Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Talk Thursday: Refiner's Fire Series

I'm going to start a new blog topic -- Book Talk Tuesday or Thursday (depending on which day I get to it :) ). I plan to review mostly books that I am currently reading, but will probably look back at some of my past favorites too. It's kind of like the Musical Mondays idea.

A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of new authors for me to read. I was looking for something easy-to-follow, hold-my-attention, historical fiction. Some of my favorites have been Francine Rivers, Beverly Lewis, and Tracie Petersen. A number of people mentioned Lynn Austin to me, so I picked up the only book of her's that my local library had on hand. And I was hooked.

Now I've found my church library has a bunch of her books, so I grabbed the highly-acclaimed Refiner's Fire Series. They are set in the Civil War -- I love the description on Austin's website: "Each book—one each told from the northern, southern, and slave points-of-view—offers a unique and shattering perspective on the conflict while exploring the deep affect the war had on the faith of a nation." It's been very interesting to see the thoughts of the characters involved about whether or not the war was "right". They also contain a fair amount of actual history (battles, cities, living conditions), but it's so much more interesting than what you might learn in a school history class!

I didn't realize when I finished the first book that they can be read as stand-alone novels. I picked up the second book just after closing the first and expected to continue the story with the same characters. I was wrong! In fact, I was so upset that the second book was about some cousin who was barely mentioned in the first, that I put it aside for a few days. Eventually I picked it up again, and through Austin's amazing story-telling and character development, I was soon hooked. Now as I begin the third novel in the series, I know better what to expect!

While Austin's books don't appear to be any larger than any other novel, they are surprisingly deep and full and have actually taken me awhile to get through. Not that I really mind -- like I said, there is so much character development (but none of it is irrelevant!) and twists and turns that you never know what is coming next. I have to admit, I'm glad I can now get her books from my church library, where I don't have to worry about paying overdue fines. ;-)

Overall, I'm very pleased with Lynn Austin's story-telling, and am looking forward to reading more by her! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Musical Mondays (belated): My Favorite Things

One afternoon last fall (or maybe it was late summer?) when Abby was having an especially rough day, one of those days where she needed to sleep but was too tired to get there so she just cried and cried... I started singing The Sound of Music songs to her. It's only my most favorite movie in the whole world, and I know almost every word to almost every song. I stuck with the famous "My Favorite Things" for awhile, and she seemed to relax. Did I mention I have a thing for 6/8 songs? Maybe she does too. Since she can't understand the lyrics yet. It's become my song of choice when I'm trying to comfort her or just rock her before bed at night. It's easy to sing or just hum, and I can pat her back in rhythm while I hold her. And it's fun for me to imagine all of those things mentioned in the song. Although I'm not really sure what "schnitzel with noodles" is...

Maybe I should write a verse about MY favorite things. Pizza, comfy blankets, hot cocoa, daisies. Not quite as poetic, but maybe I could get there...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Have you ever had a recurring dream? One that seems to play in your head every night? I've been having this dream almost every single night since Abby was born (and I'm sure the nights I didn't think I dreamt it were nights I'd taken Nyquil and just don't remember it...). It's changed slightly from the beginning. Originally, my dream was that Abby was in bed with us and I was afraid I would roll on top of her, or the covers would get over her head, and I'd have to quietly put my hand on her to make sure she was still breathing. By this point in the dream I would be half awake, so I'd actually put my hand out and feel the bed, trying to find her. Sometimes I would feel Rocky's back and first think "whew, she's warm and still breathing", then suddenly realize I was dreaming.

The last few months the dream has changed to a fear of Abby falling out of our bed. I'll find myself half-awake again, jumping to the edge of the bed to "catch" her, or feeling around on the floor to see where she landed, and finding a cold lump of clothes and freaking out that she'd stopped breathing.

We've never co-slept with Abby -- from Day 1 she was in her crib in her room across the hall. I don't look down on people who do, it just wasn't for us. Yet I continue to have these dreams! Poor Rocky, I don't know how many times I've woken him up with my "searching". I don't know what, if anything, I can do about it...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Musical Mondays: Ancient Words

We sang this song in church yesterday. I'd never heard it before coming to Oakwood, and now it's one of my favorites. I love the piano arrangement, and the violin pieces, and the catchy tune (I have a thing for 6/8 time :) ), and the great lyrics.

The sermon yesterday was about God's Word, and desiring to read it. I have to admit, when Pastor Ron was finished, I wanted to just sit and read my Bible the rest of the day! It is definitely a part of my life that's lacking. I'm doing a Bible study with some other gals from church on the book of Esther, and we take a week at a time to go through one chapter (although we're meeting every other week, so we really have 2 weeks to accomplish 5 days of study :) ). It's amazing the things I'm learning when I slow down and dig deep into a few verses at a time! It's something that I have a desire to do, I just don't do it...

