Friday, August 28, 2009

Etsy Love

Confession time: One of the things I really enjoy doing is walking through arts and craft fairs. While there is a fair amount of stuff that I walk right by, there always seems to be some amazing finds. Like the guy who had a booth of wrought iron 3-D sculptures in the shape of coffee cups! Or the guy whose booth was full of these layered collages that I fell in love with. Or the "soup booth", where you could take home these mixes and boil up delicious soups.

I love to look for gifts at these places because unusual, hand made items always seem better to me than random gift certificates. Or teacher magnets (because having been a teacher for several years, magnets and coffee cups are the mainstay for gifts). I love finding the booth that makes me think, "Ohhh, so and so would love these!"

But there are a couple of problems with craft fairs.

1) They tend to be very crowded. I'm not big on crowds and I tend to want to hurry through rather than really enjoy the experience just to get out of there.

2) They tend to take a whole day rather than a just a few hours.

3) They only happen at certain times of the year, and not always at opportune times.

So imagine my delight when I discovered Etsy! It's an online arts and crafts fair with just about every type of thing you can imagine. To be honest, I try not to go there too often because I kind of get lost in the browsing, but oh, so many neat things to look at!

So why am I bringing this up here? Because maybe you're like me and just love this type of thing. But even if you're not, I bet you have to buy gifts for people on a regular basis, and this just might help you find that perfect item for someone.

And tell us what you discover there! Happy hunting!


Sarah Anne Sumpolec

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book giveaway - WHO MADE YOU A PRINCESS? by Shelley Adina

Update (9/14/09): The winner of this book is: ~Tami! Congratulations!

Camy here, giving away another book! (No, not mine)

The winner of
Ted Dekker and Kaci Hill

Didn’t win the book but want to read it?
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To enter to win today’s book, leave a comment on this blog post, giving your name and saying you want to enter. International readers are welcome to enter!

Please leave an email address or website where I can contact you (please use this format--you [at] something like that to prevent spammers from trolling for your email address). It is the winner’s responsibility to check to see if you won and to email me if you haven’t yet heard from me.

I always email the winner and give them a week to reply, but if I don’t receive an answer, I will pull another person to win the book. I am not responsible for a lost opportunity if you leave an email address you don’t check frequently.

Only one entry per person. The winner can expect their free book in 4-6 weeks.

You have a week to comment--I'll pick a name out of a hat on September 14th. (BTW, you can post a comment and NOT enter, too.)

Today I’m giving away:

Who Made You A Princess? (All About Us Series, Book 4)
Shelley Adina

Shani Hanna returns to SpencerAcademy for her senior year after an amazing summer spent with her friends Lissa, Gillian, and Carly. But the best part about summer was meeting Danyel Johnstone. Danyel is cute, smart, cool, and super nice. All Shani has to do is get him to see her as more than just one of the gang.

But when the girls return to school, they find a new addition to the distinguished student body: Prince Rashid al Amir of Yasir, an oil-rich desert kingdom in the Middle East. Prince Rashid moved to California to prepare for an eventual MBA at Stanford . . . and to romance his future wife: Shani Hanna!

It turns out, Shani's family and the prince's go back for generations, entwined in tradition, obligation, and family honor. In each generation, members of the two families have expanded their business interests through arranged marriage. Will Shani put aside her feelings for Danyel to pursue her family's wishes? Or will God answer her prayers for an intervention?

Excerpt of chapter one:

NOTHING SAYS “ALONE” like a wide, sandy beach on the western edge of the continent, with the sun going down in a smear of red and orange. Girlfriends, I am the go-to girl for alone. Or at least, that’s what I used to think. Not anymore, though, because nothing says “alive” like a fire snapping and hissing at your feet, and half a dozen of your BFFs laughing and talking around you.

Like the T-shirt says, life is good.

My name’s Shani Amira Marjorie Hanna, and up until I started going to Spencer Academy in my freshman year, all I wanted to do was get in, scoop as many A’s as I could, and get out. College, yeah. Adulthood. Being the boss of me. Social life? Who cared? I’d treat it the way I’d done in middle school, making my own way and watching people brush by me, all disappearing into good-bye like they were flowing down a river.

Then when I was a junior, I met the girls, and things started to change whether I wanted them to or not. Or maybe it was just me. Doing the changing, I mean.

Now we were all seniors and I was beginning to see that all this “I am an island” stuff was just a bunch of smoke. ’Cuz I was not like the Channel Islands, sitting out there on the hazy horizon. I was so done with all that.

Lissa Mansfield sat on the other side of the fire from me while this adorable Jared Padalecki look-alike named Kaz Griffin sat next to her trying to act like the best friend she thought he was. Lissa needs a smack upside the head, you want my opinion. Either that or someone needs to make a serious play for Kaz to wake her up. But it’s not going to be me. I’ve got cuter fish to fry. Heh. More about that later.

“I can’t believe this is the last weekend of summer vacation,” Carly Aragon moaned for about the fifth time since Kaz lit the fire and we all got comfortable in the sand around it. “It’s gone so fast.”

“That’s because you’ve only been here a week.” I handed her the bag of tortilla chips. “What about me? I’ve been here for a month and I still can’t believe we have to go up to San Francisco on Tuesday.”

“I’m so jealous.” Carly bumped me with her shoulder. “A whole month at Casa Mansfield with your own private beach and everything.” She dipped a handful of chips in a big plastic container of salsa she’d made that morning with fresh tomatoes and cilantro and little bits of—get this—cantaloupe. She made one the other day with carrots in it. I don't know how she comes up with this stuff, but it’s all good. We had a cooler full of food to munch on. No burnt weenies for this crowd. Uh-uh. What we can’t order delivered, Carly can make.

“And to think I could have gone back to Chicago and spent the whole summer throwing parties and trashing the McMansion.” I sighed with regret. “Instead, I had to put up with a month in the Hamptons with the Changs, and then a month out here fighting Lissa for her bathroom.”

“Hey, you could have used one of the other ones,” Lissa protested, trying to keep Kaz from snagging the rest of her turkey-avocado-and-alfalfa-sprouts sandwich.

