Monday, April 30, 2012

With God, It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Best You


Julie Ziglar Norman encourages audiences to
put away their shame and regret and to live
the life of hope that God has planned for them.

Julie Ziglar Norman often says her dad is the king of “doing life right” and she is the poster child for “doing life wrong.” In Growing Up Ziglar: A Daughter’s Broken Journey from Heartache to Hope (Guideposts/May 1, 2012/ISBN 978-0-8249-4531-2/$14.99), Norman shares how for 25 years she lived every day with regret, shame, guilt, and depression while trying to keep up the positive outer appearance that was expected of her as the daughter of popular motivational author and speaker Zig Ziglar.

Although her father was not well known until she was in her late teens, he always emphasized being positive. “When I talk about what it was like growing up with Mr. Positive Attitude himself, I enjoy teasing about waking up to an ‘opportunity clock’ instead of an alarm clock,” says Norman. “Daddy has always been positive and looked on the bright side, and he brought lots of joy and laughter into our home.  He was and is a fun and loving father who always has a good story and lots of hugs and kisses for his children.”

While Norman is grateful that she learned how to minimize problems instead of maximize them she realizes that when the bigger, tougher issues of life began to happen t she put them behind her so quickly that she never fully processed or even acknowledged what had happened to her. Instead she just moved on and hoped for the best. As a teenager and young adult, Norman struggled with making choices that were not consistent with her father’s message. Norman was positive on the outside, but miserable on the inside.

Within the pages of Growing Up Ziglar, Norman reveals her struggles with depression, alcohol, and men. She candidly tells of her failed first marriage, unplanned pregnancies and difficult choices, and the challenges involved with her remarriage and blending families. With transparency and insight, she describes her soul-searching path from heartache to redemption, allowing readers to discover the power to let go of shame and embrace freedom, as well as the courage to live with a new depth of faith. Ultimately Norman offers the hope that God can beautifully redeem even the worst choices and equips her audience with the tools to make needed changes.

Norman explains what she hopes readers are able to take away from her story: “I want Christian women who hide the wrong they once did to know that they are in bondage still!  When we know and accept that we are forgiven there is no more shame, only gratitude, relief and the desire to help others know the truth of God’s comfort.”

Advance Praise

“No one can tell you who you are. It doesn’t matter who your parents are or where you come from; you’re the only one who gets to decide who you’re going to be. Few people can demonstrate that better than Julie Ziglar Norman. The daughter of one of America’s most well-known and loved motivators, Julie found God where most of us do: somewhere in between the lofty ideal we’re told about and the big mess we often make of our lives.”
~ Dave Ramsey, New York Times bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio host

“Julie Ziglar Norman continues the family legacy of sharing answers for those who are searching for the truth. In Growing Up Ziglar: A Daughter’s Broken Journey from Heartache to Hope, Julie’s own search for truth will inspire and enlighten you. Her hard-earned words contain a clarity and purpose that is surely welcome in today’s world.”
            ~Andy Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of The Noticer and The Traveler’s Gift

“Julie has truly lived EVERY WOMAN’S story. What she shares is real life. What she reveals is real truth. What she offers is real freedom! You can NOT walk away with just one--it is a book that MUST be gifted to all of the women in your life!” 
~ Kathleen D. Mailer, Founder/Editor-In-Chief of Today’s Businesswoman Magazine

About the Author

Julie Ziglar Norman is the youngest daughter of world renowned motivational and inspirational author and speaker Zig Ziglar and his beloved wife Jean “the Redhead” Ziglar.  Growing up in a house where negative feelings were expressed with positive words, as a teen she declared that she would one day write a book titled I’m Positive I’m Miserable.

After 25 years of living every day with regret, shame, guilt and depression but trying to cover it with a smile, Julie began her journey letting go of the shame and embracing freedom in Christ. She is living proof of the hope that God can beautifully redeem even your worst choices.

Having spent 20 years as her father’s personal editor and with a background in sales and business management, Julie has become a dynamic international motivational speaker herself. The founder of the Ziglar Women Faith and Family Conference, she is continuing the legacy of encouragement begun by her father over 40 years ago.  Her personal, transparent speaking style has endeared her to audiences all across America.

Julie has shared the platform with many well-respected leaders such as General Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani, President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Lou Holtz, Steve Forbes, Sarah Palin, Bill Cosby, Joe Montana, Dr. Robert Schuller, and a host of others.

Julie lives in Alvord, Texas, with her husband of twenty-eight years, Jim Norman; three horses, four rescued dogs and three rescued cats. The Normans are the parents of a blended family of four children and now have 12 grandchildren.

For more information, visit www.ziglarwomen.com.
  
Julie Ziglar Norman is available for interviews to promote the release of Growing Up Ziglar. To request a review copy, schedule an interview or for more information, please contact Audra Jennings, email audra@litfusegroup.com

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pinterest: Friend or Foe?

