Tuesday, August 15, 2017

July Book Club

A Lineage of Grace: Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity
by Francine Rivers

In this compilation of the five books in the best-selling Lineage of Grace series by Francine Rivers, we meet the five women whom God chose—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Each was faced with extraordinary—even scandalous—challenges. Each took great personal risk to fulfill her calling. Each was destined to play a key role in the lineage of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.

Wow, this book was a doozy!  At 560 pages this one took AWHILE to read.  In all honesty, I wasn't able to post just after book club because I hadn't finished.  I was down to the last third of Bathsheba's story and still needed to read Mary's.

This book is a compilation of novellas originally published as Unveiled (Tamar), Unashamed (Rahab), Unshaken (Ruth), Unspoken (Bathsheba) and Unafraid (Mary).  I wish I had started this earlier and taken the time to go through each of the Bible studies at the end of each story.  I have mixed feelings about these types of stories because you have to be very careful in the future not to take the speculation of the author that fills in the lines of these women's lives and mistake it for the Scriptural account.  Yet on the other hand, to see their stories in the context of their time and surroundings does make them less one dimensional and you begin to see how you relate to their story. 

My favorite was the story of Tamar.  I had never considered how Judah's part in Joseph's being sold into slavery might affect how he would react and relate to his family. 

The parts of this that did not ring true for me:
  • the supposition that each of these characters were already seeking God before their lives came into the Scriptural account.  I could see it for Mary, but not so much for Tamar or Rahab.
  • Bathsheba's unquenchable love for David from childhood was a bit too romantic for my taste.  It seemed to give her an excuse for her part in the adultery.  But the trouble it caused here in the palace after becoming his wife almost made up for it. 
We had a pretty lively discussion and I was in the minority for my lack of passion about it.  We found ourselves often asking, 'was that true or part of the story?' a lot. 

This one didn't have much food to keep our dinner in theme...but we enjoyed more bread and wine!

I think the other ladies would give this one a 4 1/2 or 5 stars.  But mine would have to be a ★★☆ tops. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What I Read in July

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide….

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets….

This was my cruise read...and it was perfectly delicious.

Fun.  Short.  Interesting. 

Of course you have to expect those things when the book opens with a girl on a long road trip to her hometown bar...in her wedding dress...covered with junk food stains. 

I am looking forward to reading Laura's new book Hello Sunshine.

Rating: ★★★★

Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman
(Non-Fiction/Christian Living)
Our obsession with bigger and faster is spinning us out of control. We move through the week breathless and bustling, just trying to keep up while longing to slow down. 

But real life happens in the small moments, the kind we find on Tuesday, the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday carries moments we want to hold onto--as well as ones we'd rather leave behind. It holds secrets we can't see in a hurry--secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls. It offers us a simple bench on which to sit, observe, and share our stories.

For those being pulled under by the strong current of expectation, comparison, and hurry, relief is found more in our small moments than in our fast movements. In Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman helps readers

· stop dreading small beginnings and embrace today's work
· find contentment in the now--even when the now is frustrating or discouraging
· replace competition with compassion
· learn to breathe in a breathless world

Jesus lived small moments well, slow moments fully, and all moments free. He lives with us still, on all our ordinary days, creating and redeeming the world both in us and through us, one small moment at a time. It's time to take back Tuesday, to release our obsession with building a life, and believe in the life Christ is building in us--every day.

I finally finished this one!

I love reading Emily's blogposts at Chatting at the Sky.  Her voice is one of rest and quiet and deep places that make me think.

Though I started this book last October and loved it, I was also teaching a Bible study and never finished the last third of the book.  As it turns out, I needed the last two sections of the book now, not last October.  Jim and I have been trying to slow down.  And though our schedule was unbelievably busy this spring/early summer due to various functions that we attended, we purposefully tried to keep some weekends empty and to spend more time doing the things that actually refresh us during the week. 

After I finished Marie Goff's book last month, I was tempted to move on to another Christian Living title waiting on my bookshelf.  I am so glad that I chose to finish reading this one first.  Part 4 was especially soothing to my busy soul.  The chapter on "Prayer & Questions: Making Friends with the Fog" -- hit the bull's-eye for where my heart has felt caught lately.  "Desire & Disappointment: Why Clarity is Overrated" hit the nail on the head that I was not looking for clarity in order to know where the Lord wanted to move me next but because I wanted to feel IN CONTROL of where we are going.  "Endings & Beginnings: Casting a Hopeful Vision for the Future" reminded me that the end can be as beautiful as the beginning.

Rating: ★★★
(It may have been a 4 star if I hadn't waited so long before I finished it.)

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth
(Non-Fiction/Christian Living)

Woman to woman. Older to younger. Day to day. Life to life. This is God’s beautiful plan.

The Titus 2 model of older women living out the gospel alongside younger women is vital for us all to thrive. It is mutually strengthening, glorifies God, and makes His truth believable to our world.

Imagine older women investing themselves in the lives of younger women, blessing whole families and churches. Imagine young wives, moms, and singles gaining wisdom and encouragement from women who’ve been there and have found God’s ways to be true and good. Imagine all women—from older women to young girls—living out His transforming gospel together, growing the entire body of Christ to be more beautiful.

This is Christian community as God designed it. Read this book and take your relationships to new depths, that your life might find its fullest meaning as you adorn the gospel of Christ.

Since I was on a roll with finishing up Simply Tuesday, I refused to start a new book until I finished this one too.  I had read/listened to this all the way to Part 4...and somehow let the ending slip away.

This book is speaking as a sacred echo into my life right now.  The Lord has placed the many facets of discipleship and mentoring on my heart through various books and life circumstances since the middle of last year when I read both Audacious and Giddy Up, Eunice about Women's ministry and our relationships with the various women in our lives.

I'm praying through what this will look like in my life in the future.  I've taught Bible studies (off and on) for nearly two decades...but in the past year those dynamics have been changing to more of a small group prototype, and I have been loving it. 