I grinned at her. Who wanted to walk down the hot sandstone patio to one of the other bathrooms when she, Carly, and I had this beautiful Spanish terrazzo-looking wing of the house to ourselves? Carly and I were in Lissa’s sister’s old room, which looked out on this garden with a fountain and big ferns and grasses and flowering trees. And beyond that was the ocean. It was the kind of place you didn’t want to leave, even to go to the bathroom.

I contrasted it with the freezing wind off Lake Michigan in the winter and the long empty hallways of the seven-million-dollar McMansion on Lake Road, where I always felt like a guest. You know—like you’re welcome but the hosts don’t really know what to do with you. I mean, my mom has told me point-blank, with a kind of embarrassed little laugh, that she can’t imagine what happened. The Pill and her careful preventive measures couldn’t all have failed on the same night.

Organic waste happens. Whatever. The point is, I arrived seventeen years ago and they had to adjust.

I think they love me. My dad always reads my report cards, and he used to take me to blues clubs to listen to the musicians doing sound checks before the doors opened. That was before my mom found out. Then I had to wait until I was twelve, and we went to the early shows, which were never as good as the late ones I snuck into whenever my parents went on one of their trips.

They travel a lot. Dad owns this massive petroleum exploration company, and when she’s not chairing charity boards and organizing fund-raisers, Mom goes with him everywhere, from Alaska to New Zealand. I saw a lot of great shows with whichever member of the staff I could bribe to take me and swear I was sixteen. Keb’ Mo, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Roomful of Blues—I saw them all.

A G-minor chord rippled out over the crackle of the fire, and I smiled a slow smile. My second favorite sound in the world (right after the sound of M&Ms pouring into a dish). On my left, Danyel had pulled out his guitar and tuned it while I was lost in la-la land, listening to the waves come in.

Lissa says there are some things you just know. And somehow, I just knew that I was going to be more to Danyel Johnstone than merely a friend of his friend Kaz’s friend Lissa, if you hear what I’m saying. I was done with being alone, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t stand out from the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this crowd. Carly especially—she’s like the sister I would have designed my own self. And Lissa, too, though sometimes I wonder if she can be real. I mean, how can you be blond and tall and rich and wear clothes the way she does, and still be so nice? There has to be a flaw in there somewhere, but if she’s got any, she keeps them under wraps.

Gillian, who we’d see in a couple of days, has really grown on me. I couldn’t stand her at first—she’s one of those people you can’t help but notice. I only hung around her because Carly liked her. But somewhere between her going out with this loser brain trust and then her hooking up with Jeremy Clay, who’s a friend of mine, I got to know her. And staying with her family last Christmas, which could have been massively awkward, was actually fun. The last month in the Hamptons with them was a total blast. The only good thing about leaving was knowing I was going to see the rest of the crew here in Santa Barbara.

The one person I still wasn’t sure about was Mac, aka Lady Lindsay MacPhail, who did an exchange term at school in the spring. Getting to know her is like besieging a castle—which is totally appropriate considering she lives in one. She and Carly are tight, and we all e-mailed and IM-ed like fiends all summer, but I’m still not sure. I mean, she has a lot to deal with right now, with her family and everything. And the likelihood of us seeing each other again is kind of low, so maybe I don’t have to make up my mind about her. Maybe I’ll just let her go the way I let the kids in middle school go.

Danyel began to get serious about bending his notes instead of fingerpicking, and I knew he was about to sing. Oh, man, could the night get any more perfect? Even though we’d probably burn the handmade marshmallows from Williams-Sonoma, tonight capped a summer that had been the best time I’d ever had.

The only thing that would make it perfect would be finding some way to be alone with that man. I hadn’t been here more than a day when Danyel and Kaz had come loping down the beach. I’d taken one look at those eyes and those cheekbones and, okay, a very cut set of abs, and decided here was someone I wanted to know a whole lot better. And I did, now, after a couple of weeks. But soon we’d go off to S. F., and he and Kaz would go back to Pacific High. When we pulled out in Gabe Mansfield’s SUV, I wanted there to be something more between us than an air kiss and a handshake, you know what I mean?

I wanted something to be settled. Neither of us had talked about it, but both of us knew it was there. Unspoken longing is all very well in poetry, but I’m the outspoken type. I like things out there where I can touch them.

In a manner of speaking.

Danyel sat between Kaz and me, cross-legged and bare-chested, looking as comfortable in his surf jams as if he lived in them. Come to think of it, he did live in them. His, Kaz’s, and Lissa’s boards were stuck in the sand behind us. They’d spent most of the afternoon out there on the waves. I tried to keep my eyes on the fire. Not that I didn’t appreciate the view next to me, because trust me, it was fine, but I know a man wants to be appreciated for his talents and his mind.

Danyel’s melody sounded familiar—something Gillian played while we waited for our prayer circles at school to start. Which reminded me . . . I nudged Carly. “You guys going to church tomorrow?”

She nodded and lifted her chin at Lissa to get her attention. “Girl wants to know if we’re going to church.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Lissa said. “Kaz and his family, too. Last chance of the summer to all go together.”

And where Kaz went, Danyel went. Happy thought.

“You’re not going to bail, are you?” Carly’s brows rose a little.

It’s not like I’m anti-religion or anything. I’m just in the beginning stages of learning about it. Without my friends to tell me stuff, I’d be bumbling around on my own, trying to figure it out. My parents don’t go to church, so I didn’t catch the habit from them. But when she was alive and I was a little girl, my grandma used to take me to the one in her neighborhood across town. I thought it was an adventure, riding the bus instead of being driven in the BMW. And the gospel choir was like nothing I’d ever seen, all waving their arms in the air and singing to raise the roof. I always thought they were trying to deafen God, if they could just get up enough volume.

So I like the music part. Always have. And I’m beginning to see the light on the God part, after what happened last spring. But seeing a glimmer and knowing what to do about it are two different things.

“Of course not.” I gave Carly a look. “We all go together. And we walk, in case no one told you, so plan your shoes carefully.”