Uninspired as to what it was that I was going to blog about today, I logged on to Facebook to skulk around. Having not spent much time on Pinterest in the past week or so, I also logged on there.

I have three arguments for the foe part of Pinterest tonight.

1. I was wasting time when I really didn't need another reason not to clean my nasty bathrooms. Be proud of me. I did stop my lurking to go do that.

2. I am NOT following someone that supposedly I am following. I've made sure to follow all, then unfollow all to make sure I'm not following something that I just can't see that I am following of this person's. I don't know if I "liked" something that she posted on the "Everything" feed or what. Now she is all over my friend feed.

I do not want to look at all the lingerie she posts. I don't want to log on in front of anyone because I don't want them to see all this stuff in my feed.

I think she may be overweight and fantasizing about things she wish she could wear or something because she posts a lot of plus-sized models and makes comments about body image. Whatever the case, I don't want to look at all of her pins.

3. I was looking at a "Crochet Inspiration" board, and found all sorts of more complicated patterns and stitches. UGH!!!

I feel so unrefined in my crocheting now. So much less talented. So basic.

With one bathroom clean, I now want to go see if I can perfect the Granny Ripple or make hexagons.

Stupid Pinterest. You suck the life right out of me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The hermit that left the house

It was at some point last night that I realized I hadn't walked out of the house in 48 hours except to get the mail twice.

Is that bad?

I think it was on Thursday night that I called my mom and said, "by the way, I'm going to Waxahachie shopping on Saturday, you can go or not, but I'm just letting you know."

After I picked her up today and hit the road, she said, "your dad... he was laying in bed last night and was trying to remember if he left the house all day."

"Leave Dad alone. There's nothing wrong with that," I tell her.

I was going to Waxahachie because the Walmart here did not have the energy efficient curtains I wanted to buy in the right size. Once I got my electric bill via email last night, I decided the splurge would be worth every penny.

My house is hot during the day, but I don't let the air come on until late because I have to be able to afford my electric bill while working from home all day. My house is going to be mucho dark once I get the curtains up, that's for sure.

When we returned home, my grandmother called and my mom says, "we went to Waxahachie so Audra could get some work clothes." She was being facetious. That was true too, but... Yes, I did want some shorts and non-black dressy pants to wear around the house, but it sounded kind of stupid all things considered.

If I hadn't gotten out of the house today and actually gone anywhere, I may have gone stir crazy. Enough of this house already! Besides, the kids next door could have been home all day banging on the walls. I already had to go tell them to quit it this week.

OH, and I got a frappachino at Starbucks. They really should restock all their stores with the sea salt to sprinkle on top of the salted caramel mocha frappachinos. Even the dinky Starbucks in Target said that people always ask for it, and they can make them, just without the sprinkles on top.

The woman pointed out that starting next week that Starbucks will have Frappachino happy hour with half price drinks from 3-5. Do you know how often I'd make happy hour? More often than I make happy hour at Sonic.

So, I need to go work on my lesson for in the morning, and go hang up some curtains. Hope and pray it blocks out the heat because I can already tell it's going to be a long, hot summer.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My latest two projects

Last week, I finished another baby blanket in middle of doing the bigger project I was working on. I got it done three days before the baby's arrival! An accomplishment given that I gave that the maroon and white one (aka the Aggie baby blanket) to the original recipient's baby brother almost two years after I started it.



Now, I'm just a machine. I finished the one for the family reunion next week (to be given away as a door prize) last night. The center square that's multi-colored, and the first band of tan around it were crocheted by my grandmother over 8 years ago before she died. I actually don't know how long before that she did it. She just had a square too many from another afghan I guess.


I bought four colors of yarn to finish out this one because I didn't have enough of other colors to make it around and it needed to be a little bit bigger. I had a bin full of yarn that had been in my closet for 8 years. With the four projects that I've completed in the past two months, I've used most all of it up with the exception of some primary colors - bright red, gold and royal blue that just didn't match anything else except the "ugly blanket".

I did spend $24 the other night on more yarn to start other projects. It keeps me busy at least. Now, I think I'm making them to sell. The next baby due at church is the sibling of twins (a boy and girl) that got  theirs 5 years ago.

There have been 5+ people around here that want lessons. I hope they are easier to teach than Paige and Peyton because that has not worked out well the past few weekends. At all.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides

Enter the Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Ride Giveaway!

Guilt! She pokes you as you write about your quaint, eccentric aunt. She grabs you as you wander from e-mail to Facebook to laundry instead of focusing on your work. She kicks you as you complain about your husband to a friend.

Have you noticed? Women seem riddled with guilt. And it’s hard to know if guilt is legitimate or simply a product of our imaginations. After all, should we really feel guilty about things over which we have no control?

We are not perfect. We have no control over some things, so it's no use feeling guilty. We can't do it all.

To celebrate the release of Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides, Shirley, Janine and Kim are giving away some great prizes during the blog tour. Share your own "guilt trip" or "joy tip" and be entered to win a free life coaching consultation and a $50 Amazon.com gift certificate.