If the Lord should bring me to mind, please pray that I would hear His voice and respond in immediate obedience.  I so want to be a faithful daughter, sister and mother...to my flesh and blood family and to my spiritual family.

(FYI: It's a little tough to get through the doctrine in the first part of this book, BUT it is essential to understanding the later parts that are both hands on and highly controversial in the world we live in.  This title will remain in my library for refreshers.)

Rating: ★★★★★

I also read a book for Book Club at the Barn this past month...but I have a separate post coming for that one.

Hope you have enjoyed some good books this summer...and maybe even finished up some that have been calling your name from that 'unfinished' shelf.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Christmas In July: Goode Family Style

Lots and lots of July birthdays...and we have four more birthdays in the first half of August.

We had a great combo birthday party at Kelli and Matt's week before last.  Each person chose their own dessert.

Matt: Carrot Cake
Bri: Chocolate Pie
Davin: Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Icing
Deborah: Banana Pudding
Derrick: Striped Delight

I decided to just have a bite of all theirs!

Jim teased the other day that we should just have one big party for EVERYONE in July (since half of us are already celebrating in the six weeks from July 1 - August 13.)  Then wait for Christmas to celebrate again. 

Sounds good to me!

Friday, June 30, 2017

What I Read In June

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Y'all will never guess where I picked up this jewel.

The Library!  That's right.  For the first time in over 20 years I have a library card!

We've been in Waller County for ten years this August and I found the Waller library earlier this year.  Last week I had to pick up something from the post office, make a run by the pharmacy and the bank so I stopped in and got myself a library card!  I haven't checked out a library book since we lived on Corona Lane and were right by one of the Houston libraries.  Even then, we only used it a few times each summer. 

The lady who was filling in for the librarian had to show me how to use this new fancy check out system as I only remember the stamped and signed cards that were in the back of the books once upon a long time ago! 

Like other books by Liane Moriarty, it takes me from a few days to a week to think them through.  I can't tell you how I feel about it until I've had some time to ponder. This one deals with how guilt affects every part of our lives, whether it stems from something we have done (or not done) or even when we only perceive ourselves to be guilty in something that really had nothing to do with us. 

In this story guilt affects friendships, marriages, family dynamics, neighborhoods and even the perception of oneself.  It also deals with how guilt reveals itself in so many different forms...from the subtle to the outrageous.  I kept waiting for some big reveal, and though it never came, the twists and turns as the story was fully told kept me riveted to the very end. 

My favorite part of the novel was the subplot regarding a minor character who came to be the one whose story best illustrated my takeaway from the book.  Don't let guilt take away your life.  Or as a Pinterest quote so eloquently says:

When thinking about life remember this: no amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell

Are you consumed with a busy life but unsure how to slow down? Do you desire connection within your community and think, “Absolutely, but I don’t have time for that” or “I can’t create that”?

What if there was another way through it all, a way to find those moments of peace and to create a time for honest, comfortable connection? What if meeting neighbors and connecting with friends was as simple as showing up and being available?

Desperate for a way to slow down and connect, Kristin Schell put an ordinary picnic table in her front yard, painted it turquoise, and began inviting friends and neighbors to join her. Life changed in her community and it can change in yours, too. Alongside personal and heartwarming stories, Kristin gives you:

  • Stress-free ideas for kick-starting your own Turquoise Table
  • Simple recipes to take outside and share with others
  • Stories from people using Turquoise Tables in their neighborhoods
  • Encouragement to overcome barriers that keep you from connecting
  • New ways to view hospitality

Today, Turquoise Tables are inviting individuals to connect with each other in nearly all fifty states and seven countries. Ordinary people like you wanting to make a difference right where they live.

Community and friendship are waiting just outside your front door.

I first heard of this book on the podcast The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.  It was their first book of the summer book club.  (Yes, I listen to a lot of podcasts!  I have an hour plus drive every morning and evening.  That's a lot of time to listen to the radio.)

Jim and I moved to our new neighborhood in November of 2014.  Though it is less than two miles from our last home, it is located on a private road and is pretty secluded.  We have spent the last two years trying to get to know some of our neighbors.  Everyone lives on acreage and most behind a gate.  So, even though we have met nice people, it is not easy to connect with each other. There are about 20 families on Strathmore Road. He and I keep talking about hosting some sort of get together at the barn and inviting the neighborhood...but talking is as far as we have ever gotten.

That was my motivation for reading this book.  Kristin writes from a faith perspective, but it is not so  overwhelming that a person from a different belief system couldn't pick up good ideas from this book.  It is a beautiful book (if you normally read on a device, splurge a little and pick up the real thing) and it was a short read.  (I think it took me two evenings.) 

I too am a person of faith trying to connect with my neighbors and to be a light in the place that God has planted me.  I mostly appreciated her encouragement to just do it.  Just put yourself out there.  Don't try to plan big Pinterest-perfect events.  Just invite your neighbor over for a cup of coffee and serve store bought cookies if that is what you have.  Again I heard the call to hospitality, not entertaining.  She has made it easier by putting the Turquoise Table in her front yard so that she doesn't even have to worry with cleaning the house before guests arrive.

While some of what has worked for her would not work for me because our neighborhoods and our seasons of life are so different, I was encouraged to seek the Lord's face on how He would use me in this place and at this time.

This was a perfectly timed read for me.

Rating: 4/5

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper

A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

This was the first book in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Book Club.  And it had me from the very first paragraph!

It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate.  To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.
The setting is the Australian outback during a record drought.  And though their summer actually coincides with our winter (like South Africa), it made for a riveting summer read.  It brought back memories of our own drought in 2011, when we all prayed for rain and swore we would not complain about rainy EVER AGAIN. 

The small farming community of Kiewarra is suffering under the oppressive heat.  If the rains don't come soon, there will be nothing left of their herds or their crops.  From the pressure of this powder keg, three shots ring out and a family is found dead.  But was it really the murder/suicide that the whole town suspects...or is there something more sinister than El Nino in this sleepy little place?

