Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Waving Goodbye

Can you believe we are waving goodbye to 2019 already?

Looking back on the year, I am so thankful for you! I appreciate it when you take time to read a post, leave a comment, and/or email me with your thoughts (and book suggestions). I am so grateful for the friendships and interactions I've enjoyed through this blog over the past (almost) ten years.

As the new year begins, I'll be taking a little break here as I spend time:

*seeking the Lord's direction and inspiration for 2020
*preparing to complete some in-progress scrapbook projects
*participating in the 20in20 workshop
*focusing on my 2020 word (HEALTH)
*joining in the OLW workshop
*and planning our schedule and travels for the year!

As we wave goodbye to this year, I pray the Lord will bless you abundantly in 2020!

Happy New Year Y'all!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas Y'all!

I hope your stockings were filled with lots of fun and crafty things!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book Reviews | Books About Reading

Recently I've enjoyed a couple of books about one of my favorite hobbies - reading!


I'd Rather Be Reading is about "The Delights and Dilemmas of The Reading Life." The author, Anne Bogel, hosts the What Should I Read Next podcast and owns The Modern Mrs. Darcy website. This small, easy-to-read book covers a variety of topics like confessing your literary sins (the books you should have read), books that make you cry, books from others (what it says about you and them), gifts you give, how to organize your bookshelves (in a way that works for you, it's a hobby!), books that have shaped you, the ones you reread, and tracking books you read. A very nice read!

I saw How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster at our local Barnes & Noble and was intrigued. The chapters [with wonderful titles like "Every Trip Is A Quest (Except When It's Not)" and "When In Doubt, It's From Shakespeare..." "...Or The Bible"] address various symbols and themes and contexts found in books (and movies). Professor Foster shares what these items mean (or might mean), although he also asserts that a story should stand on its own first, even if the reader doesn't recognize the symbolism, etc. This was a very interesting and entertaining read that ends with the admonition to enjoy reading, whatever you're reading.

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

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Musings | The Prodigal Son

Are you familiar with the prodigal son? We find his story in Luke 15:11-23.

A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Matt Carter, author and pastor of a church in Austin, Texas, has a new book out sharing a deeper look at this age-old story. The Long Walk Home: Discovering the Fullness of Life in the Love of the Father is a very well-written and easy to read book. However, the author doesn't minimize sin and the lasting effects it has on our lives. Instead, he juxtaposes that with the unfailing love of our Heavenly Father.

Filled with personal stories (which I thoroughly enjoyed as I'm familiar with the Texas settings) as well as other Biblical examples, this is a thought-provoking book that will help you release any doubt you have about whether God can love you after all the things you've done that go against His will for your life as well as whether following God will cause you to miss out on the best life has to offer. [Spoiler Alert - God's love never fails & a life with Him is better than anything this life can provide.]

If you haven't take a good look at the story of the prodigal son in a while, or if you still have doubts about the God's love and questions about your future in His family because of your past, I highly recommend this book!

(Note: I am a B&H/LifeWay Blogger and received this book free in exchange for an honest review.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Reviews | NonFiction

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann is a nonfiction historical book written like a narrative. On the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma, the native Americans retained mineral rights (headrights) to the land. When oil was discovered there, the Osage became extremely wealthy. Some of them were able to control their own finances; however, the government appointed "guardians" for many of the Indians. In the 1920s/30s many Osage died or were murdered. Actually, some whites were killed, too, if they happened to know too much or might be in line to control a headright.

There are three parts to this story: (1) the story of Osage Mollie Burkhart and her family, many of whom died suspiciously; (2) the story of Tom White and the FBI's investigation and trial; (3) and the author/journalist's finds that further the story. [I personally didn't like the author putting himself in the narrative as it interrupted the flow of the storyline.J. Edgar Hoover was the new head of the FBI during this time. Unfortunately, only one or two of the murder cases went to trial (instead of the 26+ that occurred). This was a very interesting read about a piece of history I knew absolutely nothing about.

I read Thanks! by Robert A. Emmons, Ph,D. in preparation for my Gratitude Journaling Event back in October. This book shares research on the benefits of gratitude, so it is occasionally a slow (but good) read. The research shows how gratitude leads to more happiness and better relationships.

