Sunday, October 14, 2018

In Everything Give Thanks

Sometimes it's hard to follow the direction in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that says in everything give thanks. There are times in life when it seems we have nothing to give thanks for; however, the scripture doesn't say give thanks for the things you like, it says in everything give thanks.

My page was inspired by Tamara LaPorte's tutorial in the Life Book Creativity and Wellbeing Summit.

This scripture always reminds me of the story that Corrie ten Boom shared in her book The Hiding Place. When she and her sister Betsy were in a concentration camp during World War II, Betsy insisted on giving thanks for the fleas that were in the barracks. Corrie was dumfounded and simply prayed that God would listen to Betsy because she could not bring herself to give thanks for the fleas.

The two sisters began holding prayer meetings and Bible study in the barracks every night, and not once did the guards come in and stop them. Many weeks later Betsy learned that the reason they were never discovered was because the guards refused to enter the room . . . because of the fleas!

What are you giving thanks for today?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

More Pulitzer Progress  

As I mentioned in my last update on the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners, I got a little bogged down in the 1955 winner - A Fable by William Faulkner. This was a very long, very slow read! The chapters are divided by days; however, I was several chapters in before I realized that the several Tuesday and Wednesday chapters were actually about the same day, just told from different perspectives. There are many (many!) characters in the book referenced by their military rank - general, corporal, sergeant-major - without any names, and the stream-of-consciousness thoughts run on for pages and pages (and pages and pages). It was not a book I enjoyed; I'm not even sure how to describe it, so here's a description from the jacket cover: Faulkner's recasting of the Christ story set during World War I "to try to tell what I had found in my lifetime of truth in some important way before I had to put the pen down and die."

The Town by Conrad Richter, the 1951 winner, was easier to read despite some difficult topics. The story focuses on Sayward, a wife and mother of eight (living) children, and focuses on the changing ways of America during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Sayward is from a family of American pioneers and owns quite a bit of land in and around the small town in Ohio where the story takes places. She is somewhat wealthy in the area. Her youngest child, Chancey, is much quieter than the others and causes her the most worry. He is a sensitive youngster with frequent health problems and often retreats into daydreams of belonging to another family who will understand him better. Despite being told not to talk to her, Chancey befriends Rosa, a young girl in town, and their friendship leads to long kept secrets and dire consequences.

I read this story on my Kindle. It was an enjoyable book, which I discovered is actually the final book in a trilogy called Awakening Land.

Philip Roth's 1998 winner, American Pastoral, starts out OK as a story about "The Swede", a high school athlete who meets up with a high school friend who has become an author. The Swede describes his great life - a wife and three sons. However, at a High School reunion, the author discovers that The Swede actually had a really rough life before this second marriage.

The remainder of the book tells The Swede's story about his first marriage to Miss New Jersey and their daughter, who at the age of 16 blows up the local post office (killing a  man) to protest the Vietnam War. Up until that time, The Swede was living the American Dream - a successful business man and lovely family, but all that changes in the years that follow.

This is a fairly good story that is well told with lots of detail and characterization, although another slow read. There are a few sexually explicit scenes that I thought were overdone and didn't add to the book. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really end and left me wondering what happened next. Then, I discovered this is book one of a three part series.

When I checked out the 2001 winner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, I discovered that it was almost 700 pages long! However, it was a fairly good read with lots of details and history as it follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, Sammy Clay & Joe Kavalier, through World War II and into the mid-1950s. Sammy lives with his mother and grandmother in New York. When his cousin Joe arrives after escaping from Prague in 1939, they pitch an idea for a comic book to Sammy's employer.

There were several storylines involving the lives of these two cousins:
*The birth of The Escapist (superhero and comic book) and it's evolution, which included lots of interesting history about comic books during and after the war.
*Joe's attempt to fight the war through the comic book stories as he tries to secure Visas to get his family out of Prague. A heartbreaking story of how families were torn apart during the war and the difficulties of not knowing what was truly happening overseas.
*A disappointing storyline as Sammy realizes he is a fairy (the word used throughout most of the book for homosexual) and makes various difficult choices throughout the book.
*As the story progresses, Joe eventually goes off to war and one section of the book details his time serving in Antarctica.
*During that time, Sammy marries Joe's girlfriend Rosa and we re-enter their lives when their son Tommy is in fifth grade.