I just struggle with doing it every day. I'm such a lists-schedule-task-oriented person, I need to carve out a schedule that says I'm going to do it at xx:xx time every day... so I can focus on those "Ancient words, ever true, changing me and changing you. They resound with God's own heart, oh let the ancient words impart!"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5

"January 5 is the most stressful day of the year, according to a British survey of 2000 people. Chalk it up to the holidays ending, work resuming, and gloomy winter weather persisting. Fully 26 percent of respondents reported feeling so tense that the sound of their coworkers breathing was enough to drive them nuts. When January 5 rolls around this year, keep tension in check by exercising, catching up with a friend, or devoting a few minutes to your favorite hobby. (And consider holding your breath at the office watercooler.)" --Better Homes & Gardens January 2011 issue, page 119

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I am a Penelope

I'm a dork. Let me just put that out there. I get excited about silly little stuff. Like the idea of organizing my week on an Excel spreadsheet. Yesterday as I was thinking about my resolution to do better at meal planning, did I simply pull out a piece of paper and write down what we would eat this week? No. I had to search online for "free meal planner" and came across a few templates that someone has already created to help people like me. Once I get my list completed of the meals I normally prepare (and the ones I'd like to try), this spreadsheet is going to be amazing...

You might have noticed the little picture on the right -------> that says I'm a Penelope. You should click on it (after you've finished reading this post of course). I don't remember how I came across the site, Penelope Loves Lists, but it was created by a girl after my own heart. Check out the "About" page. Those first couple of paragraphs are all about me (even though I didn't write them). I used to love back-to-school shopping -- not for new clothes, but for new notebooks, pens, etc... OfficeMax is still one of my favorite stores. Am I a little weird? Maybe. But at least I know there are other Penelopes out there who understand me. :)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Musical Mondays: Stained Glass Masquerade

To encourage my resolution to blog more frequently, I'm going to start a new tradition inspired by a friend of mine's blog. I'll think of a song that's been stuck in my head recently, or something we sang in church on Sunday, or when all else fails I'll open up iTunes and see what pops up...

Is there anyone that fails
LifesongIs there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small

Cause when I take a look aroundEverybody seems so strong
I know they'll soon discover
That I don't belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything's okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I'll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who's been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who's traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay 

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

-Stained Glass Masquerade, by Casting Crowns

I'd heard this song quite awhile ago, when I purchased CC's second album called Lifesong. What really sticks in my head about this song (other than the catchy lyrics and tune) was a litergical drama/dance a group in my church performed. It included kids and adults, leaders in our church and people I didn't know. They acted out pieces of this song - someone being shunned and ignored on Sunday morning, people huddling in cliques and being perfect "plastic" people.

Casting Crowns is a band that isn't afraid to make people squirm under the lyrics of their songs. Take one of their first hits - "If we are the body, why aren't His arms reaching, why aren't His hands healing..." They have identified some of the biggest problems in the church today and called for a change. Hypocrisy is huge. So many people today claim to be Christian, but it's just a label. Jesus said "You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You're like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth." (Matt. 23:27 CEV)

It's so easy to think you're better than someone else. Whether it's in what you say or do, how you act, etc. We can see that person in the grocery store or the one who steps in to our church and think "Wow, I'm glad I don't look/dress/smell/act like them." Yet even Jesus "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem..." (Isaiah 53:2-3)

But if the invitation's OPEN
To EVERY heart that has been broken
Maybe THEN we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Ahh, New Year's resolutions. Something to be made every year, and broken a few weeks later... Everyone always starts out with such good intentions and valiant goals. I've read anywhere from 75-92% of people actually keep their new year's resolutions. So why even try? The odds are against me. It's a whole lot harder to actually do something than to just say I will.

Well I'm actually going to try. I've been making a couple of lists of things to do weekly and things to do daily. Most of the weekly stuff involves cleaning, etc. around the house, and most of the daily stuff is for my own personal fulfillment. So I'm going to list a few things here, and hope that by blogging about them I can keep up with them!

1. Daily devotions. Even if it's just reading a short page from a devotional book, I want to be in the Word every day. A former pastor of mine just launched a new video devotional called 30God, which I think will be a great jump-start to helping me think about God every day.

2. Exercise every day. I'm sure this is the most-often-named new year's resolution. Ok, maybe "lose weight" is the MOST common, but I'm more interested in just being healthy. It will be so much easier once spring comes and Abby and I can get out and walk again, but in the meantime I want to make a conscious effort to do something every day - even if it's just some sit-ups.

3. Read to Abby every day. I love books, and I want to encourage Abby to love to read too.

4. Meal plan. Ideally this will be something I'll do once a week, and plan what we're going to have for dinner every night for the next week. Then I can plan my grocery shopping accordingly, and not get to 6:00 at night and wonder hmm, what am I going to do for dinner? I at least want to have that day's dinner planned by noon so I can get any prep work out of the way or meat out of the freezer etc.

5. Keep track of finances. I've done well with this off and on, keeping track of what we spend and such, but never for a whole year. We've always been ok with our spending, etc. and I've never truly created a budget to work from each month, but I know the simple task of recording where our money goes does help us not spend as much.

So there we go. Five things, all very doable. Some daily, some weekly (I won't bore you with all the weekly cleaning tasks I want to accomplish). Can I stick with it? Be part of the 8-25% who actually stick with their resolutions? We'll see...

Do you have any resolutions for the new year?
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