If you like crime drama without all the graphic images, you will enjoy The Dry.  There are two intersecting story lines being sorted out:
  • The mysterious death of 17 year old Ellie Deacon 20 years earlier that was never proven to be a murder, as most townsfolk suspect, or a teenage suicide. 
  • The apparent murder/suicide of Luke Hadler, his wife and son that doesn't quite fit with either Falk or the local sheriff.
This really is a page turner with a satisfying conclusion that I think you will enjoy.

Rating: 4/5

Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need In A World Telling You What You Want by Maria Goff
(Non-Fiction/Christian Living)

This is a book about discovering what we really need.
There are a lot of second-best options, but we weren’t made to live a second-best life. Finding what we actually need is different than what we are often offered. There are many books full of opinions, steps and programs. This isn’t one of them. This is about craving the things that matter. Things that don’t just work, but last.
In a life that may seem to be all fun and games with an endless supply of balloons, author Maria Goff shows how this life is also lived with intentionality, passionate purpose, and a little planning—all of which make a life rich in legacy. But she had to figure out the help she needed first in order to live the beautiful life God wanted for her and wants for us.
Love Lives Here is a collection of stories that include the ways Maria and her husband, Bob, navigated family their way, without clear instructions or a road map. It’s about what they learned to make their lives meaningful and whimsical and how they created a space for their family to grow together while they reached outward.

This is going to be hard for me.  So, please bear with me.

First the positive.  I listened to a podcast that featured an interview with Maria Goff and I enjoyed it so much that I stopped THAT DAY and picked up a copy of this book.  I have yellow highlighter ALL throughout.  So many of the quotes got me to thinking or were recorded in my journal to revisit later.  I think Maria has a viewpoint that many of us can learn from and I love her casual style that is not filled with condemnation for those of us who have had to find our own footing in marriage and parenting.

I felt like this needed a bit more editing.  The reason I say this is, if I had not listened to that interview and gotten to know some of Maria's story through that podcast, I would not have finished this book.  I was frustrated that the first chapter jumps right into a story without really telling you the significance.  Thankfully I had background from the interview to know why it was important to her and what had happened to get her family to that point.  There were great nuggets of wisdom in EVERY chapter, but they didn't quite come full circle.  And then there was the introduction that talked about what Paul had to say to James about looking in a mirror.  Ummm? I think the book of James was written by James and had nothing to do with Paul.  I know that sounds really petty, and I don't mean for it to be, but it just makes me wonder how much attention was paid to the details when a Christian Living book begins that way. 

For these reasons, even though I had several 'aha' moments, I have to give this one:
Rating: 2/5

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House  by Alyssa Mastomonaco

If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this...Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator's early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).

Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.

I listened to this on Audible. 

I laughed out loud, more than once.

I realized once again that working in the political sphere and the White House in particular is a difficult, difficult task for anyone.

I also think I will be buying hard copies of this for several young women who have recently graduated college.

I enjoyed listening to the Audible, which was recorded by the author.  But there were times when I thought she was a bit monotone.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Week One of Summer Was a Success

We made it!

Jim and I actually managed to spend the first week of our summer at the Creek House! 

We met Meagan's and Bri's families down there for Memorial Day weekend.  Kelli and her kids came on Sunday to celebrate Dayton's 3rd birthday.  Everyone left on Monday, but Jim and I stayed until the following Monday, when we had to head back to Waller in order to prep for a trip to Branson to celebrate my mom's 70th birthday.

We made the 2 hour commute in to the office two days last week.  It was a great time to catch up with one another.  He drove in the mornings and I drove us back in the evenings.

We spent a wonderful, quiet week together for our 36th anniversary.  We found some great summer recipes that really hit the spot when you're on the water.  And we drove over to Matagorda to eat out one night when neither of us wanted to cook.

The Internet and cell phone service down there is 'spotty' at it's best and non-existent for the most part.  This means few texts, fewer phone calls and the probability of checking your email is pretty much 'nil' unless you drive down to the Dollar General. 

We got lots of rest.  Slept like logs.  Did a little fishing and crabbing from the dock.  Watched a few movies.  Fought a few (thousand) mosquitoes.  Took the boat out for a ride on the creek. And  I read two novels. (Woo Hoo!)  

So far, so good!  I am looking forward to a great summer and hoping that we are able to spend the rest of June's weekends down on Caney Creek (once we return from Branson, that is).  Even when the storms rolled in on Sunday, it was still beautiful!

I love my happy place!

I hope you are looking forward to something that renews your spirit this summer too!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What I Read in May

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

"What happened here last night isn't allowed," said Madame Dubois.
It was such an extraordinary thing to say it stopped the ravenous Inspector Beauvoir from taking another bite of his roast beef on baguette.
"You have a rule against murder?" he asked.
"I do. When my husband and I bought the Bellechasse we made a pact....Everything that stepped foot on this land would be safe."

It is the height of summer, and Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their wedding anniversary at Manoir Bellechasse, an isolated, luxurious inn not far from the village of Three Pines. But they're not alone. The Finney family―rich, cultured, and respectable―has also arrived for a celebration of their own.

The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.

I don't know why, but the books from this series make great 'mind clearing' reads for me.  They are thought provoking but fun; engaging but not obsessively so; and they help me to step back from the big feelings I have after books like Lincoln In The Bardo.

In the fourth installment of the Chief Inspector Gamache series we find him on holiday with his wife at a beautiful summer house away from civilization.  This sounds like the perfect summer getaway to me.  While vacationing they share the estate with a wealthy extended family who have some secrets which are about to be exposed...and murder ensues.

I have heard that this is the book where the series takes a turn toward less bizarre yet more personal murders...and this one did not disappoint.  I love the characters.  I love the settings.  And I love that the murders are not grotesquely described or committed in an extremely heinous fashion.  I enjoy a mystery novel, but am a sensitive reader so Louise Penny fills the bill on every level for me.  I have tried James Patterson's Women's Murder Club and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series...and while the stories were fascinating and the writing was superb, there were scenes in each of those that disturbed me for days and I can still feel the 'sick in the pit of my stomach' when I think about them even though its been years since I read the books.

