Book Review: Ellie Sweet novels for young adults


Recently, I read some books for young adults/teens. And I thoroughly enjoyed them!

The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet is a funny, engaging book about a frustrated teen writer. Ellie Sweet is being ignored by the girls she thought were her best friends and she has a crush on a boy who thinks her name is Kelly.

She escapes through her keyboard to a medieval Italian court, where she is Lady Gabriella being wooed by a handsome prince.

Ellie was a delightful, honest girl who had to navigate the tricky waters of high school. As an adult, I could relate to her, but the story also had a humor and lightness to it that captured the fun of  being a teenager. (Unlike much young adult fiction that gets so loaded down with issues that it becomes almost inappropriate for young readers.) I confess to developing a crush on Chase, Ellie’s new friend, and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish the book.

In the sequel, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, the new author sees her book in print – and her friends recognize their role. It becomes even more difficult for Ellie to figure out where she fits in when her older brother starts dating her former best friend. And things with boys are never easy.

Real-life author Stephanie Morrill lives in Overland Park, Kan., and encourages fresh voices through her blog GoTeenWriters. I’d recommend her Ellie Sweet books as bedtime stories for readers age 12 on up who can relate to someone who finds herself in an embarrassing situation.

The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet is just 99 cents on Kindle. Click the cover to go to the Amazon page.


Joy. And bluebirds


I’ve been thinking. As I walk down the sidewalks of the neighborhood and see winter give way to a season of all things new.

I’ve been thinking. About spring. And the delight to see two fat robins flitting around a yard.eastern_bluebird_11

About joy.

About how much it means when a friend comes to my defense. Even if I’m standing on shaky ground.

And how just a few sharp words. Or even a look. Or just being over looked. Can hurt.

How one of the most precious gifts of the Holy Spirit is the soft, persistent voice that whispers when no one else is around. When nothing makes sense. That it will be okay.

Joy. It doesn’t come in the noise. But in the quiet.

I’ve been thinking. That joy is like a bluebird. Often times unexpected. Sometimes out of place. And  always welcome.

May your day be graced with gifts of spring. And joy. And bluebirds.


Technology ended the Pony Express



Iconic drawing depicting a Pony Express rider passing by workers setting telegraph poles.
Image courtesy of the University of Nebraska.

Progress is a good thing. But sometimes, an advance in technology also creates a little sadness.

The Pony Express originated from St. Joseph, Mo., in April 1860. It was, at the time, the fastest thing going and connected the nation at a critical time in its history. Though hoofbeats still echo here in St. Joe, the pony ran for just 18 months before technology put it out of business.

Edward Creighton, a successful and generous businessman in Omaha, Neb., commissioned the surveying of a telegraph line between the Missouri River and the West Coast. On Oct. 24, 1861, the Transcontinental Telegraph was completed. On Oct. 26, 1861, the Pony Express ended. It just so happens that Oct. 26 is also my birthday.

And now, 153 years later, I live in St. Joseph and found this intriguing little tidbit while writing a historical novel set in the early days of the Pony Express. (Could I even say “Telegraph killed the Pony Express star?)

Telegraph communication was much more effective than the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Co. The telephone even better,  only to be topped by video chat or Skype. Still, there’s something romantic about a lone rider carrying the mail across the plains. Thank goodness he can live on through stories!



Davy Crockett Bars


Another hit from the Mires Family cookbook. A friend requested the recipe for Davy Crockett Bars.2012-10-13 08.42.11 Why are they called Davy Crockett Bars? I have no idea.

Thanks to both cousins Alice and Becci who submitted this recipe.

Davy Crockett Bars

2 c. flour
1 c. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. brown sugar
2 c. quick oats
2 eggs
1 c. oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chocolate chips

Mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda. Stir is brown sugar and oats, then add eggs, oil and vanilla. Last, stir in the chocolate chips. The dough is very thick. Press into a jelly roll (11×17) pan. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. You can also press the chips into the top of the dough and mix chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Called To Write 2014 – I’ll be learning and presenting


The countdown is on to my favorite writers conference. Called To Write Conference will be here in about seven weeks.

Called To Write was the first writers conference I ever attended and as I go back year after year, it keeps getting better. It’s where I first met Julane and Sara and Kathy and other writers who I love to connect with each year.

The conference will be April 3-5 in Pittsburg, Kan. Julane and her chapter have managed to line up some world-class presenters. Best-selling Christian authors Janice Hanna Thompson and Kristen Heitzman will be leading several classes. The other presenters include Kathy and myself. I’ll be teaching on writing for newspaper and I’m quite looking forward to it.

Besides the wonderful classes, the Called To Write conference focuses on a writer’s calling to serve God and minister to others through the written word. It is an amazing value for just $70.

If you’ve ever thought about being a writer, you will not find a more affordable, uplifting, instructive conference than this one. Please consider going – if you haven’t signed up al ready! Click here to register.

I’ll see you there!


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High rollers at the cattle auction


The crowd at the United Producers sale barn on Saturday. Notice the dog at the left.

The crowd at United Producers in Maryville, Mo., on Saturday. Notice the dog sitting at the left.