It also includes a list of ways to practice gratitude:
*keep a gratitude journal
*learn prayers of gratitude
*use visual reminders
*watch your language - make it positive
*go through the motions - smile!

In The Leadership Handbook: 26 Critical Lessons Every Leader Needs, John C. Maxwell shares the leadership lessons he's learned throughout his career. I began reading this book when it was recommended in an entrepreneurial group I'm in; however, I read it at a slower pace as it's easy to read one chapter here and there. The chapter titles are the "lessons" - for example: "If It's Lonely at the Top, You're Not Doing Something Right" and "Keep Learning to Keep Leading." Each chapter also includes ideas for putting the lessons into practice.

As I strive to create healthier meals for us, I picked up a copy of What Do I Eat Now, which is recommended by the American Diabetes Association. 

I've found that when I'm trying to make changes, it's motivating to be reading things that encourage and educate on those topics. I didn't learn anything new from this book; however, there are several recipes that I'd like to try soon.

I picked up a copy of Ryan Leak's Unoffendable after we heard him speak at a church service last year. This small quick read is about not staying offended because offense has "the ability to ruin someone's day, someone's week, someone's month, someone's year, or for some ... their entire life." The author also discusses how God can use the things that hurt us to build our confidence and help us become who He wants us to be.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday Musings | Are You Watching For Jesus?

The day Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord, a man named Simeon was there. We find Simeon's story in Luke 2:25-35.

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,

According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

We learn from this passage that Simeon was waiting to see Christ! He knew, by the Holy Spirit, that he would see the Consolation of Israel in his lifetime, so he was watching for Jesus! He was rewarded for his devotion and gave thanks to God at His fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah.

We, too, have a promise to watch for! Jesus said:

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

Jesus promised to return again! Like Simeon, we don't know when that time will come. But we do know that God always fulfills his promises!

As you look forward to Christmas and the celebration of Christ's first arrival here on Earth, are you watching and waiting for His return?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Katharine Graham & The Washington Post

Several months ago, I read an article about Katharine Graham in Issue 30 of Flow magazine. I honestly didn't know anything about her, but this piece sparked my interest and led me to do more research.

Katharine Graham's father purchased The Washington Post at an auction in 1933. Several years after her marriage to Philip Graham, her father turned the paper over to Philip, who ran it until his death by suicide in 1963. At that time, Katharine herself took over as president of The Washington Post Company and eventually became one of the most successful and influential women in the United States.

The article mentioned the 2017 movie The Post, which Robbie and I watched together. The movie depicts the events that took place in 1971 and Katharine Graham's decision to publish parts of The Pentagon Papers, secret reports about the United States' involvement in Vietnam. I now had a better understanding of why the magazine article touted Graham as a heroine of free speech.

Robbie then told me about another movie portraying the events surrounding The Washington Post's reporting on the Watergate Scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation. This movie, All The President's Men (featuring a young Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford), does a wonderful job of showing what investigative reporting required (before the internet), how publishing decisions were made, and the extent of political corruption during that time.

Finally, I purchased a copy of Katharine Graham's 640+ page autobiography aptly titled Personal History. This book was written in 1997 when Mrs. Graham was almost 80-years-old and it covers a vast amount of the history of our country, particularly the Washington DC area, during the 1900s. The personal story of her life is intertwined with so much history! It is well-written and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.

The book begins with her parents, who were a prominent and wealthy family. She grew up in Washington DC and Mont Kisco, New York. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1936 and married Philip Graham in 1940. Then at the age of 46, she began what she called her "second life" as she took over the reins of The Washington Post Company.

Throughout her life she rubbed shoulders with many prominent players in our nation's history (she dined at the White House, was good friends with Warren Buffet and Truman Capote, etc) and had an influential part in the history of printed newspapers (publishing the Pentagon Papers, breaking the Watergate story, surviving the pressman union strike, etc).


