Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: Bedtime Prayers That End With a Hug!

This book arrived in my mailbox about two weeks ago and I was so excited that it had finally (after a delay with the publisher) arrived!! "Bedtime Prayers That End With a Hug" was created by Stephen Elkins and looked great in the previews from the publisher so I was eager to get a copy to share with my niece!

This is a really nicely bound hardback book with softly padded covers appropriate for a little persons book. Included in it are 52 entries with a Scripture, special thought, and prayer for bedtime reading with your child. The publisher recommends this book for 3-5 years old but I have been reading it with my almost 2 year old niece with good results, she loves the pictures and the readings are short enough that she will sit still and attentive while we read them. Although she may not understand everything I am reading I feel that it is important to be talking Scripture to little ones from the youngest ages- this book lets me do that. I know that in time she will grow into the book as a whole and I am really happy that this book is essentially a child's devotional book. I have never seen something geared for an age group that young and I had my doubts about how 'fluffy' the content might be but I have been pleasantly surprised by the depth of the writing. Topics covered in the book range from the first entry that intros the theme of 'The Lord is my Shepherd' to ones on being content, working for the Lord, thunderstorms, safe travel, showing kindness, pets, doctors visits, and even one on praying for our countries leaders!

Originally I thought I would read this book on my own and share a few entries with my little niece but since its arrival there have been many moments where she and I have sat down and read it together. In fact it has become a real favorite of hers and she insists each time we read it to flip through all the pages on her own as she chatters away 'telling me the story' and pointing out all the little details in the drawings. The illustrations for this book were done by the obviously talented Ruth Zeglin and are done in a pen and colored pencil style with rich colors that hold a nice softness to them making reading a children's book a treat not a chore. Each one of the drawings has a theme of a cuddly lamb included (perfect for my families love of lambs!) and other cool things like how the animals are giving hugs, or the sprinkling of ladybugs on each entry. This makes for engaging talk time with your little one on what is happening in the pictures and before I knew it my niece was pointing things out to me too!

Having a little one in the house now has made this book a double delight to read and review- and make no doubt about it this book is a real delight- a hands down winner! If you don't have kiddos at your house go pick up a copy (or two) anyway and keep it for when they visit or give one to the friend or relative that has the kids- you won't regret it!

Final Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Review: Take Flight: A Sisterchicks Devotional

A number of years ago I read through and became a big fan of the 'Sisterchicks' books by Robin Jones Gunn. The books chronicled the mid-life travel adventures of different sets of best friends. They were a lot of fun to read and I enjoyed the colorful descriptions as well as the main Spiritual thrust of each book. A few years later Gunn paired with real life best friend Cindy Hannan to create a woman's devotional based around the Sisterchicks books.

I have read this book through twice now, once when it originally came out and once for this review. The first time I read it one of my favorite entries was the one on 'January Madness' that tells about Gunn's yearly ritual of having an all out day with God where she takes time to journal and pray and meditate on what God has done in the past year and on the possibilities for the new one. One particular January however, Gunn realizes that item by item on her review list is not just a blessing- but a double blessing which sends her scrambling for her Bible looking for 'the woman who was doubly blessed'- Hannah. In scripture, Hannah receives a double portion from her husband because she is loved. In this observation is the simple but touching reminder that God loves us- and brings blessings on us because of His love. Gunn encourages readers to invest in that love and devote time to being with God. It is a lovely entry and I loved hearing it again! My second time around in this book the entry that struck my heart was about a elderly woman Gunn visits during a speaking engagement in Russia. Though ill and having suffered a tragic past this woman radiates light. Learning her secret brought me again to tears with both the beauty of it and how closely I currently identify with it. Despite all the trials she had faced when she reached her breaking point she asked God not 'why?' but 'what?' and from that point on both accepted and embraced God's new plan for her. It is a beautiful story that was an important reminder for me.

This devotional is a lovely hardbound book that at about 6 x 8 inches and 140 pages is compact but substantial. The book is divided into four sections each with a different theme walking you through "A Birds Eye View", "On a Wing and a Prayer", "Take a Flying Leap", and "Under the Shadow of His Wing". Each section has 3-4 devotional entries so this isn't going to take you a month to complete but is surely a treat to keep by your bedside and read when you need a special kind of boost. I really like how in this book with each entry you have something to read, some verses to look up, and some space to write down your own thoughts. I also enjoyed the quotes that are sprinkled throughout each entry, they always gave me some other insight or nugget of thought to ponder!

Having enjoyed reading this now more than once I can heartily recommend it! Any woman in your life from the collage student to the mom should have some fantastic times of reflection in this charming book.

As I now find myself in possession of two copies of this book I thought it was high time that I do my first give away! All who leave me a comment here on this page between now and New Year's Eve will be entered to win their very own copy of Take Flight! On New Year's Day I will put you all into a hat and have my pint sized niece pluck out a name! Please be willing to correspond with me via email in order to get your shipping details- thanks!

Final rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Review: The Governess of Highland Hall

Warning: Some spoilers!

Well, I'm back again with my second review for Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishers! This time around I'm reviewing 'The Governess of Highland Hall" by Carrie Turansky.

    Widower Sir William Ramsey is in need of a number of things, one of them is a governess for his two young children plus the two elder cousins he now finds himself in charge of since their father's death. Julia Foster is also in need. She has spent most of her years as a young woman on the missionary field with her parents in India. After a illness in the family forces their return to England she must find a job to support their little family until they are able to return to the work they hold dear. Another thing that Sir William needs is an infusion of cash if he doesn't want to loose his newly inherited home to the payment of heavy death taxes that are looming. As it seems that a single man- even with the sole possession of a lovely home- must be in want of a wife William finds himself the target of his meddling relatives plans to revive the estates fortunes through good ol' fashioned American money via an American bride. The only problem is that he does not want to get remarried. So the question is then why does he find himself increasingly drawn to the penniless governess?

     The plot line of this story holds much promise. To the keen eyed reader many of the story's parts will be familiar- there are elements of Jane Eyre, The Sound of Music, and Downton Abbey woven together to form a whole. Being someone who enjoyed all of those stories I hoped to enjoy this one too- the problem with this story however, is that it tries to be all things to all people and in attempting that it becomes an unhinged mess.
     This story is not told from the main/two main character's prospective but instead bounce distractingly from Julia, to Sir William, to William's sister, the gardener, the housekeeper, the maid, and the adolescent cousins perspective- and I'm sure in there somewhere that I've left at least one other out! It was not easy to follow the story with this type of storytelling and I think it really hampered the storyline as it doesn't let you get particularly close to any of the characters. It frustrated me to- several times- find that Turansky had 'left out' whole scenes that would have greatly helped to connect the main characters- only to find her telling me later 'oh, they had a lovely conversation last night that drew them closer- but I'm not going to put you there to listen in- lets just move on with the plot'! Another time something similar happens is when after a fight Julia writes a letter of apology to Sir William and hand delivers it to the estate but when she finds him he is in the midst of dealing with a health crises with the children he tucks away her letter promising to read it at a more appropriate moment-  I kept waiting and waiting but that letter never surfaces again and instead of helping to bring healing and understanding the incident goes from epic to glossed over and Julia is accepted back into the house without another word.
     The worse fault of this author is really that she breaks the first rule of writing- 'show don't tell'. This phrase means that during the course of the narrative that the author should be using description and dialog in order to unfold and reveal the past, present, and future of the characters through their own discovery- not stopping the narrative to break in and explain it to you or give a 'just the facts ma'am' style of description. It's one of my writing pet peeves and I find it difficult to be positive about a book when I encounter it.
     The one redeeming point of the book is undoubtedly Julia herself. From the minute she walks on to the page I found her interesting, and spunky; as time went on I found her to also be principled, faith-filled, unfailingly kind, and very relatable. It's just a shame for me that she did not get to tell her story and we did not get to get to delve deeper into her.