Fortunately, the plot moved along at a steady pace; however, I was glad when I reached the end!

The 2018 Pulitzer winners were announced this past April, and I was able to check out a copy of Less by Andrew Sean Greer from our local library. The story of Arthur Less, a gay not-very-well-known author, is told from the point of view of another gay man. When Arthur learns that his ex-boyfriend is getting married around the same time that he is turning 50, he decides to take a trip around the world by accepting several offers he's received  - to speak at a conference (in Mexico), attend an awards ceremony (in Italy), teach a five-week course (at a German university), celebrate a friend's friend's birthday (in Morocco), and visit a writing retreat (in India). Honestly, I did not enjoy the book and am very glad it was a short quick read.

Currently, I'm still on track to finish all the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners by the end of the year! How are you doing on your reading goals this year?

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Personal Shopper & A Photographer (FUN Field Trip)

The day after our educational field trip, I planned a FUN field trip for my 13-year-old twin nieces - we went shopping! To be perfectly honest, I am not much of a shopper (unless I'm looking for crafty supplies, of course). However, each of the twins has chosen an elective area of study this year that worked perfectly into a shopping field trip.

Paige is interested in being a fashion designer and is studying and improving her sewing skills with plans to create her own designs. Laurie is interested in photography and is studying and learning photo basics and how to use a dSLR camera. I was in need of a few new wardrobe items, so I proposed that Paige act as my personal shopper and Laurie as our photographer. They thought it was a great idea, and (along with their mom, my sister Brenda) we headed out to a local Dillards.

While Paige & I wandered around, I had Laurie snap photos of some of the store displays.

She also caught Paige doing her "job" of finding things for me to try on.

Then I tried on a lot (a lot!) of clothes! Some of them I really liked (and added to my wardrobe), others were ok, and some were definitely not me. But I had FUN trying them all on.

The lighting in the dressing room hallway wasn't all that great, yet Laurie was able to capture some really nice shots. When we reviewed the photos together later, we decided it would be FUN to try another photo shoot with mirrors after we've both learned more about aperture mode!

Brenda also tried on some clothes during our trip. Despite not having a personal shopper like I did, she was able to find a few things to add to her wardrobe, too. I love this photo of the two of us!

My personal shopper was wonderful - not only did she choose outfits, she assisted me with all the trying on and ran back and forth for different sizes and hung things back up and kept our dressing room organized!

And our photographer was fabulous! She even captured this wonderful photo of herself.

My favorite photo of the day isn't technically perfect (with that tricky mirror and all), but it's a great representation of our day - there's me with a perfect braid that Brenda styled before we headed out for our adventure, there's Paige checking out the outfit ready to offer an opinion, and there's Laurie in the mirror snapping away.

I have to admit, I might be more of a shopper if it was always this much FUN!

Do you like to shop? Have you ever tried a personal shopper?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Take Three Thursday - Calendar Additions

The purpose of Mary-Lou's Take Three Thursday meme is to take notice more of the ordinary in our lives. However, today I'm sharing something out of the ordinary that no one has noticed.

Robbie has a scenic wall calendar hanging in his office at work, and each month he adds a little something to the scene. He does a great job of blending these additions into the photo, but it's still surprising that no one has caught on yet.

Here's a look at three recent months - can you spot the addition?

Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary this week?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Elephant FUN

I can't remember ever drawing an elephant before; however, inspired by Tamara LaPorte's Day 1 session in the free Life Book Creativity & Wellbeing Summit, I drew a whimsical elephant in my art journal!

This was such a FUN page to create! I had a great time playing with lots of supplies - watercolors, watercolor pencils, water brush, gelatos applied with daubers, paint pens, acrylic paints, torn paper scraps, etc.

Robbie said just looking at this page makes him smile … so much so that he's going to frame it to hang in his collectible toy room! (Now that's the best compliment I could possibly receive!)

How about you? Have you drawn an elephant lately?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Lush Lilac Cards

Have you ever noticed how many little flowers are in a beautiful lilac cluster? I'm sure the number varies in nature; however, on each of the cards I created in the Lush Lilac Card Class at Personal Scrapbook last week, we used 28 individual flowers!