I have to admit that after all this extremely interesting research, I decided I like Katharine Graham ... and I don't like her. While she had many advantages and eventually became an influential player in crucial events in our country, she suffered from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in her abilities for many years. Her political and personal viewpoints were quite liberal. However, she lived through some tragic times (a controlling yet absentee mother, her husband's mental illness and eventual suicide) and was very forthcoming and introspective about her shortcomings and regrets as well as her successes. She made a point of recognizing and giving credit to the people who helped her, especially as she learned the newspaper business and began to grow The Washington Post Company through acquisition of TV stations and magazines. Yet, it was pretty evident which administrations and individuals she did not rate highly.

Overall, this was a wonderful learning experience, and I'm so glad I ran across the article that sparked this journey. I'm curious, did you know who Katharine Graham was before reading this post?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Reviews | Fiction

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the second book I've read by Jamie Ford. (See my review of Songs of Willow Frost HERE.) This book has been on my to-read shelf since it was a book club selection a couple of years ago. I knew I would be traveling the day of the meeting, so I didn't read it at the time.

Like so many recent publications, this book alternates between two story lines, both following the life of Henry Lee. In 1942, Henry was an 11-year-old Chinese schoolboy living with his parents in Seattle, Washington. His parents, concerned about the growing enmity toward Japanese, made him wear a button that read "I am Chinese." He attends a white school as part of a scholarship program that means he also helps out in the school cafeteria and cleaning blackboards after school. He meets a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe, who is also scholarshiping at the school. As they work together, they become friends; but Keiko and her family are suddenly "evacuated" to a Japanese "camp" by the American government. At first, they trade letters and Henry even goes for a visit, but eventually the two lose touch.

In the second story line, Henry is still living in Seattle and is mourning the death of his wife after 30 years of marriage. As he is passing the Panama Hotel one day, he discovers that is has been purchased and is being restored. The new owner discovered the possessions of many Japanese families in the basement - items they stored there as they were evacuated during the war. A familiar looking Japanese parasol sends Henry searching for answers about Keiko. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it's a good read, a love story plus historical information about Seattle and the Japanese evacuations.

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan has also been on my to-read shelf for a while. I think maybe I picked it up at Barnes & Noble a while back because it has a great cover and sounded like an interesting read. This is a fiction story about four women who graduated from Harvard in 1989 and covers a three-day period as they prepare for and attend their 20th class reunion in 2009.

Every five years, Harvard gathers information on the graduates and then sends them each a copy of The Red Book with addresses and information about each person who graduated with them. The graduates can also include (or not) a 3 to 5 paragraph summary about their current lives.

The story is written from several points of view and is an interesting juxtaposition considering what they write for The Read Book versus what their life is really like at the moment. The characters come from different social and financial backgrounds,  have varying sexual orientations and ethnic identifications, include individuals from different generations, etc. Honestly, this book was a little out of my comfort zone as some of the characters were quite liberal in their beliefs and actions; however, it's very believable in the portrayal of the complications and compromises in marriage, career struggles, mid-life questions about following dreams and/or finding happiness. It's well-written and a page-turner that keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen next. The story is wrapped up nicely with their entries for the 25th Anniversary Red Book.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton was this month's book club selection and (once again) follows two story lines. I enjoyed this book, which is very well-written, and think the alternating story lines worked because they were well-paced, developing one story line more in depth before returning to the other one (as opposed to every other chapter).

In 1958/59 Elisa Perez is living in Cuba with her high society family. Her father is a sugar baron and is friends of Batista and the reigning government. She is sheltered from the political unrest in the country until her brother is banished from the family and she meets Pablo, a revolutionist set on ousting Batista and replacing him with Fidel Castro.

In 2017, Marisol, Elisa's granddaughter, makes a trip to Cuba, which has recently become possible because of Fidel Castro's death. She is the first Perez family member to return since Elise and her family escaped to the United States in 1959. Marisol is charged with scattering her grandmother's ashes. Along the way, she uncovers some family secrets and learns more about Cuba's current situation. A very good read!

I'm not sure where I found Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart,, but it's been on my to-read shelf for a while. (Are you seeing a trend here?) 

