Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our New Baby Girl!

Words fail me.

I am so stunned by the grace of God and the goodness He shows to us. How can such a tiny little thing, I've known for only a day, totally steal my heart so?

Beccy and I are proud to announce the birth of our daughter, Micaiah Mae, on 10/29/2008 at 12:30 pm. We're still working on how to spell "Micaiah", but we know we'll call her Micah.

She weighed 8 lbs. 7 oz. and was 20.5 inches long. As you can see, she has a head full of dark hair. The nurses yesterday in the nursery would look at me, look at her, and ask if I was sure if I really was her daddy. She is doing wonderfully. Everyone is in love with her already.

Beccy is doing well, just recovering from the C-section. Things have gone really well, actually the best we've ever had for a C-section, so thank you for your prayers!

Our boys are enamored with their new baby sister, and can't wait to get back to see her.

"What a rude awakening!"

Micah, her big brothers, and Nana.

What a doll!

Goodnight, I'm worn out.

Wow. What a little miracle. Bless all of you out there, and thanks again for your thoughts and prayers. What an answer!
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"All I Want for Christmas..."

Our son Matthew was working on two loose teeth, the "front teeth" from the son, and was getting really excited as they started wiggling. Friday morning his patience was rewarded when the first one popped out in the morning.

But that wasn't enough for him. The second one was pretty loose, so he kept working on it through the day. He was standing on the vanity for an hour, looking in the mirror working in back and forth during the afternoon.

He wanted to go with me to the store, so we went grocery shopping around 4-5 pm. In the second store he showed me how loose the second one was. I told him he'd better wait until we got home so he didn't lose it. (An employee asked me if I needed help and I inquired about tooth containers. He seemed stumped by that one, so we moved along.)

Matt also made the executive decision that we should order pizza, so we called it in and picked it up. When we got home the rest of the family was watching some Disney Channel, so I whipped out a blanket so they could picnic and watch at the same time.

After a few bites, Matt glanced my way while happily munching on his requested pizza. I noted a change in his prior status:

"Matt, where's your tooth?"

He stopped chewing, holding mushy pizza in his mouth while panicking as possibilities ran through his quick little mind. He said he didn't feel anything crunchy. I got him a plate so he could examine his mastication content. Alas, no missing dentition could be found.

He swallowed a tooth.

He didn't find this as amusing as his parents did, and he wept crocodile tears as we comforted him. We reassured him that the tooth fairy knows when little kids lose a tooth, regardless if it is under the pillow or not. This must not have soothed him, since he asked for big rubber gloves to do some, ahem, "checking" for the tooth the next day.

Thankfully, the tooth fairy didn't let him down. He got a special little Lego set he wanted. And he didn't have to call Joe the Plumber to help him with his lost tooth.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Politics and Economics, "Spoiled" Style

The (un)official statement from Spoiled for the Ordinary on the current political and economic circumstances, best expressed by Switchfoot's "American Dream" from Oh! Gravity!

When success is equated with excess
The ambition for excess wrecks us
As top of the mind becomes the bottom line
When success is equated with excess

If you're time ain't be nothing for money
I start to feel really bad for you honey
Maybe honey put you're money where your mouth's been running
If you're time ain't be nothing but money

I want out of this machine
It doesn't feel like freedom

This ain't my American dream
I want to live and die for bigger things
I'm tired of fighting for just me
This ain't my American dream

When success is equated with excess
When we're fighting for the beamer, the lexus
As the heart and soul breathing the company goals
Where success is equated with excess

I want out of this machine
It doesn't feel like freedom


Cause baby's always talkin 'bout a ring
And talk has always been the cheapest thing
Is it true would you do what I want you to
If I show up with the right amount of bling?

Like a puppet on a monetary string
Maybe we've been caught singing
Red, white, blue, and green
But that ain't my America,
That ain't my American dream


Friday, October 24, 2008

A Take on the Mortgage and Housing Problems

My thoughts on the mortgage/housing problem - best expressed by Rich Mullins' song "You Did Not Have a Home," from The Jesus Record.