JUST CLICK THIS LINK and share what trips you up, holds you back or any tips you may have for overcoming guilt and keeping your joy. Fill out the quick form at the link and you'll be entered to win a free life coaching consultation from one of us AND a gift certificate to Amazon.com to use to purchase whatever strikes your fancy!

Contest runs 4/23 - 5/12. Winner announced on the site 5/14.

About Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides:

Women today are busy, stressed, and guilt-ridden, yet they long to develop their spiritual sides. Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides offers inspirational thoughts based on scripture--brief enough to be read during a television commercial, yet insightful enough to open your eyes to the grace of God on days you change diapers and/or lead corporate meetings. Each reading suggests a "Guilt Trip to Avoid" and ends with a way to "Take the Joy Ride." The book includes six months of daily readings so that you may establish a habit of connecting with God. Readings are listed under the letters G-R-A-C-E, representing God, Relationships, Acceptance, Challenges and Emotions.

The coauthors hope these meaningful readings will help you deal with guilt--both real and imagined. By applying the insights shared in Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides, you may develop a calmer, less guilt-ridden life-style and become better equipped to function as wives, mothers and friends. Younger women often develop patterns of thinking and experience feelings of guilt that carry over into their mature years, so women of all ages will find this book helpful.


About the authors:

Kim Messinger, Janine Boyer and Shirley Brosius had a common bond of Christian service when Christ drew them together for their first small group meeting in January, 1998.
Since then they have drawn closer through life’s joys and struggles and found God to be sufficient for their every need. They call themselves “Friends of the Heart” because their passion is to help women open their hearts and find joy in Christ. 
Kim and Janine supported Shirley in writing Sisterhood of Faith: 365 Life-Changing Stories About Women Who Made a Difference, which was released by Howard Publishing, a division of Simon & Schuster, in 2006.  More recently the three women worked together to write another devotional book, Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides. They have spoken at women’s retreats and events in five states. All three women live in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. Visit their website for more info.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bet you haven't been here either

And this is the grand finale to my series on places I've been and things that I've seen more obscure and definitely less fun than going to the original Starbucks. This is why my definition of "fun" is skewed.

All of this randomness happened on one trip.

Due to Mom's obsession with courthouses and pumped up tourist brochures, we detoured to see the oldest courthouse in Kansas. It did have some ornate woodwork inside.


This time through Kansas, I got to see the Oz Museum, but this one is in Wamego.


We stopped by the capital in Topeka just to say we saw it.


I don't have a picture of Arthur Bryant's BBQ that we stopped at to say we ate there. It was horrible. But while in Kansas City, I had to go by the art museum to see this shuttlecock that graced my art appreciation books in college.


The fastest Dad drove on the whole trip was to make sure we got to John Wayne's childhood home in time to buy a souvenir. 


You know, I was  saying my Mom always wanted to see covered bridges? Well, we did catch a couple from The Bridges of Madison County. I saw a scene from the movie that didn't have this bridge, but took place in this park.


In the same park, you drive this trail up to see this "tower". Just had to do it, I guess.


How many of you can say you've toured the National Farm Toy Museum,


It's in the same town as the Field of Dreams. This was my idea. We were ultimately ending up in Chicago, and I suggested going through Iowa this time and catching this on the way. It really looked just like the movie, and I didn't expect the set to look just like it did in the movie.


The world's shortest railroad in Dubuque, IA.


We went through enough of Wisconsin to say that we had, and bought some cheese just to say that we did. This is one of 2 pictures I have of Wisconsin. Both at the cheese store.


We happened to go through Galina, IL and saw the sign to Ulysses S. Grant's house.


Random fact... when we got to Chicago, they were having hurricane force winds, so the Skydeck at Willis Tower was closed. I sure wanted to go out on "The Ledge" and look straight down 103 floors.


On the way back, we stopped by Ronald Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon.


Dad's "had to do" was go by Antique Archaeology, home of the American Pickers. We spent four hours in LeClaire to see if they would stop taping and open up. They didn't.


For some reason, we wanted to see a working windmill in Pella.


I think we just happened upon the sculpture garden in Des Moines. I don't think we were looking for it.

So, see, randomness is just a part of vacation. Believe me, I've gone out of my way to see some quirky things.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A book that got a song stuck in my head

I started working on Beth Wiseman's Need You Now back at the old job and got to read the ARC version. For that reason, I thought I would post today's tour. 


This is Beth's first contemporary, non-Amish, release. The title gets me singing Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" every time. I had to keep songs straight too because at the same time we picked up this project, we got Neta Jackson's Stand By Me.

For those of you who have read this book, I ask this question: Why did it end exactly like it did? Something seemed absolutely pointless to me, and I walked away from it thinking WHY??? Did you do the same thing?