The air in the sale barn was filled with more than the aroma of cattle. A sense of anticipation hung over the crowd and a sort of energy as they took seats early, eager to see just what would happen.

The cattle market is – in the words of one analyst – crazy. Drought and an early freeze have caused the smallest herd of beef cattle in many years. As a result, prices for all kinds of cattle are at record highs. I went to visit my dad on Saturday and tagged along when he went to the cow sale at the sale barn near home.

The auctioneer calls out bids. The sign at top shows they sold for $2,500 each.

The auctioneer calls out bids. The sign at top shows they sold for $2,500 each.

Dad had sold a few calves recently, receiving the highest price he’d ever gotten for a calf. In true farmer fashion, he wanted to put the money back into buying more mother cows to have more calves.

Fifteen minutes before sale time, the curved benches of the sale arena started filling up. Nodody wanted to miss this because it felt like just about anything could happen. I sat among those hard-working men who were dressed in brown duck coveralls and muddy boots and thought of a recent visit with a crop farmer. He said you had to be an optimist in this business, otherwise you’d never put seed in the ground.

There was a lot of optimism at the sale barn and it became clear I was rubbing elbows with some high-stakes gamblers. In a matter of minutes, one man spent $137,000 on 55 head of Red Angus heifers. I overheard one guy on his cell phone, I imagine talking to his wife, say: “They’re high. It’s scary.” But his tone suggested it was nothing he couldn’t handle.

There was also this row of adorable future farmers.

Learning young

Learning young

The last cow of the sale, a nice three-year-old black Angus cross, was bought by an eternal optimist – 94-year-old Hugh Mires of Maryville.

It also inspired me to do something I’ve never tried before. I uploaded this video to You Tube. If you’ve never heard a livestock auction, it’s interesting to hear how the high rollers do business. If you have been to a sale, you’ll enjoy the familiar cadence.

PS SmallI was very careful not to scratch my nose for fear I’d bid and spend a year’s salary. You could say that I’m all hat and no cattle, until I can work up the nerve to join the high rollers.


True in 2014


“The 22 Most Embarassing Pages of the 1990 JCPenney Christmas Catalog” might be an unlikely place to find my inspirational thought for 2014, but there it was.

penney sweaterI was giggling at the acid washed jeans and turtlenecks. Then this picture came up and suddenly, it felt like 1990 again and I was in high school.

This sweater – or something like it – was my dream. Pretty, soft and pastel. Girls who wore sweaters like that were beautiful. The kind of girls who styled their hair and had boyfriends and went to homecoming. Not girls like me, who had frizzy red hair, who lived on a farm and rode the bus to school, who’s big social engagement was youth group at church.

That pretty pink sweater – I was convinced if only I had that, it would make me happy. But look at it now, nothing more than a joke on the internet.

I have been thinking about how easy it is to be deceived by lies, to become convinced that the lies are true. This book I reviewed spurred my thinking. Sometimes, people take drastic steps – make life-changing decisions – because they believe something that’s not true.

A few days ago as I surfed through Facebook, looking at everyone’s Chritmas pictures, I was feeling pretty bummed. If only this or that were different…

But then I clicked on that funny link and it made me think. What if “this or that” would no more meet my heart’s desire than an aqua-colored sweater would? What if I measure every thought that I take into my heart and only accept what is true? What if I make decisions and live every day based on what is eternally true?

True – that is my word for 2014. And how to know what’s true? Check out this verse featured in Our Daily Bread on Dec. 30: The one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then He said to me “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

Jesus said that He is the truth. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time with my Bible in 2014. Learning and believing what is TRUE.

Happy 2014!

Christmas Dipping


Making Christmas cookies and treats is just about my favorite thing of the season.

I’m baking things for my family and the office Christmas party on Tuesday. Saturday, I also had the chance to bake cookies for Jesus. Several years ago, some ladies in our church started a ministry to give plates of cookies to prisoners at the county jail. Many of the prisoners have written thank you notes. For these men and women who are at the lowest point in their life, to know someone thought of them  and cared enough to make homemade cookies really meant a lot.

This year, I felt compelled to share with them. Nothing fancy, just brownies and dipped pretzels (a personal favorite). And as I cooked, I prayed for the prisoners, that they would not just have a treat, but know Christ, who came to set the captives free.

almond barkWhen I opened the almond bark (What a strange name! I checked the ingredients, there is no almond or no bark in it.) I was delighted to discover that great innovations had been made in packaging. Instead of one solid brick that requires a hammer to break, it was packaged in a tray in neat little chunks, making it easy to select just what you need.

Almond bark is Christmas tradition. What is your favorite thing to dip in it?

Happy baking and dipping!

Hot Christmas Chili Peppers


My gardening philosophy is to always plant a chili pepper – because it will always grow. Even in the hottest, driest years, you can count on an abundant crop.


Hot Christmas!

This year, I tried something I’ve wanted to for a long time. I planted a chili in a pot on the front porch. It worked great to add some color and “spice.”

When fall hit, the little pepper was still going to town. I didn’t have the heart to let it freeze, so along with the geranium, inside it moved.

It’s still blooming and putting on peppers.

Considering temperatures dipped below zero last week and Sunday we got a few inches of snow, this little pepper is doing great.

Feliz Navidad!


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