Oh, You did not have a home
There were places You visited frequently
You took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
'Cause you knew that the whole world belongs to the meek
But You did not have a home
No, You did not have a home

And You did not take a wife
There were pretty maids all in a row
Who lined up to touch the hem of Your robe
But You had no place to take them, so You did not take a wife
No, You did not take a wife

Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man
You had the shoulders of a homeless man
No, You did not have a home

Well you had no stones to throw
You came without an ax to grind
You did not tow the party line
No wonder sight came to the blind
You had no stones to throw
You had no stones to throw

And You rode and ass' foal
They spread their coats and cut down palms
For You and Your donkey to walk upon
But the world won't find what it thinks it wants
On the back of an ass' foal
So I guess You had to get sold
'Cause the world can't stand what it can't own
And it can't own You
'Cause You did not have a home

Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man
You had the shoulders of a homeless man
No, You did not have a

Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man
You had the shoulders of a homeless man

And the world can't stand what it can't own
And it can't own You
'Cause You did not have a home

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Prayer Request

Hey there friends! I don't make personal appeals here, but I would appreciate prayer for the next couple of weeks. As I've posted, my wife is pregnant and her C-section date is set for 10/29. We are very excited to be adding a little girl to our family! Of course we want Baby to be healthy, and the C-section always makes things more complicated.

Beccy needs strength to finish out well. She's been fighting an inner ear infection and vertigo the last couple of weeks. She's ready to have this baby!

Thanks to all of you. I am planning to have pictures up by 10/30, so please check back then! Bless you guys!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Review - Less Than Dead

A clever, suspenseful tale that will keep even the best bloodhound following his tail a few times.

This week's feature book for the CFBA Tour is Less Than Dead by Tim Downs.

Tim Downs is know for his "Bug Man" novels, featuring Nick Polchak as a forensic entomologist (that's a guy who studies the insects that are found with dead bodies, very CSI-ish). When a field owned by a U.S. Senator who is a candidate for president is excavated and a couple of old bodies are found, the FBI has an explosive situation on their hands. Agent Nathan Donovan, famous since he stopped the "Plague Maker" in New York City, is sent to oversee the investigation. He calls Nick to the small Virginia town of Endor to help him identify how long the bodies have been there.

After a mysterious discovery, Nick calls for a cadaver dog to be brought in to search for other possible graves. When the purebred FBI dog fails, he follows up on the rumor of the "Witch of Endor", a woman who lives alone and supposedly talks to animals, to see if her mongrel can aid in the investigation.

Unfortunately, there are people who want buried secrets to stay buried, and soon Nick is trying to figure out these secrets before he becomes one himself.

I mentioned Less Than Dead a couple of weeks ago in my post about the benefit of blog tours. I had read Tim Down's Plague Maker a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, but had not gotten around to reading any more of his work. When I saw Less Than Dead on the blog tour list for October, I knew it would be the only book I'd request this month.

I'm so glad I did.

I've read a lot of books this year, and I keep finding books that I think, "Wow, this is the best book so far this year." Well, Less Than Dead has left them all behind. I really enjoyed Plague Maker but Less is from top to bottom a tightly woven suspense, keeping my head twisting around until I about got whiplash. There were a few times that he had me totally thrown by what he was doing - in a good way! The surprises were great and kept me on my toes and invested in the stellar plot. I thought that having a politically-themed book was a little disingenuous during an election year, but this book is not thinly written like other election-related books I've read.

Nick Polchak is a great character, fully comfortable in his own awkward skin. The bonus is that every other character stands on their own as well, with none of them acting as "filling". It was great to have Nathan Donovan from Plague Maker make an appearance here, as Nick did in that book. Very good touch, and it even gives a little epilogue to Plague that I appreciated greatly.