It 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:

Thomas Nelson; 1 edition (April 10, 2012)

***Special thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

When a personal crisis tested and strengthened her faith, award-winning journalist Beth Wiseman was advised by her agent to consider writing a Christian novel, particularly an Amish one. Encouraged by her agent’s urging, she began exploring the Amish lifestyle and soon developed a great appreciation for the more peaceful way of life. In 2008 Wiseman wrote her debut novel, Plain Perfect, featuring the Amish lifestyle within the context of a fictional love story. It was a bestseller, as have been all of the full-length novels and novellas she has written since.

While Need You Now is Wiseman’s first non-Amish novel, she is confident it will not be the last. She is already making plans to write a second contemporary novel in the near future. Like Need You Now, it will also be set in small-town Texas, a familiar background she thoroughly loves exploring and writing about.

Wiseman’s previous releases have held spots on the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) and the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) bestseller lists. In 2010, she received the INSPY Award for Amish Fiction (chosen by blog reviewers). In 2011, she received the Carol Award and was the Inspirational Readers Choice winner for her book Plain Paradise. Her novel Seek Me with All Your Heart was the 2011 Women of Faith Book of the Year. In addition, Wiseman has been a Retailers Choice Finalist, a Booksellers Best Finalist and a National Readers Choice Finalist. Prior to becoming a novelist she received many honors for her work as a journalist, including a prestigious First Place News Writing Award from the Texas Press Association.

Today, she and her husband are empty nest parents of two grown sons, enjoying the country lifestyle and living happily with two dogs, two cats, two pot-bellied pigs, two chickens and a single pygmy goat in a small community in South Central Texas. Along with writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, traveling and watching good movies. Her favorite pastime, however, is spending time with friends and family.

Visit the author's website.


SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

We all count on the support of those around us when times are tough, but what do we do when those we depend on the most are suddenly gone? How do we cope when life has pulled the rug out from under us and left us with nothing and no one to hold on to? To whom can we turn when it seems no one, not even God, is there? These are the questions best-selling author Beth Wiseman addresses in her first contemporary novel, Need You Now (Thomas Nelson).

After the safety of one of their children is threatened, Need You Now’s main character, Darlene Henderson, and her husband Brad choose to move their family from Houston to the dot-in-the-road town of Round Top, Texas; moving into the old fixer-upper farm left to Darlene by her grandparents. Adjusting to the change is more difficult than any of them imagined, especially for the middle child, 15-year-old Grace, who becomes a cutter, using a dangerous and particularly self-damaging way of coping with stress.

The move also begins to take a toll on the couple’s marriage when Darlene decides to take a job outside the home in an effort to make new friends in the community. As the domestic tension rises, both begin to wonder if the same shared faith that has carried them through difficult times in the past will be strong enough to help them now.

To make matters worse, Darlene begins receiving inappropriate attention from the widowed father of the autistic young girl she is assigned to work with at the school for special needs children where she is employed. Unfortunately, this new attention comes just when she is most vulnerable. If there has ever been a time in her life when she needed God, it is now. But will she allow arising feelings of unworthiness to keep her from seeking Him?

In her first novel not set in an Amish community, Wiseman spins her well-honed characters and setting into a thought-provoking message that not only makes the reader ponder his or her own relationship with God, but also sheds light on the little-known disorders of using self-injury as a way of seeking relief and high-functioning autism. Need You Now is the perfect read for anyone who has ever questioned life and God’s will.




Product Details:
List Price: $ 15.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; 1 edition (April 10, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595548874
ISBN-13: 978-1595548870

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Darlene’s chest tightened, and for a few seconds she couldn’t move. If ever there was a time to flee, it was now. She put a hand to her chest, held her breath, and eased backward, sliding one socked foot at a time across the wooden floor of her bed- room. She eyed the intruder, wondering why he wasn’t moving. Maybe he was dead.

Nearing the door, she stretched her arm behind her, searching for the knob. She turned it quickly, and at the click of the latch, her trespasser rushed toward her. In one movement, she jumped backward, across the threshold and into the den, slamming the door so hard the picture of the kids fell off the wall. She looked down at Chad, Ansley, and Grace staring up through broken glass, then hurried through the den to the kitchen. Her hand trembled as she unplugged her cell phone and pressed the button to call Brad. Please answer.

It was tax time, so every CPA at her husband’s office was working long hours, and for these last weeks before the April deadline, Brad was hard to reach. She knew she wouldn’t hear from him until after eight o’clock tonight.  And she couldn’t go back in her bedroom. What would she have to live without until then? She looked down. For starters, a shirt. She was later than usual getting dressed this morning and had just pulled on her jeans when she’d noticed she wasn’t alone.

She let out a heavy sigh and rubbed her forehead. Brad answered on the sixth ring.

“Bradley . . .” She only called him by his full name when she needed his full attention.

“What is it, babe?”

She took a deep breath. “There is a snake in our bedroom. A big, black snake.” She paused as she put a hand to her chest. “In our bedroom.”

“How big?”

