Oz, Phase 2

Oz, Phase 2

Facebook announcementOne of the blessings of living near most of our five children is that we frequently have big family get-togethers, like holidays or family celebrations or just to hang out. Nate, who married our daughter Anna, shares the same birthday as Mike and we planned to have everyone come to our house for a double birthday cookout celebration.

Bethany and Billy – along with their 3 month-old baby, Isabella, were the first to arrive on that first Saturday in March. After kissing her chubby cheeks, I passed Bella off to her Gapo – Mike wanted to be called the Great And Powerful Oz. Soon, the others arrived and there were nine of us gathered around the table.

It was an evening of laughter, sharing family stories – both old and new – and lots of good food.  After we sang ‘Happy Birthday,’ passed out bowls of banana pudding and chocolate mint cupcakes, and the guys opened their presents, Anna handed Mike a card. Anna loves ‘crafty’ things, including making cards using stamps.

I looked over as Mike opened the envelop and made some comment about how pretty the card was. There was a folded paper inside the card and he unfolded it. Anna had signed the bottom of the paper, “Hi Gapo. I can’t wait to meet you in October.” I glanced up to see two ultrasound pictures above her signature.

Anna was pregnant!

I squealed and jumped up to hug Anna. Mike showed the picture to our youngest daughter, Mary. There was something in her expression that gave it away.

“You knew about this?” he asked her and she grinned. He looked around the table to see everyone grinning. They had had all known since the middle of February.

Anna and Nate announced the news on Facebook last week and we all shared the picture, with Mike commenting, “…and so begins Phase Two of Oz.”

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Oz and Me, entering a new season of life

Oz and Me, entering a new season of life

Bella just being cute!December 7th, 2012 became a new day to remember for my family and me. At 7:30 that morning, our daughter Bethany gave birth to Mike’s and my first grandchild, Isabella Parker Ring. With Bella’s first breath, I fell in love.

Being a grandparent has many responsibilities, one of the first being, what are we going to be called? When our children were little, we trained them to call us Mama and Papa, although over the years it has morphed into Mommy, Mom, Dad, or Daddy.

I wanted a unique name as a grandparent and, after much consideration, finally settled on Nona, the Italian word for ‘Grandmother.’ It is unique, it is beautiful, it is a nod to my Italian heritage, and it is easy to say. Of course, if little Bella – or any of her yet-to-be-born siblings or cousins – wish to get on my good side, they’ll call me Bella Nona, which means, ‘Beautiful Grandmother.’

Mike, on the other hand, has known for years what he wants our grandchildren to call him; The Great and Powerful Oz. I kid you not! After we all caught our breath from laughing, we realized the name fit Mike. Behind his scary-to-the-boys-who-date-our-daughters former Green Beret officer demeanor is a quiet, humble man who is ready to sacrifice for those he loves. We figure that Bella and her future siblings or cousins will call him Oz or Gapo.

So, Oz and I arm wrestle over who gets to hold Bella, copy/paste all of the pictures Bethy post on Facebook, learn how to make a video call on Skype and grin every time we walk down the baby aisle at the store. It can only get better from here.





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Saturday Morning Reminders

Saturday Morning Reminders

Sleep eluded me last night like a child playing a game of hide and seek. Many things have happened this week – some wonderful, others sad – and my mind wouldn’t shut down last night. I tried all my usual sleep-inducing routines – soft music, aromatherapy neck pillow, praying – but nothing helped.  Finally around 2:00 this morning, I took a pill with valerian and melatonin, hoping I would get a little sleep.

I woke up around 7:00, feeling groggy, fighting against the desire to stay in bed. Mike was going to be gone all day shooting a movie and I had planned to spend the time working on the research and prep for my new novel, “Beauty Unveiled.”

I pulled myself out of bed, poured some coffee, sat at the dining room table and stared out of the window. I began wondering whether I would have the energy to write and thought about putting off today’s work. But, I have a short deadline for the book and need to stick with my schedule.

I am such a fan of schedules and lists, knowing they can help me keep up with life’s many challenges. However, a long schedule with many to-do lists attached can look daunting when you’re weary; mine looked miles long and as heavy as a millstone.