Kate Herrick returns to the home where she grew up to take care of having her grandmother's furniture and belongings shipped to Scotland (where her grandmother has decided to stay after being displaced there during World War II). Her grandmother (who raised her from the time she was 6-years-old) asks her to get some items from a safe (hidden behind wallpaper and plaster board in the old house), but the items have been removed when Kate arrives. This story is set in a wonderful small village in the English country side. There's a nice batch of characters, a little romance, and a mystery as Kate learns more about her mother (who ran off with a gypsy man years ago). This is an easy, lovely read.

During our summer vacation, Robbie and I listened to several episodes of the What Should I Read Next podcast ... and ordered quite a few books when we returned home. The slimmest book, The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, is the one I've liked least so far. 

This story is set in Japan, which is isolated from the rest of world after some catastrophic event that has changed the order of things. Old people are healthy and continue to live long lives while babies are born unhealthy but insightful. Yoshiro takes care of his great-grandson Mumei, who can't even keep orange juice down and is unable to dress himself. Things get stranger in this dystopian environment; however, there is very little plot line. I kept waiting for something to happen or things to change, but I was disappointed (unless you count that at age 15 Mumei falls out of his wheelchair and starts metamorphosing into a girl). This is definitely not a book I would recommend.

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Musings | Paul, A Prisoner

Have you ever thought about the fact that many of the Apostle Paul’s letters were written while he was in prison, yet they contain numerous reminders to give thanks, be joyful, and love others. In Acts 27:35, he gave thanks in the tempest before a shipwreck, and in Acts 28:15, he thanked God when they arrived in Rome … and, yes, in both of those instances he was a prisoner!

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the words joy and rejoice appear numerous times, once again despite the fact that he was a prisoner (awaiting a trial that could end his life). In fact, he wrote in chapter 4, verse 11, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

And finally, it was Paul who wrote the scripture we’re focusing on today as he exhorted the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

We may never find ourselves locked in a prison cell, but I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of being stuck in circumstances that we do not like or understand. It’s in these times that we most need to remember the admonition in 1 Thessalonias 5:18!

In everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Sometimes it's hard to follow the direction in this scripture. 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.

What are you giving thanks for today?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Upcoming Class | Christmas Carols Bible Journaling Class (Allen, TX)

I'm excited today to announce my next Bible journaling classes on December 13 or 14 here at my home in Allen! 

Christmas Carols Bible Journaling Class
Friday or Saturday
December 13 or 14, 2019
10am - 1pm
Home of Melissa Gross, Allen TX

Join me this December as we look at the scriptures and stories behind some of our favorite Christmas carols.
This brand new 3-hour class will include several devotional teachings and a variety of illustrated Bible journaling techniques. You will also receive a kit of fun Bible journaling supplies to use creatively in your Bible, journal, or hymnal.

** If you receive a notification that the class is sold out & would like to be added to the waiting list, please email me.
**If you are registered and unable to attend, please let me know before December 8 for a full refund. Cancellations after December 7 are nonrefundable; however, I will be happy to mail you the class kit.

Additional details for classes at my home:
*Be sure to bring your Bible (or a journal) to work in, along with your favorite journaling pen.
*I will have supplies available for you to use in your journaling, but you are welcome to bring along some of your favorite supplies as well. (Please note that space will be limited as we all gather around one large table.)
*There will be some yummy snacks and bottled water for us to enjoy throughout the day. If a hot coffee or ice cold soda enhances your Bible journaling time, please feel free to bring that along with you.
*Space is limited for each class (it's the same on both days), so don't wait too long to register! Your spot is reserved once payment is received. Within 48 hours of payment, you will receive a confirmation email with my address and directions.
I would love for you to join me as we dive into the Word and use our creativity to draw closer to the Lord during the most wonderful time of the year!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Scrapbooking | Old Photo, New Papers

On a recent visit to Scrappin' Goodtime, I picked up two sheets of "Splatter" patterned paper from KaiserCraft's Scrap Studio Collection. As I flipped through my storage binder of old family photos, I found a black & white photo of my Mama and her brothers and sister that I knew would work great with the pink brick background.

I started with one full sheet for the background and several strips from the "B" side of the other piece of "Splatter" then added additional papers from my scrap bin as a base for the photo. Letter stickers for the title, a small line of journaling & some flowers from my stash completed this page.

