Sunday, November 19, 2017

50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 - Travel On A Train

I've ridden on a train several times in my life (the Texas State Railroad train tour, New York subways, Universal Studios' Hogwarts Express), however, when I added "travel on a train" to my list of 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50, my goal was to travel from one city/town/state/country to another on a train rather than driving or flying.

I checked this item off my list on our recent trip to Europe. In fact, we traveled by train several times.

First, we took a Netherlands Railway train from Amsterdam to Haarlem, then all the way to Zandvoort - the end of the line. Traveling by train for this day trip was quick and easy and gave us plenty of time to enjoy Haarlem and a walk along the North Sea beach before heading back to Amsterdam!

Next, we took a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris - a three-hour non-stop train ride through Belgium. This trip was a little different as we had to haul our luggage onto and off the train ourselves. I was also surprised that no one checked our tickets until halfway through the trip and we were never asked for any type of identification. (I learned later that the Schengen Agreement eliminates internal borders between 26 European countries, so a passport is not needed to travel between those countries.)

We had first class seats, which included a selection of light eats (some good, some...uhm...interesting) near the beginning and again near the end of the trip. It was a comfortable ride and we arrived in Paris right on schedule.

And, finally, three days later, we rode the Eurostar from Paris to London. The UK is not a part of the Schengen Agreement, so our passports were checked this time. We also had to go through security, which was somewhat different than airport security since there's no checked luggage. We had to place all items, including our 50-pound suitcases, on the scanner belt ourselves.

Once again, we had first class seats, which were very comfortable despite the fact that I had unknowingly booked seats riding backwards.

We had plenty of room to enjoy the countryside flying by, as well as the (uhm...interesting) meals that were served shortly after we left the station.

We also had onboard wi-fi, which made it easy to track our progress . . . until we disappeared off the map as we entered the tunnel under the English Channel. (It was like watching someone's movements on the Marauder's Map, then he suddenly disappears as he enters the Room of Requirement.)

The best part of all this travel by train, of course, was being on vacation together, visiting new places, trying new things, enjoying each other's company!

Here's a look at the page in my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 album! I'm so glad I had this item on my list, and I'll definitely consider this mode of travel again when it's available.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Europe Trip - Hotels & Time Zones & Such

We returned home this past weekend from a wonderful two-week trip to three destinations in Europe - Amsterdam, Paris and London! Along the way, we stayed in four hotels and changed time zones five times!

We began our trip flying on a 747 (one of the things Robbie's always wanted to do). We moved our watches ahead six hours on that flight, so it was already the morning of the next day when we arrived in London.

It just so happened that we arrived on the Saturday that was the end of daylight savings time in Europe, so we moved our watches back one hour before going to bed that evening. Sunday was a very crisp day with quite a few hours of sunshine - perfect for attending the Cleveland Browns versus the Minnesota Vikings NFL game at Twickenham Stadium. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves despite the fact that the Browns lost.

We fell into a peaceful sleep that night . . . only to be awakened by the fire alarm at 11:30pm. We slipped into our jeans & jackets, grabbed our passports, and trudged down the five flights of outdoor stairs into the very chilly night. Fortunately, there was not a fire - while the hotel apologized for the inconvenience, the lack of an explanation leads me to believe that someone on the hotel staff set off the alarm accidentally.

The next morning, our flight to Amsterdam was only an hour and a half, yet we lost another hour as we moved our watches ahead to another time zone. We arrived at the Schiphol Airport where we took the train into Amsterdam Centraal and checked into our room with a great view of the city and canal.

After two and a half days, we boarded a train for the three-hour trip through Belgium to Paris, France. Our room was lovely, very Parisian, although the view out the window was disappointing as the mall across the street was under construction.

Three days later we headed back to London, changing our watches back an hour in the process. We headed out to see the new Thor movie and enjoy a steak dinner in Leicester Square the first evening.

