Tuesday, December 6, 2016

6 Books to Give & to Own * 2016's Finest Reads

As the year gallops to a close, I pull open the bottom left drawer of the big ol' oak desk and reach for my well-worn reading journal.  This little keepsake lists every book read over a span of 24 years {roughly 700 at last count}.  I sit back and comb through the last twelve month's selections, all 44 of them.

I see that February, September, and October were the most prolific months, each with 6 volumes read.  June trailed way behind with only 1 book completed.  And I notice that half of the volumes had a title that started with the word The.

Go figure.

Most of the titles were borrowed from the library and then returned, many a bit reluctantly ... kind of like bidding farewell to a new friend who had quickly become dear.  But if you twisted my arm and told me I could choose only 6 books from 2016 to purchase and keep forever, the ones listed below would be the stars.

It wasn't easy whittling down so many great reads to just a precious few.

But these are the classics. 

I hope that a few of these gems will end up on your Christmas gift giving list.  And that you'll feel free to share this post with those who'll be shopping for something special for you ...


The Lake House
~ Kate Morton
'Living on her family's idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories.

One midsummer's eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace.  He is never found, and the family is torn apart, the house abandoned.

Decades later ...'

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus
~ Beth Moore
'Only God knew why Jillian Slater agreed to return to New Orleans on the news that her father had finally drunk himself to death.  It's not like they were close.  She hadn't seen him or her grandmother, the ice queen in almost 20 years.  But when Adella Atwater, the manager of her grandmother's apartment house, called and said Jilllian's expenses would be paid if she'd fly in for the burial, a free trip to New Orleans was too intriguing to resist.

What Adella didn't tell her was that the apartment house wasn't a house at all, and whatever it was, bore the dead weight of a long and painful history ...'

{here's my review}

The Whistler
~ John Grisham
'We expect our judges to be honest and wise.  Their integrity and impartiality are the bedrock of the entire judicial system.  We trust them to ensure fair trials, to protect the rights of all litigants, to punish those who do wrong, and to oversee the orderly and efficient flow of justice.

But what happens when a judge bends the law or takes a bribe?  It's rare, but it happens ...

A previously disbarred lawyer is back in business with a new identity ... and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined.  And not just crooked judges in Florida.  All judges, from all states, and throughout U.S. history ...'


~ Adam McHugh
'How would our lives change if we approached every experience with the intention of listening first?  In this noisy, distracting world, it is truly difficult to hear.  People talk past each other, eager to be heard but somehow deaf to what is being said ...

Adam McHugh places listening at the heart of our spirituality, our relationships, and our mission in the world.  God himself is the God who hears, and we too can learn to hear what God may be saying through creation, through Scripture, through people.  By cultivating a posture of listening, we become more attentive and engaged with those around us.  Listening shapes us and equips us to be more attuned to people in pain and more able to minister to those in distress ...'

~ Susan Cain
'The monumental bestseller Quiet has been recast in a new edition that empowers introverted kids and teens ...

This book is all about kids' world - school, extracurriculars, family life, and friendship.  You'll read about actual kids who have tackled the challenges of not being extroverted and who have made a mark in their own quiet way ...

There's even a guide at the end of the book for parents and teachers.  This insightful, accessible, and empowering book, illustrated with amusing comic-style art, will be eye-opening to extroverts and introverts alike ...'

~ Ann Voskamp
'What if you really want to live abundantly before it's too late?  What do you do if you really want to know abundant wholeness?

This one's for the lovers and the sufferers.  For those whose hopes and dreams and love grew so large it broke their willing hearts.  This one's for the busted ones who are ready to bust free, the ones ready to break molds, break chains, break measuring sticks, and break all this bad brokenness with an unlikely good brokenness ...

You could be one of them, one who believes freedom can be found not only beyond the fear and pain, but actually within it ...'


click here to catch up on all of my book reviews and giveaways

scads of marriage resources are over there

these are my top 3 devotional picks

how 'bout the 11 books that changed my faith

and 2015's shareworthy reads are over here

What's your #1 book in 2016?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

One Woman's Pre-Advent Checklist

Advent is a season for waking up to all the ways Christ comes to us.  Yes, the themes of Advent help us celebrate and commemorate his first coming in the Incarnation.  They encourage us to anticipate his second coming in glory - of course!  But there is also such a thing as the third coming of Christ; that is, all the ways in which Jesus comes to us now, bringing light for our darkness, peace for our turmoil, hope for our despair.

I don't know about you, but it takes some level of thought and planning for me to fully be present to the Advent season.  To still my heart, to calm my mind, to carve out substantial pockets of silence and solitude. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak when it comes to being a fully focused Christ wait-er, worshiper, adorer.

Like you, I'm craving that sacred light, yearning for His radiant peace, in need of a big portion of hope.

But honestly?  I realize that I can't be in that place of joyful expectancy without intentionally taking care of as much holiday busy-ness ahead of time as reasonably possible.

Over the years, I've learned this lesson the hard way, trying to cram far too much frenetic activity {much of it meaningless} into too short a space of time.