“Oh, I will.” She sat back on her hands, an “I so see right through you” smile turning up the corners of her mouth. “And it’s all about the worship, I know.” That smile told me she knew exactly what my motivation was. Part of it, at least. Hey, can you blame me?

The music changed and Danyel’s voice lifted into a lonely blues melody, pouring over Carly’s words like cream. I just melted right there on the spot. Man, could that boy sing.

Blue water, blue sky

Blue day, girl, do you think that I

Don’t see you, yeah I do.

Long sunset, long road,

Long life, girl, but I think you know

What I need, yeah, you do.

I do a little singing my own self, so I know talent when I hear it. And I’d have bet you that month’s allowance that Danyel had composed that one. He segued into the chorus and then the bridge, its rhythms straight out of Mississippi but the tune something new, something that fit the sadness and the hope of the words.

Wait a minute.

Blue day? Long sunset? Long road? As in, a long road to San Francisco?

Whoa. Could Danyel be trying to tell someone something? “You think that I don’t see you”? Well, if that didn’t describe me, I didn’t know what would. Ohmigosh.

Could he be trying to tell me his feelings with a song? Musicians were like that. They couldn’t tell a person something to her face, or they were too shy, or it was just too hard to get out, so they poured it into their music. For them, maybe it was easier to perform something than to get personal with it.

Be cool, girl. Let him finish. Then find a way to tell him you understand—and you want it, too.

The last of the notes blew away on the breeze, and a big comber smashed itself on the sand, making a sound like a kettledrum to finish off the song. I clapped, and the others joined in.

“Did you write that yourself?” Lissa removed a marshmallow from her stick and passed it to him. “It was great.”

Danyel shrugged one shoulder. “Tune’s been bugging me for a while and the words just came to me. You know, like an IM or something.”

Carly laughed, and Kaz’s forehead wrinkled for a second in a frown before he did, too.

I love modesty in a man. With that kind of talent, you couldn’t blame Danyel for thinking he was all that.

Should I say something? The breath backed up in my chest. Say it. You’ll lose the moment. “So who’s it about?” I blurted, then felt myself blush.

“Can’t tell.” His head was bent as he picked a handful of notes and turned them into a little melody. “Some girl, probably.”

“Some girl who’s leaving?” I said, trying for a teasing tone. “Is that a good-bye?”

“Could be.”

I wished I had the guts to come out and ask if he’d written the song for me—for us—but I just couldn’t. Not with everyone sitting there. With one look at Carly, whose eyes held a distinct “What’s up with you?” expression, I lost my nerve and shut up. Which, as any of the girls could tell you, doesn’t happen very often.

Danyel launched into another song—some praise thing that everyone knew but me. And then another, and then a cheesy old John Denver number that at least I knew the words to, and then a bunch of goofy songs half of us had learned at camp when we were kids. And then it was nearly midnight, and Kaz got up and stretched.

He’s a tall guy. He stretches a long way. “I’m running the mixer for the early service tomorrow, so I’ve got to go.”

Danyel got up, and I just stopped my silly self from saying, “No, not yet.” Instead, I watched him sling the guitar over one shoulder and yank his board out of the sand. “Are you going to early service, too?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little surprised. “I’m in the band, remember?”

Argh! As if I didn’t know. As if I hadn’t sat there three Sundays in a row, watching his hands move on the frets and the light make shadows under his cheekbones.

“I just meant—I see you at the late one when we go. I didn’t know you went to both.” Stutter, bumble. Oh, just stop talking, girl. You’ve been perfectly comfortable talking to him so far. What’s the matter?

“I don’t, usually. But tomorrow they’re doing full band at early service, too. Last one before all the turistas go home. Next week we’ll be back to normal.” He smiled at me. “See you then.”

Was he looking forward to seeing me, or was he just being nice? “I hope so,” I managed.

“Kaz, you coming?”

Kaz bent to the fire and ran a stick through the coals, separating them. “Just let me put this out. Lissa, where’s the bucket?”

“Here.” While I’d been obsessing over Danyel, Lissa had run down to the waterline and filled a gallon pail. You could tell they’d done this about a million times. She poured the water on the fire and it blew a cloud of steam into the air. The orange coals gave it up with a hiss.

I looked up to say something to Danyel about it and saw that he was already fifty feet away, board under his arm like it weighed nothing, heading down the beach to the public lot where he usually parked his Jeep.

I stared down into the coals, wet and dying.

I couldn’t let the night go out like this.

“Danyel, wait!” The sand polished the soles of my bare feet better than the pumice bar at the salon as I ran to catch up with him. A fast glance behind me told me Lissa had stepped up and begun talking to Kaz, giving me a few seconds alone.

I owed her, big time.

“What’s up, ma?” He planted the board and set the guitar case down. “Forget something?”

“Yes,” I blurted. “I forgot to tell you that I think you’re amazing.”

He blinked. “Whoa.” The barest hint of a smile tickled the corners of his lips.

I might not get another chance as good as this one. I rushed on, the words crowding my mouth in their hurry to get out. “I know there’s something going on here and we’re all leaving on Tuesday and I need to know if you—if you feel the same way.”

“About . . . ?”

“About me. As I feel about you.”

He put both hands on his hips and gazed down at the sand. “Oh.”

Cold engulfed me, as if I’d just plunged face-first into the dark waves twenty feet away. “Oh,” I echoed. “Never mind. I guess I got it wrong.” I stepped back. “Forget about it. No harm done.”

“No, Shani, wait—”

But I didn’t want to hear the “we can still be friends” speech. I didn’t want to hear anything except the wind in my ears as I ran back to the safety of my friends.

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Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her humorous contemporary romance novel, Single Sashimi, and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent. She also runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveways!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Best Things in Life...And All That Jazz

Here is something that I hate to do: Car Shop.

Here is what my husband and I have been doing for the last month: Car Shopping.

Here is our problem: If it's in our price range, it's got too many miles, is too old, has been totaled, doesn't start, doesn't work, etc. If it's our dream car, it's too expensive or if it's actually in our price range, it gets bought six hours before we're scheduled to see it.


I've decided we need to go back to the good ol' days of horse and buggy. Granted, it would take us about two weeks to go see my in-laws, but carrots are way cheaper than gas these days.

