Friday, December 30, 2011

And the Earth Shook Again

It’s a week since the 5.85 and 6.0 aftershocks that rudely shook Christchurch on the 23rd December. Kevin and I were having lunch at a restaurant at a mall when the first one struck and the moment is clearly etched in my mind. The gradual shaking, the acceleration and rocking, the fear that it was going to be another massive one.

The young waitresses were distraught and clung together crying as diners looked at each other in shocked disbelief. Another big quake – and just before Christmas. How unfair! How awful!

Trained by past experience, people started to evacuate the mall and crowds streamed past. Car sirens shrieked and faces reflected dismay. For me it was one of my lowest points since the first earthquake in September 2010. Things had been relatively calm for a few weeks and I couldn’t believe the earth was heaving again.

The restaurant staff kindly packed my meal into a container and Kevin and I left as the ground continued to shake with repeated aftershocks. Back home we turned on the TV and watched the breaking news. All the malls were closed, traffic was gridlocked in places, liquefaction and flooding had affected certain areas, cliff faces had collapsed further and the airport was closed.

I turned to Kevin. “Jason and Erin are supposed to fly in tonight for Christmas. I hope they aren’t delayed too much.” Erin told me later she burst into tears when she heard their rescheduled flight was for 9pm on Christmas night. Fortunately, they later managed got on a flight at 6pm on Christmas Eve.

It no longer felt like Christmas. I was sad for the retailers who lost out on one of the best shopping days of the year. I was sad for the people who once again faced clearing silt from their properties. I was sad that our own family plans were disrupted.

And then God spoke to me. I had a choice and it was up to me whether I had a good Christmas. I got up the next morning and went back to the mall to finish what I needed to do. The day was punctuated with shakes but I chose to focus on God. The circumstances were dismal ... but He was not. It made all the difference and Christmas Day turned out to be a lovely time of family and fun.

A week later, our world is still rattling and rolling. A 4.3 set the Christmas tree bouncing last night and another 4.3 woke me early this morning! From past experience I know these are set to continue for a while. As 2012 approaches, my prayer is that God will continue to help me focus on the positive and not on what is happening around me. It’s wonderful knowing the peace He gives in the midst of turmoil!

God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging

Psalm 46:1-3

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Bright Pink Torch

A Story of Hope for Christchurch

Katy had a bright pink torch that she loved with all her heart. It was a birthday present from her granny and still looked as new as the day she got it. That was surprising because she used it all the time. Sometimes she wiggled under her bed and pretended she was in a cave full of aliens. Other times she flashed signals to her friend Melissa who lived next door. When they had the big earthquake, Dad couldn’t find his torch and used hers to check the house and garden.

“Katy!” Dad called. “Come and see this!”

She scrambled upstairs, wondering what Daddy wanted to show her.

“Look out the window, Katy.”

It was dark outside and thick clouds hid the stars from view. Katy snuggled on the seat next to Dad and as she watched, bright beams of light bounced across the sky. “Wow! That’s so cool! Where’s the light coming from?”

“It’s from the centre of town where all the damaged buildings are. There’s no power in the city so the council have set up these lights to shine hope into the darkness.”

Katy was silent for a moment. “They must have giant torches to shine that brightly.”

“I’m sure they do.” Dad smiled as he tugged one of Katy’s pigtails. “Can you think of another light of hope, Katy?”

Katy put her head on one side. It was a few days before Christmas and she guessed what Dad was thinking about. “The star over the stable in Bethlehem,” she said.

“That’s right, sweetheart”

“Why was the star a light of hope, Daddy?”

“It led the wise men to baby Jesus – and he came to die in our place and save us from our sins.”

The next day Katy went down to the church with Dad. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“We’re packing food parcels for people who don’t have as much as us.”

Katy listened to the adults chatter as she played with her torch. She’d piled up some packing boxes to make a tunnel and pretended she was a spy on a secret mission. “Keep still,” she whispered to her pretend friend. “We need to hear what’s happening out there.” She flashed a few signals with her torch while peeping through a crack in the boxes.

“That’s the last one,” Dad said as he placed a gaily wrapped parcel on top of a frozen turkey, Christmas pudding and packets of food.

“This one doesn’t have a gift,” called a lady.

“Who’s it for?” Dad asked.

“Old Mrs Wilson.”

Katy knew who Mrs Wilson was. She was bent like a comma and walked with a silver stick. No one liked her grumpy ways and she often shooed children out of her path.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Dad was saying. “We double-checked our numbers.”

“We’ll have to put it aside and get a gift later.”

“But the turkey will defrost,” another lady chipped in.

The adults’ voices faded as Katy thought about Mrs Wilson. She had been to her house once and hated it. It was surrounded by ugly old trees and was cold and dark inside. She was sure Mrs Wilson didn’t know about the lights of hope, otherwise she wouldn’t be so bad-tempered. If she could see the city lights ... and if she understood the star that shone over Bethlehem, she would smile and be happy.

A thought crept into Katy’s heart and she didn’t like it. But the more she tried to push it away, the bigger it got.

“What is it Katy?” Dad asked distractedly as she tapped his arm.