     In the end, I felt that while the general story line could have been a great read I found myself wondering why Sir William and Julia even had feelings for each other when they never had one conversation that didn't directly relate to his children or estate! I may not be an expert in love but I thought it was customary to share something more than deep stares across the room before you consider marrying someone! By the last two chapters I had to restrain myself from throwing the book across the room as I didn't know what good reason the characters had for being together!! Anyway, If you like any of the formerly mentioned works that this story is amalgamated from you might indeed enjoy this book but I found it terribly disappointing.

Final rating: 1.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

29 and counting...

So, confession time.

Today is 33 days till my 30th birthday. If you know me at all you will know that I am a birthday
lover! Mine, yours, the dog across the street's- I don't care- I just to love the celebration.  The accomplishment.

This year though, I'm having a difficult time getting past the number that I'm turning. It's a number with a lot of baggage. When I was younger I always wondered at those women that went around calling themselves 'forever 29', I mean what's the big deal? Another year is another year right? Just celebrate the birthday!

This year I'm understanding them a little better.

It's better to stay young because then you can avoid the reality of what your life situations say about you. I think at 30 those situations hit you hard. After all, in your twenties it's ok to still be a little clueless, a little selfish, a little bit alone. When you reach 30 however none of that is ok anymore. You're supposed to have it together. I'm not just talking about the world's perspectives here either, I'm talking about the Christian and homeschooling communities as well. There may be a little leeway for a spinster at 28 and 29 but at thirty? That can only mean one thing.

"Old, alone, done for."

Or worse yet is the label of being 'so strong' and 'so brave' to be facing this path of singleness in life. (But that's another post for another day.) The question that begins to be asked a lot more loudly (and a lot less behind your back) is "What's wrong with her?" I'm going to tell you right now: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME! It's just not my time yet. Some people are good at giving encouragement for your situation but some people really suck at it. They generally mean well but they've never been anywhere close to being in your shoes and they have no clue. So just as an FYI- one of the most hurtful things you can say to a single girl like me begins with the words "When I was your age..."

Don't tell me about how young you were married.

Don't tell me about how you already had 4 kids.

Don't tell me about that fantastic dream trip you took, just because you could.

Don't tell me about the trials of motherhood and how you were managing schooling your eldest while your next child was on the way.

Don't make me feel this big when God's plan for me is different then His plan was for you.

Don't get me wrong, I want to hear about your life and your blessings and your trials and I want to be apart of that- but please, don't 'help' by placing my picture in your frame! Because guess what? Right now his plan for me includes doing many of the things that you are doing. His plan for me includes doing the meal planning and cooking and shopping for my family. His plan for me includes scrubbing toilets and moping floors. His plan for me includes caring for and loving on little ones and it includes planning lessons and mentoring girls and teaching too. His plan for me includes ministry projects and bible study and giving my voice in worship from the choir loft.  

The only thing is that right now it doesn't include is a husband of my own. Children of my own.

And I need that to be ok.

This afternoon I came across this article in my Facebook feed. It's titled "I Needed to Hear That" and I cried as I read it. The author is right, sometimes us single girls need to hear from our friends. Right now as I count down the days to finishing the first third of my life I need to hear some things...

I need to hear that it's ok to be thirty, and unmarried, and childless.

I need to hear it's ok to fail at something without being afraid of your condemnation at my failure.

I need to hear you love me for what I am doing and not for what I could be doing.

I need to hear you support me in the directions that God is leading me in at this moment.

I need to hear that not having a job or a husband or a child doesn't give me less value, and that what I do daily, weekly, and yearly as the time passes is of value.

I need to hear that what I'm doing right now is enough.

I want my birthday to be a happy one this year. I want to celebrate my life and the fact that I have the incredible blessing of gaining another year-  because I know all to well that not everyone gets that opportunity. I want to have joy. I want to look forward to a new year of my life not dread it because of the social commentary it brings.

I want to enjoy being thirty and being where God has placed me! I want to be excited about what His next plans are for me!

I don't want to be "old, alone, and done for".

Is that really too much to ask?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Review: Rules of Murder

Quite a while back now I won a contest on Facebook and earned me a copy of Julianna Deering's "Rules for Murder", first book in the new Drew Farthering Mystery Series. When the book finally arrived the other week I was excited to sit down and give it a read!

Drew Farthering is an early 20-something English gentleman and heir to a comfortable estate and a sizeable chunk of his late father's chemical engineering firm. However, what's not so comfortable is the life he is living. Coming home one night to a houseful of guests, an unavoidable weekend soiree, and the hint of scandal following his mother around Drew wants nothing more then to pitch the whole lot of them out of his house and enjoy country life free of the trappings and expectations of high society. The weekend starts looking up though when his step-father's American niece, Madeline, and her two traveling companions arrive and bring a breath of fresh air, and a whiff of romance, to the place.
During the big party the next night a body shows up which sets police and amateur detective alike on the trail of the murderer, and for two mystery novel lovers like Drew and Madeline there is nothing like a good murder to solve to bring the two together! Through twists and turns and more unexpected shocks Drew, Madeline, and Drew's best friend Nick work their way past preconception and secrets to get to the truth and keep the culprit from slipping through their fingers! In the process Drew and his sidekicks find out if the mystery writers rule book is a tried and true assistant to their quest or whether is should be thrown out the window!

Speaking of the rule book, it is of note that at its heart this book revolves around early 20th century novelist's Ronald Knox's "Ten Commandments for Mystery Writers". This list is a pretty cool summery of mystery writing tropes from the golden era of detective stories (like Agatha Christie) that Knox believes should be avoided at all costs. To the modern reader the list comes off as pretty amusing as it is pretty dated content wise but for the backdrop of a period set novel it makes fantastic dressing! Even though all the 'forbidden' situations used in the book should be familiar to the well read mystery reader (such as hidden passages, Chinamen, and poisons) Deering has a light and easy hand with their use and as they rumbled past me I found myself smiling and not grimacing at their being clichéd.

One thing I really admired about this book was how well done the pacing was and how nothing felt too rushed or too lagging but was unfolded at precisely the right time. Stylistically too things just hummed. Deering was did a fine job of reflecting the culture of the time period with a combo of a wide 'vintage' vocabulary and her narrating descriptions. I also enjoyed how when moving from scene to scene the scene 'slid' from one thing to another like an old noir movie instead of having that page break-reset-and-reintroduce setup. It was a concept that fit the feel of the book well! The cover of the book was a delight as well as it features a striking graphic deco print that is eye catching and fun. Additionally, the whole feel of the book put me many times in mind of the charming and smart classic British favorite of mine, "Jeeves and Wooster", anyone who loves that series should give Deering's offering a try!