I love the way these new papers highlight this old photo! What do you think?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Reviews | Memoirs

For a variety of reasons, I've read quite a few memoirs recently.

Our youngest nephew had to read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah during the summer for his advanced 8th grade English class this year, so I picked up a copy to read and discuss with him. I hadn't heard of this book before and really knew nothing about Sierra Leone, West Africa, or the civil war that took place there. 

The author lost his family during the war when he was only 12-years-old. He spent a year running from the rebels, then two years as a soldier in the government's army before being taken out of the fighting by UNICEF. The title led me to expect stories of his time as a solider; however, he doesn't become a child soldier until halfway through the book. At that point, there are a few pages about his training (mostly brainwashing), a note about the first battle, then in the space of a few pages, two years pass and he is picked up by UNICEF. Because he was a good solider, he had no idea why his commanding officer allowed him to be taken away from the army. He and his friends were angry and rebellious, but finally rehabilitated. He eventually was sent to New York City, where the guys at his high school thought it was "cool" that he has seen people running around with guns shooting each other.

I have mixed emotions about this book. First, it was so sad to read about the war and how children were conscripted into the army. While I was saddened by his story, I was disappointed that there was not much guilt or remorse, or really any emotions, shown or discussed throughout this book that is told from the author's first person perspective. And, finally, while there are quite a few instances of foreshadowing, flashbacks, and symbolism, I felt the overall structure and readability of the book were lacking.

I'd heard very disparate reviews about Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover before my name finally got to the top of the book hold list at our local library. 

The author was raised by survivalist fanatic Mormon parents on a mountain in Idaho. She did not attend school, did not go to doctors, worked in the family junkyard "scrapping" metal, was physically abused by an older brother, and was brainwashed by her parents about how the government was out to get them.

When one of her brothers goes to college, Tara begins studying to take the ACT. Her score allows her to be accepted to Brigham Young University and she eventually goes on to earn several degrees, including a PhD from Cambridge.

Honestly, I did not like the author, who (despite earning those degrees) doesn't really seem very intelligent and is still rather emotionally fragile and unsure of herself (which is understandable). She questions her memories of events in footnotes and has (supposedly) comes to terms with being estranged from her parents. This was a depressing book without an uplifting ending.

I received a copy of I'm Possible: Jumping Into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose by Jeremy Cowart free from Booklook Bloggers (soon to be The Readers Lounge) in exchange for an honest review.

The author is an artist, photographer, and graphic designer. His unique creative style is evident from the book cover! He shares the story of his career and the circumstances that lead to various changes or direction. He is involved in lots of humanitarian projects (Help-Portrait, voices of Haiti, Gatlinburg fire, etc); however, when he describes these projects, it's hard to determine if he's volunteering his time and resources or if he's profiting from them as well and what his main motive for "helping" really is.

This is a good story about following ideas and "nudges" and trying scary new things, but I just couldn't really like the author. The writing was almost too contrived as he tried to sound humble with a little nod of thanks to the Lord here and there.

Night by Elie Wiesel was the other book on our nephew's summer reading list. This book was published in the late 1950s and tells the story of the author and his family during World War II. They were Jews and were taken to Auschwitz, then on to Buchenwald, concentration camps in Germany. Elie was with his father up until the last few months of his imprisonment (when his father died). 

The title of the book comes from the chapter where he shares about how he lost his faith the first night in camp. Sadly, he never says that his faith is restored. Many schools use this book when teaching about the atrocities of World War II; however, this was my first time to read it. It's a well-written first person account of the terrible hardships the author experienced.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer was chosen as this year's community read here in Allen, Texas.

As a young boy in Malawi, Africa, William was the only son of a poor farm family. They survived a drought, but he had to drop out of secondary school when his family couldn't pay the tuition fees. He was naturally talented at fixing things and re-purposing trash into usable objects. He discovered some used books at the library and learned how to make a windmill from junk and parts and pieces he found. This windmill brought electricity to his home. 