The other thing that stands out is the humor of the book. Many books have a sarcastic hero, but Nick carries it off very well with his idiosyncrasies. I was laughing out loud at many spots in the book, and it added to the richness of the book every time.

I'll have a "best of" list at the end of the year, and so far, against very stiff competition, Less Than Dead is the leader of the pack. Don't miss this book if you enjoy suspense, clever writing, or forensics-type shows/books. Actually, just don't miss it!

If you would like to read the first chapter of Less Than Dead, go HERE.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Book Review - Beyond the Reflection's Edge

Jason Blue and Jason Red enjoyed the book; Jason Yellow isn't old enough to read yet.


This month's featured book for the Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy blog tour is Beyond the Reflection’s Edge by Bryan Davis.

Beyond is a contemporary sci-fi, fantastic story geared toward the young adult/teen crowd. That appealed to me just fine, as my wife claims I'm a big kid. Nathan Shepherd is a 16 year old child prodigy on the violin, who travels the world with his investigator dad and virtuoso mom, homeschooled by a plucky tutor named Clara. The story pulls no punches with the opening, and by the end of the first chapter Nathan's parents have been murdered and he is running for his life.

Nathan is taken to a safe haven in the Midwest with a friend of his parents', Tony Clark. He meets Tony's teenage daughter Kelly, who is a lot different than Nathan's Christian background. Together they start searching for clues to his parents' deaths, with a mirror that shows thoughts, a camera that takes pictures of things that aren't there, and a violin that speaks to Kelly. Soon they are drawn into a vast conspiracy involving the company Interfinity, which may be trying to use different dimensions to conquer all of them.

The book has an intriguing premise and a suspenseful plot. Davis uses a love of classical music to move key plot points along, which I really enjoyed exposing readers to the beauty involved there. Nathan and Kelly are rounded, interesting characters, and their evolving interaction helps the book along as well. Other characters seem to have less holistic appeal, appearing when needed to achieve a certain function for the plot. There are aspects of most characters that strain credulity: Nathan whips out martial arts, a friend of Kelly is a computer genius, just for a couple of examples. The Shepherds are a super-couple, and the mystery of their deaths is at the heart of the story, but the dad's role is especially confusing for a while.

The story does involve different dimensions, (labeled Red, Blue, and Yellow-thus the intro to this post), and it provides for good suspense, keeping the reader guessing what is reality and what is not. It can get confusing at times though, keeping Nathan Red and company separate from his other-colored versions. It also offers up an opportunity for some moral choices, and I felt there was a major point that was too glossed over, without exploring the consequences of the choices.

Overall, Davis has offered up an enjoyable conspiracy-tinged speculative fiction suspense. It has some flaws, but I am glad I bought it for this tour, and I plan on continuing with the series and passing it on to my teenage nephew.

If you are interested in more information, check out Bryan Davis' website, and his blog. The second book in the series, Eternity's Edge, is in stores now as well.

Finally, see my other blog tourmates for more on Beyond the Reflection's Edge:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
Greg Slade
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Fall"-ing into Grace

Yesterday my wife had her baby shower ( much pink...), so the boys and I decided it was a good time to get out of Dodge. We went shopping for baby ourselves so the boys could get an outfit for her ( much pink...). After that, we hit Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls.

We found an area where there was some playground equipment ringed with trees. I thought they'd want to hit the jungle gym, but the preferred activity at first was tossing the football around. There was a good blanket of fallen leaves, and the boys happily crunched through them diving for balls (I admit I led them sometimes to make them fall in the leaves, heh-heh-heh). Then Dad had to start a leaf fight. I shouldn't have let them in on the secret of "downwind" though. Finally we finished up with a rousing soccer match.

The day was one of those times where I was struck by God's grace and wonder in His creation and His love for us. The crisp autumn air, the crunch of the leaves underfoot, the laughter of children, wrestling and rolling through the leaves; all these things are a joy that wasn't necessary, but still given to us by the God of all comfort.