As far as the negative goes the only thing I can think to nitpick over (if I had too) was that the romance was a little bit too quick for me, but even having said that I don't think it was out of place for the time period and style that the author is writing in. Overall the book was a great one and I would happily recommend it to any mystery reader or any reader looking for a change of pace from their normal genre!

Rating: 4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as a part of a contest and was under no obligation to review it. The above review is an honest opinion of the product.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: Forever Friday

Today I'm excited to be reviewing my first book for Waterbrook-Multnomah Publishers and the "Blogging for Books" program! When I went to pick my first book from this publisher I was a bit out to sea with the wide selection that I had to choose from- but then one caught my eye...

The plot of "Forever Friday" (by Timothy Lewis) is a simple one. Through this book we see the gradual unfolding of one couple's love story. Beginning in the 30's and spanning the decades, Gabe and Huck Alexander's love
story is one that begins with an instant spark and burns steadily throughout their 60 year marriage. As the years and decades pass Gabe's theory on "The Long Division" that separates couples and destroys marriages is fought off one week, and one love note poem postcard at a time.
This secret core of their love story is just what the crushed divorcee Adam Colby is looking for to unravel the failures of his own marriage and so after uncovering the postcard albums in an estate sale he is organizing he sets out to track down the closest person the Alexander's had to family and get his questions answered. Little does he expect the path his questions take him down!

I really enjoyed "Forever Friday", this book works on many different levels and hits just the right notes as the plot and characters are developed. I was impressed with the authors originality and ability to avoid recycling clichéd plot devices!  Much of the story focuses on the Alexander's side of the narration while occasionally dipping back to the present to Adam's side where a new round of questions set up a new slate of answers. This spiral storytelling style is appropriate to the tale being told and handled well. The switches back and forth are never jarring or out of place but feel very natural and I enjoyed traveling between the two and uncovering all that Adam discovered. I really love the cover design on the book, its soft sea tones and vintage feel capture the book well. As a reader I also appreciated the quality paper that the book is printed on. It's not a cheap paperback stock but something with better weight and feel and, in my opinion, that always makes for a better reading experience.

I did have one nitpick about something that happens in the book. Over the last number of years I have noticed that authors from Christian publishing houses are feeling freer to include intense scenes of violence in their work. It is a trend that I find disturbing as I don't feel it is integral to any ('inspirational') plot to have it included. Now I'm not talking having an objection to a good fistfight but rather an objection to several books that I have read where a rape or attempted rape takes place. That unfortunately happens in this book as well. While the attempt that takes place is not long and not described graphically it still rubs me the wrong way and I wish it wasn't included. Additionally, for being a 'inspirational' novel I found it surprising that the casual drinking of alcohol was included, as well as what I felt was a bit of a negative attitude towards having children (although this is explained within the story line).

Having said all that, I would recommend this book. It was a pleasure to read and of such good quality that I expect to see if snatched up by Hallmark for one of their trademark movies as this novel reads exactly in the same style as the best of their productions!

Rating: 4 (I took off half a star for my nitpick.)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's in a Name?: An Open Letter to Moms

Dear Moms,
For a while now I have been wanting to write you something important that's been on my heart. Over the last number of years so many of you that I have grown up under (my friends mom's) or that I have met in various ministries like Bible Study Fellowship or Bright Lights have done something very flattering, and...peculiar...

You have asked me to call you by your first name.

Honestly, the most immediate reaction that is have to this request is "Oh no! Not again!" You see, this request, while I'm sure is meant genuinely and warmly, makes me highly uncomfortable. I have tried in many ways to explain myself and to not offend as I make my refusal but I don't know that I do a really good job of it and usually I'm left feeling rotten because I'm pretty sure I have confused- and offended you.

That's why I'm writing this letter.

I really want to explain myself and to share my reasons behind my refusal.

When I was a little girl my parents were very strict about their kids being respectful of their elders. Showing proper respect was important to them as it was an important element to cultivating and showing esteem for the person and the life that they had accomplished. Whether the person was married or not proper names and titles were always enforced- and woe be to the child who was disrespectful by using a non-sanctioned name! Now, before you go thinking my parents were a bit to harsh I want to share that there is always exceptions to the rules. For example, much of my younger growing up years was spent in a Southern Baptist church where (though there wasn't a lick of The South in 90% of the congregation) the preferred form of address was 'Miss insert-married-lady's-first-name-here'. It may not have been ideal to my parents but it was ok, and it worked. After all, the point of using formal address was upheld.
When I was a little older my family were annual attenders at Bible/homeschool conferences where  youth programs ran parallel to the adults. In those programs there were always friendly, young, small group leaders who again used the titles Mr. and Miss to distinguish themselves from the mass of grade school aged kids that they were serving. I loved using those titles- it felt so fancy, and old fashioned, and fun to be able to address someone like that, to show them honor and respect, and to be able to look up to them by using that title! It was sheer delight to me a few years down the road when I was one of those leaders getting called 'Miss Hannah' and having those kids look up to me! It communicated to me with every utterance that I wasn't just anyone but someone who was accountable to God for being a good example.

Just a few years ago as my grandparents were in declining health a new neighbor came into their lives. This middle aged woman thought nothing of addressing my nearly 90 year old grandparents in familiar terms and called my Gram by her first name. What's worse is that she called Gramps (Clifford) Cliffy.... Never in my 25+ years had I ever heard anyone call him that. It shocked my siblings and I, and to say the least, rubbed us the wrong way. Why? Well, in short, because of how incredibly disrespectful it was. If you knew my grandparents you would know of what value their lives were- and were to us.

Shakespeare famously asked if "a rose by any other name would still be as sweet". Scholars I'm sure have spent considerable amounts of time debating that small line and recognizing it for the great question it is. If a rose was called by another name would it be the same or would it loose something of what made it so unique? For me I think the answer is the former and not the latter. The beauty of the rose (or any other fine flower) is not solely in its character, but in the name we give to distinguish it. Anne Shirley bemoaned that surely a beautiful name like Cordelia could make her a better loved more beautiful person but we all know that 'just plain' Anne was a true treasure because her name fit her all on it's own with out her trying to be someone she was not.

So Mom's here is the point. I'm not doing it to be difficult, I'm doing it to be genuine.

When I look at you I see how wonderful you are, the beauty of your years, how much I look up to you, and how much I value you- and I want you to know that.
My best way of communicating that is to recognize you for everything you have become. I don't use Mrs. to remind you of your age, your laugh lines, or your mother-in-law. I do it because you have taken the name of the man who loves you and I am in awe of your representation of Godly marriage before me. (And if I'm being perfectly honest I envy you just a little bit for that.) I do it to show respect to my friends too because nothing is worse then hearing one of your peers informally address your mother without permission and feeling the sting of disbelief at how casually they value and respect the person who means the world to you. I do it for my grandparents because I take note that the age difference between them and 'that woman' is alike to age difference between you and I and I want to honor you.

So Mom's, the next time you consider asking me to call you by your first name would you stop a moment and reconsider? Would you take into account that I look at the world a little old fashionedly? That I mean no offence?
Would you allow me to honor you and our friendship by calling you Missus?