Can I really do this? I wondered, taking another sip of coffee.

Almost absent-mindedly, I picked up my phone, scrolled over to the Bible app and clicked. It opened to Psalm 45:1:

My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king;

my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

My eyes misted at the gentle reminder that I don’t need to worry about whether I can write this book or not. The Lord gave me the ability to write. All I need to do is lean on Him and trust Him to lead me, one step at a time, through my writing schedule to a completed manuscript.

As I refilled my coffee and walked upstairs to my office, ideas were spinning in my mind.

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Bethy and Billy about to set off on their hike.

“Billy and I are hiking 86 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 5 days.”

Bethany spoke with the confidence of an experienced hiker, but this was her first hike. They would not be the first people to have trekked this trail, nor would they be hiking the full 2,184 miles. Although she is an active young lady, this would be the first time she had ever faced the rigors of hiking a dozen or more miles over rugged terrain each day, in whatever weather was occurring, carrying a heavy backpack, eating simple meals, sleeping on the rocky ground, with no bathrooms and no showers.

But Bethy’s new husband loved hiking, especially this trail. Several years before, experiencing the grandeur of creation on this mountainous path had drawn Billy’s prodigal heart back to the Lord. He wanted to share this epiphany with her and she was all for it.

They planned for months, buying hiking boots, clothes and gear for Bethany, planning simple meals they could carry, looking at maps of the trail, determining their stopping points each day. She dreamt of sleeping in a tent, looking for whatever God had to show her and seeing a bear in the wild.

Shortly after they began the hike, reality set in. This was not the same as running on a treadmill or walking their dogs through the neighborhood. The trail was rocky, covered with roots from ancient trees and barely wide enough for one person. Sometimes, the path to their next stopping point was 2 miles up a steep ascent. Even though they had purchased a quality backpack for her, it was heavy.

Determined to persevere, she began naming things she was thankful for. God’s love for her. The beauty of His creation. Her husband. Her parents. Her siblings. Her family. Her friends. Her dogs. Tacos.

On the third morning, she told Billy, “You know what I would love right now? An oatmeal cream cookie.” He laughed and they set out for theirday’s allotted trek. The longer they hiked, the harder it was for her to maintain her joy. Tears came easily. She wanted to go home. She wanted to sit on her couch and sleep in her bed. She wanted a shower.

Finally, they saw a covered pavilion up ahead and agreed to take a break. Stepping into the shade of the pavilion, they began laughing. On a picnic table were cans of soft drinks and packages of oatmeal cream cookies.

Throughout the Appalachian Trail, this is known as “Trail Magic,” where ‘trail angels’ perform random acts of kindness for hikers. For Bethany, it was a simple reminder of God’s hilarious love and what she claimed was, “the best oatmeal cream cookie she had ever eaten.”

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The sky was a soft blue, the winds gentle and the temperatures warm. The trees and shrubs around the yard had that soft green tinge that promises renewed life. The fragrance from my hyacinths perfumed the air as I walked past them.

I tried to resist, reminding myself that I had writing deadlines looming, laundry piling up, floors that needed mopping and other responsible grown-up things demanding my attention.

But the day was calling to me to set aside my ever-growing to-do lists and play in my gardens.

The call of spring won.

I changed into my favorite gardening clothes, grabbed my wide-brimmed hat, gardening gloves and tools and headed outside.

I pruned my rose bushes first, which is always an emotionally challenging task for me. There they are, minding their own business, sprouting clusters of young red leaves, and I have to prune them. Not just cut away the dead wood and unhealthy growth, but I have to cut the entire bush back by a third, remove healthy branches in order to shape the rose bush and open it up. I continually remind myself that I am doing this for the health of the plant, to allow more airflow throughout the bush, which reduces the opportunities for diseases to develop; that pruning causes the rose to send energy and nutrients to the spots wounded from pruning,  developing healthy new growth.