You want to know what our problem is? My husband and I are picky. And we know it. We want a car that seats at least five (why, you ask? Considering we have no children, it's a good question). We want a car that has never been in an accident, does not need major work done on it and has less than the 217,000 miles that one guy's car had (oy!). And Jon, my husband, wants four-wheel drive. Me? For the longest time, I thought that all cars were four-wheel drive because, duh, every car has four wheels.

This is not the case, however. So, I leave the mechanical stuff to Jon. Obviously, this is a good thing.

This is not the only area of my life that I'm picky though. I hate to confess this, seeing as how I'm trying to stick to a grocery budget lately, but the only bread I buy is Sara Lee. It's incredibly tasty (and expensive). It puts all the rest of the breads on the bread aisle to shame (thus the expensive part). I'm picky when it comes to pictures of me, or the brand of gum I chew, or how my hair looks. I'm even one of those people who cares how the bed is made.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm picky when it comes to God.

God and I can be on fabulous terms when it's a gorgeous, sunshiny day and everything is just going perfectly, according to my plans.

Then, something doesn't quite go as I hoped. I get a "no, you need to wait" from God instead of the "yep, here you go!" that I was hoping for. Someone I love is hurting. A prayer that I prayed doesn't get answered. And suddenly, the praise aspects of my prayers are exchanged for a string of whys.

I've been learning a ton lately about worship. And in Romans 11, Paul gives us the "why" of worship: "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord and who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. "

Paul starts the next chapter with the infamous verse, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."

Even when we don't get what we think we need, want or desire, God is still the Holy One. We don't know the mind of the Lord, but we do know that His wisdom is unfathomable. And that is deserving of praise - even when we are disappointed.

I'm going to try to remember that praise isn't like scarves, only a seasonal thing. And in the meantime? I'm going to go research bicycles.

Have a great day!

Erynn :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mom Troubles?

Do you constantly fight and argue with your mom?

Over this past weekend I was on a youth leaders retreat, and a huge part of what we did was to share our life stories with one another. We would not only speak about our salvation testimony, but also about a season in our lives when we struggled with an issue and felt distant from God.

I shared about my teen years and how my mom and I were constantly fighting. As a teen if I didn’t see eye to eye with my mother, it would become a passionate debate. To make matters worse, I was homes chooled, so I had all day to argue and scream at her! During this entire season of my life I had a very strong relationship with God. I attended and later helped lead Bible studies and was very involved in my church. On top of that, my 4 closest friends were also strong Christians and very positive influences in my life; despite all the great things I had going for me, this area that dealt with the way I treated my mom was completely removed from God.

There were so many times when I knew I was right during an argument, or had been misunderstood, and because of that I felt justified in the way I spoke to my mom in my defense. I would tear her down with my words as I brought forth my “correct” point of view.

It took me leaving home at 18 to realize the damage I had done to my relationship with my mom and to myself. As a teen all I could feel was the injustice in the way I was being disciplined or spoken to. I never thought that my words could cut so deep and cause so much pain. Years later I began to see my actions for what they were. The Lord began revealing to me how my words had been used to do much damage to my mom.

I think the through this whole experience the Lord highlighted two main themes, the first being the power of the tongue. In the book of James, we really see what damage having an untamed tongue can yield.

James 3:5-6
Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

The second thing I realized is that even in those times when arguing with mom when I was right, God is more concerned about my response to the situation, in addition to the respectful way I communicate and submit. These are lessons I learned the hard way.

This past weekend also happened to be my mom’s birthday. I am so thankful for the way she disciplined me and never gave up on me. If you too are struggling with your relationship with your mom, know that there is HOPE!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back-to-School List

Next week I’ll send both of my kids back to school. As usual I can’t believe how fast the summer went. In six days Nathan will be a second grader and Christian a freshman in college.

We have spent the past few weeks dealing with back-to-school lists. We’ve slowly purchased uniforms for Nathan and items on his classroom supply sheet:
· 2 folders with pockets (check)
· Glue sticks (check)
· Ruler with inches and centimeters (use last year’s)
· Navy blue pants (offer an enticing reward if he can keep from tearing the knees until he has grown out of them)

Then of course we picked up things that we knew Christian would need, like highlighters, pens, paper for taking notes, a sturdier backpack, and a bus pass (he’s living at home and taking public transportation for now).

Today we have a list of things to accomplish while at his college campus:
· Pick up textbooks
· Find where his classes meet
· Locate the closest bus stop
· Sign some paperwork

I’m sure you have your own back-to-school lists to check off and double check. How about adding a goal or two while you’re at it? Here are a few suggestions.
· Reach out to one person who doesn’t seem to have a circle of friends
· Read your Bible each day even if it’s only one verse
· Pray for your teachers
· Read a book that is not required for school
· Try a new club or activity
· Share your faith with someone

As swimming and hanging out with your friends is replaced with early mornings and homework, pray that God will make his plan for you clear and help you see the next school year as an exciting new season.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Book giveaway - ELYON by Ted Dekker and Kaci Hill

Camy here, giving away another book! (No, not mine)

The winner of
The Vanishing Sculptor
Donita K. Paul

Didn’t win the book but want to read it?
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To enter to win today’s book, leave a comment on this blog post, giving your name and saying you want to enter. International readers are welcome to enter!

Please leave an email address or website where I can contact you (please use this format--you [at] something like that to prevent spammers from trolling for your email address). It is the winner’s responsibility to check to see if you won and to email me if you haven’t yet heard from me.

I always email the winner and give them a week to reply, but if I don’t receive an answer, I will pull another person to win the book. I am not responsible for a lost opportunity if you leave an email address you don’t check frequently.

Only one entry per person. The winner can expect their free book in 4-6 weeks.

You have a week to comment--I'll pick a name out of a hat on August 27th. (BTW, you can post a comment and NOT enter, too.)

Today I’m giving away:

Ted Dekker and Kaci Hill

New York Times best-selling author Ted Dekker revisits the universe of his half-million selling Circle Trilogy with the continuation of this popular YA series--and brings along a member of "The Circle" as his coauthor.