Next time I'm in the bookstore I will pick up the next installment of the series to have one hand when the mood strikes!

Entertaining With Betty by Betty Crocker

Rediscover classic recipes and entertaining advice from the 1950s with Betty Crocker!

The year was 1959. People watched Leave It to Beaver on TV and listened to Elvis on the radio. And when they entertained, they turned to this indispensable guide from Betty Crocker, which you may remember from your mom’s or grandma’s kitchen. Now you too can rediscover Betty Crocker’s secrets for great parties. Whether throwing an afternoon tea, a midnight dinner, or a pot-luck supper, Betty Crocker has you covered. This authentic reproduction of the classic 1959 book (Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining) gives you a nostalgic snapshot of an earlier era--and a mother lode of party tips, etiquette advice, and recipes that have stood the test of time. Inside you’ll find:

  • Great ideas for a wide range of get-togethers, from dinners and buffets to barbecues, brunches, and potlucks
  • 89 time-tested recipes, 208 charming illustrations, and 11 nostalgic color photographs
  • Tried-and-true party favorites like Vichyssoise, Parmesan Oven-Fried Chicken, Herb Batter Bread, and Brownie Peppermint Pie
I had to go Walmart to get my battery changed out late one day after work.  While I was waiting, I ran through to pick up a few miscellaneous items that I couldn't find at the grocery store and I ran across this little gem.

I rushed to the waiting room to crack it open and was pleasantly surprised as soon as I read the first paragraph.  Yes, it is a nostalgic look back at entertaining in 1959...but it's etiquette and ideas are timeless in many ways.  I love her definition of hospitality: being disposed to entertain with generous kindness.  And in this time of Facebook envy, Instagram comparison and Pinterest fails, this quote is needed now as much as ever before: “Hospitality isn’t a contest, it’s sharing the best you have without apology.”

This is my nighttime 'quick read' so it is still on my nightstand.  I'm about halfway through.  The recipes are not very tempting...but the look into entertaining has kept me quite interested and helped me to see why I feel so at home when certain people entertain.  Evidently our parents passed down some of the rules of entertaining without exactly telling us what the rules were or why they existed. 

The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy

Before Audrey was the baker's wife, she was the pastor's wife.

Then a scandalous lie cost her husband a pastoral career. Now the two work side-by-side running a bakery, serving coffee, and baking fresh bread. But the hurt still pulls at Audrey.

Driving early one morning to the bakery, Audrey's car strikes something—or someone—at a fog-shrouded intersection. She finds a motor scooter belonging to a local teacher. Blood is everywhere, but there's no trace of a body.

Both the scooter and the blood belong to detective Jack Mansfield's wife, and he's certain that Audrey is behind Julie's disappearance.

But the case dead-ends and the detective spirals into madness. When he takes her family and some patrons hostage at the bakery, Audrey is left with a soul-damaged ex-con and a cynical teen to solve the mystery. And she'll never manage that unless she taps into something she would rather leave behind—her excruciating ability to feel other's pain.

What can I say about this book? 
  1. I liked it a lot better than last month's book club read.
  2. I figured out most of the mystery pretty early on...but still felt invested in the characters, especially Audrey and Julie.
  3. I wanted to throttle Jack for misusing the Word of God and his self-righteousness. 
  4. That probably means that I have a bit of self-righteousness in myself...'cause 'if you spot it, you got it!'
  5. I realize that many people struggle as I do with the difference between God's forgiveness and the consequences of sin.
  6. I can hardly wait for June 5th to discuss the juicy subjects with my group.
  7. I know that I will have all kinds of thoughts about the book after hearing their takes on it.
  8. I now want to bake some bread!  That just sounds good to me during this rainy weather.

The morning after I finished the book I read this quote in a devotional:

One of the greatest forms of blindness is to be unaware of our own faults and weaknesses. But one of the greatest forms of power is moral power based on a life of integrity.

There was great blindness and great power in The Baker's Wife and it was interesting to see how both worked together to set the stage for this book. It is not always the ones who have had it bad that are weak...nor is it always the ones that society sees as upright that live with true integrity.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Known for her wisdom, warmth, and knowledge of Scripture, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has encouraged millions through her books, radio programs, and conferences. Now she’s back with a legacy work on Titus 2 and its powerful vision for women:

Woman to woman. Older to younger. Day to day. Life to life.
This is God’s beautiful plan.

The Titus 2 model of older women living out the gospel alongside younger women is vital for us all to thrive. It is mutually strengthening, glorifies God, and makes His truth believable to our world.

Imagine older women investing themselves in the lives of younger women, blessing whole families and churches. Imagine young wives, moms, and singles gaining wisdom and encouragement from women who’ve been there and have found God’s ways to be true and good. Imagine all women—from older women to young girls—living out His transforming gospel together, growing the entire body of Christ to be more beautiful.

This is Christian community as God designed it. Read this book and take your relationships to new depths, that your life might find its fullest meaning as you adorn the gospel of Christ.

I'm slowly working my way through this one on Audible and in book form.  Lots to think about.  I just finished the chapter on slander...and 'OUCH!'

Exit West: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

This book!  Oh my goodness, this book!

It is one of my Book of the Month selections.  I took it with me to Caney Creek this past weekend and finished it in two days.  I don't think it would have taken me that long if it had not been a family holiday.  It is a short read...about 230 pages long.

This is a love story.  But it is also a story about being a migrant...a refugee.  Why people leave their homes.  How their new 'home' receives them.  How they change as a result of the relocation. 

I cannot stop thinking about the story of Saeed and Nadia.  But neither can I stop thinking about the vignettes of other migrants or of the beautifully written prose in this book.  I found myself reading an especially meaningful paragraph multiple times and then just putting the book in my lap as I pondered it in my mind.