When others learned of his ingenuity, he was invited to do a Ted Talk! Eventually funds were donated for his education at the African Leadership Academy and later to Dartmouth University. He wrote his memoir in 2009, and a young reader's edition (which I read) was published in 2015. I was pretty impressed with this young man, who said (in the interview at the back of the book) that he would return to Malawi to help the country after completing his education. [While he has helped his native country and his family in many ways, a quick Internet search shows that he is still living in the US five years after graduation.]

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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Benefits of a Gratitude Practice

A gratitude practice is something we do repeatedly and regularly in order to improve our ability to see and recognize the gifts and blessings in our lives. It is a way of approaching life intentionally and having a sense of wonder, of thankfulness and of appreciation. The practice may be saying a prayer of thanksgiving each morning or taking a weekly walk in nature while meditating on the good things in life or writing down the things you are grateful for each day.

Individuals have practiced gratitude for centuries, but it's become even more prominent as study after study confirms the physical, emotional and relational benefits of gratitude.

This article shares the following benefits of gratitude for the individual:

  • increased happiness and positive mood
  • more satisfaction with life
  • less materialistic
  • less likely to experience burnout
  • better physical health
  • better sleep
  • less fatigue
  • lower levels of cellular inflammation
  • greater resiliency
  • encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom

That's a list of benefits that sounds pretty good to me!

I'll be using this FUN free-standing gratitude album as I practice gratitude throughout the upcoming month of November.

This album has pocket page protectors, and I've used the kit materials to create cards for each day of November. 

My plan is to record something I'm grateful for each day by simply pulling out the card and writing in one or two items.

I'm looking forward to practicing gratitude with this FUN album!

Do you have a gratitude practice? Will you be recording the things you're thankful for this November?

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Book Reviews | Anne, Marilla & the Landscapes of PEI

As is my custom, before we headed out on our summer vacation, I researched the areas we'd be visiting, thumbed through travel guides, and read a few books. 


Because our primary destination this year was Prince Edward Island, Canada, I absolutely had to re-read L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. It's been three years since I last read this wonderful classic that has so much scope for imagination! It's definitely a book that's perfect for re-reading and enjoying, especially before heading off to see the sites that inspired the beautiful setting of the book.

Robbie gave me The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables by Catherine Reid as a pre-birthday gift before our trip. It was the perfect book to build on the anticipation of visiting Prince Edward Island. This book shares the similarities between the real-life author L.M. Montgomery and her fictional character Anne Shirley (raised by older couples, loved being in nature, high achievers, attended one-room schools, taught school, etc) as it tells about the beauty of Prince Edward Island, the changes that have come to the island now that tourism (due to the Anne of Green Gables books) is the second largest industry, and how this island was an integral part of L.M. Montgomery and Anne Shirley's lives.

The book is filled with beautiful photographs! There are contemporary photos of Prince Edward Island as well as photographs taken by L.M. Montgomery in the 1890s (many of which she colorized in the 1920s). While some of these older photos included people, L.M. Montgomery also took photos of her surroundings - gardens and nature and even her room. I found this interesting because during the times of early photography (and even modern film photography) people were more conscientious about taking fewer photos and rarely used extra shots for things like capturing a tree in bloom or the details of a bedroom.

Because I have read the Anne of Green Gables books and several of L.M. Montgomery's published journals, I honestly didn't learn any new information about the story or L.M. Montgomery. The author quoted extensively from Volume 1 of the journals, the first Anne book, and The Alpine Path (L.M. Montogomery's autobiography, which I haven't read ... yet). However, I enjoyed the review of all this information in such a lovely book and thoughtful gift as we were preparing to visit many of the exact locations mentioned.

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy was another gift from Robbie. This novel develops the backstory for Marilla, years before she and her brother Matthew adopted Anne Shirley. It's a good story that follows Marilla as she grows up at Green Gables, develops and loses a relationship with John Blythe, joins the Ladies Aid Society, and has her first encounter with the orphanage in Nova Scotia. Her Aunt Lizzy is introduced in this book, which also deals with runaway slaves and the controversy over the abolition of slavery.

The story ends right before where Anne of Green Gables begins, with Marilla and Matthew discussing adopting a boy to help around the farm. I enjoyed this book; however, I do not think it developed Marilla's personality in a way that it flows smoothly from this story to the original stories by L.M. Montgomery.