We were not aware of the annual anti-establishment protest march that was taking place until after we walked out of the restaurant and heard pops (like fireworks) and saw a group of people running toward us in the midst of smoke bombs. Along with others in the area, we hurried into a nearby building as the protest group raced past, most of them wearing masks, followed by a troop of riot police. Honestly, it was very frightening! It took the bicycle rickshaw driver we hired a good while to get us back to our hotel as he had to continually backtrack and go out of the way to avoid the crowds and multitudes of riot police! We were glad to arrive back at our hotel suite, although I didn't sleep very well at all that night!

The next morning was a beautiful sunshiny day, and we enjoyed four days of sightseeing and meeting up with online friends before heading home! Our flight home was a very long 10 1/2 hours, however, we gained six hours and once again reset our watches. Of course, all the clocks at home were still set for daylight savings time, but we were so exhausted when we got here that we fell into bed without even taking time to set the clocks back! When we woke up the next morning - very early due to jet lag - Robbie went around the house and got all the clocks and calendars set to the right time and month! It's taken a couple of days, but I do believe we're now on the correct time! :)

I'll be sharing lots more photos and stories from our trip, along with the three items I checked off my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 List, in upcoming posts.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Musings - My Dwelling Place

Psalm 91 has long been one of my favorite chapters in the Bible! This beautiful psalm describes the safety we can experience when we abide in the presence of God.

When we make the Lord our dwelling place, he will provide refuge and safety and protection, we will not be afraid, and pestilence and destruction will not come near us. He will give His angels charge over us! He will set us on high and be with us in trouble and deliver us and honor us! What more incentive do we need to make Him our dwelling place?

Friday, November 10, 2017

50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 - Carve A Pumpkin

I'm not sure how I made it all these years without ever carving a pumpkin. I've purchased pumpkins for fall displays, but we've never carved any of them. Last year we actually got a pumpkin with the intention of carving it the weekend of Halloween, however, Robbie had to go out of town for an unexpected business trip and we never got around to it. Of course, we could have carved it anyway, but the INSPIRATION just wasn't there.

This year, I was determined to check this item off my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 List, and we purchased several pumpkins early in October. Later in the month, Robbie picked up a pumpkin carving kit for me, and I might have grabbed a few chocolate marshmallow pumpkins to enjoy, too.

We spent a FUN afternoon carving the pumpkins.

I have to admit that I didn't enjoy cleaning out all the messy goo and it was harder to carve than I anticipated (especially since the rind on my pumpkin was twice as thick as the one on Robbie's pumpkin, even though his was a lot bigger in size!).

We set our creations outside, and I really do like the way they looked all lit up!

While I doubt this will become an annual activity, I'm happy to say I was ACTIVE in checking another item off my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 List!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Musings - The Parable of the Sower

I've always thought of the lessons in the parable of the sower as being for those who are hearing the Word for the first time. However, a few months ago, I participated in a mini-course hosted by Florence Achama Ukpabi, and she shared how there are lessons in that parable for all of us at every stage in our faith walk.

While those hearing the Word for the first time can have their belief blocked by the lies of the enemy, troubles and persecution, the worries and cares of life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires of the flesh, we too can succumb to disbelief due to these same blockers.

The same things that block others from believing in Christ can cause us to question and not live out the truths that we know. While we may not question the truth of our salvation, we may have trouble believing or hearing the Lord's direction in other areas of our lives. We must be aware of this so that we do not allow these things to block our beliefs and our ability to live the abundant life that God has for us!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Simple Cards

As I've been processing photos and getting some of my digital files organized recently, I realized I never shared the two cards I put together at the Illustrated Faith Retreat this past spring. For each of these cards, I folded an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of cardstock in half, then simply layered some of the Illustrated Faith papers & embellishments we received at the retreat to create simple cards.

Each sentiment began with something from the paper collection (Seeds of faith on this first one & Dwell on the second one), then my friend Jana completed the sentiments with her wonderful creative lettering.

These cards remind me how easy it is to create handmade cards with just some pretty paper and a pen!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Musings - Prayer

Prayer is the way we communicate with the Lord. It is a conversation that includes praise, thanksgiving, confession, and requests. I've shared some thoughts on prayer previously (most notably HERE and HERE). There's not a right or wrong way to pray; the important thing is that we take time each day for prayer. There are numerous scriptures about prayer throughout the Bible that guide and encourage and instruct us to pray.