She’d expected a larger reaction. Maybe her husband didn’t hear her. “Big! Very big. Huge, Brad.”
He chuckled. “Honey, remember that little snake that got in your greenhouse when we lived on Charter Road in Houston? You said that snake was big too.” He chuckled again, and Darlene wanted to smack him through the phone.  “It was a tiny little grass snake.”

“Brad, you’re going to have to trust me. This snake is huge, like five or six feet long.” A shiver ran down her spine. “Are you coming home or should I call 9-1-1?”

“What? You can’t call 9-1-1 about a snake.” His tone changed. “Darlene, don’t do that. Round Top is a small town, and we’ll be known as the city slickers who called in about a snake.”

“Then you need to come home and take care of this.” She lifted her chin and fought the tremble in her voice.

Deep breath on the other end of the line. “You know how crazy it is here.  I can’t leave right now. It’s probably just a chicken snake, and they’re not poisonous.”

“Well, there are no chickens in our bedroom, so it doesn’t have any business in there.”

“Chad can probably get it out when he gets home from school. Maybe with a shovel or something, but tell him to be careful. Even though they’re not venomous, it’d probably still hurt to get bit.”

Darlene sighed. “Our girls are going to freak if they come home to find a snake in the house.”

“Maybe—” Darlene turned toward a sound in the entryway. “I’ll call you back. There’s someone at the door, and I’m standing here in my bra. I’ll call you back. Love you.” She clicked the phone off, then yelled toward the door. “Just a minute!”

After finding a T-shirt in Ansley’s room, she pulled it over her head as she crossed back through the den toward the front door. This was the first visitor she’d had in the two months since they’d moved from Houston.  She peeked around the curtain before she opened the door, realizing that her old city habit would probably linger for a while. Out here in the country, there probably wasn’t much to worry about, but she was relieved to see it was a woman. A tall woman in a cowgirl hat. She pulled the door open.

“Your Longhorns are in my pasture.” The woman twisted her mouth to one side and folded her arms across her chest. “This is the second time they’ve busted the fence and wandered onto my property.”
Darlene thought this cowgirl could have walked straight off the set of any western movie. She was dressed in a long- sleeved denim shirt with her blue jeans tucked into brown boots. She was older than Darlene, possibly mid-forties, but she was gorgeous with huge brown eyes and blonde hair that hung in a ponytail to her waist.

“I’m so sorry.” Darlene shook her head. Brad should have never gotten those Longhorns.  Neither she nor Brad knew a thing about cows, but Brad had said a move to the country should include some Longhorns. Although it didn’t make a lick of sense to her. She pushed the door wide. “I’m Darlene.”
The woman shifted her weight, but didn’t offer a greeting in return. Instead, she stared at Darlene’s chest. Darlene waited for the woman to lock eyes with her, and when she didn’t, Darlene finally looked down. Her cheeks warmed as she sighed. “Oh, this is my daughter’s shirt.” Don’t Bug Me! was scrolled across the white T-shirt in red, and beneath the writing was a hideous picture of a giant roach.  Darlene couldn’t stand the shirt, but twelve-year-old Ansley loved it. “Do you want to come in?” She stepped back.

“No. I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to round up your Longhorns and head them back to your pasture. I’ll temporarily repair the fence.” The woman turned to leave, and it was then that Darlene saw a horse tethered to the fence that divided their property. She stifled a smile. This woman really was a cowgirl.

“Know anything about snakes?” Darlene eased onto the front porch, sidestepping a board she knew was loose. The porch was next on their list of things to repair on her grand- parents’ old homestead.

“What?” The woman turned around as she held a hand underneath the rim of her hat, blocking the afternoon sun.

“I have a snake in my bedroom.” Darlene shrugged. “Just wondering if you had any—any experience with something like that?” She padded down two porch steps in her socks. “I’m not sure I got your name?”

“Layla.” She gave a quick wave before she turned to leave again. Darlene sighed. Clearly the woman wasn’t interested in being friends. Or helping with the snake. Darlene watched her walk to her horse and put a foot in the stirrup. Then she paused and twisted her body to face Darlene. “What kind of snake?”

Hopeful, Darlene edged down another step. “A big, black one.”

Layla put her foot back on the ground and walked across the grass toward the porch. Darlene couldn’t believe how graceful the tall blonde was, how out of sync her beauty was in comparison to what she was wearing.

“Only thing you really have to worry about around here are copperheads.” She tipped back the rim of her hat. “Was it a copperhead?”

At five foot two, Darlene felt instantly inferior to this tall, gorgeous, horse-riding, snake-slaying blonde. She wasn’t about to say that she couldn’t tell one snake from the other. “I don’t think so.”

“All I’ve got is a .22 with me.” Layla pointed back to her horse, and Darlene saw a long gun in a holster. “But a .22 will blow a hole through your floor,” Layla added. A surreal feeling washed over Darlene. She thought about their previous home in a Houston subdivision, and a woman with a gun on a horse wasn’t a sight they would’ve seen.

“Do you have a pellet gun?” She stopped in front of Darlene on the steps. Darlene was pretty sure that was all they had— Chad’s BB gun.