Darsal is trying to love the Horde as Elyon asked her to, but she's torn between this new mission and her original one . . . especially now that Johnis and Silvie no longer seem to be on her side.

The Chosen Ones are facing their greatest threat--extinction--and only by Elyon's grace will they survive to tell the tale.

Excerpt of chapter one:

Chapter One

Marak of Southern, Qurong's general over all the Horde army, paced inside one of the bunk rooms reserved for the officers. Two narrow beds stacked on top of each other jutted out of each wall. No windows. Just a torch stand and the candles on his desk. Behind him was a narrow shelf of books.

His captain and best friend, Cassak, was taking too long to bring in the prisoners. He had said he would be here by now. Marak's patience was running out.

"Where is he?" Marak grumbled to himself, storming over to the two open books on the desk. One had once belonged to the long-gone general Martyn, who'd trained him; and the other, to his dead betrothed, Rona.

How, in Teeleh's name, had everything gone wrong in a week? He was a general, for goodness' sake, respected and trusted and feared. He'd been a good man with a loyal brother and a soon-to-be wife.

And now ...

General Marak had sequestered himself in the officers' hall at the north end of Middle, with fifty warriors standing guard. For two days they had roasted in the hot sun, choosing loyalty to their general over the orders of the Dark Priest. And for two days all of Middle remained tense, caught in the battle lines drawn between High Priest Sucrow and Marak.

Marak took along swig of his drink and continued his trek around the room. The meal his slave had brought him earlier sat untouched on the table. He couldn't eat; his stomach felt as if it were full of knives.

He went to the door and swung it open. "Is Darsal here yet?"

"No, sir," the warrior replied, falling into his salute. "We've not yet seen-"

"Find her."

"My lord-"

"Find her!" Marak shut the door and went back to his inner tirade. This was a mistake. All of it. He'd had everything under control a week ago. At least, as much as the mess left by his predecessor allowed.

In less than a week, the priest had undone everything Marak had built, all in a bizarre sense of revenge and power play. Marak hadn't wanted to defy Qurong-and technically he hadn't. He had no reason to. But a series of events had led him to defy the Dark Priest and sequester himself in the officers' quarters. Now Qurong, the supreme commander, must hear him out on the absurd notion of a general taking orders from a priest. He had to.

Knotting his fist and glowering at the cold plate of food, he reviewed this plunge into dishonor.

First, upon gaining rank over Marak, Sucrow had ordered him to execute his own family-all albinos. Marak had stalled as long as possible, but Sucrow was powermongering.

Marak's jaw tensed at that thought. It'd been some time since he'd given the order and stood by as Cassak administered the hideous potion-Marak's albino-killing concoction called the Desecration-to his family. His brother.

He whirled around to the door and thrust his head out again. "Why are you still standing there?" he barked at the guard. "Did you find her?"

"The albino is still out on your previous orders, General," the guard replied cautiously. "I've sent a scout for her."

"Good." Again Marak turned back to his predicament. Where was he ...? Oh, right. His second problem. Sucrow had struck a deal with this Josef character from the backside of the desert, who claimed to have a better, faster way of killing off the albinos: a magic amulet made of Leedhan magic-whatever that was-that would give control over the mythical Shataiki and command them to wipe out the blight that is the albinos.

Marak had dismissed the idea. Sucrow had not.

Which led him to his third problem: Sucrow had taken Josef and Arya and had gone after the amulet without him. Immediately upon learning this, Marak sent his captain, Cassak, after them. If Sucrow was so convinced and so willing to risk his life for this amulet, there had to be some merit to its power.

Acting upon Marak's order, Cassak had captured Josef and Arya and taken the amulet from them. The move had infuriated Sucrow, so Marak had moved into the officers' quarters, barred the windows, and set guards around the sundial for his and his prisoners' protection.

So here he was. For two days Sucrow had made no move, but that would not last.

So be it. Marak had the amulet and the two prisoners, Josef and Arya, in his custody. His slave, Darsal, knew them as Johnis of Middle and Silvie of Southern, but he did not. Whatever their reasons were, he would not yet let them know he had that information. A knock at the door snapped him out of his silent rant.

"Who is it?" he growled.

"Darsal. Let me in."

Darsal, his albino slave, had been in the cells the same night his family was executed and had spoken with them before their deaths. She wore his brother's Circle pendant around her neck, his gift to her. Marak wasn't sure why he'd spared her, but he had. Twice. Once that night, when she vowed to be his slave. The second time in a glen, shortly after Sucrow had ordered him to kill her and, to his horror, he found he could not.

This at least partly explained his rationale to sequester himself here in the officers' quarters. Qurong might not yet know Darsal was still alive despite Sucrow's orders. And Sucrow couldn't use her in his sadistic rites-or worse yet, kill her-if Marak still had her.

"Marak, are you going to let me in?" The knob was rattling. He quickly crossed the room to unhook the latch and swing the door open.

There she was. This albino slave, this woman ... Darsal of the Far Northern Forest, who claimed to have crossed time and space through worn leather portals called the Books of History. She stood before him, arms crossed. Morst covered her exposed skin, and a blue veil wrapped around her head, covering her nose and mouth. Rich brown eyes watched him, noticeably frustrated.

"Thank you," she said. "You summoned me?" Their eyes met.

If he wasn't mistaken, he was falling in love with her. With an albino. This was most definitely a mistake.

He forgot what he'd summoned her for. He released a breath and worked the knot of frustration and anxiety back down into his belly.

"General." Darsal spoke softly, pulling him out of his thoughts. The citrus scent she wore drifted through the room.

Oh. Right. He was a general with a thousand problems to take care of. Unwilling to be caught in her warm gaze again, Marak stormed down the dark hall to the war room.

"Has Cassak arrived yet?" he asked her as he shoved the door open, not missing a step.

"Not yet," Darsal said, straightening the blue veil. She watched his irritated pacing, characteristic of the last several hours. He circled around the eight-foot oval table made of cherrywood. A green runner draped the width of the table, laid squarely beneath three copper candelabra. White pillars of wax flickered as curls of smoke drifted through the war room.