The book of Psalms is a collection of hymns, poems and prayers. In Psalm 5, David prays to the Lord saying, "For to You I will pray. My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You."

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us that when we pray, we should "go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

There are so many things that can vie for our attention and focus each day. Later in Matthew 6, Jesus admonishes us to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first.

Sometimes when we pray, it's hard to focus and our minds tend to wander. In times like that, I find it helpful to write my prayers out either in a journal or in my journaling Bible.

Regardless of when or how or what we pray, Oswald Chambers' quote (below) reminds us of the importance of prayer.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Non-Fiction Book Reviews

I first read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend over 25 years ago, shortly after the first edition was published in 1992. I recently re-read this book that has great information on establishing boundaries with family, coworkers, and friends.

Some people view setting boundaries as a negative thing, however boundaries help us know when to say yes and when to say no; they help us heal and allow us to let in the good things while keeping out the "bad." The authors remind us that as we learn to set boundaries, others will often resist our boundaries, so it's important to have support systems in place. I enjoyed re-reading this book and felt good realizing that I continue to implement many of the lessons I learned from this book all those years ago.

I met Tammie Durden and won a copy of her book,  Get Up, Dust Yourself Off and Win!, at the Breathe Retreat last month. In this book, she shares her story of a time when she was dealing with a failed business, financial problems (so difficult that her car was repossessed), divorce, and the depression that plagued her. She then moves on to share that "life happens" and we must learn to pick ourselves up, do the work on the road to recovery, and have the courage to keep on and win.

Get Up, Dust Yourself Off and Win! is actually a book and workbook all in one as each chapter is followed by questions and plenty of space to journal your answers. Along with being an author, Tammi is a speaker and empowerment coach who provides training and coaching around the globe.

She Means Business is an easy-to-read book designed to help women build a business. Carrie Green, the author and founder of The Female Entrepreneur Association, shares her story (along with other entrepreneur's stories) of leveraging the internet to create the business and life she dreamed of. There are action steps as well as a twenty-eight day challenge at the end of the book.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comment.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 - Revise My Will

Of all the items on my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 list, number 24 (Revise My Will) was definitely the least FUN of them all. In fact, Robbie even commented that this item seemed out of place when I originally created the list. However, I knew this was something that I wanted to take care of as it had been quite a few years since we'd reviewed and updated our wills.

Honestly, we started talking about this several months ago. Because we do not have children, we wanted to have clear directives for settling our estate in the event something happened to both of us. Yes, it's a bummer talking about something like that happening, but we live in a world where the news is full of tragedies, senseless killings, disasters, terrorist attacks, and accidents. Having a will makes it so much easier for those left behind to take care of things. Otherwise, it takes much longer and lots more paperwork to get everything completed! (I know - I've settled several estates where there was not a will & it's not fun.)

I have to admit that I'm extremely excited to have this least FUN item checked off my 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 list! Do you have a will? How often do you review/update it?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Introduction to Coloring Class

Earlier this year, I took an Introduction to Coloring Class taught by Peggy Jo Ackley of Pink Ink Stamp Company. I immediately knew Peggy was going to be a great teacher when I showed up at Scrappin' Goodtime and everything was ready for the class to begin. And, of course, I really liked how those colored pencils looked all divided up by color!

In this class, Peggy shared a step-by-step process for layering techniques with colored pencils. We began by adding the lightest colors, then layering additional colors to add depth and shadows. I especially like how she had examples of each step in the process for us to follow.

For each stamped image we colored, there were materials to create greeting cards.

I didn't finish my cards during the class, but after I returned home I put them together.

I enjoyed the class and really like the way the cards turned out. Since then, I've used this layering technique with many of my coloring projects!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday's Mail Memo - FUN Mail

There's been quite a bit of happy mail around here lately! I received this FUN handmade thank you card in the mail from one of my email subscribers. Of course, I love all the washi tape on the card and envelope!

The same day, Robbie came home from work with a lovely handmade card & envelope (and gift card!) that he received for boss's day.

We ordered and received new rain jackets - looking forward to wearing these on our upcoming trip (although I do hope it doesn't rain every day!).