“Yeah, I think so.”

Five minutes later, Darlene pushed open the door to her bedroom and watched Layla enter the scene of the invasion. The bed was piled with clean clothes, but at least it was made up. The vacuum was in the middle of the room instead of in the closet under the stairs. It wasn’t the way she wanted a stranger to see her bedroom, but it could have been worse.

Layla got down on her knees and looked under the bed. From the threshold, Darlene did a mental scan of what was under there. Boxes of photos, a flowery hatbox that had belonged to her grandmother, an old, red suitcase stuffed with baby keepsakes from when the kids were young—and a lot of dust. 

“There he is.” Layla leaned her chest to the floor and positioned Chad’s BB gun. Darlene braced herself, then squeezed her eyes closed as two pops echoed underneath the bed. A minute later, Layla drug the snake out with the tip of the gun. “Just a chicken snake.”

Darlene stepped out of the room, giving Layla plenty of room to haul the snake out. Big, black, ugly. And now dead. Blood dripped all the way to the front door.  Layla carried the snake to the fence and laid it across the timber, its yellow underside up.

“Belly up should bring rain.” Layla was quickly up on her horse. “Maybe tell your husband that I’m patching the fence up, but he really needs some new cross planks.”

“I will. And thank you so much for killing that snake. Do you and your husband want to come for dinner tonight? I’d like to do something for you.”

“I’m not married. And I can’t come to dinner tonight. Thanks, though.” She gave the horse a little kick in the flank, then eased through a gate that divided her acreage from Brad and Darlene’s. She closed it behind her from atop her horse and headed toward the large house on top of the sloping hillside. Coming from town, the spacious estate was fully visible from the road and her youngest daughter called it the “mansion on the hill.” The rest of the family took to calling it that too.

In comparison to their rundown farmhouse, Darlene sup- posed it was a mansion. Both homes were probably built in the late 1800s, but Layla’s was completely restored, at least on the outside, with fresh, yellow paint and white trim.  A split-rail, cedar fence also surrounded the yard, and toward the back of the property, a bright red barn lit up the hayfield not far from a good-sized pond. A massive iron gate—that stayed closed most of the time—welcomed  visitors down a long, winding drive- way. And there were lots of livestock—mostly Longhorns and horses. If the wind was blowing just right, sometimes Darlene could hear faint music coming from the house.

She was hoping maybe she could be friends with Layla, even though she wasn’t sure she had anything in common with her. Just the same, Darlene was going to pay her a visit. Maybe take her a basket of baked goodies, a thank-you for killing that snake.

Brad adjusted the phone against his ear and listened to Darlene’s details about her snake ordeal, then she ended the conversation the way she always did. “Who do you love?”

“You, baby.”

It was their thing. Nearly twenty years ago, at a bistro in Houston,  Brad wanted  to tell Darlene that  he loved her—for the first time—and he was a nervous wreck, wondering if she felt the same way. He’d kept fumbling around, and the words just wouldn’t come. Maybe she’d seen it in his eyes, but she’d reached over, touched his hand, and smiled. Then in a soft whisper, she’d asked, “Who do you love?” His answer had rolled off his tongue with ease. “You, baby.” Then she’d told him that she loved him too, and the who-do-you-love question stuck. Darlene asked him all the time. He knew it wasn’t because she was insecure; it was just a fond recollection for both of them. That night at the bistro, Brad had known he was going to marry Darlene.

He flipped his phone shut and maneuvered through the Houston traffic toward home.  He was glad that he wouldn’t have to deal with a snake when he got there, but he was amused at Darlene’s description of the tall, blonde cowgirl who shot it with Chad’s BB gun.

He had four tax returns to work on tonight after dinner. All these extra billable hours were bound to pay off. He needed the extra income if he was going to make all the renovations to the farm that he and Darlene had discussed. Brad wanted to give her the financial freedom to make their home everything she dreamed it could be. Cliff Hodges had been dangling the word partner in front of him for almost two years, and Brad was sure he was getting close to having his name on the door.

If they hadn’t been in such a rush to move from Houston, Brad was sure they could have held out and gotten more for their house. As it turned out, they’d barely broken even, and just getting the farmhouse in semi-livable shape had taken a chunk of their savings. Buying out Darlene’s brother for his share of the homestead had put a strain on their finances too, but it was worth it if Darlene was happy. 

She’d talked about restoring her grandparents’ farm for years. The original plan had been to fix the place up over time so they could use it as weekend getaway. But then they’d decided to make the move as soon as they could, even if the house wasn’t in tip top shape.

Forty-five minutes from his office, he’d cleared the bustle of the city, and the six lane freeway narrowed to two lanes on either side of a median filled with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes. Nothing like spring in Texas to calm his mind after crunching numbers all day long, but leaving the office so late to head west put the setting sun directly in his face. He flipped his visor down, glad that the exit for Highway 36 was only a few miles. Once he turned, he’d get a break from the blinding rays. Then he’d pass through the little towns of Sealy and Bellville before winding down one-lane roads to the peaceful countryside of Round Top. It was a long commute, almost an hour and a half each way, but it was worth it when he pulled into his driveway. Small-town living was better for all of them. Especially Chad.