Thanks. It truly means the world to me.

With love,

Monday, September 2, 2013

True Confessions of a Conference Leader

Intense is probably the best way to describe the last few weeks months of my life.

For better or worse- lots of things are changing in my life and lots of events have been occurring. For instance:
  • My dear little sister is expecting her first child and I'm going to be an auntie again! 
  • I almost took a mission trip.
  • The friend I've partnered with for the past two years in Bright Lights is getting married and I've taken over leadership in that group as she moves away.
  • For the first time in my life I'm searching for a 'real' job, one that brings in some real dough for the family.
  • I planned a bridal shower and organized group gifts for my BL friend, Dani, in just a month's time.
  • And, I took a trip and worked with the traveling team from Bright Lights headquarters!

That last thing is what I want to share with you now. I know my whole (BL) group, and many friends, were praying for me and for the Bright Lights Conferences and so I wanted to run through the five days that I spent in Pataskala.

The beginning of August had three big things on my calendar: Our regular BL meeting which was gong to be my first full time teaching day, Dani's shower that same day (!), and then the next morning leaving for the Conference! It was quite the busy, stressful week!

Before the trip even got going though it was on rocky ground! I had originally planned to be traveling and working along side Dani, the expert Bright Lights traveling team member! :) However, Dani had been a bit tied up with wedding plans and wasn't able to make the trip! So there was the need to make other plans. :) Additionally, I'm not the kind of person to be too keen on experiences that put me outside of my comfort zone! So I took the only sensible approach and put the whole thing out of my mind until the Friday morning of the trip when I began to pack for fear I'd call the whole thing off! :)  

Friday, I had a lovely trip to Pataskala with three of the four Thompsen ladies of Daughters of Decision! These wonderful sisters in Christ are also fellow BL leaders in the area and have been a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me.
We got to the host church mid afternoon and were welcomed by several of the girls from the team. For the five days we were teaching I would be staying alongside the group at the church- another new experience for me! (I've never slept...erm...I've never spent the night in a church before! :D) I quickly got to snag myself a spot to make camp for the weekend in the large youth room the girls were sharing and continued to meet new people most of which when I met them went "Oh, you're Dani's Hannah!" Even at the leader's cool-down meeting that night Sarah Mally (the BL head cheese) asked the group during her announcements "Has everybody met Dani's Hannah?" It seemed that a girl's reputation proceeded her.....!

Sarah teaching...
Sarah's sister Grace leading the singing...

Jumping right into the Conference I discovered I had been paired with a girl named Nickie and we would be working with a group of 16-17 year old girls for the Radiant Purity sessions that night and the next day. The girls were great! I was a little surprised at how intent they were and how obviously they were there for answers! I hope they were able to get some as we worked with them.

One of the best parts of the conferences are the skits the team uses to drive home the principles.

On Saturday afternoon as Sarah talked about waiting for God's choice in your life a familiar face popped up!

On Sunday our group was treated to a really special dinner prepared by a lady from the church. Everything was set out in high style and the plates that were set down before us were a real treat! 
They included a Cornish Game Hen, a foil swan wrapped baked potato, salad & rolls, a yummy cherry cream dessert, and raspberry iced tea! It was fantastic- and so was the lady, Miss Judy, who prepared it!

Later that afternoon the whole Bright Lights group was shipped out to a nearby park for 'relaxation'. For myself, I'm used to a nice quiet Sunday and being able to take a nap and do restful things like reading and movie watching. I'm not really up for sports and wasn't interested in conversation so I found a nice shady tree and parked myself under it for the rest of the afternoon/evening. I started a new book on my Kindle app (for my iPad) and indulged in my own brand of relaxation while everyone else tired themselves out playing ultimate Frisbee. :)

Monday morning brought a late start and some great leaders training led by the stalwart Bekah. I was thrilled to be pared with my friend Melanie and that we would be leading a group of 10-11 year old girls!  I took lead on the group this time around and we had a great afternoon of planning out the time we would have with our young charges. :) Here is a few photos of our little band:

The 'Candles' small group making prayer journals!

Nickie and Bekah
I was so thankful that Melanie (who has taught at conferences before) had planned ahead and brought little cards for each girl telling her how much we loved having her in our group and how to contact us if she wanted to! With most of the work done I just had to write in my own info and sign it! I'm really glad that especially with this (age) group of girls that I was able to make that contact with them, I have fond remembrances of getting notes from leaders of similar bible conferences that my family attended when I was that age- and it was the highlight of my week! I really looked up to those girls, they made me feel special and I hope that I will hear from some of the BL conference girls too!

It truly amazing that while time can drag on in your down moments that once you hit the beginning of a conference that period of time can wiz by! Once you have caught the momentum of the wave you are carried along through to the finish like riding on air! Before I knew it the conference was done and it was time to head home!
Sarah doing a 'chalk talk' presentation...

My experience at the Bright Lights Conferences is one that I will not soon forget. It was by turns exhilarating and overwhelming. I love teaching, the more I do it I find the more I love it! Call it the big sister in me but I love standing in front of a group of people, engaging their attention, and communicating a truth. It's a feeling of terror, and excitement, and pleasure all at the same time and locking eyes with another soul and seeing that you are inside their head is one of the best feelings I've ever experienced! I love knowing that expositing truth brings about a mental turning point and readjustment.
On the other hand, there can be downsides to putting yourself out there like that. A teacher has great responsibility and the knowledge that they must expend effort in knowing and in living the truth that they teach. What's perhaps larger in some ways is that to make the most impact on a person you teach you must be willing to pour yourself into that other person. Discipleship isn't for sissies. At one point in one of our lessons I used a reference from Paul (I think in Romans but I can't find it again tonight) where he is talking about being poured out like a drink offering on the alter of sacrifice to God. It struck me in that moment that during the conference that is exactly what I had been experiencing. That final afternoon I was drained. Now, yes, there was that wave I was riding- one of momentum- of going whether or not by choice- and being swept through the time. But under that there was an undercurrent of bone weary, mental, and Spiritual exhaustion. The teaching was hard work, yes, but all the 'new' and 'uncomfortable' was worse. It was a rough couple of days for me because it seems that I teetered on the edge of being a known and unknown person to the group I was working with. Have you ever been in that position? To be just familiar enough to someone that they feel beyond small talk with you, but not familiar enough to you that you want to delve deeper with them? That is where I found myself. Multiplied by 15+ people... So I spent a lot of time answering a lot of questions...

Going to the Bright Lights Conferences were a real experience. An experience where it was good to learn as well as to teach. And isn't it just like God to put us in those positions? We go for one thing- and as great as that turns out to be- we're there for something else too...
  • Over those 5 days I learned what it was like to be the younger sibling. (You know, the one kid who has a phenomenally awesome older sibling that everyone loves?) I took away a greater sensitivity to my younger brothers and sister, and to those I serve where I'm dealing with ministering to both the older and younger from a family. Everyone deserves to be judged on their own merit and first hand character.
  • I learned that God hears my fears...and complaints, and chooses to give me blessings anyway. (I think He likes to hear "You were right" from our lips :)) I took away that my plan is smaller than His plans and my trust is sometimes very small indeed... 
  • I learned that laughter, and warmth, and common interest, and kindred spirits can be found in the most unexpected places! 

