantly and with great embarrassment if I was going to put in more female characters. He thinks I should. When I guessed that it was so there could be some crushes on the part of the boys and girls, I expressed surprise, saying I didn’t think boys his age liked that kind of thing, he said that they do. And lots of violence!

The Jade Avenger Journal

8 July 2013

The Journey Begins

Over the next two weeks, I have the unique opportunity of being able to focus exclusively on my “fun” writing. Although I’ll still need to do some of the writing/editing that pays the bills, I’ll be able to concentrate on writing for pleasure during the bulk of the day. What a dream come true! My number one focus is the children’s detective fiction story The Mystery of the Jade Avenger.

I’ve pulled out some of my Agatha Christie novels to analyze her writing style. I haven’t wanted to do this much previously because I feared it would spoil the enjoyment I have in simply reading her books for pleasure. But she really is the author I most look up to and whose style I would most love to emulate. I looked up several things about her and her writing style. One website provided detailed information concerning each of her dedications and who they were intended for, which provides great insight into the author’s mind and heart.

There are a couple of books out there that detail Agatha Christie’s writing style. My library doesn’t have them, but I would certainly love to get my hands on them – especially the one that deals with her “secret” journals, the notebooks in which she kept all her plot and character information. What a read that would be!

At this point I’m simply writing down in the manuscript any ideas related to plot, characters, dialogue or setting that come into my mind. It’s like putting a puzzle together really: I do the “edges” first by creating a basic outline, then fill in a little patch here and there as inspiration leads, each part of the puzzle making the overall picture a little clearer.

At some point in the future I’ll have to sort out the scenes and put them in proper order, and choose what to keep and what to delete. I have a lot of plot possibilities and will have to choose which way to go at each crossroads. I’ll have to smooth out dialogue, etc. But I am more optimistic than ever that it will all work itself out and someday I will actually have a finished manuscript!

From Fact to Fiction: The Mystery of the Jade Avenger

6 July 2013

I’m taking a break from “serious writing” to focus on a new project: a children’s detective story called The Mystery of the Jade Avenger. The story takes place at fictitious Keeblewhite College in Oxford, England and revolves around an ancient Chinese sword that goes missing and two young detectives — Richard Reynolds and Antonia “Toni” Giordano — who try to discover who stole the sword and why.

Writing about Oxford is helping to take the edge off my England withdrawals, having spent the last six summers in Oxford as coordinator of a study abroad program. I’m finding that writing about a place that has become familiar to you enables you to see it in a very different light. I’m having so much fun with this!

Though the process of writing this book has been unexpectedly therapeutic, I am actually writing this book for an audience of one: my 9-year-old nephew Seth. He loves the Hardy Boys and I’m a lifelong Agatha Christie fan, so the book will have elements strongly influenced by both, I’m sure.

As mentioned, the setting is Oxford, England. The story takes place in modern times, though since it is Oxford, where things seem to change more slowly and some things never change, it might as well be the 1940s or 50s. The action takes place primarily on the site of Keeblewhite College, a college founded in the late 18th century. Other settings are the Ashmolean Museum, which is England’s oldest museum, as well as various “flats,” manors and cottages in the Oxfordshire countryside, and the Covered Market, one of my favorite places to go in Oxford because of the hustle and bustle and all the interesting sights and smells.

My goal is to introduce Oxford, one of my favorites city in the world, to a young audience. Oxford has its own vocabulary, quaint rituals, mysterious customs, and lovely old buildings — all of which I am looking forward to exploiting and exploring in my book. Below is the plot synopsis.

The Plot

The Jade Avenger, an ancient Chinese sword, goes missing on the opening night of an exhibition in its honor. The sword was on loan for a year to Oxford’s Keeblewhite College from a famous British museum, in an attempt to bring publicity — and therefore revenue — to the struggling college.

Upon the sword’s disappearance, suspicion immediately falls on the competent but ruthless museum curator, Dame Phillipa Scott, and the stuffy and unpopular college principal, Christopher Cummings-Price. The curator and the principal are the ones who seem to have the most to gain out of the sword’s disappearance: the museum and its curator will benefit from the theft in terms of collecting insurance money, while the principal will gain free publicity for his school — and as the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity.

But amateur detective Richard Reynolds and his sidekick Antonia “Toni” Giordana soon find the case is not as clear-cut as it initially appears. In the course of their adventures, they will track down a notorious gang, encounter a fierce Chinese martial artist intent on getting the sword back to its rightful owners (an ancient line of brave Chinese warriors), experience a kidnapping, endure a series of attempts on their lives, and unscramble a secret code before finally discovering the astonishing truth behind who stole the sword.

Restaurant Review: La Galette Berichonne

10 April 2013

Fordland, MO is not exactly the culinary capital of the world. That’s why I was surprised to hear rave reviews about a French restaurant in Fordland called La Galette Berichonne. With a Gallic sense of skepticism, I decided to try it for myself.