Brad could still recall the night Chad came stumbling into the house—drunk.  His seventeen year old son had been running around with a rebellious group of friends in Houston. And sometimes Chad’s glassy eyes had suggested more than just alcohol abuse. He shook his head to clear the recollections, knowing he would continue to pray that his son would make better choices now that he had some distance from his old buddies.

Brad felt like a blessed man. He’d been married to his high school sweetheart for nearly twenty years, and he had three amazing children. He wanted to spend his life being the best husband and father he could be. There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t thank the Lord for the life he’d been given, and it was Brad’s job to take care of his family.

Darlene finished setting the table. She regretted that her mother couldn’t see her enjoying her grandmother’s dining room set. Darlene had been surprised to find the oak table and chairs still in the house when they’d moved in. The antiques had been dusty and in dire need of cleaning, but they were just as sturdy as ever. She could remember many meals with her parents and grandparents in this house, at this table.

She still missed her grandparents—and her parents.  Dad had been gone almost six years, and two years had passed since her mother’s death. Her parents had started their family late in life, both of them in their late thirties when she was born, and Dale was born two years after Darlene. She was glad her brother hadn’t wanted the farm. It had been a struggle to buy him out, but no regrets. Someday, they too would have a “mansion on the hill,” like Layla’s. She cast her eyes downward, frowning at the worn out wooden floors. She’d be glad when they could afford to cover the original 
planking with new hardwood.

Thinking of Layla brought a smile to her face as she mashed steaming potatoes in a pot on the stove. She couldn’t help but wonder what the tall blonde was doing all alone on that estate. Darlene had never even been on a horse or owned a pair of cowgirl boots. Several of her friends back in Houston sported a pair of high-dollar, pointy-toed boots, but they didn’t particularly appeal to Darlene. Her friend, Gina, had told her it was un-Texan not to own a pair of boots.

She missed Gina. They’d been friends since their daughters had started Girl Scouts together, but after Gina’s divorce, they’d drifted apart.  Gina’s interests had changed from Girl Scout and PTO meetings to going out with new single friends.

She left the dining room and went back to the kitchen, glad that the aroma of dinner covered up the dingy old-house smell that lingered, despite her best efforts to conceal it with air fresheners.
“Mom! Mom!” Ansley burst into the kitchen with the kind of enthusiasm that could mean either celebration or disaster; with Ansley you never knew. At twelve, she was the youngest and the most dramatic in the family.

Darlene gave the potatoes a final stir before she turned to face her. “What is it, Ansley?”

“Guess what?” Ansley rocked back and forth from heel to toe, and Darlene could tell by the grin on her daughter’s face that the news was good. “I did it. Straight C's and above!”

Darlene brought her hands to her chest and held her breath for a moment, smiling. When Ansley was in grade school, early testing indicated she was going to struggle, and Darlene and Brad knew she was a bit slower than other kids her age.

Not so thrilling was what Brad had promised Ansley if she received a report card without any failing grades.  “Sweetie, that’s great. I’m so proud of you.” She hugged her daughter, knowing it was highly unlikely Ansley wouldn’t remember her father’s promise. Ansley eased out of the hug.

“I know they scare you, Mom, but having some chickens and roosters will be so much fun! We’ll be like real farmers, and every day after school, I’ll go get the eggs.” Ansley’s dark hair brushed against her straightened shoulders, and her big brown eyes twinkled. “Think how much money you’ll save on eggs!”

Darlene bit her bottom lip as she recalled the chickens her grandparents used to keep on this very same farm. And one very mean rooster. Eight dollars in savings per month was hardly going to be worth it, but a promise was a promise. She’d told Brad before they’d left Houston not to offer such a reward, but Darlene had put it out of her mind. At the time, it seemed a stretch for Ansley to hit the goal and make all C’s.

“Maybe just have laying chickens. You don’t need a rooster.”  Darlene walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a tub of butter.

“Mom . . .”

Darlene set the butter on the table and raised a brow in time to see Ansley rolling her eyes.

“Even I know we can’t have baby chicks without a rooster.” Ansley folded her arms across her chest.
Darlene grinned. “I know you know that, but how many chickens are you hoping to have?” She recalled that on some of her visits to her grandparents’ house, if the wind blew just right, she could smell the chicken coop from the front yard, even though the pens were well over fifty yards away, back next to the barn. When they’d first moved in, Brad had fixed up the old coops as an incentive for Ansley to pull her grades up. Sitting on the porch swing with Brad late in the evenings had become a regular thing, and smelly chickens would be an unwelcome distraction.