So that about wraps it up! For everyone who wanted to hear about my trip I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit of the behind-the-scenes of what a conference is like for a (or at least this) leader! Leave me a comment if I've forgotten anything!

Also, thought I know the next couple of weeks are going to be busy for me (starting BSF again!! woohoo!) I have several posts on my mind and several new 'blogger' books in my stack so be sure to check back with me soon for those reviews! :)        


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: The One Year Devos for Teen Girls

First off I'd like to say how thrilled I am to now be reviewing books for Tyndale House Publishers! I'm excited to be getting into more non-fiction and to be able to hopefully give you some honest and helpful insight into what's out on the market today!

I chose to review "The One Year Devos for Teen Girls"  by Dannah Gresh and Suzy Weibel for a couple of reasons. First, I work with a pre-teen/teen girls discipleship group called Bright Lights. At the moment I am responsible for mentoring around 30 girls and I thought that I'd love to be able to recommend a good devotional to them. Though I have never read Dannah Gresh's work I know it is well recognized and praised within the Christian community and I wanted to see what she had to offer. Additionally, I hoped to be able to use this devo as a jumping off point or for illustrations in my BL lessons.

Each devotional is set up on a single page and includes a header, single scripture verse, and a large several paragraphed section of commentary followed by a small "Action Point" for the girl to put into practice what she learned that day. The format is easy to follow and is easily read and finished in 5-10 minutes depending on the reader. As stated in the title of the book this is a One Year devotional and thus there are entries for every day of the year (excluding leap year).

As I began reading through this book I soon grabbed a pad of sticky note flags and started marking up my book! I had pink flags for excellent, Biblically sound, entries; purple for ones that I would use with my BL girls; and yellow for ones that set off cautions in my mind. I did not mark every passage- just the ones that really stood out to me as I read. By the time I was done I took a look at what I had and thought it really was a mixed bag. In this devotional there are some really great spiritual insights, and entries that are great teaching tools. However, there are also some things that shocked me! Especially as this books is aimed at 12 years old and up! (Per Amazon).

Perhaps I shouldn't be shocked, after all the introduction does tell you that the topics were gleaned from 100 college girls that they contacted and asked what as younger teens did they most want/need to know or have addressed. The thing is that they have ended up with numerous entries discussing topics that I would never find appropriate to discuss with the girls I mentor. In these discussions I really felt like the authors missed the mark. I felt like they were trying to answer the World and throw and Christian 'spin' on something instead of showing from Scripture the Biblical standard and encouraging girls to rise to meet it. Some of the most objectionable entries are found in the May and July portions of the book and include topics on how much touching is ok in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, oral sex (!), pornography, and an entry on homosexuality that I found truly troubling as it begins- and immediately ends- the discussion with 'science' and not the Bible. Another entry I had trouble with is from March 22 and discusses "Is Eating Meat Okay?" the authors argument is misleading as she uses 1 Corinthians 8 (which speaks on meat offered to idols) to give vegetarianism preference. The Action Point for this entry encourages girls to try a vegetarian diet for a month or more! Maybe I'm old fashioned but it is my opinion that a child living in their parent's home should not be dictating the menu or placing financial strains on the family budget but be thankful for whatever is served.

On the flip side when the book is good it's really good! I enjoyed the entries on widows (3/15), where are the real men (7/24), lying in friendships (9/5), and even the entry on gendercide (9/25) that helps to expose the terrible and tragic realities of the world around us.

In the end, every parent is responsible for the discipleship of their own daughter. If you pick this book up and give it to you your girl as an easy check mark then you are doing your daughter a great disservice. If you pick it up and read every passage before hand and believe that the topics contained therein are good for your daughter- and discussion that you are willing to keep on top of- then go ahead. For me the standard has to be drawn at 'could I hand this out to the girls I mentor?'  For me the answer was an absolute no. While I can see myself using portions as lesson points, as a whole I know that it would not meet the standard of the parents that I partner with in the important task of drawing their girls to Christ.

Rating: 2

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Seeking Persephone

Read with caution, some spoilers.

I have to admit right off that the thing that drew me to this book was the title, "Seeking Persephone". While not loving Greek mythology by any means, I have been a fan of the Persephone/Hades story for quite some time. (Call me weird, but it's true.) If unfamiliar with that tale others will no doubt recognize it as the 'Beauty and the Beast' archetype. So, what better place to retell it than a Regency novel?

Meet Adam Boyce, Duke of Kielder, is a man in need of an arranged marriage. Too bad for him that it comes with a wife he really doesn't want. However, if the young duke is to keep his sniveling, incompetent cousin (from a nearly forgotten branch of the family) from inheriting the estate his fathers have spent generations building then he needs an heir. Enter Persephone Lancaster, the eldest daughter of an impoverished gentleman, the perfect candidate for a marriage- or so his man of business tells him...homely, passed over, likely ancient, and in no position of refuse is exactly what the duke wants. After all, what woman would choose to be married to a deformed, scarred man?
The pretty, young bride with the ridiculous name that arrives at the alter of the church on their wedding morning is not what he bargained for, not at all.

Persephone is a perpetually cheerful young woman who seeks to find the best, and find the joy in all her circumstances but who is reluctant to leave the family that she has mothered, cared for, and held together for the past eight years since her mother's death. But the exorbitant marriage gift that the duke is offering to settle on her father, brothers, and sisters is nothing she can refuse if they are to live comfortably and marry well in her father's declining years.
Persephone is not quite prepared for the new life that greets her within the foreboding castle's walls. It seems her husband, in addition to being distant and not the least interested in her, is notorious across the countryside for his short temper and the fear he engenders and commands. But to her surprise the duke has a best friend who is charming and jovial and has known him from childhood. Harry encourages her not to judge Adam on first impression but look past the calloused exterior to who he truly is and to show her husband what he loves best- courage. Courage is definitely what it is going to take if Persephone is to win her way past her husband's tough exterior and grumpy disposition. But as time passes and crises arises in both their lives will Adam learn to trust her and take down those walls himself?

Author Sarah Eden has in this novel written a good clean story in both style and content and is to be commended. While there was a few pet peeves for me, like some repetitious dialogue and the quick ending to the book, overall I was surprised at the story and the obvious talent of the author. These days you just don't expect to pick up a book and find it most everything you enjoy in a novel but whether I'm just on a good picking streak or the market out there is improving I am glad to be able to sit down and enjoy books like this!
Speaking about that quick ending- I was really surprised by it. The whole reason the duke sets out to marry is to produce an heir but once married the issue is dropped entirely. I would have really liked to have seen a short epilogue that saw the couple a year down the road welcoming their first child. It would have wrapped things up nicely. Since finishing this book I have learned that there is a sequel that follows Persephone's sister ("Courting Miss Lancaster") so I am hoping to hear an update on the duke and duchess through that story. (And I'm really glad that I picked this book to read first as I hate reading series out of order!) The other thing I could have done with in an ending was Adam realizing that his wife didn't care a fig for his disfigurement and Persephone realizing that the only reason her husband kept her at arms length was his self-consciousness over his appearance and the abandonment he suffered as a child. Having said that, it is a reminder that despite appearances, outward or inward, people are flawed and clear communication is something that must be worked at, a good moral of any tale...