First Impressions. The building itself is modest but decorated with little French touches. Each meal came with a house salad and homemade vinaigrette and an abundance of freshly-made bread. All food is made from scratch using local ingredients whenever possible and the quality is reflected in the great taste of each dish.

The Menu. La Galette Berichonne is a bakery/cafe so the menu includes lots of pastries and sandwiches. A chalkboard lists the hot entrees, which change on a regular basis. Everything on the board looked good to me so I peeked into the open kitchen and asked the chef for his recommendation: he suggested the Seafood Croustade and I was favorably impressed with the result (see below for pictures).


Seafood Croustade

Spinach quiche

Spinach quiche



Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Fellow diners after a great meal (notice the open kitchen in the background)

Fellow diners after a great meal (notice the open kitchen in the background)

The Verdict. What a surprise to find authentic French fare (though in American-sized portions) prepared by a genuine French chef at very decent prices in the heart of nowhere! This restaurant is a real jewel.

Casual lunch? Date night? This restaurant would fit any occasion and any budget. One suggestion: call before you go. They are open different days for different meals, and even offer a once-a-month 7-course evening dinner for those who reserve well in advance. Chef Parny offers some culinary classes as well.

Why Fordland, MO? So why did Chef Roland Parny choose Fordland, a town of 684 situated 20 miles east of Springfield, for his restaurant? Apparently this part of Missouri is similar to Le Berry, the region of central France where Parny grew up. “Berichonne” means “from Le Berry” and “Galette Berichonne” is a savory stuffed pastry typical of Le Berry.

Bon appétit!

Best Opening Lines in Literature

7 April 2013

“You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?”

Though you may be told not to judge a book by its cover, you can certainly learn a lot from its opening line. The line above, uttered by an exasperated Raymond Boynton in Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death, is my favorite opening phrase in literature. Here are other outstanding first lines from classic works — See which ones would inspire you to keep reading.


“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

George Orwell, 1984


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.”

Paul Auster, City of Glass


“Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.”

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote


“All this happened, more or less.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five


“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God


“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


“The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.”

G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill


“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle


“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley.”

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca


“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Genesis 1:1, The Bible (King James Version)

And, of course, that classic line …


“It was a dark and stormy night …” Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford

Sausage-Mushroom Breakfast Bake

6 April 2013

Perfect casserole for brunch

Every semester, my former boss’s sweet wife, Mrs. Dunn, hosted a brunch for Dr. Dunn’s students. They graciously invited me every time and I was only too eager to go! This sausage-mushroom breakfast bake and Mrs. Dunn’s French toast casserole were always huge hits and I’m thankful she was willing to share the recipes with me. Making them reminds me of the good times, great fellowship, and delicious food we invariably enjoyed at those brunches. I’m posting the breakfast bake recipe today and will post the French toast casserole recipe next Saturday.

Sausage-Mushroom Breakfast Bake
Prep: 25 minutes

Bake: 50 minutes + 10 minutes standing

Serves: 10-12


1 pound bulk pork sausageIMAG0254

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

6 cups cubed bread

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

10 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons ground mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Place half of the bread cubes in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish; top with 2 cups sausage mixture and half of the cheese and tomatoes. Repeat layers (starting with bread cubes). In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper; pour over bread mixture.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Nat’s Notes

  • Do not substitute regular mustard for ground mustard, and do not skip ground mustard.
  • This recipe can easily be cut in half to accommodate a small group.
  • Because this casserole is very salty and not exactly low-cal, I serve it with a fruit salad (for example, fresh pineapple, orange, grapes, and strawberries).
  • If you like onions, consider throwing in a finely-chopped regular onion in the first step of this recipe, or adding chopped green onions in the last 5 minutes of the meat cooking process.

Today, I let my mother climb a ladder

15 March 2013

Today, I let my mother climb a ladder. It was one of the greatest achievements of my day.

She had asked me yesterday if, the next time I watered the plants, I would mind adjusting a loose strand of leaves from a pathos ivy nestled in the hollow area above the kitchen cabinets. It was a gentle request, but it was also a way of subtly reminding me to water the plants. I made a mental note but it was more like a note you scribble on a brightly colored sticky sheet and then lose in the next moment. I completely forgot about it in light of the work deadlines I was facing.

Until I saw her on the ladder.

I took over plant-watering duty just over two years ago when I moved in to help with my mom’s care. She had just suffered a second stroke and the doctors did not give her much chance to live. My mother has been a lifelong fan of plants — and, fortunately for her, has the requisite green thumb to go with that passion. Our house has never lacked in the area of pathos ivys, palms, philodendrons, bromeliads and various other combinations of healthy, growing plants.