“I heard you talking about a Christmas present for Mrs Wilson.” She tried to stop the quiver in her voice. “I want to give her my torch.”

Dad stopped what he was doing and looked at Katy. “But sweetheart, you love your torch.”

“I know but I think Mrs Wilson needs it more than I do. She can’t see the hope lights from her house and she never smiles.”

On Christmas Day Katy was walking out of church when she saw Mrs Wilson hobbling towards her. “Katy! Katy, dear!”

Katy stopped as the old lady caught up with her. To her surprise, tears were running down the old woman’s cheeks - but she was smiling through them.

“I want to thank you for the torch, Katy. Your father told me the whole story – and it’s the best gift anyone ever gave me.” She reached out a bony arm and pulled Katy into a hug. “God bless you child.”

Katy hugged her back, a big bubble of joy bursting up from inside. She missed her torch but God had used her gift to shine hope into an old lady’s heart. For her, that was more important than any game she could play. She lifted her face heavenwards and whispered two words. “Thank you.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Kindle Sale

Write Integrity Press is hosting a special Christmas sale whereby you can purchase a selection of e-books at only 99 cents each. Two of my own books are part of this promotion: Moods of Africa is a selection of short stories inspired by my years in Africa - and Tender Christmas Tales is a collection of my best Christmas stories. You may need a tissue for that one.

A total of 13 books penned by nine authors are available. For more details on the promotion, click here.

This is a wonderful opportunity to stock up on some good reading for the Christmas holidays. I'll definitely be buying some books myself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Deconsecration of Christchurch Cathedral

Farewell to a City Icon

We immigrated to New Zealand in 2006 and on our arrival to Christchurch, the bus dropped us behind Christchurch Cathedral. I already knew it was an important part of the city and was impressed with its size and grandeur. I never imagined that less than six years later the CBD would be in ruins and I would be attending the deconsecration of the cathedral in a journalistic capacity.

I’m on the CERA media list and get regular updates about demolition, press conferences and earthquake recovery news. When the invitation arrived to attend the deconsecration on the 9th November, I replied immediately. As the cathedral is in the restricted Red Zone of Christchurch, all journalists had to report to the Art Gallery at 9am to be transported in by bus. Photo ID was required and we were given a warning of possible death as well as what to do if an earthquake struck during the service.

It was the first time I’d walked around Cathedral Square since the February earthquake and although I’d photographed it from the air, the extent of damage still caught me by surprise. Familiar landmarks were gone and other buildings were in various stages of demolition. The cathedral was fenced off and sat crookedly, gaping holes allowing access to pigeons.

I stayed there for a while, reminiscing about the last six years. I thought of the Festival of Flowers and magnificent floral carpet that ran down the centre of the cathedral each year. I thought of the wearable-art fashion show I’d watched while sitting on a worn wooden pew. My South African friend, Sharon, and I had climbed the tower and absorbed the amazing views across the city. I’d wandered through the cathedral looking for the Eagle Lectern which I had to include in a story for a fiction competition. I’d heard the bells ring out at a number of New Year celebrations and last Christmas I photographed angels suspended high above the crowds. And now it was in ruins. The stained glass windows were shattered, the rose window had collapsed and the tower was a broken shell. It was painful to see but the thought of it not being there at all was worse.

The deconsecration was a step towards closure; a reminder that the church is the people and the cathedral just a building, albeit a magnificent one. I can only imagine the pain of those who have worshipped there for years and are intimately acquainted with the structure and layout. As Bishop Victoria Matthew read the following words, some in the crowd wiped their eyes and the mood was somber:

“On the first day of November in the year of our Lord 1881, by Henry John Chitty Harper, first Bishop of Christchurch, this building was duly dedicated and consecrated in honour of Jesus Christ.

The Sentence of Consecration has been in effect until this present date.

I, Victoria Matthews, eighth Bishop of Christchurch do hereby revoke the said Sentence and do remit this building and all objects remaining in it for any lawful and reputable use, according to the laws of this land.”

It was sad but healing to say goodbye and I was grateful for the opportunity to see the cathedral one last time before the demolition crew start the deconstruction. It is hoped that part of the structure will be saved, and treasured items will be removed as the controlled demolition proceeds. I’m confident that one day a new cathedral will stand proudly in Cathedral Square. Until then I’ll treasure the memory of my last visit ...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Read a Chapter of my Latest Story

Board Games: A Trio of Mysteries in the Dangerous Games Series features three stories centered on a theme of board games. The first chapters of Amy Barkman's story Victim have been offered as samples in various places, so we decided we'd share the first chapter of my story Mind Games. Look out for the first chapter of Tracy Ruckman's story later in the week.
Mind Games

by Debbie Roome

Chapter One

“Making an early start?” Bruno Severini placed a steaming latte on Lindsay Wilson’s counter.

“I certainly am ... and thank you for this.” She wrapped her hands around the mug of creamy liquid and took a long sip. “First class as always. You spoil me, Bruno.”

He smiled. “Only the best for good neighbors.” Their shops stood side by side in New Regent Street; a popular tourist area in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“So how are your preparations for The Floral Festival?” she questioned, knowing his wife always worked wonders.