If you choose to read this thought-provoking, strongly narrated novel...have book darts or post-its on hand because there are so many passages that you will want to savor.  I am going to have to read it again because not only did I not pack anything, I didn't even have a pen with me at the time. 

And if you read it, please let me know because I really, really, REALLY need someone to discuss this book with.  It is just that good!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Designing Summer

Our Little Miss Watermelon Baby
Bailey Rae
Today is the last day of instruction for most of the public schools here in the Greater Houston area of Texas.  That means, despite the calendar's evidence to the contrary, summer begins TOMORROW!

Yesterday I logged on to my Facebook to see Bri's picture from Sargent. Is it not the perfect representation of summer here on the Gulf Coast? 
  • Beach?                      CHECK!
  • Swim suit?                CHECK!
  • Pony tail?                  CHECK!
  • Watermelon?            CHECK!
This has me thinking about how I want to spend my summer this year.  Jim and I no longer have kids in school, so it is easy to just let summer pass like any other time of year.  Work, home, work, home...maybe a weekend trip here or there.  No big vacation plans.  No real change to the schedules or routines.


I want to do something a little different. 
Make some plans. 
Change up our routine to enjoy the longer days.

I'm trying to convince my husband to make more use of our new place on Caney Creek this summer.  We are trying to keep our June weekends empty of outside commitments so that we can spend them in Sargent...fishing off the dock...reading on the porch swing...taking the boat to dinner...making homemade ice cream...maybe, I'll even get a bicycle to cruise around on. 

I also want to make time for family and friends, and for making new friends.  I'm thinking over so many ideas for connection and fellowship...inviting people to lunch...having the older grands down for a Cousins Camp...maybe even having an old-fashioned fish fry one weekend.

I think this quote from Darell Hammond sums up my hopes of summer:

Aaah, summer - that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility.  It's a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends.
How about you?
Any special plans for your summer?
Any ideas on how I might have the summer of my dreams?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Experiencing God 20 Year Later

This past spring, I facilitated a group of three ladies through the Experiencing God workbook.  It was a wonderful experience that I wouldn't trade for the world.  These three ladies and I, two of whom had studied with me multiple times before, built a relationship that was unlike any I have been honored to be a part of in past organized Bible studies. There were some very REAL conversations had around that table!

We were even inspired to create our own t-shirts to represent this new found vulnerability:
To say this was a sweet time of fellowship just doesn't seem to do justice to the experience.  I believe it could best be described as 'Koinonia' - fellowship, intimate partnership, or as the workbook describes it "...the most complete expression of a love relationship with God.  When you live in this kind of love relationship with God, you will have the same quality of loving fellowship with other believers." 

I had been a part of this same study over twenty years (and three churches) ago.  As we came to the close of this study I realized how many truths from back then are still part of my faith today (though I couldn't have told you where they came from until I completed the study again).

So here are a few of the truths that struck a chord with me this go around and that I want to hold on to:
  1. Ask probing questions to discover God's activity around you. (pg. 84)
  2. God made us mutually interdependent, that is why we need the church body. (pg.128)
  3. I want my heart's cry to be like David Livingstone: Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me.  Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.  Sever any tie but the tie that binds me to Thyself.  (pg. 166)
  4. Spiritual adultery -- "following a method instead of depending on God." (pg. 173)
  5. In God's kingdom, how you do something is as important as what you do. (pg. 216)
  6. A sign of health in the body of Christ is how quickly one person hurts and someone else feels the pain.  (pg. 223)
  7. Regularly ask your spouse spiritual questions. (pg. 255)
    • What has God been showing you in your quiet time lately?
    • Has God placed a particular burden on your heart as you have prayed? etc.
Looking back, there was a tremendous amount of growth in my faith the last time I worked through this material.  My challenge this time is to remember that it is God that brings the growth and to be willing to wait patiently for that next growth spurt.  I didn't recognize it during the last one...and I might not realize it happening even now.  I need to trust that He is more concerned that I have an intimate love relationship with Him than with what I do for Him as a result of this study.

Have you ever retaken a Bible study?
What was your experience like?

I would love to hear!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What I Read In April

This first book of April, I listened to it on Audible.  I have heard it spoken very highly of several times, and those recommendations seem to always mention to listen to the cast of 166 narrators instead of reading the book.  Many people said they had given up on the written version but, upon hearing from others, gave the audio version a try and loved it.

Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel by George Saunders

The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. "My poor boy, he was too good for this earth," the president says at the time. "God has called him home." Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy's body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state-called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo-a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie's soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction's ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

The 166-person full cast features award-winning actors and musicians, as well as a number of Saunders' family, friends, and members of his publishing team

What a book!  166 people speaking...some in snippets, some in annotated quotes, and some with such passion that the action seemed to leap out of my stereo and I could visualize their every move.  (I got so excited when I heard the familiar southern drawl of Robin Miles.)

There were parts of this book that were HARD to listen to because of language (the vulgar Barons) or content (Miss Trainor) or subject matter (President Lincoln's desire to hold his dead son again).  I admit to sometimes fast forwarding 10 to 15 seconds, especially through the Barons.

Having said that, this was sad and haunting and moving and worth every minute of those seven and a half hours.  There was hardly a subject that wasn't at least touched upon...and the story of the young mulatto girl was harrowing, yet realistic in every way.

This isn't a feel good beach read by any stretch of the imagination.  But I think it is a good and thought provoking read.  It will go on my favorites list for sure.
(7 1/2 hours)

The Pelican Bride: A Novel by Beth White
Gulf Coast Chronicles: Book 1

It is 1704 when Genevieve Gaillain and her sister board a French ship headed for the Louisiana colony as mail-order brides. Both have promised to marry one of the rough-and-tumble Canadian men in this New World in order to escape religious persecution in the Old World. Genevieve knows life won't be easy, but at least here she can establish a home and family without fear of beheading. But when she falls in love with Tristan Lanier, an expatriate cartographer whose courageous stand for fair treatment of native peoples has made him decidedly unpopular in the young colony, Genevieve realizes that even in this land of liberty one is not guaranteed peace. And a secret she harbors could mean the undoing of the colony itself.