I've had to learn to weed through all the expectations {mostly self-imposed} and opportunities {most of which I didn't care about} to create a holiday rhythm that was meaningful to my soul even while getting things done that need to get done.

And let the ridiculous load of excess go undone.


The pre-Advent checklist?

Come early November, I can't wait to see the candles in the windows, lit and glowing bright in the gray of dusk, in the dark of night.

By the end of the month the tree is up and ready to roll, its quiet twinkling lights reminding me that yes, all is calm, all is bright.  The grandkiddos will be set free to decorate it any way they'd like when they arrive a few days before Christmas.


I've pestered my daughters for wish lists, to give me some fairly specific clues of what they'd like to see under the tree for themselves, for their men, and of course, the six kids.

And as they comply, I take full advantage of Amazon's free shipping, and whenever I reach that $49 minimum, I'm hitting that pale orange Place your order bar on the right side of the screen.  With a very thankful heart.

For I loathe crazed last minute shopping marathons and avoid them like the plague.


The house is doesn't exactly overflow with places to nestle lots of spare decorations, so I'm beginning to wonder just how to decorate the mantle ... maybe some old and shabby Santas perched on aged books, bindings edged in faded green?

My husband suggests a home for my grandma's fragile manger scene upstairs atop the oak bookcase, the one with the glass doors.  And I'm finagling a location in the living room for a big ol' ironstone bowl filled with my prized vintage glass ornaments.


I'm lining up December's calendar and sighing just a bit in relief as meetings and weekly groups are canceled.

This reluctant lazy cook is starting to figure out what meals to whip up for Christmas week, what goodies I might bake if the spirit moves.  My shopping list begins to gradually take shape, scrawled on the back of an abandoned envelope.


One more task accomplished, one more item checked off the to-do list, one less obligation to fulfill.  The big stuff, the must-dos are completed.  And sheer gratitude mixes with a warm anticipation as I begin to shift gears, slowly, subtly.  I catch myself smiling and sighing with a festive, yet peaceful relief as I putter away around this place we call home.

Come December's arrival, my soul wants to sing, 'oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.'

And be able to joyfully share His outrageously generous love with whoever He brings across my path.

Let's talk holiday rhythms, Advent preparation, your victories, your near disasters ...

Read on ...
two words clarify your non-negotiables

my first ever Christmas post, 8 years later!

superb thoughts on thorny relationship issues



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preparing the way with

Friday, November 25, 2016

My 5th Annual Christmas Gift Extravaganza

Merry Christmas, dear friends near and far!

I'm all excited to share my 5th annual sampling of truly lovely and thought-filled goodies for you to scoop up for those loved ones on your shopping list ... especially those hard-to-please types.

And don't call me Scrooge, but I think #12 isn't all that bad an idea ...


Those sweet little hangings, some given decades ago, last forever and bring back the most poignant memories.  Unpacking them each December does nothing but bring a flood of warm thoughts and fond memories.  Especially those fragile oh-so-imperfect ones made long ago by eager little hands.  


If something you've read has enlarged your borders or turned your life around, that's always a gift worth sharing.  {Click here to see my absolute favorite book this year!}


Gotta-eat-the-whole-loaf fragrant cinnamon bread ... warm from the oven cheese danish ... crunchy homemade granola ... a plate of lusciously decorated cookies ... a box of decadent homemade fudge ... nutritious soup still hot in the pot.  

{Here's two of my favorite go-to recipes for piping hot fresh flaky scones and my mom's surprise meringue cookies!}


Think tickets to a play or a dinner theatre, a spa or a local restaurant.  How 'bout handcrafted gift certificates for free babysitting or snow shoveling, errand running or a relaxing massage.  Perhaps a couple of house cleaning sessions ... or a bunch of car washes?  

And wouldn't you just love to see your favorite someone airborne?  Or how 'bout opportunities for the kids to learn a new sport ... maybe ballet or art lessons?  Their parents will rise up and call you blessed.

Stress-reducing lavender vanilla, zesty mango peach salsa, or sweet raspberry burn bright around here most evenings three seasons a year.  But right now I love the aroma wafting from our Yankee Candle Balsam & Cedar candles!  

The house smells like a fresh-cut tree dragged home from the farm.  Which is nostalgically lovely since our brightly lit tree is a fake as they come.


Matted and framed ... etched onto a mouse pad ... worked into a scrapbook ... printed on a calendar, loaded onto a digital picture frame?  Photos are always a surefire winner for any grandparent or a far away loved one. 

{Shutterfly is fairly easy to navigate ... I'm working on a little project over there even as we speak}.  


Daily, monthly, or once a quarter, those magazines, fruit baskets, newspapers, flowers {or whatever!} remind the recipient of you each and every time your regularly appearing selection makes a welcome arrival on their doorstep.  

  gift cards

Do you truly know their specific size, favorite color, unique style?  Probably not.  Save on endless hours trolling the mall and horrifically long lines for returns ... and allow your savvy shoppers full advantage of those frenetically fabulous post-holiday sales.  

