Hey Y'all!

It took me awhile to get here, but alas I'm finally joining the blogosphere of bloviation. It took a rant floating around in my head to send me toward this journey, but so be it. We'll have some fun here too. I promise. Thanks for stopping by! Don't forget to leave me a comment or two. ~ diane

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My New Baby!

Shameless promotion alert: my newest book is now available on Kindle! Actually, it's a novella. Meaning it's a quick read and perfect for summer. And if you don't have a Kindle, not to worry. You can download Kindle for PC for free on your computer or laptop, iPad, or iPhone. If none of those are an option, a paperback copy of the entire collection of these novellas will be available sometime next year. But enough about the logistics. Let me tell you all about my new baby!

Tea with Emma is the first in a series called "The Teacup Novellas." Lucy Alexander has a serious case of writers' block. That is, until her UPS guy delivers a box of vintage teacups - a gift from the estate of her late Aunt Lucille, her namesake. The teacups immediately take her back to memories of those many summers she spent with her beloved aunt and the special tea parties they'd share when Aunt Lucille would tell her all those wonderful stories. Suddenly the stories rush through Lucy's mind like so many movie scenes all vying for her attention. And as those stories bombard her, she realizes her writers' block has disappeared. A series of novellas begin to unfold in her mind. The first, a modern-day take of Jane Austen's Emma . . .

Fresh from a Jane Austen tour in England, Maddie Cooper returns home to Texas, determined to bring a touch of “Austen to Austin.” She dreams of opening an authentic English tea room and, like Austen’s Emma, put into practice her self-proclaimed gift as a matchmaker. But an airport mishap with a cranky Englishman gets her off on the wrong foot (quite literally), especially when he moves into the university guest house across the street. Can Maddie find a love for her unapproachable new neighbor, or has she finally met her match?

I've had so much fun working on these stories, plus Lucy's story line which continues in the prologues and epilogues of the following novellas. Each is a stand-alone story which includes a sub-plot about a vintage teacup. 

Teacups? Why teacups? Well, you see, I once inherited a collection of vintage teacups from one of my favorite aunts. Just sayin' . . .

You'll be happy to know Tea with Emma is available for only 99 cents at Amazon. C'mon, you can't even buy a cup of coffee for 99 cents anymore! And did you know you can send an e-book as a gift via email? Treat yourself and your friends to a fun read, then drop me a line and let me know how you like it.

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You've GOT to read this book!

You all know I'm a voracious reader. I'm long overdue for posting about some of my recent favorites, but this one jumped to the front of the line the minute I finished it. I can't remember when a book has inspired me like this one! Miracle on Southwest Boulevard: The Remarkable Story of One Woman's Perseverance and Faith to Change the World, One Child at a Time, by Cindi Hemm with Katie Hemm Kinder.

Now, you need to know right up front that I know the author, Cindi Hemm. We've been friends since college (actually she was still in high school when I first met her). For a couple of years I dated the brother of her then-boyfriend-now-husband, Jeff Hemm. When Ken & I got married thirty years ago, Cindi was one of my bridesmaids. (That's us below on the day of my wedding. Love the shades, Cindi!) But other than the exchange of our annual Christmas letters and more recently via Facebook, we haven't stayed in touch very well over the years.

When I learned she'd written a book about her experiences as principal of an elementary school in a Tulsa community riddled with crime and generational poverty, I ordered it immediately. Could NOT put it down. I read it in one day. And not just because I know the author.

Cindi's story is riveting. When reassigned to Tulsa's Eugene Field Elementary in 2003, she found a dilapidated school building falling apart, a student body with some of the worst test scores in the state of Oklahoma, and a population of kids who spent most of their time just trying to survive, living in unspeakable poverty. Most of them never had enough to eat, but that issue paled in comparison to the various abuses many of them faced regularly at the hands of family and others in the community.

Most of us would bolt like lightning from such an assignment. Some of us would have agreed to stay, but hated the circumstances, and grumbled about it every day on the job. But that's not Cindi. Cindi Hemm's heart broke for this school, for her students, her discouraged teachers, and for the seemingly hopeless community that surrounded this sad old building. But she turned all of that heartbreak into the most incredible motivation. The result? Well, look no farther than the title of the book: a true miracle.

Since finishing the book, I've continued to rattle off story after story to my husband, each one more astounding than the one before it. Cindi shares so many examples of the desperate lives these kids live outside the school walls. Most of us are so sheltered from this kind of poverty, we have no clue anything like this goes on here in America. Cindi was surrounded by it day after day, but she refused to just accept it. She DID something about it. She fought hard and built those kids a new state of the art building! It became the hub of the community, but that was only the start. She invited an affluent downtown church to take her school on as a ministry in all kinds of capacities, from financial contributions to volunteers who work in the school's food pantry, clothing ministry, and even an affordable grocery store called "West Side Harvest Market" to service the community. And get this - they helped the kids put in a full garden, where each student learns how to raise fruits and vegetables, thereby learning not only about good nutrition but also about commerce as they sell their produce to their market! Genius!

But let me back up and tell a story that brought tears to my eyes and also explains a bit about why this school has been such a success. When the new building was under construction, Cindi and a whole team of her teachers and supporters gathered one night at the construction sight, armed with markers and pages and pages of scripture verses. Together, they spent hours writing out scriptures all over the beams, the concrete floors, and any other surface that would eventually be covered. In doing so, they under-girded their new facility with a commitment to God, making this HIS school, and dedicating it to the children who would pass through its doors year after year. Yes, it's a public school, but that didn't stop this team from dedicating their new home to the only One who could truly make a difference in the lives of these children for generations to come! To this day, Cindi says people always comment about the calm, quiet atmosphere when they enter Eugene Field. Gotta love it.

How blessed are these kids to have a principal like Cindi Hemm?!
(Photo by Cory Young/Tulsa World)
 So many wonderful stories, I could ramble for pages. YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. When I first started reading it, I thought it would be a good recommendation for anyone in public school education. I quickly realized it was so much more. It's an inspiration to anyone who reads it. It's a testimony to the powerful potential available when just one person looks at an impossible situation and sees limitless possibilities. When just one person sees kids in a tough neighborhood as individual boys and girls who just need to be loved. When just one person sees one obstacle after another after another, and simply rolls up her sleeves to get to work.

I am so proud of my friend, Cindi Hemm. I always knew she'd make her mark in this world, but it's such a joy to see how God has used her to touch the lives of so many people. Take a quick minute to watch this video that was taped when Cindi won this year's Medal for Excellence in Elementary/Secondary Administration for the state of Oklahoma. Watch here. Then do yourself a favor and order her book here (also available on Kindle). Be inspired like I was!

Love you, Cindi!