Rating: 4

Disclaimer: I did NOT receive this book for review purposes from the publisher.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: Edenbrooke

"Edenbrooke" is a regency novel about Marianne Daventry a young woman feeling cornered by her
circumstances in life. Her mother has died, her father has run off to France to grieve in solitude, and her twin sister taken to live in London while she has been packed off to live with her cantankerous grandmother in Bath. Marianne hates Bath and the people there and longs for her family and for the countryside surroundings of her home. Soon she finds herself on a journey to the next best thing- a reunion with her sister and a summer at Edenbrooke, the estate of her mother's dearest friend.
While Cecily her cultured, prettier sister plans to snag the heir and make a rich match, Marianne hopes to find rest and comfort to her soul in the beauty that surrounds her in the picturesque landscape. But even the best laid plans go awry... Accosted by highwaymen on her journey and being assisted by a kind gentleman who refuses to give his name was never apart of the plan- neither was spending morning rides and afternoon talks with the second son of the manor- but through it Marianne finds freedom, friendship, laughter, home, and more in Edenbrooke then she ever anticipated.

The truth is I don't remember where I first saw "Edenbrooke", but I'm glad I did. The beautiful cover art drew me in and so I  picked it up at the library and this weekend I spent a day engrossed in the pages of this delightful book. When I was finished I was happy, satisfied, and completely mystified as to why I had never heard of the author or publisher (Shadow Mountain) before! I was even more surprised when I looked the company up and learned that it is a secular publisher! The cover of the book proclaims it to be "A Proper Romance" and I would heartily agree. While this book is, admittedly, a historical romance there is nothing in it which I would discourage anyone, even younger readers, from putting before them. It is really the cleanest non-Christian/inspirational fiction I've ever read. In fact, with its characters sincere and likable dispositions, it's dialogue's genuine humor and tender sentiment, and it's breezy readability I think the Christian fiction authors (that I typically read) should take a page from new author Julianne Donaldson's style. ...In fact, I can't think of a single thing that I found fault with in this book- and that's quite a statement coming from me! The language and styling of this book hangs between 'written by Jane Austen' and 'modern chick lit' and Donaldson finds a way to make that work perfectly. The main characters stichomythia and rapport is classic, the secondary characters are suitably helpful to move the plot along, and the villains are appropriately evil without being crude or lecherous. All in all it was a refreshing fun read that I am happy to recommend and intend to add to my bookshelf very soon!

Rating: 5 stars

Disclosure: I did NOT receive this book for review purposes from the publisher.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

On Being Heavy-Laden...

Somedays I don't think I know how to be the person that I really am.

In fact, most days I know I don't.

I had to be around 11 or 12 when my mom went through a Spiritual gifts test with us older children and we confirmed what my mom had known for a long time- my gift was that of 'Mercy'. Now in my mind the gift of Mercy is both a blessing and a curse for those of us who find it our motivational gifting in the Body of Christ. This gift allows us to both sense deeply and feel deeply. It allows us to get to the root of anothers emotional battle and it compels us to feel very deeply our own emotional highs and lows. It drives us to bring restoration, and a balm or cure to those who hurt- Spiritually or otherwise, and all too often it keeps us inside of our own heads and struggling with something akin to "Physician heal thyself".

It is distinctly burned into my memory mom talking to each of us that night and explaining our newly defined natural inclinations and how we were to be using them for the Kingdom of Christ. For me she opened to Romans 12:15 which states "Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." As we talked those verses lifted off the page and burned themselves on my heart. They couldn't be a more moving enjoinder in all of Christendom then what I felt I had just been commissioned to do. In a few short lines I felt like my life purpose had been defined.

Over the years I have found that nothing is as easy at it seems. Including my commission.

Today I have sat in my room reading my brains out and hiding in the pages of a well written novel 200 years and 3,000 miles from where I sit. It has provided a good distraction, a cover for the emotional storm inside me. The book has given me a place to vent my tears, spend my nervous energy, and recover my humor. But outside my little room the world moves on and continues passing. Removed from me by distances near and far are friends, and strangers, experiencing the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow. Today, a friend of mine was married, and another engaged. Today, I read of a member of the Body that has lost a 13 year old girl in a car accident, while at the same time I know another friend of mine hosted the celebration of a family milestone amidst the shadow of wayward siblings. Today, I heard that a former acquaintance has lost her father, while at the same time another friend of mine was celebrating the birthday's of two of her children with family and friends.

I suppose that things like this happen every day, but today I'm really feeling every one of them.

I feel the joy. I feel the loss. I feel the complexity of emotions inbetween.

So today, between the pages of my escape trip I have not been able to stop up my prayers. From my mind to God's ears they have flown unhindered by my own emotion and laid at the feet of the One who feels each one of these far more than I do... and who has far more power to bind them up, provide the cure, or put on shoes of dancing. It is a reminder to me that I should be here far more often, and far more willingly surrendering my mission to deliver the healing touch.

Finishing out my evening I decided to get busy "Pinning" over on my Pinterest page where I ran into this free printable graphic and the thoughts and emotions, and prayers of my day came full circle for me. It brought cool, calming water to bathe my soul in and reminded me that all of us, at all times, whether joyous or sad, whether mercy-bearers or other-gifted, need true rest.

And that when I reflect on it, that my friends is what gives me strength to dust out my tangled emotional cobwebs and be who I really am... one who rests in my Jesus.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spring! ...ish

This morning I wanted to write a cute little posting about the coming of spring but I have run out of time! So instead here is a lovely picture and quote to encourage your springish thoughts!

Awake, thou wintry earth -
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
~Thomas Blackburn, "An Easter Hymn"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Literary Heroine Blog Party

Just a little while ago I found out about this really cool blog party going on at Accordion to Kellie and I fell in love with her blog and the questions she was asking for the party so I thought I'd jump in and give it a go and (hopefully) make some new friends in the process!

If you're new take a look around and if you like what you see I'd love it if you followed me! Just hit the little button on the sidebar! >>>> :)

The Questions!

The Literary Heroine Blog Party Link up:
(*To those of you who participated in earlier years, it is fine with me if you reuse some of your answers over again!*)
~ The Questions ~

1. Introduce yourself! Divulge your life's vision, likes, dislikes, aspirations, or something completely random!
When updating my Pinterest page recently and finally adding a description I wrote: "Daughter, sister, teacher, baker, blogger, lover of all things reading and writing, part time scrapbooker, full time geek." I think that covers things well! :)

2. What, to you, forms the essence of a true heroine?
Some combo of strength and dignity I think. A heroine is brave about not just the extraordinary circumstances of life but the very ordinary ones too. She has wit and grace and is someone you want to look up to and be your friend all at the same moment. She knows what is important and embraces it; she knows what is trivial and tries to purge it from her life. She is warm, good natured and can laugh at herself. She speaks her mind firmly- but with love. She is compassionate towards others. She exceeds her own expectations simply because she is allowing herself to be led by God.

3. Share (up to) four heroines of literature that you most admire and relate to.
Hmm...not sure if these should be classic or modern so I'll include two of each. Anne Sherley from the "Anne of Green Gables" series, and Anne Elliot from "Persuasion", then  Julianna Ortiz from "The Outlaw's Twin Sister", and Libby Sawyer from "The Rose of Winslow Street". 