The flowers were created using the Heartfelt Creations Lush Lilac Stamp, Die & Shaping Mold Kit. The class instructor had already stamped & die cut the lilacs, so our first task for each card was to color the flowers using inks and daubers. This simple step made quite an interesting collage on my working paper (which I've kept to use on an art journal page).

Next we ran the flowers through the Lilac Shaping Mold & attached them to the stem and swag bases.

We assembled the cards, then added accents to each flower. For the first card, I added pearl centers, then used Stickles to add shimmer to the flowers and leaves.

The flowers on the second card also have pearl centers; however, I used Wink of Stella pens for the added shimmer (clear on the flowers & green to outline & add veins to the leaves).

For the center of the flowers on the final card, I used Nuvo Crystal Drops, and used the Wink of Stella pens again for the additional shimmer.

Did you notice how the flowers have a little different shape on the final card? That's because we ran them through the Lilac Shaping Mold face up instead of face down, which is an easy way to create a different look. It was so much FUN learning little tips like this in the class! We even received a 5x7 canvas for those who wanted to display the "Have a Beautiful day" as a mixed media home décor piece (rather than using it as a card front).

As you can see, these cards have a good bit of dimension and turned out beautifully. I've already sent two of them off to special friends! Have you tried any of the Heartfelt Creation products? Do you have a favorite?

Monday, September 17, 2018

50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 - Take A Cooking Class [La Cuisine - Paris, France]

While Robbie was working in France earlier this month, I signed up for a cooking class at La Cuisine in the heart of Paris! The Les Macarons: Basic 2-Hour Class included instructions for making the cookies using the Italian meringue method and creating two ganache flavored fillings.

There were only 8 class participants (a mom & daughter from Irving, Texas; a mom & daughter from Massachusetts; 2 friends from California; a journalist from Washington, and me). The classroom/kitchen was located in the cave (cellar) of the cooking school, and all the equipment resembled what we normally use at home (making it easier to replicate the recipe in our own kitchens). I was paired up with Jessica, the journalist from Washington, and really enjoyed the small group format. Not only did Jessica and I have FUN, we snapped lots of photos along the way.

Each cooking pair chose a color for their cookies, and I (of course) was thrilled when Jessica agreed on yellow!

Our instructor, Eric, was born in France, but grew up from the age of 8 in California. He studied French literature in college, then returned to Paris to pursue his passion as a pastry chef. He was an excellent teacher, keeping everyone on track and sharing lots of tips for making the perfect macarons.

There are quite a few steps to creating these FUN cookies - preparing the ganache filling (which was placed in the freezer to thicken), preparing the almond paste, preparing the Italian meringue, combining the meringue and almond mixture to the perfect consistency, piping the cookies onto a baking sheet, baking, cooling, piping filling onto cookies, and assembling.

Despite the fact that Eric thoroughly explained and demonstrated piping the cookie dough, as well as coaching each of us individually, our cookies were less than uniform in size.

Did you know that assembled macarons are best enjoyed 24 hours after baking to allow the cookies to absorb the filling and become softer? I have to admit that despite not being quite as uniform as those found for sale in Parisian bakeries, our macarons tasted perfectly delicious!

Have you made macarons? Or taken a cooking class? Please share your experience in the comments.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Musings - God Is Bigger Than Mount Denali

When Robbie and I spent two weeks in Alaska this summer, it was an amazing experience and some much-needed time for just the two of us.
While we checked our email once a day (when internet access was available) and used the GPS on our cell phones as we traveled unfamiliar roads, we basically disconnected from technology and social media.
Before heading into Denali National Park for our final five days in Alaska, we learned that only 30% of visitors get a full view of Mount Denali (the highest mountain peak in North America). There is often cloud cover or fog or rainy conditions that completely or partially hide the dual peaks of this magnificent mountain. Yet, we had two beautiful days of this gorgeous view from the porch of our cabin at Camp Denali near the end of the 90-mile park road. 
Honestly, after several tough months, I needed to be reminded of the greatness of our Lord. As I sat on our cabin’s porch, I knew without a doubt that God was reminding me that He is bigger than whatever we are facing. He could have just given us a glimpse of this view, but He gave us two full days…probably to be sure I didn’t miss Him and this reminder that He is greater and more powerful than anything that comes against us in this world.

Psalm 147:3-5 says: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.
Now, I’m sure some of the other campers thought we just lucked out to get such a gorgeous view. And others might think it was just a coincidence that we were the ones who just happened to be there during those beautiful weather days. They might have missed God altogether!