"He'll be here," Darsal said.

He tugged at the collar of his rust-colored tunic, sweaty and itchy, and turned toward the east-facing window he'd had Cassak's men bar and cover with a heavy crimson drape so no one could see in. Every window in the building had received the same treatment. The room was dark, but he couldn't very well light the torches without suffocating them all. Why Darsal would unnecessarily coat herself in morst, then drape a veil over her head in here, was beyond him.

Her fruity scent mingled with that of the candles.

"Relax, Marak. He'll be here."


"He's certainly taking his time about it. Read the message again," he ordered, turning back to her.

"It hasn't changed, my general." Darsal quirked a brow, completely exasperated with him. Her veil slipped, revealing dark brown braids. "He'll be here with your amulet and your prisoners."

"Just read it. I don't have the patience for your obstinacy. Not today. Not when we're at the brink of a civil war and Sucrow is halfway to Qurong by now. If your so-called friends hadn't been so stupid-"

"It was the Throaters' fault, and you know it. Cassak said so himself."

"They were only out there because they're a bunch of superstitious religious idiots who convinced the priest one of his own myths might be true," he argued.

"Jordan believed Shataiki exist," Darsal pushed. Marak tensed. "And the Roush. And Elyon. Was your brother a fool, Marak?"

Marak scowled at her. "Jordan was mistaken on many things. That didn't make him a fool."

"Yet you call drowning foolish."

"Your persistence is aggravating."

She studied him. "You're missing the point of all of this, my general."

"What's that?" He almost regretted the question. He knew her answer.

"This is about-"

"Elyon. You keep saying that."

"More than that, Marak. I mean, yes. But you're still missing it. Elyon doesn't just love the Circle. He loves the Horde too. You. This is all about you and Elyon. That's why I'm here." She opened her arms wide, indicating the room. "All of this."

Marak started to protest but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Secretly he appreciated the diversion from her nonsense about being Elyon's emissary. "We don't have time for this. Who is it?" he growled, unwilling to open the door on a whim.

"A messenger from the captain, General!" a familiar voice called through the door. Cassak's favored scout.

Marak nodded at Darsal, who let the scout in. She'd taken to staying by the door, even so far as to sleep in front of the threshold at night. A curious thing.

The small warrior saluted and went to one knee. Marak bid him stand, then bellowed, "He's late."

"He was avoiding the Throaters," the scout explained. "He's bringing the prisoners from the southeast to avoid further confrontation with the rebels."

Marak queried him on Eram, the half-breed rebel, then came to his real question. "When will Cassak be here?"

"Shortly, sir. He's making sure the prisoners and the amulet are secure. He's already sent messages to the commanders so they can respond to the rebels accordingly."

"Tell me something," he asked the scout. "Were you there?"

"Yes, sir."

"Exactly what did you see?"

"Well, sir, it was just like the captain's report said."

"And no one would obey the captain?"

"Oh, we did, sir. We didn't kill any of them. Warryn and his men did the killing."

Marak bit back a comment. "What else? Cassak kept talking about black trees and clouds."

The scout didn't answer. He kept looking at Darsal. Staring. What was this scout looking at Darsal for?

"You have a problem, soldier?" Marak growled. He resisted the urge to jump between Darsal and the stupid scout and slice his head off.

The scout backed up. "No sir."

"Then answer the question." From what Marak had already gleaned from his scouts and an irritating message from Cassak, Josef wanted Sucrow's assistance-which meant Marak needed information. There was no way he was letting the priest race off with Marak's prisoners, much less in secrecy, with delusions of glory and self-aggrandizement in his head.

"Well, sir, it's just that no one's really sure what we saw."

Marak threw Darsal an over-the-shoulder glance.

"Were they furry?" Darsal interrupted, startling both Marak and the scout. She appeared beside him, so close he was drowning in her scent. A flash of heat shot up his arm where hers brushed his. "Black fur, leathery wings, red eyes. Do you remember that?"

"Albino," Marak warned, snapping his head around. But that was his mistake. Their eyes met ...

He broke the gaze first.

Never again.

"Bring some water." Marak kept his voice even. Tried to calm it just a little.

She raised a brow. "It's ... water you want?"

What business did she have bringing up the red lakes with Cassak's scout in the room? He answered slowly. "Not that water."

Darsal left without answering. Marak finished business with the scout and dismissed him. For the next few minutes he was alone. "Jordan," he muttered. "What I wouldn't give to fight this out with you right now."

"Marak." Darsal's voice startled him. He turned, and she offered him a bottle of water and a small scroll with Qurong's seal on it. "This just came."

"Read it." He drank greedily as she opened the message and scanned it.

"It's a summons to the palace. Qurong wants to know what happened out there."

"He should ask his bloody priest. My hands are tied."

"So get them untied."

Marak eyed Darsal as she took a swig of water.

"I'm just saying," she explained, "in less than a week, Sucrow started what you've spent a year and a half preventing." She read on, her voice suddenly tense. "It's about the expedition."

Marak didn't answer.

"I'm not Jordan, but I'll fight it out with you."

"You weren't supposed to hear that."

Darsal raised her gaze to him. Sighed. "Follow your heart, Marak."

His eyes narrowed. Now, that was a strange thing to say. "My heart?"

"That's what Thomas always said. Elyon speaks through the heart. Love." She touched his chest.

Marak frowned. Bit his tongue. Would his heart have killed his family or saved them? His heart was a black-riddled coward.

"Elyon's who got us into this mess."

A short commotion caught his attention. The pair listened, both reaching for blades on instinct, even though Darsal didn't have one. He then realized she had reached for one of his.

"Must be Cassak, finally," Marak growled.

"Try making an ally rather than an enemy of him," Darsal said. Marak eyed her. "Johnis, I mean."

Great. Now Darsal was playing games too.

"Why? Planning on drowning them as well?"

"I might be."

"I think not. You'll wait in the hall."

Sucrow sat in the shadows, masked by curling smoke. Incense filled his nostrils. He knelt down on a silk cushion before the winged-serpent image of Teeleh and prayed for the success of the coming expedition, that their destruction of the albinos would find favor with him and be a fragrant offering to the Great One.