4. Five of your favorite historical novels?
"Anne of the Island" and "Kelmany of the Orchard" by LM Montgomery, "Cheaper by the Dozen", "Sense and Sensibility", and "Pollyanna". 

5. Out of those five books who is your favorite main character and why?
Ohh, I don't know- it's hard to say! If I'm really truthful Anne is my ultimate heroine, period. Simply because of her loving life- troubles and all with abandon, and for teaching me the importance of my imagination and letting the little things go. But I also love Elinor Dashwood for being true and strong and brave despite grief and disappointment, and for loving with all her heart and protecting those she loves.   

6. Out of those five books who is your favorite secondary character and why?
Colonel Brandon- he is not the expected hero but he fits the bill well! He is a noble, honorable man that deserved the chance to be loved and to love.

7. If you were to plan out your dream vacation, where would you travel to - and what would you plan to do there?
Oooh! this one is good! This one is obvious and delectable for me- Scotland. Land of the brave and home of my ancestors! I would, if I could, see everything from Gretna to the Shetlands- and never stop in between! I want to see the Highlands and Nessie and the Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle and the little highways and byways for the country! And of course, I will be delighted to see all my family that lives there!

8. What is your favorite time period and culture to read about?
I love the rough and tumble of the American West, the strength and gentility of the Reconstruction period; and the romance, elegance and homeyness of the Edwardian era.

9. You have been invited to perform at the local charity concert. Singing, comedy, recitation - what is your act comprised of?
Recitation! I think I would do a long poem or stirring address. I might even do "The Highwayman" complete with Anne's dramatic flair!

10. If you were to attend a party where each guest was to portray a heroine of literature, who would you select to represent?
Lizzy Bennett is a good possibility.... But I'd like to do something unexpected too but I can't think of anyone that other people would know!

11. What are your sentiments on the subject of chocolate?
Love. Chocolate is love in edible form. Especially if that edible form is Longhorn's chocolate cake! Mmmm.

12. Favorite author(s)?
Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, LM Montgomery, Stephen Bly, Tamera Alexander, Tricia Goyer, Nancy Moser, Susan May Warren.

13. Besides essentials, what would you take on a visiting voyage to a foreign land?
My digital camera! Could not live without that on a trip! But I would also take something for fun like a hat or big quilt for picnics.

14. In which century were most of the books you read written?
19th the century of expectation and change and possibility!

15. In your opinion, the ultimate hero in literature is…
While Darcy or Gilbert Blythe is a tempting pick here I think I have to go with Mr. Thornton. Thornton is the most honest and true hero; he has through determination and hard work raised himself and his family up out of poverty. He has the power to make or break the men who work for him but he refuses to put them at risk choosing his own risk and ruin instead. He is unwilling to compromise on principle. He wants to learn and better himself as a person. He has a total heart of gold that hides beneath his businessman's demeanor and Northern ways. He is willing to make himself vulnerable in an effort to understand the woman he has fallen in love with. He's perfect. Just perfect! (And it doesn't hurt that RA plays him.)

16. Describe your ideal dwelling place.
See this post!

17. Sum up your fashion style in a short sentence.
I try to be timelessly traditional, with Celtic and western flair that shows my personality. Also, the word Purple.

18. Have you ever wanted to change a character’s name?
I would say yes, occasionally, but I can't think of an example! I just dislike when a writer picks something that goes beyond memorable to ridiculous.

19. In your opinion, the most dastardly villain of all literature is...
??? Maybe the Phantom from the Phantom of the Opera- even though I really want him to be a tortured misunderstood hero. (Yes, I'm really sad that way.)

20. Three favorite Non-fiction books?
"The New Food Lover's Companion" the ultimate dictionary/guide for foodies and cooks! "What He Must Be" by: Dr. Voddie Baucham, a guide to aspire to. "Joyfully at Home" by: Jasmine Baucham, a guide to live by.

21. Your duties met for the day, how would you choose to spend a carefree summer afternoon?
Reading, in a sunny spot with lots of pillows and cushions, and a Dr. Pepper, and snacks- probably cookies. Mmmm!

22. Create a verbal sketch of your dream hat - in such a way as will best portray your true character.
Voluminous, ethereal, lacy and purple- like violet or lilac. Think the Ascot races in My Fair Lady.

23. Share the most significant event(s) that have marked your life in the past year.
Becoming an Auntie, having a bad flair-up, loosing my business name, drama!, thinking about running away to Scotland, friends.

24. Share the Bible passage(s) that have been most inspiring to you recently.

  And that's all she wrote...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Mind's Eye- February Sketch Challenge

This month I decided to do something that I have never done before and do a page for a scrapbook challenge! My favorite scrapbook company My Mind's Eye hosts a contest on their blog challenging folks to design a page (using MME product) according to a specific set of directions. This challenge asked you to design a page off of a sketch.

Because I really liked the sketch and really love MME I decided to give this thing a shot!

Almost as soon as I had decided I knew what I wanted the layout to be about and what direction I wanted to go with the colors, as well as what special emblishment I wanted to use! But the layout almost didn't happen as the weekend I planned to do this layout I got really sick with the flu! However, after I was back on my feet it was one of the first things that I wanted to accomplish! After I got started and picked specific papers for the base page and a collection set for the mats the rest of the design elements fell into place rather quickly and it came together faster then I anticipated!

Here is the page title: "Tweetie"! 

I love the way the branches turned out! I used twine for the branches and punched leaves out of paper that had a leaf pattern in it so that I could punch along the lines and give my leaves veins! 
This bluebird was the diving board for the rest of the layout! I was thrilled to find a chipboard peice in my stash that proclaimed "Spread your wings"!

Loved the way the orange journaling tag pops off of the robin's egg blue of the layout! The dark latte colored chipboard piece anchors it well.

Hope you like it! I know I do! Actually I can't stop staring at it because everything just says "Yes!" to me! I'm looking forward to putting it in my book!

Materials List:
Base- MME "The Sweetest Thing" collection- "Tangerine Happy Woodsy" and "Bluebell Every Day"; Mats- MME "On the Bright Side- Two" collection; Chipboard- "The Sweetest Thing" collection "Honey Perfect"; Twine- MME "All is Bright" collection; Journaling Tag- MME "On the Bright Side-Two" Accessory Sheet; Buttons- American Crafts- "Daydreams" assortment; Cardboard Sticker- Doodlebug Design- "So Tweet"; Rub-on Letters- American Crafts- Mini Marks "Purkey".

Monday, February 25, 2013

Practicing Love- Encouragment for New Mom's

Tonight I was doing a bit of trawling around on Pinterest and found this article from the Dayspring woman's blog inCourage titled "100 Ways to Encourage a New Mom". I thought the post was a great one and worth sharing for those who might be looking for practical ways to do something useful for a new mom- or a new mom with several other little ones. I hope that I can put some of these into practice with the very next newborn mom that I encounter! I particularly liked suggestions that involved photos (like #17, 49 & 50) and I'm also thinking about putting together a 'mom's care basket' that include things like #67, 75, 84 & 93.
Many of these things may not seem like a lot- but I think that many of the smallest things can mean the most! Through those small things we can show our love to someone who is pouring all her love and energy into her new child!