Gulf Coast native Beth White brings vividly to life the hot, sultry south in this luscious, layered story of the lengths we must go to in order to be true to ourselves, our faith, and our deepest loves.

One of our book club members attended a conference back in early March where Beth White spoke.  She was so impressed that she suggested this for our April read.  I tore through it in just a couple of days while on vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

I have heard members of other book clubs say that some of the best discussions come from books that were either 'meh' or where someone really disliked it and others really liked it.  That would be this book!  One of our members read it early and didn't care for it (too romantic was the complaint).  Another member read it and felt 'meh' (enjoyed learning some of the historical background but felt like some of the characters needed more development).  The other two loved it...naming it their favorite book so far.

Y'all our discussion usually wraps up by 8:30...9:00 at the latest.  When I was locking up the Barn to go to the house it was after 10:00!  We discussed characters, who we believed did what, why we felt some plot threads were dropped with no satisfaction, who we loved and who we hated.  We talked about who we believed delivered the pastries, what it would be like to make such monumental change in your life from living in France to being one of the first females in the Louisiana Purchase and how we never realized the history of the Mobile, Alabama area or how both are Indian names.

At the end of the night, the person who described the book as 'too romantic' commented on how she missed so many of the plot threads until we were discussing them and that maybe the book was better than she originally thought.

Books really are better with friends!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What I Read In March

March turned out to be a great month for books!  I was getting a bit burned out on podcasts, so I decided to pick back up my Audible listens during my commute. 

(NOTE: The book descriptions and photos below are taken from Amazon.)

I began with the one that was on many 'Best Of 2016' lists and that I was quite interested in listening to:
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

 A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

I want to be very clear in saying that though ALL of this family's story is NOT my family's story...there were things that hit very, very close to home for me as I listened.  I was absolutely transfixed from the moment that the author called his grandparents, Mammaw and Pappaw.  Though he thinks it is not said outside of Appalachian families -- that is what we called both sets of my grandparents until we started school and learned the slightly more proper Grandma and Grandpa.  The more I listened the more I wondered if perhaps I wasn't more like them than different.  While it's true that I was born and raised in Arkansas, we were from the Delta and timber lands of the southeast and did not consider ourselves hillbillies.  (Rednecks, yes.  but Jim's family came from the Arkansas hills -- not mine. ;-)  I shed more than a few tears as I listened to this over the course of a few days.  I recognized members of my family of origin and thought processes that I carry around still to this day.  I finally realized how some of my personality traits were born as coping mechanisms in childhood and the effect they have on my relationships still today. 

During last year's election this book was touted as one that you should read if you wanted to understand better why so many people from this demographic voted Republican.  I didn't find that answer, nor did I find any way that someone could come to that conclusion from this book...but I found it very thought provoking, sometimes hard to listen to, and very revealing of some of my own thought processes.  I did, however, see how listening to this story contradicts part of the 'white privilege' stereotype by revealing how poverty affects several generations no matter the hue of the skin. Maybe, just maybe I am too close to the subject matter to see it more objectively.

(7 hours)

My second Audible listen has been waiting for quite awhile.  I downloaded it so that I could listen before the HBO limited series aired, but then got caught up in other things -- totally forgetting about it until the episodes were stacking up on my DVR.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal... A murder…a tragic accident…or just parents behaving badly?  
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

I loved, loved, loved listening to this one!  We know from the beginning that someone has died at a school fundraising event...we just don't know who is dead or who is responsible.  The story unfolds from the day of Kindergarten orientation to the time of the murder. Interspersed throughout the events leading up to the murder are snippets of the police interviews with the witnesses from that fateful fundraiser.  Seeing the varying viewpoints of eyewitnesses (whether arrived at innocently or because of resentments or prejudices) blew me away. 

The story begins when a child accuses another classmate of choking her while the teacher is not looking.  The accused child is quickly labeled a 'Bully' yet...several of the outraged parents (from both sides) could be guilty of bullying in their own grownup, finessed ways. Then their are the lies, who is telling them and why.  There are big ones and little ones and little ones that become huge ones. 

The friendships in this book are worth the time it took to listen.  Madeline has just turned 40 and her last child is starting school while her first born is entering her teenaged angst years.  Madeline is spunky and a mini-tornado of activity.  (I just loved when she said something about looking tired all of the time and then looking in the mirror one day to realize that this is just the way she looks now.)  If you have daughters you may recognize the shift that comes in your life when you realize that you are losing your youthful appearance just as your daughter is coming into her own.  It's tough!  Her best friend is Celeste, beautiful, rich, perfect, with the most romantic husband in the whole town.  Everyone stops and stares at Celeste -- men and women alike.  But Celeste is often distracted and dreamy, never recognizing how others perceive her.  Then we meet Jane, a much younger single mom, new to town, struggling to make ends meet and quite skittish.  Jane seems to always be haunted by something from her past that keeps her on edge and creates deep concern for her son, Ziggy.  When Madeline takes Jane under her wing, you just know that something is about to happen that will take poor Jane out of her comfort zone.

I spent most of the book wondering who was dead.  Was it Jane?  Was it Madeline?  Was it Celeste? Was it Renata, the overbearing mother with the super successful career?  Or was it one of their men?
It had me changing my mind with each passing hour and kept me guessing right up until the end.

I thought Caroline Lee, the narrator, did an impressive job on this one.  Okay, so I was a bit in awe of her Australian accent...but she made every character (and there are lots of them) come alive for me. This is one of those rare audiobooks that make you want to take the long way home and then sit in the driveway until the chapter is completed.