He waggled his hands in the air. “The cafe is decorated from top to bottom and Isabella has arranged roses on every table.”

Lindsay nodded. “I must come and have a look. She always does an amazing job.”

“Good morning, everyone.” A breezy voice interrupted their conversation. “Have you walked down our street this morning? The shops are looking fabulous.” Heather Jackson was Lindsay’s right hand woman and knew as much about the collectibles business as she did. They weren’t related but with slim builds, spirals of blonde hair and infectious laughs, they were often mistaken for sisters. At fifty, Lindsay was younger by three years.

Bruno raised a hand in farewell. “Must get back to the Cozy Cappuccino. I’ll see you girls later.”

Heather stowed her purse under the counter. “Our shop front looks great, Lindsay. I love the lilies in the central arrangement.”

New Regent Street was a parallel row of mirror-image shops; all were painted in pastels, all were narrow and all consisted of an upstairs and downstairs. The architectural style was Spanish mission and dated back to 1931. The street itself was paved and the contents of some shops spilled onto the sidewalks – teddy displays, postcards, souvenirs, and crafts. The Cozy Cappuccino and other cafes had outside eating areas, dotted with gaily-colored umbrellas. The only traffic allowed on the street was the old-fashioned trams which followed their tracks round and round like clockwork trains.

Lindsay drained the last of her latte. “I actually haven’t been past the other shops. Coming for another look?” She locked the door and together they set off down the street. “Ugh!” she exclaimed, pointing at the shop next to hers. “The Green Sprout looks as plain as ever. I don’t think Irvine has a creative bone in his body.”

Heather laughed in agreement. “Is he still showing you attitude?”

“Is he ever! I can’t imagine why he’s like that. It’s like he was born with a chip on his shoulder.” They paused, examining his window display; an unimaginative collection of wheat germ, sunflower seeds, canola oil, royal jelly tablets and dried seaweed.

“Can I help you ladies?” Irvine thrust his head through the door, his skin florid and eyes bloodshot although it was barely 8 a.m. “Or are you just here to criticize?” Heather took a step back but Lindsay stood her ground.

“Actually, Irvine, we were wondering why you aren’t participating in the festival by doing a floral window display.” He slammed the door and Heather tugged Lindsay’s arm.

“Come on. Leave him to wallow in his misery.”

Lindsay fell in step with her. “I don’t know why he has such an attitude. It’s no wonder he’s not liked around here.”

“Yeah. His only visitor is that nephew of his. What’s his name? Henry? Harry?”

“Harvey,” Lindsay supplied.

“That’s it. Harvey. And Roland of course.” Roland was landlord of the three shops at the end of the street. The Cozy Cappuccino, which was on the corner, Calico Cottage Collectibles and The Green Sprout. It was common knowledge that he was forever trying to extract rental payments from Irvine. Sometimes he would pay two months in advance; other times he would lag behind for weeks.

“I still say he’s involved in drugs,” Heather continued.

Lindsay nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen several shady characters lurking around his shop. One of them has been there every evening this week. A skinny youngster, wears a dark grey hoodie and baggy jeans.”

“Yes. I’ve noticed him hanging around too.”

Their conversation drifted in other directions as they exclaimed over the floral decorations. Christchurch was known as the Garden City and hosted several annual flower shows each year. The Floral Festival was the largest and thousands of tourists swamped the city each year, laden with bags, cameras, and fat wallets.

“I feel like I’m walking through a country garden.” Lindsay bent to examine a display crafted from chipped bark and dozens of potted plants. “Can you smell the fragrance from these carnations?”

Heather inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. “Exquisite. I think this year will be the best yet.”

“And look at those begonias.” The two women gazed at the blood red and deep gold blossoms.

“It’s so good to be back in our store. Working from home after the earthquake wasn’t the same.”

Heather nodded. “It was terrible being blocked out of town. Do you remember how we were escorted in with two hours to grab as much stock as we could salvage?”

“Yes, and we were among the lucky ones. So many others lost their businesses and the demolitions were heartbreaking.”

Heather gazed down the street. “The city’s skyline changed daily back then. Even now I feel sad when I see the gaps where some of the heritage buildings stood.”

“It’s a loss we’ll never forget, but also an opportunity to rebuild a stronger city ...”

“Yoo-hoo, Lindsay.” She swivelled her head to source the sound. “There’s a courier delivery waiting outside your shop.” It was Sarah Matthews who owned The Painted Camel, a craft shop opposite Calico Cottage Collectibles. “I saw you walking down the street and told him to hang on a minute.”

Heather fastened the doors back while Lindsay signed for the parcels. “The local one got here quickly,” she said as she carried them in. “Look at this. A collection of glass figurines from a deceased estate in Auckland.” She read the labels on the other two packages before slitting them open and displaying the contents on the counter. “These are games that I bought through eBay. First edition Mind Games, and Classic Mind Games. They come from two different people in different parts of the States.”

“What are the odds they would arrive on the same day?”

“Well, there’s a story behind that. I bought the first edition Mind Games from a woman called Brenda and she shipped it by fast mail. The other one dates back a few months as it somehow it ended up in Christchurch, England instead of here. The recipient kindly forwarded it in to me.”