My mother’s method of plant care is quite different from my own. My attention is usually attracted to the plants when I see something abnormal, like a yellowing or browning leaf. I’ll think, “Wow, how long has it been since I watered those plants? Two weeks? Three?” Then I reluctantly drag the step stool from the closet and grab the oversized plastic measuring cup and step up on the counters to reach the plants high above the kitchen cupboards and on top of bookshelves and china cabinets.

The smell of wet earth and plant mold fills my nostrils as I watch the water slowly infiltrate the earth and rise again, sometimes dangerously high, in the saucer beneath the pot. I pluck off decaying leaves and sometimes am a little too hasty in trimming (what I think are) dead strands. When I finish with them, the luscious locks of the pathos ivies look like they’ve been sheered by a very bad hairdresser — a little like the trim I gave my younger sister back when we were both kids, much to my mother’s horror.

On the other hand, my mother “tends” to her plants. She names them, talks to them, nourishes and grooms them — treats them almost like pets. They thrive under her care.

Are the plants mad at me? I’ve wondered that so many times. Do they know I’m not her and I really don’t care about them and that’s why they always seem to be pouting at me?

So today I caught her balanced precariously on a ladder. Well, it was only a two-tiered stepping stool but it might as well have been a fireman’s ladder stretching to the sky. She was reaching high above the fridge trying to restore to its original home a cascading strand of glossy pathos ivy leaves.

My first instinct was to jump up and scold her: “Mother, how many times have I told you not to get up on stools?” Fear is always my first emotion when it comes to my mom. The “what ifs” race through my brain faster than thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby. I’m her caregiver, the one in charge of her wellbeing, her health, her life. The weight of responsibility nearly crushes me sometimes.

I take a deep breath. What’s the worst thing that could happer to her? She could fall and hit her head. But then a voice inside my head asks, Is that really the worst thing that could happen to her? No, not really. The worst thing would be to treat her like a helpless child, to deprive her of control over her own life, to take from her the need to feel needed.

And so I let my mother climb a ladder today.



Afflicted with an Idea: Lessons from the Wright Brothers

11 March 2013

I never really think about the Wright Brothers when I fly commercially. The only reason I am thinking of them now, as my flight prepares for departure, is that I’m writing an article on them. My mind is still freshly full of the images from the books and DVD I used in my initial research. Now I am heading to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina — the “ground zero” of flight — for an up-close look at where it all began.

Wright Brothers Memorial

Wright Brothers Memorial

Ask any schoolchild in America who the Wright Brothers were and you’ll receive a pat answer along the lines of “They invented the airplane!” Yes, we owe this fantastic mode of transportation we call “airplane” to them; but beyond that, what do we really know about Wilbur and Orville Wright?

Did you know that Wilbur and Orville were lifelong bachelors who didn’t even graduate from high school? Their neighbors and friends were convinced that the eccentric Wright brothers would never amount to much. Little did those acquaintances know that the brothers were “afflicted with an idea,” as Wilbur put it in a letter to his mentor Octave Chanute: they were afflicted with the idea that man could fly.

Many other inventors had attempted to make flying machines. Competition along those lines was pretty fierce in the late 1800s. What made the Wright Brothers succeed where so many others had failed? Four characteristics stood out to me as I discovered more about the Wright’s story.

What made the Wright Brothers different?

They were willing to DREAM. They were crazy enough to think that just because something hadn’t been done before didn’t mean it couldn’t be done.

They were willing to FAIL. And they did — again and again and again, even to the point of putting their own lives in danger. And yet they never gave up, though the temptation to quit nearly overcame them many times.

They were willing to LOOK FOOLISH. You can fail repeatedly in private without anyone knowing. You can experiment in a laboratory hidden away from others and risk little embarrassment at a lack of success. But the Wright Brothers, though they were private people who tried to keep their experiments secret for as long as possible, chose to put themselves “out there.” The people in Kitty Hawk had never seen anything like these well-dressed grown men chasing through the sandy dunes after their gliders. The brothers were misunderstood and ridiculed. But they kept experimenting.

First landing strip, with museum and monument in background

First landing strip, with museum and monument in background

They were willing to KEEP FIGHTING. In the years that followed the first successful flight, the brothers had to fight hard to protect their patent and their reputation. Though it made them unpopular in their latter years, the men (and especially Orville after Wilbur died) had to fight to secure their rightful place in history. The Smithsonian wanted to put one of its own as the inventor of flight; had Orville not fought tooth and nail for recognition of their idea, schoolchildren may be learning about Samuel Langley, not the Wright Brothers, as the inventor of the flying machine. Heritage and legacy are important.


The Wright Brothers took a complicated problem and made great headway with it. Through their willingness to dream, willingness to fail, willingness to look foolish, and willingness to keep fighting, they invented the first successful flying machine and affected the course of history.

Have you ever been “afflicted with an idea”? Ask God to help you have the same single-mindedness the Wright Brothers exhibited in their pursuit of aviation. Your God-inspired idea can change the world!

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