At last he lifted his forehead from the ground and sat straight on his knees, gazing up at the icon.

"My lord," one of his servants spoke from behind. Sucrow scowled. "Qurong sends for you and the general."

He paused. "Very well. Be gone."

Footsteps carried the informer away. Sucrow turned back to Teeleh and repeated his petition. Breathing deeply, he entered his trance and embraced the vision that came to him. He stood before the altar and drank in the depths of what he knew to be his master's lair. As the room chilled, a low growl and acidic breath came over his shoulder. Sucrow didn't turn. A taloned claw traced his throat, cold and hard. Sinewy fingers touched his skin.

His master. The Great One. Teeleh.

"I do not care to be petitioned so that my servants might complain of their own failures, priest," his master warned. "And now this is what you will do: bring me the blood of the one long ago chosen, and ensure the medallion falls into your hands. I will not tolerate the vampiress any longer. The Leedhan must face penalty for her insolence."

Sucrow lifted his face, further exposing his throat to his master. "Lord?"

"Do not allow them to cross the river."

Confusion overtook him. But before he could ask, the chill seeped from the room, along with the presence.

"My lord ... Warryn has returned."

Warryn, the foolish chieftain who had embarrassed him. A pebble in the shoe to be dealt with.

"Bring him in."

Warryn soon stood before Sucrow, who looked his wayward chieftain over, scrutinizing him. The chief serpent warrior had been tainted. Penalties were required. "An eye for an eye," wasn't that how the saying went? Sucrow would give Warryn's position to another, but he would also take Warryn's eye. A more formidable ally with a sense of duty and honor. If Marak could not be persuaded ... his captain likely could.

The thought of an entire army of serpent warriors, all led by a chieftain and general who served the Great One with faithfulness ...

"My lord ..."

"Summon the officers," Sucrow ordered. "And you, Warryn, will at last be humiliated before your favorite captain." He sneered.

Warryn remained stoic. He bowed and left to retrieve the officers.

Sucrow looked through his library, seeking his book of incantations. Relighting the incense, he spoke a prayer to his master and bowed prostrate before Teeleh's image six times.

Excerpted from ELYON by TED DEKkER KACI HILL Copyright © 2009 by Ted Dekker.

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Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her humorous contemporary romance novel, Single Sashimi, and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent. She also runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveways!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Something to Talk About

Ever met someone who is just absolutely amazing at bringing up Christ in a conversation? It doesn't matter who they are talking to or what they are talking about, but somehow, Christ ends up the focus.

I'm not very good at this.

My attempts sound like a street witnessing project gone wrong. One of the guys I used to work for put it like this. "So, your first day of school was today? Oh, BANANAS! Speaking of bananas, you know what else is slippery? The road to hell!"

Oh, I've heard all about the different "methods" you can use to witness. Handing out tracts, doing skits, stopping total strangers, going door to door...there's an endless way to share the love of God.

I'm always both impressed and humbled when I meet someone where every conversation they have inevitably leads back to Christ, without being weird or over-spiritual or forcing it into the conversation like they are mashing a banana into a light socket. I doubt that last one turns out pretty.

I'm sure you know at least one person who is head over heels in love. How often does their boyfriend/fiance/husband come up in the conversation? My bet? Like a zillion times. Like so often, you know the boyfriend/fiance/husband's name better than you know your own.

I have a friend who is so completely in love with Christ that everything she says just broadcasts it to the world. We could be talking about something completely casual, like what we want for lunch or something, and the next thing I know, we're talking about Christ. It's not forced. It's not weird. It's not awkward. But it is so relaxed, that it's like we're talking about the love of her life.

And so we are.

Instead of learning different "methods" to witnessing, maybe Christ had it right all along. When you love God, you will love others. Those are the first and greatest commandments. So let's focus on loving God. And you know what? I have a sneaking suspicion that our conversations will soon point toward the One we're focused on.

1 Corinthians 10:31 - "Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Greatest Day

If you were asked to describe "the greatest day" you could imagine, what would you say?

In my book, Parting the Waters, I tell a story about cleaning my son Jacob's room a couple months after his near-drowning accident and finding this slogan taped above his bedroom door: "Today is the greatest day and I am in it." At the time he was and lying in a coma at a nursing home. When I read those words, I hit a new low in my grief and, between sobs, asked God once again how this could be His plan.

In that moment God spoke, and despair made room for hope.

Our daughter, Grace, adopted the phrase and placed it above her dorm room door in college. Now that the book is carrying the message literally to the far corners of the world, I've been hearing from various people who've made it their daily declaration, too. One woman I met when I spoke at a retreat was inspired to create a painting that now hangs in Jacob's current room.

Last Friday evening I spoke to the precious young women at East Texas Open Door. Seventeen girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen, all of whom have survived deep suffering and brokenness in one way or another. We talked about how God is like an artist who can take the shattered pieces of our lives and create a beautiful mosaic. Afterward we hung out over refreshments, and every one of them took up permanent residence in my heart. I signed a copy of Parting the Waters to each girl and included this phrase: "Today is the greatest day, and you are in it."

I can be a little slow, but I'm beginning to realize that this is no small thing. What Jacob once penned as a private reminder is inspiring who-knows-how-many people to live each day to its fullest. One more ripple from his life. One more glimpse into the beauty God is creating from brokenness.

Yesterday I received yet another e-mail from a mom who is helping her daughter paint the phrase above her bed in her new apartment. She wrote to verify the exact wording because they didn't have the book handy. In my response I asked her to please take a picture of the results and send them to me. And then I had an idea.

If you write, post, or paint Jacob's words somewhere, would you do me a huge favor? Photograph it and send me a copy. I'd love to collect as many as possible and post them on my website. You can send them to me at jeanne.damoff at gmail.

Whether you've adopted the phrase or not, the saying is still true for you. Today is the greatest day, and you are in it. Let's live like we believe.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Friends and Red Toenail Polish

My toenails received extra care. Red was the color to wear.