Heather picked up one of the boxes and examined the brightly colored brain on the front. “The first edition still has the cellophane on.”

“Amazing, isn’t it?”

“Well it certainly increases the value. Especially as it must be at least 20 years old.” She flipped the box and read the instructions on the back. “It looks interesting. I’ve never seen this game before.”

“Me neither but they are collectibles according to my Google research. I’m going to give Professor Holbrook a call just now as I’m sure he’ll take one of them.” She marked a price on the new stock, placed the games on a downstairs shelf, and took the glass figurines to a locked glass cabinet on the first floor. All the upstairs stock was in secure cabinets and the area had video surveillance that displayed on a screen next to the counter.

“Here you are.” Heather handed her a sheet of paper, warm from the printer. Whenever new stock arrived, Lindsay listed the items in the window. Regular customers would browse the list before coming in for a closer look.

An hour later, the crowds started to build as the trams followed their circuit and dropped fresh batches of tourists every twelve minutes. There were three running that morning and all of them were beautifully decorated. Lavish wreathes hung from the front and rear and honeyed wood contrasted with twisted flower garlands on the sides. “It’s going to be a busy day.” Heather watched a departing customer after swiping yet another credit card through the till point. “People are in the mood for spending and it’s only the beginning of the festival.”

Lindsay nodded as she straightened stock and tidied shelves. She thrived on excitement and found it exhilarating rather than draining. “Rather busy than idle, Neil used to say. He loved to watch me working; said I reminded him of a honey bee buzzing round its hive.” She paused for a moment. “I still miss him, even after all these years.”

“He was a good man.”

“Yes. It’s hard to understand why he died so young.” She flicked a duster across some pottery pigs. “Life isn’t fair sometimes but living in the past won’t help.”

The doorbell chimed again and Heather turned to serve another customer. Lindsay finished tidying the shelves and then remembered she was going to give the professor a call. He answered after two rings and seemed delighted to hear her voice. “Of course I’d be interested. Probably in the first edition. I’ll pop in first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Wonderful. I’ll put a reserved tag on it for you.” Humming quietly, she walked to the back corner where the two Mind Games boxes sat side by side. They were both in mint condition and looked almost the same. She tagged the correct box and replaced it on the shelf.

“Lindsay,” Heather called her from the front of the shop. She looked up just in time to see a skinny figure in hoodie and jeans entering the premises. Her heart rate picked up speed. This was the fellow they’d been discussing earlier. Stuffing her fears away, she walked to the front of the shop.

“Good morning. Can I help you?”

Two vacant eyes peered from the depths of his hood and she saw his skin was rough with acne.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” He was younger than she had originally thought. Maybe twenty.

“Jus’ havin’ a look.” He jammed his hands into his pockets and moved towards the shelves, slightly unsteady on his feet.

Lindsay threw a glance towards Heather. “Call Bruno,” she mouthed before following the youth. He’d paused by a shelf of old fashioned flat irons and was running his hand across the base of one. Thoughts tumbled through her mind. What if he uses it as a weapon? What if he hits me with it? What should I do?

It was at times like this that she really missed Neil. He would have handled the situation calmly instead of fighting panic like she was. Thank goodness Bruno worked next door. He was generally easy going but had a fiery Italian temper that surfaced every so often. Breathe, she instructed herself, as she stepped towards the youth. He’s not going to do anything in broad daylight. “That iron is pretty old. Your great, great grandmother probably used a similar one for her laundry.”

He placed it back on the shelf and turned to look at her. “Can you spare me a couple of dollars?”

Lindsay had learned the hard way not to hand out cash from the shop. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you go down to the City Mission in Colombo Street they’ll help you out with some food.” Just then the bell dinged and a couple of customers walked in, followed by Heather and Bruno.

“Everything alright, Lindsay?” Bruno stood next to her and his sheer bulk seemed to deflate the youth. “What’s your name young man?”


“Alright, Ricky. Want to tell me what you’re doing?” The youth shrugged his shoulders and Bruno placed a firm hand on his arm. “I don’t think you have a legitimate reason for being here so get going.”

Lindsay almost felt sorry for him as he swayed past them and out of the door.

“You alright?” Bruno enquired.

“I will be, and thank you for coming over. We feel much safer knowing you’re so close.”

He smiled. “Anytime ... and I’ll send two espressos and some ravioli over. That will settle your nerves.”

Her heart rate was subsiding already. “That sounds good, Bruno. Just be sure to add it to my tab.”

The food arrived in due course and Lindsay won the toss for eating first. “Be careful where you sit,” Heather cautioned. “Ricky’s still out there. I saw him go into The Green Sprout earlier and he’s been wandering up and down like a lost soul.”

Lindsay put her head out the door and saw Ricky sagging against the trunk of a tree. “I still say that Irvine’s supplying him with drugs. He’s probably desperate for a top up of P or whatever he’s on.”

Heather shuddered. “They found a P lab near my house last week. Police were all over the place and recovered about $100,000 worth of methamphetamines.”

“I remember reading about that. In fact I won’t be surprised if Irvine’s mug is plastered across the The Press one day soon.”