I started watching the series just before I finished the book but I'm a little 'meh' with the changes.  I know that some things have to be shortened or rearranged.  I am three episodes in and I'm missing Pirriwee Public.  The change from a beach town in Australia to Monterrey, CA just loses some of the flavor of it for me.  The acting is superb!  And though I envisioned some of the characters a bit differently (like I just knew that Nicole Kidman would be Madeline, not Reese Witherspoon), the actresses do an especially good job of conveying the personalities of their characters.  We will see if I make it all the way through the series or not.

(16 hours -- I listened to the majority of the book on 1.5 speed so that I could finish it in a week.)

I picked up this next title because I had heard through several podcasts that it reads a little like short stories but with the common thread of a certain character.  One reason that drew me is that I am eleven weeks into a thirteen week Bible study and I don't have a lot of time for reading at night.  I wanted something to help me relax, but that was not so involved that if I were away from it for a few days that I might lose some of the story.  This really hit the spot.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a novel about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation. It was selected as a best book of the year by Amazon, BookPage, LibraryReads, and NPR.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

I finished this one sitting on the deck at the creek. The chapters were told from different points of view of people whose lives had intersected with Eva.  Some were life changing for her, some were life changing for them. Some were relationships that lasted for years and some were chance encounters that seemed totally unmemorable until the end.  It appeared that the author was going to tie up the story in a neat little bow...but, thankfully, he didn't.  It left us wondering about some of the characters we met through Eva...and about Eva herself.  Which is a much more realistic conclusion to the middle of a story about someone's life.

(320 pages)

I finished up March by listening to:
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it's been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now 18 and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what's been missing in her life, and when she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

This one has been on my radar for awhile...but when a friend told me over dinner that she was reading it for one of her book clubs and that it really had her thinking, I downloaded it as soon as I possibly could possibly get to it!

It's still stewing in my head.  We have two nieces who came into our family through the foster care system.  With them in mind, it hurt my heart to read parts of Victoria's story and for the most part I just wanted to sweep her up into my arms and tell her that everything was going to be alright.  But I have to admit that at the end I wanted to crawl through the Bluetooth system on my vehicle and strangle her.  I texted with my friend about the things happening near the end of the book and, though she agreed with me and had similar feelings to mine, she shared that her book club kept insisting to her that Victoria really didn't know any better.  I'm not sure I agree with that...and so, it keeps on stewing around in my head.

I enjoyed the listen.  Learned a lot about the language of flowers and about the compassion needed to help someone who has been so deeply hurt by abandonment.  I pray that our nieces never suffer the severe insecurity and distrust of even those that love them so dearly that Victoria did.  Though I was frustrated most of the last hour and a half of the book, I felt the ending was much like the ending of Kitchens of the Great Midwest -- realistic and not tied up in TOO neat of a bow, though, nevertheless, there is a bow.

(11 hours)

I finally finished the Dietrich Bonhoffer book Life Together and started this one in preparation for the next New Members Orientation at church:
Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman

Why should you join a church?

Becoming a member of a church is an important, and often neglected, part of the Christian life. Yet the trend these days is one of shunning the practice of organized religion and showing a distaste or fear of commitment, especially of institutions.

Jonathan Leeman addresses these issues with a straightforward explanation of what church membership is and why it’s important. Giving the local church its proper due, Leeman has built a compelling case for committing to the local body.

Still reading!

Do you have any good books to recommend for April?  After all, there are ONLY 50 books in my 'What Should I Read Next' recommendation board on Pinterest to choose from!  LOL!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What I Read In February

Not as much as I read in January to be sure!

February was a slow reading month for me for several reasons:
  1. We are halfway through our current Bible study, Experiencing God.  That takes some evening reading time away from me to complete the daily homework and prepare for class.  But y'all, I am loving it!  Though it wasn't planned this way, I am leading three beautiful ladies through the weekly discussion and it has been so RICH!  Last time I went through this material I sensed the Lord calling me into Women's ministry so I am eager to see where He is leading now.
  2. Meagan and Derrick are still staying with us.  Their house should be finished today and they plan to move this weekend.  In the meantime, we spend much more time gathered around the dinner table talking in the evenings and giving 'goodnight' hugs and kisses.  It has been a sweet time for Jim and I...and it has given us the opportunity to really get to know our little people on another level.  We will miss them when they are gone.
So, what have I read this month besides my Experiencing God: Units 1-7?

I finished Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk on February 2.  I updated January's page with my final thoughts on that one.  Lillian was not a woman to easily fit in anyone's mold, not even her own.

It took me a few days but I finally picked my next book from my TBR shelf.

A Gentleman In Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles

Imagine living in a luxury hotel.  Makes you smile, right?  I can just imagine living in the Warwick on 54th and 6th in New York City in the 1920's.  The Warwick is my all-time favorite hotel because of it's history and the architecture is timeless.

Now imagine being told that you will can never leave said luxury hotel or you will face a firing squad.  All of the sudden the beauty and grandeur can seem small and insignificant as compared with the rest of the world.  This is the world where we meet Count Alexander Rostov, just as he is receiving his sentence and finding that he is further being moved from his grand suites at the hotel to the abandoned servants quarters of long ago.

From Amazon:
Chosen as a best book of the year by NPR, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The same gorgeous, layered richness that marked Towles’ debut, Rules of Civility, shapes [A Gentleman in Moscow]” –Entertainment Weekly

“’The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘Eloise’ meets all the Bond villains.” –TheSkimm

“Irresistible. . .[an] elegant period piece. . .as lavishly filigreed as a Faberge egg.”
 –O, the Oprah Magazine

He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

“And the intrigue! … [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery… a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

I had to put this one to the side about halfway through in order to read our next Book Club pick:

Romantic Times Book Reviews - “Another stellar novel from Martin. His fabulous gift for characterization is evident on each page. Layers of the story are peeled back to show the spiritual truth underneath the gripping plot. This is a reimagining of the prodigal son story from the Bible, and the reader's faith can't help but be enriched and encouraged after completing the book. Cooper is an intricate character with an amazing story to tell, and the supporting cast is just as important to provide additional depth and understanding. This novel should be on everyone's must-purchase list.”