Have you read the Anne of Green Gables books or visited Prince Edward Island? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Cards | Candy Cane Cottage

A few months ago, I signed up for a card class at Personal Scrapbook. Due to some scheduling changes, I didn't actually make it to the class, but I picked up the kit and created my own version of the cards that use the Heartfelt Creations Candy Cane Cottage collection.

There were only three cards advertised for the class; however, I was able to create four cards by changing things up a little and adding one card base from my stash. It's hard to see in the photo, but these cards include glitter and Wink of Stella highlights, so they are very glittery.

Do you follow class/kit directions exactly or veer off to make your own creations?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sunday Musings | If My People

If My people
who are called by My name
will humble themselves,
and pray and seek My face,
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin
and heal their land.

This scripture, found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, is a beautiful reminder of the forgiveness and power of our Heavenly Father. 

My friend, Pasty Boyd McSpadden, wrote an entire book, If My People, on this passage. The book is divided into chapters that dive deep into the meaning of each phrase and ponder the question of whether this promise, given to the Israelites, is for America (and us) today.

Patsy shares her personal stories and scriptural teachings in this interactive workbook designed to show us that humility and prayer are most needed as we turn back to God, for us individually and for our country. It's also a great reminder that the Word of God speaks to us and directs us still today!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

WWW dot ABCs

When I open a new tab on my browser, I can easily click my most frequented websites.

Susanne recently posted a peek into her virtual workspace via her Browser. She said, "I was noticing, not for the first time, that I only need to get one letter past www dot in my browser to pull up my most used websites. Are you curious about what they are? How many of these are the same for you?"

I decided to try this experiment as well. Here's what I discovered by typing www dot and each letter of the alphabet into the address line of my browser.

a = Amazon
b = BibleGateway
c = Chase
d = Delta
e = Edward Jones
f = Facebook
g = Google maps
h = Hilton Honors
i = Instagram
j = nothing
k = Kroger Feedback
l = Lowes
m = MelissaGross.com
n = NOAA.gov
o = nothing
p = Pinterest
q = nothing
r = nothing
s = StacyJulian.com
t = TicketMaster
u = USPS
v = nothing
w = Walmart
x = nothing
y = YouTube
z = nothing

What a FUN look at the places I've frequented online lately! I noticed a few simliarities to Susanne's list - Amazon, Instagram, USPS, and YouTube.

Have you tried this? What letters do we have in common?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Book Reviews | Advance Reader Editions

This summer at our local library's Book Buzz event, I picked up several Advanced Reader Editions of books that are brand new this year. These special copies are released before the actual publication date of the book (as uncorrected proofs with covers that may differ from the final version), so they are like a sneak peek into what's coming up (or has recently come out).

Since my twin nieces were here visiting and attended the event with me, I came home with a pile of new books! Here's a look at the ones I've read so far.

Last Day: A Novel by Domenica Ruta was released on May 28. One of my nieces picked this one up, and I thought it would be an apocalyptic novel. However, it turns out that "Last Day" is a "holiday" that happens every year. The story follows several characters, none of who are very likable; most of them have some type of mental illness or emotional issue (one character tends to eat random things like pencil erasers or bugs). Honestly, I don't recommend this book as I really wasn't interested in what happened next and was glad to get to the unsatisfying conclusion.

However, it was somewhat interesting to read about the three astronauts (well, one was a wealthy tourist) on board the International Space Station since I'd previously read An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. Although the fiction characters did not necessarily portray the astronauts in a good light (drinking, swearing, goofing off, not taking care of the ISS), there were aspects of life in space that were "familiar."

Lost Roses is Martha Hall Kelly's second book and is set right before and during World War I. The story alternates between three characters: (1) Eliza Ferriday (based on the real-life woman), a well-to-do American in Southhampton, New York, who is married to Henry and has one daughter, Caroline; (2) Eliza's friend Sofya Streshnayva, a Russian aristocrat (who is kin to the tsar) in St. Petersburg, Russia; and (3) Varinka, a peasant girl who is employed to help take care of Sofya's son when her family flees to their country estate in Malinov, Russia. All three characters eventually end up in Paris, France, but not before they each go through trying times and heartache as the war rages.