“Not too many,” Ansley said as she pulled a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water.
One was too many in Darlene’s opinion, but it was a well- deserved reward. Darlene gave a lot of the credit to the school here. Much to her children’s horror, there were only 240 students in grades kindergarten through twelve in the Round Top/ Carmine School District, but Darlene felt like they were getting a better education and more one-on-one attention.  Darlene had been on the verge of homeschooling Ansley before they left Houston, but Ansley threw such a fit that Darlene had dis- carded the idea.

Ansley chugged the water, then put the glass in the sink. “I can’t wait ’til Daddy gets home.”
Darlene smiled. Her youngest was always a breath of fresh air, full of energy, and the tomboy in the family.

She thought about the snake and realized Ansley probably wouldn’t have freaked out after all. She heard Brad’s car rolling up the gravel driveway, and moments later, the front screen door slammed and Ansley yelled, “Daddy! Guess what!”

An hour later, everyone was gathered at the dinner table, except Chad. After about ten minutes, he finally sauntered into the room, slid into his chair, and folded his hands for prayer.

“It’s your turn to offer the blessing, Chad.” Darlene bowed her head.

“Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings you’ve given us, for this food, the roof over our head, and Your love. And God . . .” Chad paused with a sigh. Darlene opened one eye and held her breath. More often than not, Chad’s prayers included appeals for something outside the realm of what should be requested at the dinner table. Like the time he’d asked for God to help his parents see their way to buying him a better car. Darlene closed her eye, let out her breath, and listened.

“Could you heal Mr.  Blackstone’s cancer and bring him back to school? He’s a good guy.” 

Darlene’s insides warmed, but then Chad continued.  “Our substitute stinks. Amen.”

“Chad!” Darlene sat taller, then cut her eyes at Brad, who shouldn’t be smiling.

“No, Mom. I mean, really. He stinks. He doesn’t smell good.” Chad scooped out a large spoonful of potatoes. “And he’s like a hundred or something.”

“Even more reason you shouldn’t speak badly about him. Respect your elders, remember?” Darlene passed the meatloaf to Chad, who was shoveling potatoes like he hadn’t eaten in a month of Sundays.

“Grace, how was your day?” Brad passed their older daughter a plate of rolls.

“It was okay.”

Grace rarely complained, but Darlene knew she wasn’t happy about the move from Houston.  Mostly because of the boy she’d left behind.

Ansley turned her head to Darlene, grunted, then frowned. “Mom, why are you wearing my shirt?”
Darlene looked down at the big roach. “Oh, I had to borrow it earlier. I sort of couldn’t go in my room for a while.”

Darlene told the full-length version of the snake story that she’d shortened for Brad on the phone.

“I’ve seen that woman,” Chad said. “And she’s hot.”

“She’s old like Mom, Chad! That’s gross.” Ansley squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then shook her head.

Darlene took a bite of roll. At thirty-eight, when had she become old in her children’s eyes? “I believe Layla is several years older than me, Chad.”

Her son shrugged. “Whatever. She’s still—”

“Chad, that’s enough.” Brad looked in Chad’s direction, and Darlene was glad to see him step in since it seemed like she was the one who always disciplined the children. Brad, on the other hand—well, he promised chickens.

They were all quiet for a few moments before Chad spoke up again.

“Did you know Layla drives a tractor? I’ve seen her out in the pasture on the way to school.” He shook his head. “Seems weird for a woman.” He laughed as he looked to his left at Ansley. “Can you picture Mom out on a tractor plowing the fields?”

Ansley laughed. “No, I can’t.”

“Don’t underestimate your mom.  You never know what she might do.” Brad reached for another roll as he winked at Darlene.

Darlene smiled. She found herself thinking, yet again, that this was a good move for them. They all needed this fresh start. None of the kids had been particularly happy at first, but they were coming around.

“Can I be excused?” Grace put her napkin in her lap and scooted her chair back.

Darlene knew meatloaf wasn’t Grace’s favorite. “Whose night is it to help with dishes?”

Grace and Ansley both pointed at Chad.

“Okay,” Darlene said to Grace. “You can be excused.”

Darlene watched Grace leave the table. Her middle child was tiny like Darlene, and she was the only one in the family who inherited Darlene’s blonde hair and blue eyes. And her features were as perfect as a porcelain doll’s, complete with a flawless ivory complexion.  She looked like a little princess. Chad and Ansley had their father’s dark hair and eyes—and his height. Darlene loved her children  equally, proud  of them  all, but sometimes  it was hard not to favor Grace just a little bit, especially since they’d come so close to losing her as an infant. Grace had come into the world nine weeks’ premature, a surprise  to  everyone, including  Darlene’s  doctor,  since  Darlene had  delivered  Chad  at  full-term  with  no  complications  just two years earlier. Grace struggled those first few weeks with undeveloped lungs and severe jaundice, and twice they were told to prepare themselves for the worst. But their Grace was a fighter, and as her sixteenth birthday approached, Darlene silently thanked God for the millionth time for His grace.

There’d been issues and struggles with both Chad and Ansley from time to time—mostly with Chad. But Grace had never given them one bit of trouble.