Robbie ordered eight new three-ring binders . . . and they arrived in FOUR boxes! I'm certainly glad the shipping was free on this order!

And, finally, I received a special delivery this weekend for Sweetest Day - chocolate and strawberries - oh so sweet!

What FUN mail have you received lately?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Musings - When God Calls

In 2 Timothy 1:9, we learn that God has saved us and called us with a holy calling. We are first called to salvation, then He calls us to serve Him. Our calling can mean making a drastic change (like leaving our home to be a missionary in another country) or being diligent to serve in our everyday lives (like teaching our children about the Lord or being a witness in the workplace).

There are numerous examples of God calling individuals in the Bible, and the responses range from resistance to complete surrender. In 1 Samuel 9, when God first called Saul to be king, Saul responded with disbelief and questions because he was a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and ... the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin (verse 21). However, Samuel assured him that God would be with him and admonished him to do as the occasion demands (1 Samuel 10:6-7).

We see a completely different response when God asks in Isaiah 6:8 "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Isaiah boldly responds, "Here am I, send me!"

When God calls you, how will you respond - with unbelief and resistance or with complete surrender?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Pulitzers - Great, Good & Terrible

As I continue to make progress on my goal to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, I've recently completed a great book, a good book, and a terrible book!


The 1986 winner, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, is 945 pages long and a fantastic story about two former Rangers, Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, who leave Lonesome Dove, Texas, and drive a herd of cattle to Montana to establish the first cattle ranch in that territory.

The book is divided into three parts and includes lots of characters: Jake Spoon, a former Ranger with McCrae and Call who returns to Texas after accidentally killing a man in Arkansas; Lorena, the whore from Lonesome Dove who ends up on the cattle drive and endures tremendous hardships after being stolen by Blue Duck, an Indian bandit; Deets, a black scout who has been with McCrae and Call since the Ranger days; July Johnson, the sheriff from Arkansas who sets off to find Jake but ends up having to search for his wife Ellie who ran off looking for her previous lover; and Clara, Gus's old love who lives in Ogallala, Nebraska. Then there are the cowhands hired for the cattle drive, the two Irishmen the crew pick up while stealing cattle in Mexico, the cooks who keep the boys fed during the drive, the two pigs who walk all the way to Montana, and a host of other characters whose paths they cross along the way.

Of course, there are some not-so-savory parts to this story set in the 1870s - saloons & whores & drinking & killing & outlaws & hangings. Yet, the story would be unrealistic without all these components. This story draws the reader in and the characters are so well developed that it's hard not to feel a huge loss when several characters are suddenly scalped by Blue Duck mid-way through the novel. In fact, many (many!) characters die in the rough wilderness setting. The ending of the book is pretty good, although I discovered there are a couple of prequels and a couple of sequels to this story.

This book is extremely well-written, well-paced, and believable (despite the fact that everyone eventually converges at Clara's house). After I put this book in Robbie's to-read pile, we watched the four-part mini-series, which is a great adaptation of the book!

Empire Falls by Richard Russo is the 2002 winner. This is another long book (although not as long as Lonesome Dove!), however it is a good book, easy to read and well-paced. The story is set in a small town in Main and follows Miles Roby, who has run the Empire Grill for the past twenty years. He is currently getting a divorce and worries about his daughter, who he affectionately calls Tick. Along with the divorce, Miles has to deal with his dad who is a essentially a bum and eventually runs off to Florida with a senile old priest and his soon-to-be ex-wife's boyfriend who insists on hanging out at the Empire Grill every day.

The host of characters are well-developed and there are several story lines in this book, some shrouded in mystery. I did figured out quite a few of the "mysteries" early on - like who the man was that Miles' mother met at Martha's Vineyard when he was a little boy and who ran over Cindy Whiting, the crippled daughter of Francine Whiting (a rich woman who owns practically everything in the town of Empire Falls). This was a good read, although the story was not so compelling that it couldn't be put down easily.

I really don't have much to say about A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, the 1981 winner. This terrible book that's set in New Orleans is full of debauchery and stupidity and makes fun of everybody. There is not one group of people portrayed in a good light, and I can't think of a single positive thing to say about it.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.