This is a great historical novel with a page-turner plot line as it alternates between the various points of view, beginning and ending with a fourth character, Luba, Sofya's younger sister. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and immediately checked out the author's first book from the library.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, although the first book written, actually takes place after Lost Roses. This book is set during World War II and, once again, follows three women's lives: (1) Caroline Ferriday (Eliza's daughter and also based on a real person) lives in New York and is working for the French consulate as well as running a venture that sends aid to French orphans; (2) Kasia Kuzmerick (a composite character based on the real life Polish "rabbits"), a Polish teenager from Lublin, who gets arrested for working with the underground in occupied Poland and is sent Ravensbruck; and (3) Herta Oberheuser (also based on a real-life person), the German female doctor who performed operations as part of the sulfonamide experiments in Ravensbruck.

This is another very well-written historical novel, using a strong juxtaposition of the wealthy elite in New York and the desperate prisoners in the concentration camp and the pro-German desensitized doctor! 

Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children's Home Society was written by Judy Christie (journalist and author) and Lisa Wingate (author of Before We Were Yours, which I reviewed HERE). This non-fiction book (which releases next Tuesday, October 22) tells the stories of children who were adopted during the reign of Georgia Tann at the Tennessee Children's Home Society. I first heard of the terrible illegal deeds of Tann when I read the historical novel Before We Were Yours, so I was eager to read some of the real-life stories. Many individuals who were adopted from TCHS began contacting the author after reading her well-researched novel, and they shared their stories of finding or searching for the truth about their adoptions.

One adoptee shared how his mother ... and all (!) the mothers in the maternity ward that day ... were told that their babies had died in the night, when in fact Georgia Tann had stolen them to sell to couples wanting to adopt a baby. Another adoptee remembered her mother leaving her and her two brothers on the courthouse steps because the man she was with didn't want them. When Georgia Tann picked them up, she assured the three children that she would keep them together. However, when they arrived at one of the children's home, she had the little girl get out of the car first...and then the driver took off with her brothers and she never saw them again. Although it was heartbreaking, I am so glad I read this book and learned more about the atrocities that were allowed to take place for almost 30 years!

However, the author/journalist interspersed her thoughts and story in between the chapters about the adoptees (and their families). I thought this was extremely distracting - honestly, I'm not interested in the details of what she went through to get to an interview on time or whether her husband had to drive cross country to meet up with her before an event. These diversions really didn't add to the topic of the book.

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Scrapbooking | Scandinavia Page Kit

At the Stamp & Scrapbook Expo (much) earlier this year, I took a class to learn how to use kits from Club Scrap. These kits include papers that are cut and divided to create layouts with absolute minimum (or no) paper waste. We cut, separated, and organized the Scandinavia Page Kit into four piles during the class. Each pile would create a two-page layout. These pages were then easy to assemble at home using the images and directions from the kit.

Once I (finally!) had these pages together, I flipped through my storage binders to find photos that would work with these designs and colors and themes. I ended up with three two-page and two one-page layouts using a variety of photos from several years.

Photos from our visit to Shiloh Morning Inn in 2012 worked perfectly with the green background and "Together is Our Favorite Place To Be" title block.

The photos from our visit to Eisenhower State Park in 2013 were a great match for the "Owl You Need Is Love" page - the pops of red and the nature theme really highlight the snapshots from our hike near Lake Texohma.

I'd already previously scrapped one photo from my 45th birthday hike to the top of Squaw Mountain, and this kit provided a great layout for showcasing more of those photos, as well as a FUN journaling card.

I separated the final layout into two separate pages. The first one highlights photos of us at Christmastime through the years and will reside in our category album all about us.

And the second holds photos of a FUN scrappy time with a friend in 2012.

This was my first time using a Club Scrap kit, and I was delighted with how easily it came together and how well it worked with a variety of photos. I also appreciated the inclusion of journaling space on each layout. If you'd like to see another Club Scrap kit in action, I noticed that Susanne recently posted about the Forest Floor Kit.