A customer walked in just then and Lindsay decided to find a table outside The Cozy Cappuccino. She was halfway through the ravioli when a familiar figure appeared on the street. Harvey sauntered past, stopping dead when he saw Ricky. He obviously wasn’t pleased to see him and angry words were exchanged.

Eventually, Ricky slouched off and Harvey headed across to The Green Sprout. He paused en route, his eyes skimming the notices in Lindsay’s window.

The rest of the day passed in a blur and by 5:30, Lindsay was tired but buzzing. “This must have been one of our best days ever. I can’t imagine how busy parade day will be.” She shoved a handful of curls back from her face. “And I still have several hours of work to do. I haven’t had a chance to touch the Internet sales today.”

“Work late and sleep in tomorrow,” Heather advised as she finished cashing up. “I have a dentist appointment in the morning but Sherrie will be here from 8:30.”

Lindsay flicked the lights off, leaving only the window display lit up. Some of the eating houses stayed open till late and the trams ran till 10 p.m. Even on a normal evening, there would be plenty of window shoppers out on the street.

To read the rest of Debbie's story, get your copy of Board to Death today at:


Kindle (on sale - only $3.99!)

Barnes & Noble

Other Epub and PDF versions available at Smashwords

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Popcorn in the Sky

Attempt One
We were about to land at Queenstown Airport when the pilot pulled the nose up sharply and powered the Airbus A320 out of the valley. I hung onto my seat as we bumped and lurched, thinking the ascent was even rougher than the descent. Even worse was the ominous silence from the cockpit. Fifteen minutes later as we broke free of the clouds, the pilot told us what had happened. “I was given an urgent warning of wind shear on the runway and had to abort the landing. The control tower has cleared us to try again.”

Attempt Two
Praying, I hung on to my seat again as we began another turbulent descent. Every so often the clouds parted allowing a glimpse of the snow capped mountains. I felt the wheels go down, the clouds thinned to mist, we crossed the river just before the runway and just as I thought we were safe, the pilot hauled the nose up and we shot skywards again, the aircraft shuddering and banging. After another fifteen minutes of silence as he manoeuvred us out of the mountains, he apologised and said we were on our way back to Christchurch as it was too dangerous to land in the current weather conditions.

Attempt Three
I had work to do in Queenstown and rejecting the buses laid on by Jetstar (a seven hour journey) I arranged a cheap standby fare with Air New Zealand. Fifteen minutes later I had a boarding pass for a flight on an ATR72. Unfortunately this plane turned out to have engineering issues and we sat on the tarmac for fifteen minutes while they attended to them. At last we took off with a warning that the weather conditions in Queenstown were still unstable and we may have to divert.

This flight made the first one pale into insignificance. I felt like I was a kernel of popcorn, ricocheting around the pot of the sky. And that was before we began our descent into Queenstown. I think all the passengers were relieved when the pilot announced he was diverting. Invercargill was too windy for the size of the aircraft so we headed to Dunedin. With much bouncing and dropping, we finally landed.

Attempt Four
Air New Zealand organised buses to take us through to Queenstown and they arrived at the airport within ten minutes of us landing. We finally reached our destination at 6pm. My original arrival time had been estimated at 9:15am. Instead of forty minutes in the air, I spent a total of four hours up there and four hours on the bus.

I’ve learnt to be flexible with all the travelling I do but this experience was more stretching than some. As I relaxed on the bus, glad to be back on the ground, I asked God what I could learn from the day’s events. He showed me that in many ways my experience reflected life in general – and there were some important lessons wrapped up in that.

Lesson One
Even if you have a dream and goal in life, and a plan of how to get there, it might take you a lot longer than you anticipate.

Lesson Two
The journey to accomplishing your dreams may be uncomfortable and fraught with difficulty. It’s worth persevering as you will get there eventually.

Lesson Three
Your goal in life may end up costing you more than you thought it would.

Lesson Four
Turbulent times give you opportunities to make new friends along the way.

Lesson Five
Even if you have the right equipment, skilled workers alongside you, and a group of people heading in the same direction, it may not be enough to get you there initially.

Lesson Six
Life’s a journey. Enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;

Lamentations 3:22-25

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Release - Board to Death

Board to Death: A Trio of Mysteries in the Dangerous Games Series releases today. My story, "Mind Games", is included in the book, along with stories by Amy Barkman ("Victim") and Tracy Ruckman ("Sentenced"). We had great fun writing the book – and we’re having a fun contest to celebrate its release. As part of this we’ll be giving away 8 digital copies of Board to Death. To enter the contest, just leave a comment telling us what your favourite board game is, and why. If it's not a widely-known game, tell us a little about it. Then, be sure to leave your e-mail address so we'll know how to get in touch with you if you're a winner. Two winners from each blog will win, and you can enter once at each site. You'll get one extra entry for each method you use to help promote the book - you can blog about it, tweet about it, or post it on Facebook. Just be sure to leave another comment with a link to your post to get the extra entries. Your comments/entries must be posted by Saturday, October 1, 11:59 p.m. Thanks for helping spread the word about our fun book. Here are the sites where you can enter:

Amy Barkman

Here's the back cover blurb to give you some more info on Board to Death. “Baby Boomers Polly Nichols, Lindsay Wilson, and Gretchen Anderson may live worlds apart, but they have one common hobby – a penchant for board games. Polly’s serene Kentucky campground turns sinister when the manager is a VICTIM of murder. In Christchurch, New Zealand, Lindsay’s life is turned upside down when MIND GAMES and evidence drag her into a murder case - as a suspect. At the Kettle’s On Campground in Georgia, Gretchen matches wits with a murderous wordsmith intent on winning the latest game of SENTENCED. You’ll love the games, the characters, and the stories – and we promise, you won’t be BOARD to Death! "

To our readers: Our characters are Christians, just as the authors are who created them, so their lives and their stories reflect this viewpoint. We hope you enjoy our fun and unique stories.

Click here to order.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Safe Place

I visit Wellington for work every few weeks and often catch a train out to the surrounding areas. Over the last few months I’ve met some new friends in the train station and every time I’m there, I take time to catch up with them. You may be surprised to hear that these friends are a bunch of pigeons.

However, these birds are special. There are six of them and all have crippled feet. I was quite amazed when I first noticed this. I was even more surprised at the way they hang out together inside the station building. The other pigeons fly around the platforms and tracks and sit in the trees outside.

For the last few months I have been facing a difficult situation that left me doubting myself, my character and my writing ability. I was in Wellington two weeks ago and as I shared a bread roll with the birds, God dropped a picture into my mind. These pigeons have found a safe place in the station. They have distanced themselves from a difficult situation.

As the day progressed, I sensed that God was telling me I needed to do the same; that I needed to find a safe place in Him. As the revelation sunk in, my heart began to heal and by the time I returned to Christchurch the next morning, I had made a total 180 degree change in my thinking. The power of the situation to hurt me was completely gone and I was confident in myself again.

Then Monday 13th June arrived. It was exactly two weeks after my trip to Wellington and I was in Palmerston North. I boarded my flight home at 1pm and shortly after takeoff the pilot told us that Christchurch had suffered another large aftershock. “We’ve been cleared to continue the flight but the navigational equipment at Christchurch Airport will need to be checked before we land.”

Anxiety surfaced and I spent some time worrying about what would happen if we were diverted. It was a relief when the pilot told us we were cleared to land. Our flight touched down at 2:20pm, the same time the 6.3 earthquake shook Christchurch. The ground must have just stopped shaking as we hit the tarmac. I don’t think the pilot was aware anything had happened as nothing was said. As we taxied in, I tried calling Kevin four or five times to come and fetch me but couldn’t get through. That’s odd, I thought. We then disembarked to be met with the sight of fire engines next to our plane and firemen in hi-vis vests. As we entered the terminal building, people were surging out of the doors on the opposite side. “Evacuate! Head to your nearest exit! We’re evacuating the airport!”

I got swept up in the crowd, realising another big earthquake must have just happened. Outside the terminal building people stood in clumps, stress and fear etched on their faces. I was shaken and felt quite panicky. Are my family alright? How big was it? Has it caused more damage? I kept trying to call and text but the phone lines were overloaded and nothing went through. Eventually I decided to start walking home while trying to call. It was on the road that I heard a little whisper in my soul. What happened to your safe place?

Wellington Station and the pigeons flashed into my mind and God began to speak. Your safe place is in me. It’s not necessarily physical but it’s in knowing that I am always with you; that nothing surprises me. It’s finding a safe place in your mind, in your thoughts.

I realised then that my safe place in God should extend to every part of my life. It was resting in the confidence that God had my every moment in His hands; that he knew that Christchurch would be devastated by the ongoing earthquakes; that he was with my family at all times; that He was right next to me through every aftershock and every piece of bad news.

It has transformed my life and although my heart still races if I awake to a house that’s banging and shaking, I have a new peace that God is in control. I have found a safe place in Him.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Today I Choose Life

I love Invercargill, a city of 50,000 at the southernmost tip of New Zealand. It’s commonly referred to as the butt hole of the country (only in more colourful language) and many people think it has nothing to offer. I visit several times a year and like it because it reminds me of my home town of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. It has the same wide roads with central parking spaces and street lights that arch in two directions. The city’s big department store, H & J Smith reminds me of Haddon & Sly in

Bulawayo. Externally it’s about the same size, with similar architecture and the same big display windows. Inside, it’s like walking back in history. The building has the same pressed ceilings and sprinkler system that Haddon & Sly had. Escalators lead to upper floors and the stationery department has the same old-fashioned fittings and displays. Drifts of fragrance from the perfume and cosmetic counter transport me back 30 years.

So what’s all this reminiscing about? I’m in Invercargill as I write this and it’s been a funny visit, full of memories and sadness

but also sprinkled with life and hope. As I wandered through H&J Smith, childhood memories poured back. There were some great ones but I also thought of the sanctions and bush war I lived through in my younger years. Imported goods such as toys were few and far between and I remember newscasts that spoke of buildings destroyed by bombs, passenger aircraft brought down by missiles, military convoys escorting us on country roads, petrol rationing, and food shortages where basics like bread, rice, fish and washing powder were like gold. Then my thoughts jumped to the 15 years we spent in South Africa. There were bright points there too, but they were overshadowed by crime, violence, attempted hijackings and threatened assaults.