Thank you Father, for your incomparable gifts!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Looking at Christianity and Culture

I've wanted to blog more about this topic, but I haven't had the time to sit down and come up with a coherent post discussing Christianity and Culture. However, there have been some recent articles and books out on this topic, and I want to at least bring them to your attention.

The Point blog discusses Christian art and movies like Facing the Giants.

Christianity Today has a cover article discussing "The New Culture Makers". There is an excerpt from Andy Crouch's new book Culture Making. There is also a review of the book Christ and Culture Revisited.

I've recently purchased Culture Making and another book on the subject, Dick Staub's The Culturally Savvy Christian. I've started Staub, and it already is quite thought-provoking.

If you're so inclined, check out some of these resources. Hopefully I can get my head around some ideas (head not so stretchy this month, it seems...) and discuss them with a little more depth soon.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Benefit of Blog Tours

I've been a member of two blog tours, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour, for over two years now. I've had the privilege to review many good books and enter into some great discussion with others out there in the blogosphere.

Even though this has benefited me, what about the authors? Do the writers who have offered up their work for review get a measurable boost from the coordinated focus of a blog tour.

So far I'd have to say there's no direct benefit to a blog tour.

I come to this conclusion from from two sources. Brandilyn Collins has been involved with the CFBA tour since its inception, and I recall her blogging that she hasn't seen specific movement of more books associated with a blog tour. However, with her marketing experience, she knows the value of getting her name and books out there with visibility.

Also, I was involved with a tour for Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture by Mary DeMuth, and Mark Goodyear tracked measurable stats regarding the tour. They tracked how many books were sold directly through Mary's site. His conclusion was that there wasn't a large increase in sales from the well-organized tour.

However, does this mean blog tours aren't worthwhile?

I would say that there are benefits to blog tours that aren't easily measurable, at least not directly. Maybe people don't rush out and buy the book from Amazon right away, giving noticeable statistics.

My argument is that it is worthwhile for authors to do blog tours in order to get their book out there and find some people that could turn into influencers. I suggest this can be a big benefit for authors.

I can think of several authors whose books I would not have read if not for getting their book for review: Rene Gutteridge, Lisa Bergren, John Aubrey Anderson, and Tom Morrisey to name a few. All of these authors have won me over with the quality of their writing and their interesting stories. What has happened is I have become their advocate. I continue to think of them as I refer people to good authors.

Not only that, but I support them more than I would have earlier. Even though through the blog tours I generally receive the books from the publisher to review, I have purchased books from the writers above. Either I've purchased other books in their catalog, or I buy the books I've already read to give away to others. I also lend out books so others can given them a try and hopefully get interested enough to purchase other books in the future.

Of course this can happen randomly. Maybe I would have picked up one of these books in Barnes and Noble (I have no local Christian bookstore). I do recall looking at Anderson's first book, Abiding Darkness, at B&N. But I never bought it. I don't think I would've walked out with any books from the others I listed there. But I've purchased all of Anderson's work since to give away. I just bought an older book of Gutteridge's, outside of the series I've been enjoying so much. I reviewed Bergren's first book for a tour, and made sure I bought the others so I could finish the series. Early this year I purchased Robin Parrish's Merciless because I couldn't wait an extra month for the blog tour to get it.

Just last week I read a new book from Tim Downs, Less Than Dead. I had read his book Plague Maker on my own and really enjoyed it, but had forgotten about Downs until reading his latest for the tour. I was so delighted to "rediscover" him that I fully plan on completing my collection of his books.

Maybe I'm strange (no comments Mark...), but I can't help but think this type of situation happens with others for blog tours. My conclusion is that an author won't know what type of people they will reach with a blog tour. If they get the right person, they will have an influencer who will carry on promotion that goes beyond the investment the author made by sending some books out for a blog tour.

If anyone reading this has been influenced by any of my posts, I'd love to hear from you on this topic. If you have any thoughts on blog tours, I'd also encourage you to speak up. Coolness.