In the weeks leading up to the high school reunion that happened this weekend, I was able to reconnect through FB with a bunch of my high school friends and acquaintances. We started a side loop to begin to plan a girls’ weekend following the reunion. All were welcome. Stories started to surface. At first we kept it to what we we’ve been up to these past years—the careers, the kids, the memories.

Then it got real.

One was in an abusive and dangerous situation. Several of us worked together to get her to a safe place. Another was struggling with depression. We encouraged. The FB conversations began to include honest but fun humor, encouragement, and practical help. A different kind of connection was made with these ‘friends’ on this loop. We were not necessarily buddies in high school. Something new was beginning.

I could see we were going deep. We would do almost anything for each other. But maybe go about it more wisely than we would have those many years before.

Then like girls in high school again, we began chatting about what we would wear to the reunion. Maybe at one time we would have tried to figure out how to wear the best outfit, stand out above the rest. But not now. “Be comfortable.” “Sure, wear the jeans you love.” (This is a casual affair.) Then there was the humor from one of the girls about the extra events and extra outfits: “First day: wear it plain. Second day: Scarf in your hair, knee socks, bangles, large hoop earrings. Third day: Go back to first day but add a shawl, sandals, flower in your hair, cute flip flops.”

The red toenail polish? It was the chosen signal for this new solidarity and to help us find each other at the multi-year reunion. Something subtle but obvious enough to notice and then exchange the knowing smiles of rekindled or new friendship.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Things I've learned about my teens this summer!

10. When you don't feel like cooking you can order pizza and make everyone happy.

9. The words "Great job, son!" still makes my son's face glow like they did when I gave him praise for no pee-pee in his underwear when he was two.

8. The fabric cutting and button sewing skills I taught my daughter when she was five come in handy when she is seventeen and wants to turn old jeans into shorts with bling.

7. YouTube can entertain three teen boys for hours, and Charlie the Unicorn needs to be banned forever from the Internet.

6. Cooking class can happen at 10:30 p.m. when my daughter gets a hankering for egg pancakes. (Recipe: Melt 2 Tbs butter in cake pan at 400 degrees. In blender mix 1 1/2 c. flour, 1 1/2 cup milk, and 5 eggs. Pour mixture into hot pan with butter. Cook for 20 minutes or until golden on top. Add syrup. Enjoy.)

5. A 19-year-old who loved Legos as a kid does a stellar job building a DECK on the back of the house under this Grandpa's direction.

4. Teens aren't too thrilled when their friends find out THEIR good news on MOM'S Facebook page before they get to share.

3. You can talk two teens into doing an impromptu video spot very easy ... by just asking.

2. A teen who is seeking God in prayer and reading the Bible daily GLOWS. (And helps with the dishes too.)

And the #1 thing I learned about teens this summer.

1. Exchanges students are amazing. Exchange students who return home can break a host mom's heart. I miss you, Andrea!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Feeling Bad

Tomorrow our church youth group leaves for a fun trip that my son Christian has to skip. He was okay with the plan until he discovered that all of his friends had signed up. On top of that it’s the last youth group trip that he can participate in before officially starting college. He isn’t whining and complaining about it but I can tell he’s bummed out.

We had good reasons for encouraging him to stay home.
Reason #1: Time – Between a campout earlier this summer, a mandatory two-day orientation for college and our family vacation, asking for another four days off from his summer job would be pushing it.
Reason #2: Money – We planned for him to save as much of his summer paychecks as possible so he won’t have to work during his first semester of college. The trip would take a big chunk from his account and we couldn’t afford to help him out with it.

Both reasons were legitimate and Christian agreed. He does have next week’s vacation to look forward to. But I still hate seeing him left out. At the same time I know that he is learning some valuable lessons.

1) We can’t do everything. Once in awhile we have to pick and choose our fun events, opportunities, and activities.
2) Sacrifice is part of life. Saving for his first semester’s worth of meals, bus fare, and unexpected expenses means saying no to things that will suck away those funds. It’s good practice for when he is no longer living at home.
3) Responsibility – At some point we all need to be responsible and practical by passing on some fun stuff.

I’m praying that he’ll see some benefits in staying home.

Chances are you have been in Christian’s place. How did you respond? What did God teach you through the disappointment and frustration.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Crazy Laughter

Has anybody ever been in one of those really awkward moments and had laughter save you?

Yesterday, I went to visit a close family member in prison. It shouldn't have been funny. It really shouldn't. I admit I was a tad nervous going back to see him. The previous visits hadn't been the best.

But yesterday was different.

He started laughing. We laughed about the dumbest things. Old times. The snack he picked. Writing it now--it doesn't sound all that funny--a Dr. Pepper and a bag of trail mix, but yesterday we laughed until tears rolled.

Sometimes I'm too serious. I love people who can find humor in anything. Are you like that? Or more like me?

Maybe laughter breaks the tension. Maybe it's the beginning of gratitude and forgiveness. I don't know, but I'm telling you--if you're in a tight spot and can find ANYTHING funny, go ahead and laugh.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Lying Lips

"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord."
When my children were young, they had to recite that verse whenever they got caught in a falsehood. They particularly like saying the "bomb" part of abomination. 
But that was a good image for them to associate with the sin of bearing false witness. It is amazing to me what strong repercussions result from a few careless words. 
It is also proof of our being born with a sin nature that no toddler has to be giving lessons on lying. Oh, I admit that as they grow, children perfect the art of lying by watching what works for other kids, or a parents example, or something gleaned from TV or videos. But that first lie happens without calculation. "Did you take a bite out of the cake on the table?" This with the icing and chocolate crumbs as evidence around the mouth, down the shirt, and on the little chubby fingers. "No, Mommy." How cute they are in this mixture of guilt and innocence. So naive that they really think Mommy doesn't know. So culpable in avoiding the consequences of their crime. *Sigh*
Several places in the Bible we are warned against letting the tongue take the helm.
The image of our words packed tightly into a ticking bomb is a good thing to help us remember to choose our words carefully. A "deceit" bomb dropped from our lips will destroy trust, destroy relationships, and even destroy a life, and in some horrific situations, a country. 
It is oh, so, true.
Lying lips are an A-bomb-nation of the lips.