“No matter where you go, no matter whether you succeed or fail, stand or fall, no gone is too far gone. You can always come home.”

At the age of eighteen, musician and songwriter Cooper O’Connor took everything his father held dear and drove 1,200 miles from home to Nashville, his life riding on a six-string guitar and the bold wager that he had talent. But his wager soon proved foolish.

Five years after losing everything, he falls in love with Daley Cross, an angelic voice in need of a song. But just as he realizes his love for Daley, Cooper faces a tragedy that threatens his life as well as his career. With nowhere else to go, he returns home to the remote Colorado mountains, searching for answers about his father and his faith.

When Daley shows up on his street corner twenty years later, he wonders if it’s too late to tell her the truth about his past—and if he is ready to face it himself.

A radical retelling of the prodigal son story, Long Way Gone takes us from tent revivals to the Ryman Auditorium to the tender relationship between a broken man and the father who never stopped calling him home.

Charles Martin wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Chasing Fireflies.  When I saw that he had a new novel coming out, I suggested it for our February Book Club.  It is a modern retelling of the prodigal son with a twist.  It is beautifully told by starting with 'the present', flashing back to the history and how Cooper and Daley ended up here, then picks up their stories again.  Very well done.  Beautiful prose that transports you vividly right into the story.  This one had so many layers that I felt I could relate to all of the characters in some way or another. 

My two favorite quotes from this one:

I used to think the same thing. Thought that by keeping it to myself, I was protecting you.  Truth is –“ He shook his head and spat again.  “The truth is the only thing that doesn’t hurt.  The truth is a giant hand.  It both cuts us free and holds us tight.

Said more simply: I wanted what I wanted, when I wanted it, the way I wanted it, because I wanted it.  Period.

That last one really resonated with me because I know that I have thought that many, many times in my life.
We had a great discussion and even better visit. 
I think this weekend I'll get back to my Gentleman in Moscow.  I'll update here when I finish!
What have you been reading lately?  Anything I just NEED to add to my TBR?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Totally Random Musings

It's been over a week since I logged on to share.  We've been fighting illnesses again.  I was down last week, finally feeling a little better by Sunday evening.  But then Jim started feeling bad on Sunday afternoon.  He's still home with a low grade fever and just overall tired feeling.  If you think of him in the next few days, please say a little prayer for his healing.  He has been running on fumes for months and I think it has all just caught up with him.

I was wondering what to post today, even whether to post today, and then I remembered a 'note' I started on my phone last week of just random quotes and things that piqued my interest.  I thought I would share some of those here in this space.

We were talking around the dinner table last weekend about shopping at Big Box Stores and which were our favorites.  We were specifically talking about our preferences for Lowe's or Home Depot.  Jim and I both prefer Lowe's.  Derrick and Josh both looked at us baffled and said they preferred Home Depot.  On Monday I saw an online article titled "When Do You Outgrow IKEA?"  On a whim, I clicked over to read it.  One reason is that Jim and I just replaced our Ikea bedroom (purchased in 2007) with a 'real bed' from Rooms To Go.  In that article they reported the peak customer age for several Big Box Stores including Home Depot (age 48) and Lowe's (age 54).  Now we know why they prefer the one we stay out of if at all possible!    It was an interesting read, and I found that Jim and I should have bought our bedroom suit from Ashley Furniture (age 54) instead of Rooms to Go (age 47).  Wait, I'm not 54 yet so we are still good!  [By the way, we were way past the IKEA age of 24 when we purchased our last bedroom set -- but I attribute it to the fact that we were also buying three other beds for the kids rooms.]

Kelli, Matt, Bri, Josh and their families came over last Friday to celebrate the February birthdays.  This birthday boy turned 8 the next day.
Maddux enjoying the last bite of his mostly melted by then ice cream cake! Silly boy!
Kelli brought Meagan a delicious 'no added sugar' strawberry cheesecake.  Yum. 

I heard an interesting little 'blurb' on the Happier podcast (#103) last week that perked up my ears and made me think.  Mostly because I am highly susceptible to this in my own life.  They were answering a question from a listener who wanted to know how to avoid the pang she feels when she is around babies or pregnant women while she is battling fertility issues.  One of them referred to the 'compare and despair cycle.'  This struck a chord with me as I realized that so often my comparing myself to others really does lead me to despair.  Yes, I sometimes compare to feel better about myself (not proud of that admission, just keeping it real) but 85% of the time it is a comparison that I am going to lose.  There are always people who are better at things than I am.  I especially struggle with women who are thinner than I am, who are better educated, who are better at keeping a home/decorating/making meals than I am, or who never seem to struggle with keeping balance in their lives like I do.  Compare & despair are certainly a cycle with me.  Now that it's been named, I need the Lord to do some healing in this area. 

I was catching up on podcasts last week and came across this quote from Revive Our Hearts dated January 25.  Karen Loritts shared this while talking about forgiveness among girlfriends.  "Forgiveness takes one, reconciliation takes two."  I often have people ask me how they can forgive and let others back into their lives after some real hurts.  This was such a succinct way of remembering that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  We are commanded to forgive.  Believe me, I've struggled with this often in my life but the truth is that Jesus commands it (Luke 17, Mark 11 and others).  And yes, 'as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.' (Romans 12:18)  But sometimes it doesn't just depend on us.  We can forgive, but the reconciliation doesn't always come.

In light of a New Members Class that I'm involved in, I saw a short poem on Pinterest that led me to investigate whether or not it is true that a group of alligators is called a congregation.  It was!  I find it kind of funny in light of that class which we will repeat once a quarter.  I may use this for our opening session in April as an icebreaker.  "A congregation of alligators - a congregation refers to a group of alligators, where the smaller alligators are compliant to the biggest, most dominant alligator."  That just makes me smile a little bit.

And finally, just a sweet reminder from another Revive Our Hearts podcast:
We, as women, need heart connections. 
I need you.  I enjoy hearing from you.  I am thankful for your friendships.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings today!