Meanwhile, I do love shopping from home in my robe and slippers ... especially at amazon.com.


Few things are more pitifully obnoxious than family members pawing through your belongings like vultures after you've left this world, arguing over who gets what.  How much more meaningful to give those family heirlooms now with your love, hugs, and the opportunity to share the story behind the chosen gift.  

You receive the huge rush of joy that comes with giving these carefully selected, priceless treasures in person, sooner rather than later.  And your shelves will say 'thank you' for letting them breathe again.

heirlooms for kiddos

For generations, Radio Flyer has been crafting the most beautiful investment toys for tots.  These gifts will be around for awhile, I promise you.  Along the way, we've purchased a couple of impressive horses {not quite as pictured on the link}, a very fun little scoot-about, and at least one classic red wagon.  

Meanwhile ol' Pa is cleaning up a granddaughter's cute little scooter which is being sent to its new home to be enjoyed in a year or two by her second cousin.  I just love this!


Who needs yet another pair of socks or a boring old tie that will hang there unused forever? You can choose to honor the recipient by gifting to those in need. 

Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog is a longtime favorite ... your donation purchases livestock, chicks, blankets, hot meals, fruit trees, bicycles, you name it.  You can even feed a baby for a week.  It just doesn't get better than this.

Get the full size, ready to print holiday gift exception certificate right here.


let's do a bit of show-and-tell!
fill us all in on the presents you love to give & receive 


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Monday, November 21, 2016

On Living With Abounding Gratitude

Not what we say about our blessings 

but how we use them

is the true measure of our thanksgiving.
~ W.T. Purkiser ~

Oh Heavenly Lord,

Since we're so obviously human and confined to this space and time we can't even begin to get a glimpse of Your most majestic sacred glory.  It's just simply beyond our earthly comprehension.

But we can tell you that we deeply adore You for who You are.  Holy.  Holy.  Holy.

You are worthy to be praised with all that's deep within us, even if we won't ever be able to get our hands around Your awesomely supreme nature, Your perfect character, Your never ending loving grace and perfect judgement.

Yes, we surely see the blessings You've rained down on us ... You, the powerful Healer and Protector of our souls.  The faithful Giver of our daily bread and butter.  The discerning Provider of our endless needs.  The constant comforting companionship of Your sweet sacred Spirit.

And yes, Jesus, Jesus, the brutal sacrifice of Your life's blood shed so freely.

We are overflowing with an abounding gratitude laced with peace-filled joy.

Accept the praises that we bring. You have been so incredibly faithful.

Propel us forward to share our myriad of blessings with a waiting world.  Move us to live with an eye toward radiant generosity, to love fully without keeping score, and to joyfully sacrifice convenience and comfort.

We bow the knee in Jesus Name ~


stopping by 


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Here's Why You Might Want to Serve S'Mores on Thanksgiving

You've had a difficult year.

Maybe that would be a vast understatement.

Perhaps you've encountered challenges galore and transitions that have almost done you in.  Or immense losses too great to number or beyond description.  And you already know that this year's holidays will be drastically altered and you're not quite sure what you're going to do about it.

I hear you, friend.  That scenario was ours last year as both my dad and our little grandson Tyler went home to be with Jesus, one in July and one in September, suddenly and without notice.  Our extended family was left reeling, stunned, and shaken to the core.

We were also yearning to gather together again.  

To soak in the strength of each other's company and savor hugs given.  To play and laugh hard and feast well and share sweet memories that just begged to be spoken.

A week or two before the planned festivities, one or two decided that it would be wise to skip our decades old Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table after dessert with each one, young and old, sharing what we were most thankful for in the just-about-finished year.

It wasn't that we weren't thankful.  

It's just that we thought it wouldn't, at that point, well ... be particularly helpful.

So ... 

Fast forward to the blazing smokey fire pit outside the kitchen door.  The bitter icy cold and the shared knit blanket wrapped up tight and the mugs of steaming coffee.  Fast forward to soft marshmallows melting into gooey chocolate wedged between stone-cold-crisp graham crackers.  

And fast forward to the cuddling and the laughter and the billowing smoke that finally sent all sixteen of us stampeding back into the house to thaw out and re-warm.  

This was how our thankfulness played out.  It just ended up being different than the norm.

I have no idea what unspeakable losses and unexpected transitions have come your way in recent months or what your holidays are shaping up to look like this year.  All I can do is encourage your family to have some gentle, respectful conversations together, to listen well to each other, to embrace what works for you in this particular season.

Preferably well ahead of time.

By all means, turn once again to your beloved, anticipated traditions if they will be comforting and grace-filled.  But be courageous enough to shake things up a bit and temporarily put aside any former routines that would feel forced or uncomfortable, exhausting or just plain inappropriate for where your tender hearts find themselves.

I'd love to hear what you've done to navigate through difficult holidays.  And if this has been a rough year, let's talk.  You're in good company around here.

And praise God, even through life's seismic shifts and the grief and uncertainty that follows, He remains solid and strong, tender and sweetly present.

Read More ...



taking marshmallows to