I spent time transplanting flowers and bushes. Some needed a new location, one that had better light in soil that had been enriched
specifically for the plant. Other plants were ready to divide. Some plants had been adopted from a friend’s garden. While the temperatures were still too cool to plant many things, I scattered a bunch of lettuce seeds in containers near my back porch.  I knew that all these transplants would need special care until they were settled into their new spot and showed signs of new growth.

I weeded some of my gardens. Weeding is one of my least favorite things to do in a garden, but it is necessary. Some weeds were easy to pull, while others required digging down deep to get all of the roots. My strawberry bed was so overgrown that I lifted all the plants, killed the weeds, tilled in compost and then replanted the strawberries.

Throughout the years I have gardened, I have learned life lessons amid the dirt; lessons that made me take a new look at the challenges and trials I am facing. To look beyond the pain and frustrations to see them as opportunities to trust the Master Gardener’s hand as He gently prunes, transplants, weeds and cares for me.

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Christian entertainment industry vets offer advice for developing your career without selling
your soul.

Promotions is a challenge for anyone who works in the arts and entertainment industry. If you don’t get your name ‘out there,’ it’s hard to make a living. For artists in the Christian entertainment realm there is the double whammy of needing to promote yourself while obeying Paul’s admonition to the Philippians to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider
others better than yourselves.”

Is it even possible to promote yourself and still retain your humility? The three Christian entertainment industry veterans who wrote Shameless Self Promotion and Networking for Christian Creatives (released October, 2011 by WordCrafts Press) answer with a resounding, “Yes!” You CAN build your business and develop your career…without selling your soul.

Whether you are an artist, author, actor, promoter, or even a church hosting an event – regardless of whether you are signed to a major label or work the independent circuit – you have something, or someone, that needs to be promoted. That someone might even by you, and chances are the lion’s share of the promotional activity will be on your shoulders. In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace,
Christian creatives must be heavily involved in promoting themselves and their works.

Authors Paula K. Parker, Mike Parker and Torry Martin have 55 years of combined professional experience working in various segments of the Christian and general market entertainment industries. They have worked with some of the top editors, writers, publicists, copy editors, and PR experts in the industry, many of whom contributed their experiences and wisdom to the book.

“Creative people are often right-brain dominant;” Paula K. Parker observes. “But while the right-brain opens the door, it’s usually the left-brain that does the business. That is why we wrote this book. Shameless Self Promotion and Networking for Christian Creatives is designed to help equip creative individuals and organizations with the tools for successful self-promotion, without the need to sell your soul for 15 minutes of fame.”

About the Authors:

Paula K. Parker is an author, playwright and journalist with more than 1,000 articles published by major national print and online
publications including Christian Single, Christian Health, Family Fun (Disney), Living with Teenagers, the National Drama Service, ParentLife, and HomeLife magazines. She contributed to Thomas Nelson’s New York Times Best-Selling Bible-zine, Becoming. Her stage plays include adaptations of the Jane Austen classics, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility as well as numerous original works. She co-authored the anthology, YHWH: The Flood, The Fish & The Giant (Authentic Media) with #1 New York Times best-selling author GP Taylor, and its sequel, YESHUA: The Vine, The Demon & The Traitor, which is scheduled for release in March, 2012.

Mike Parker is an award-winning freelance writer, actor, director, novelist, playwright & screenwriter. He created and hosted the nationally syndicated Christian music video program NightVision, and can be seen in the feature films Country Strong with Gwyneth
Paltrow and Tim McGraw, and Lukewarm with John Schneider and Bill Cobbs. His screenplay adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray was a finalist in the 2010 Gideon Media Arts Screenplay Competition.

Torry Martin is a writer, actor, comedian, speaker, author, storyteller and sought after teacher at Christian writers’ and filmmakers’ conferences. He is a two-time Christian Artists Gospel Music Association Grand Prize Winner for his acting and writing abilities and a
Grand Prize winner for creating the best Life Lessons commercial for The Learning Channel. Torry writes for the Adventures in Odyssey radio series for Focus on the Family where he created the popular character of Wooton Bassett.

Shameless Self Promotion and Networking for Christian Creatives is available in paperback and ebook format.

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