But because I was looking for Him and wanting to hear from Him, I didn’t miss Him! He works in everything we do and experience, and He will show up in the simplest things (like a beautiful landscape) when we need to be reminded of His power and His presence.

In Jeremiah 32:27, the Lord says: Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?
What do you need from God this week? Are you listening and watching for it?

Friday, September 14, 2018

First Ladies: Style of Influence (Educational Field Trip)

My 13-year-old twin nieces are studying government and economics this year; so, when they were in town a couple of weeks ago, I planned a FUN and educational field trip to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum special exhibit - "First Ladies: Style of Influence."

This exhibit "examines how the role of the first lady has evolved over time, and how first ladies have used their position to advance diplomacy and other social, cultural, and political initiatives." The roles were divided into four spheres of influence: hostess, teammate, champion, and policy advocate. As the girls and I strolled through the exhibit, we learned what each of these roles involves and saw photos, documents, and artifacts highlighting various US First Ladies who excelled in these four areas of influence.

The role of hostess involves coordinating social events and dinners, including creating menus, inviting guests, and coordinating seating arrangements. In this role, first ladies also determine the White House décor and oversee each year's Christmas trees and decorations.

Among the examples in this role, we learned that in 1814, then First Lady Dolley Madison saved George Washington's portrait along with other White House treasures before the British attacked and burned the White House. She understood the importance of these items to our nation and its history.

Barbara Bush was another example of a great hostess; she was referred to as "Everyone's Grandma" and is considered one of the most loved first ladies. She wrote in her memoir that "...the things that matter are faith, family, and friends." Mrs. Bush passed away earlier this year after living what she referred to as an inordinately blessed life.

In the role of teammate, first ladies support and partner with the president. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was first lady for 12 years, 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day, was a huge supporter of her husband during the war years. Likewise, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Laura Bush became a comforter and her focus shifted to causes that were tied to the terrorist attacks.

The champion role involves a special cause or passion that the first lady is interested in or worried about. For example, both Laura and Barbara Bush were huge champions of literacy. And Michelle Obama spent her time championing good nutrition and movement to fight childhood obesity.

As a policy advocate, first ladies become actively involved in policy creation, breaking down stigmas, and spurring others to action in and out of government. Hillary Clinton is a huge advocate of gender equality and women's rights.

We also learned that there have actually been 56 women who have served as first ladies, even though there have only been 45 presidents! This is due to the fact that some president's wives did not accompany them to Washington, thus a daughter or sister might have served as first lady. There were also instances where the first wife of a president passed away and the president remarried. There was a photo and short bio of each first lady on an interactive computer set up at the exhibit.

This was a very well-done and educational exhibit, and it was so much FUN to tour it with my nieces, beautiful young ladies discovering their own passions as they grow into women who will influence our world in the years to come!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

March 2018 Scrapbook Layouts

I'm continuing to use INSPIRATION from Shimelle's The 20 Project class and the old BPC 28 Days of Sketches class as I scrapbook this year's photos and stories. This first layout from March showcases one large photo and shares how the Bradford pear trees bloomed mid-month, teasing of spring, but we had several more bursts of rain and cool weather afterwards.

We're always striving to eat healthier, and I can't resist snapping a photo when the food is pretty, too! This layout using four small photos worked perfect to highlight some of our meals in March.

I'm also often inspired to snap photos when we are browsing flea markets, garage sales, and antique stores, so I printed a variety of 2x3 photos from a couple of places we visited earlier this year for a layout where I also included some old lace and buttons.

For these last two layouts, I used a simple two-page kit from Lickety Split called "You Are My Sunshine" (a gift from my friend Amy). Both pages hold photos from the same weekend; however, since they tell slightly different stories, I wanted the pages to go together but not appear as a two page layout. For the first page, I used mostly items from the kit, adding a journaling card and flowers from my stash. I also included a screen shot of a text, which I printed in black & white since the blue text bubbles didn't go with the colors of my layout.

The second page uses the same background paper from the kit, but most of the other papers and embellishments are from my stash. I like the way these two pages flow together while stilling being unique. (Thanks for the FUN kit Amy!!)

I still have a couple of stories to scrap from March as I progress on our 2018 chronological album. How is your 2018 scrapping coming along?