Invercargill reminds me of the best of my past, a place where I’m at peace and locals greet me like old friends. There’s something different about this visit, though. I almost feel jealous of Invercargill residents as I look around their city centre. Many buildings are of the same era as Christchurch’s - but they stand erect and proud whereas my city’s buildings lie in ruins. In 2005, we handpicked Christchurch as home and arrived in early 2006. I fell in love with it straight away; the beautiful gardens, gentle rivers and historic city centre. The magnificent cathedral, trams that rattled on tracks, the quaint stores, and buskers that entertained. I embraced it as home and loved it wholeheartedly. Along with thousands of others, we thought it was a safe haven amongst the tornados, floods and smaller earthquakes that regularly assail New Zealand.

Two major earthquakes in six months proved us all wrong. As people start to rebuild their lives, one of the most difficult things to cope with is the ongoing aftershocks. Until they stop, it’s not really over. I fly frequently and after turbulent flights I used to joke that I would kiss the ground when the plane landed. I no longer feel like that. The ground is not to be trusted. It wakes me up at night as my bed trembles and shakes. It sends my heart racing as sharp jolts catch me unaware. Everywhere I go I look at the construction of buildings, homes and car parks ... if we get another big quake, which way should I run?

And yet through all of this, I see God’s golden threads of love. I see how He has been with me each step of the way and has taught me so much through what I’ve experienced. I’ve been raising money for the Red Cross Earthquake Fund with my photography and as part of this, had some earthquake photo canvases printed. I’ve hung a few of them at the bottom of my stairs along with Psalm 46:1-3. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Life is hard.

Life is painful.

Life is unexpected.

Life is also a magnificent gift from God that we can choose to enjoy and make the most of. God gave us all a choice in Deuteronomy 30:19. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

I have chosen to embrace my past and my present ... and to trust that God knows best for my future. I have made my choice and today I choose life.

Double photos - Bulawayo on the left and Invercargill on the right

Single photos all Invercargill

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 - One Week On

A City in Mourning

At 12:51pm on the 1st March, the whole of New Zealand fell silent for two minutes. People gathered in stores, on street corners, outside banks, by parked cars as they reflected on the events of the last week. With the confirmed death toll standing at 154 and much of Christchurch in ruins it was a sombre moment.
Over the last few days, my heart has broken for the city I have come to love as home. Images on TV and in the streets have been carved indelibly into my soul. I think of homes that are now heaps of rubble; of malls that have lost their facades, leaving them open like a doll house; of petrol stations whose storage tanks were forced upward, lifting the entire forecourt with them; of streets ravaged by liquefaction and silt; of a landscape split and scarred.

I think also of people whose emotions resemble the ravaged cityscape. Security has been stripped away and ongoing fear is a reality as aftershocks continue to rattle the city. I feel some of these strongly in our double-storey home. Some are sharp quick jolts while others are gentle as though the house is balanced on a bowl of jelly. They are all frightening, especially when they wake me up during the night.

In spite of this, there is a resilience among the people. Mayor Bob Parker has vowed to rebuild Christchurch Cathedral, the icon of the city, and although almost one third of the CBD faces demolition, the new buildings will be safer, lower and stronger.

In the midst of all the turmoil, I have continued doing what I do best. As a freelance writer and photographer, I have written several articles and blogs about the earthquake and these have reached thousands of readers across the world. With my South African roots, I was thrilled to be called in to help Peter Groenewald of Carte Blanche put together a 10 minute segment on the earthquake. Peter was flown out here to capture interviews and footage and I, along with a Kiwi journalist worked on the script that connected the stories together. The team came to my home and we worked until 1am Saturday morning, researching, rewriting and looking at footage.

With 45% of the city still without water, the CBD closed indefinitely, roads almost impassable in places, businesses flattened to the ground and ongoing aftershocks rattling the region, recovery is going to be a long slow process. In spite of that, people are optimistic and community spirit is fantastic as people reach out and help those who have been badly affected by the earthquake. We cannot change what has happened but with God’s help we will work through it, hour by hour, day by day, month by month ... and we will emerge at the end, stronger, more compassionate and full of hope.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake February 22nd 2011

The First 18 Hours

12 Noon I have a few things to do in Riccarton. I pick up a cheque for Kirstin, post some Trade Me orders and draw some cash. It’s Tim’s 21st tomorrow but he wants a celebration dinner tonight. My next stop is Northlands Mall where I pull out my shopping list and head to one of the stores that sells cheap novelties.

12:51 I pick up some balloons, a party banner and a badge saying Birthday Boy. Tim will like that I think. It will appeal to his sense of humour. I’m heading to the till to pay when there’s a low rumbling sound and everything starts to shake. Aftershock! The motion increases and people start screaming. I grab onto the shelving unit next to me as the floor heaves beneath my feet. Then a lighting panel crashes from the ceiling, missing me by inches. It sways in front of me, suspended by a power cable. I look up, try and keep my footing.