The first few thing go like this:
  1. Fold her laundry – especially all the socks
  2. Leave immediately when the baby falls asleep so she can nap
  3. Bring chocolate
  4. Don’t tell her to call if she needs anything, just drop by and help with everything
  5. Take the big kids out for a play date
  6. Tell her she’s a hero
  7. Bring her food in disposable dishes so she doesn’t have to deal with washing or returning them
  8. Don’t tell her to carpe diem
  9. Cry with her
  10. Laugh with her

The rest are here

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: The Tutor's Daughter

Read with caution, this review may contain spoilers.

I have to admit right off that I hesitated in picking this book up to review. I love Regency era fiction and you would think that in a Austenesque saturated book market that I would have my pick of the lot. However, I have sadly found that 'lot' lackluster and filled with improbable modern situations, thinking, and anachronisms. My other fear in reaching for this book was the fact that I had read one of the author's previous books (The Apothecaries Daughter) and found the heroine, well, kinda too clueless for her own good and I worried that this would be more of the same.
But...Bethany House Publishers periodically holds a 'book banter' session on Facebook with it's various authors and after 'attending' author Julie Klassen's banter session I decided the book just sounded too good to let it pass by!

The book is about Emma Smallwood a warm, intelligent young woman who plays assistant to her father, a man who is a tutor and runs a private boy's academy. Growing up the only girl in an all-boy environment Emma is a woman who relishes order and who has 'a place for everything and everything in it's place'.  Ever since her mother's death two years previous Emma has been ever increasingly tending her fading father- and the boarding boy's education. With the send off of their last remaining pupal Emma looks for- and finds- just the right distraction and challenge for her father and together they travel to take up an in-residence position at a country estate tutoring the two younger brothers of two of her father's most memorable students.

In Emma's mind memory of the two elder Weston brothers hold equal strength- but for decidedly different reasons. The elder, Henry, was snarky, teasing, daring boy who tired her patience but was a surprisingly good chess partner. The younger, Phillip, was closer to Emma's age was kinder and more congenial becoming a friend and confidant until his departure years previous.
Before long, strange things begin to happen to- and around- Emma like midnight piano playing, secret notes under her door, and frightening, escalating, and unexplainable pranks. Bewildered at the secrets Ebbington manor holds, Emma peals back the layers until she discovers what the family is hiding- but little does she know that what appears to be the answers to her questions has nothing to do with the danger she is in. Through all the twists and turns she finds herself questioning which Weston brother is unchanged from her memory and trustworthy- and which- curiously enough might be seeking her heart.

The one and only pet peeve I had with the book is that Emma constantly refers to Henry Weston as Henry Weston. This really seemed unnecessary to me as Emma comfortably calls the other boys by name whether in person or in her internal monologue and never refers to anyone but the Weston parents by a 'proper name'. Even if she called him by a proper name in public she could have referred to him casually in her mind. It really grated on me...however....

The novel that Julie Klassen has created is a superb one. The writing was clean and well paced and the plot well developed and unfolded.  When beginning this book I didn't have many expectations but before long I knew I was reading a great book and really enjoyed it from unassuming start to charming ending! The back cover suggests that the book may remind the reader of Jane Eyre or Downton Abbey but for me it harkened back to Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. I wanted a great, satisfying, uncomplicated read this weekend and that is what I got. Klassen has created a clever novel without trying to be clever- and in a world of books that try hard to be something they aren't this one trys and secedes.

Final Rating: 4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Book of Gratitude

Last year a dear friend of mine committed to a year of gratefulness after reading the book "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. Every night she posted to her Facebook three things from that day that she was thankful for- and she inspired me. Seeing what a difference this made in her life- and by extension in my life- I purposed to follow her example this year and keep a journal of gratefulness.

My idea of what that journal would look like took shape when my favorite scrapbooking company, My Mind's Eye, posted this great chipboard book to their blog. Their book was a delightful, free form, whimsical book that gave great spaces for the journaler to write their thoughts. My books turned out more structured... but I think they still work. :) I ended up making three of these books- two identical ones to give at Christmas (one to my grateful friend), and one with the same cover but different papers for the guts for myself. There is one page (front and back) for each month. Each month is tabbed with a chipboard circle. All of the books are done almost exclusively with MME papers and embellishments.

Here it is...

The cover:

Book Review: Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day

I have high standards for the books I read. Whether fiction or non-fiction a great book is one that shows understanding and respect of the craft itself and one that gives the reader something in return for the time they have invested in reading. All too often today I find that even though I read a lot and a wide variety that even the best looking books have some serious shortcomings.

When I first saw this book as an option on the blogggers review list I was really excited! The subject of world religions is an interesting one to me and I have done a little reading on some of the prominent ones but I really liked the idea of having a guidebook that would give me short overviews of many different ones and could be an easy reference book anytime I encountered something 'new'.

This book is divided into 40 brief chapters that cover about the same number of religions from around the world. The chapters are uncomplicated and entirely readable within the advertised 15 minute window. The chapters are largely historical in nature and provide the background story for the beginnings of each religion. In this context the book does live up to it's informational promise.

What I found lacking in the chapters was more information on the specific beliefs and tenants of the specific religion. I really hoped to find in these short chapters more info and discussion on the human side of things, what people believed and what their motivations (be it cultural or other) are for their belief and this book just didn't deliver on that. While in some context it is helpful to know the historical  background I think it really would have been more practically useful to include more of each religion's dogma.

Something that I came to suddenly realize after getting several chapters into the book was that there are no footnotes in this book. I flipped through the pages looking for some reference, or at the very least- bibliography that would allow the reader to verify the content or do further study on their own and there is none. This fact was extremely disappointing to me. As far as I am concerned a non-fiction 'study' book with no footnotes or reference to original source documentation/content is as good as fiction, or at the very least, opinion. As the book is not billed as opinion I am given no choice but to question the accuracy of the material it contains. One glaring example of the un-sourceable material was on page 83 where the categorization of the Islamic branches being described is noted as being derived " from a conversation with Samer Abdulraman" with no information as to who this person is or why he is an authority on the subject being discussed.

I had two other real issues with this book. One being that I assumed coming from a Christian publisher that this book would be written from a Christian perspective- I really didn't feel that was true. I wanted to hear a good explanation of these other religions with the starting point of a Christian worldview. What else would you expect from a Christian book- right? Part two of my disappointment was that throughout the book the author uses God with a capitol G in describing all of the gods of the world. I don't remember ever seeing this type of usage before. As far as I was aware the capitalization of God refers specifically to the singular Christian God where as the lowercase usage of god referred to the wide multitude of pagan deities. To put all "God's" on the same plane is not consistent with Christian beliefs.

In the end the concept of this format- that one could get a lot of info in a short-read time commitment- is a great one. While much of the information contained in this book seems to be accurate (from my admittedly limited knowledge) I have no way of confirming that without footnotes. A book that I hoped to be a great reference for my library and something that I could turn to over and over again has not completely measured up and that's the most disappointing thing of all because I think that with just a little more work this could have been a great reference book- even if I didn't completely agree with the author's perspective.

Final rating: 2

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a honest review and opinion of the product.