12:52 The shaking subsides and people stream from the stores, crying, shaking, alarms shrieking all around. I drop my shopping on a shelf and follow, snapping a few photos as I head to open air. People are orderly as they head to their cars but a big group clusters around the entrance to the mall. A lady is helped out by work colleagues and sits on a stone under a tree. Another woman lies on the floor in a foetal position, sobbing, face covered. My arms and hands are tingling with pins and needles and feel numb and strange. It must be the shock.

13:02 I try to text the children and call Kevin but the phone lines are jammed. I walk down the ramp to the underground parking to find my car. A dozen alarms echo through the air and I can’t wait to get out. Traffic is backed up and as I wait in a queue to leave the mall area, another shock hits. I find out later that it’s a 5.7. I watch in horrified fascination as the gigantic 3 storey concrete wall to my right waves and bends like a piece of plastic. It’s a wonder of modern architecture that it doesn’t shatter.

13:30 Home after spending ages in traffic. The house appears undamaged but speakers have fallen, cupboards are open, the contents of my sewing box are strewn across the stairs, bottles and pictures have fallen. The dogs are subdued and distressed.

14:30 The children are all accounted for and Kevin is safe. I get a text from Chantelle saying the school won’t let them out unless they are collected. Jason comes and we drive down to Burnside High. As we walk across the field, a 5.5 aftershock hits and the trees, cars and grass undulate. Pupils mill around. Girls are red-eyed and clinging to each other and staff are trying to organise them into divisions. 3000 pupils to account for is no laughing matter. I finally get a text to say Chantelle is at a friend’s house opposite the school.

15:30 Watch the non-stop footage on TV and mourn for those who’ve died today. The city centre is shattered.

18:00 With my afternoon shopping trip sidelined, I have to use what’s in the house for Tim’s dinner. Two chickens, rice, potatoes and a few frozen vegetables. Cans of peaches and pears are our dessert. We have no bread and two boxes of milk. The stores are closed and our local supermarket is in a devastating mess. I worry about food for a while then place it in God’s hands.

23:30 I know I need to sleep so go to bed. I doze on and off but aftershocks rattle the house every 15 minutes or so.

04:30 I give up the battle and go downstairs to make tea for Kevin and coffee for myself. At the same time I dig the bread-maker out and dump ingredients into it.

06:00 Inspect the bread and see I forgot the yeast. I was the same after the September earthquake. My mind turned to mush and I struggled to remember simple things. Toss the bread away and head out with Kevin. We drive through the suburbs and along the edge of town. The damage is overwhelming. Roads are cracked and sunk, homes destroyed, buildings shattered, cars crushed.

Please pray for Christchurch.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Great Thou Art

Daniel and I were asked to go on an extended road trip earlier this week - 1500 kilometres in two days to be precise. It was loads of fun and between us we managed to lock the keys in the car and leave my suitcase at the motel! (We're still arguing over who was really to blame)

It certainly was an unforgettable trip, but also because of the scenery. New Zealand is a tiny country but beautiful - and we passed such a variety of landscapes along the way. The words of How Great Thou Art were in my mind as we drove through rocky mountains and fern-encrusted hills, over sparkling rivers and along golden shores. Have a look at some of the areas we visited and ponder on the words of this magnificent old hymn.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power through out the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.

When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,

And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Walk through Cave Stream

Have you ever waded through a stream in the depths of a cave, climbed up a waterfall or stared at the vaulted roofs of rocky caverns? There’s a spot in the Southern Alps where Kevin and I have done this several times. Cave Stream Scenic Reserve sits in the Castle Hill basin approximately 100 kilometres from Christchurch. To reach the cave, you follow a path down the mountainside to the Broken River - and then around a bend to the cave mouth. The walk takes you upriver though the cave – and although it is only 600 metres long, it takes about 45 minutes to complete.

When planning our last visit in January 2011, we decided to mention it in church and invited everyone to join us. We were amazed when a crowd of about 60 gathered on the morning.

The entrance to the cave is the most challenging part for some people. As you wade into the stream, light fades and water levels rise until they are almost up to your chest. Even in midsummer, the water is ice cold and a great shock until your body acclimatises to it.

On this warm January day, we posed for a group photo inside the cave and then set off on our adventure. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack and was amazed at how barriers fell away in the rushing water. People were laughing and interacting, pulling each other up waterfalls, and splashing in pools. The floor of the cave alternates between large rounded rocks and smooth patches of rock and children were lifted over difficult stretches and older folk checked on.

What a wonderful picture of the church, I thought. We’re like a family working together, looking out for each other and helping each other through rough patches. Our headlamps gave a funnel of light but although we couldn’t see too far ahead, we all made it to the end. The last part of the cave involves climbing up a rock face with the aid of metal rungs set into the rock. This is followed by crawling through a narrow space to reach daylight and fresh air. Some struggled with the climb but with encouragement, they made it up the ladder and through the crawl space.

Exhilarated and tired, the whole group then headed to Castle Rock where we had a picnic lunch and explored the unusual rock formations. Altogether it was a fantastic day – but for me it was more than just a walk through a cave. It was a lesson in life.