Monday, November 25, 2013

The musings of a girl on the eve of her 25th birthday…

This post is pretty vulnerable, but I wanted to share my heart hoping that you too will put your life into the hands of the One who created it.

Tomorrow I am turning 25.
I am not sure how I feel about that.

On past birthdays I could not wait to take on the new number that marked not only the growth in age, but in height and intelligence and hopefully beauty. I was so impatient some years that I would adopt the ½ year method to tack onto my age. I wasn't just 9, I was 9 and 1/2. Something about that ½ made me feel taller like all the things I wanted to be were so close, almost close enough to reach.

This year the feeling I am experiencing, about turning a year older, is foreign to me.

I always secretly mocked the women who dreaded their next birthday. As if a number represented their impending demise.
Now I am scared that I am turning into one of those women.

What is it about the number 25 that makes me feel heavy almost sad?

It may have something to do with the fact that my mother gave birth to me when she was 25, but I think it is much bigger than that.

I think it has something to do with the vision I had about the number 25 when I was younger.

I thought the number 25 was a ticket to a happy life or something crazy like that.

I guess I envisioned that by 25 I would be married. If not that, I would at least be in the best shape of my life with amazing long flowing hair (not sure why this is important). I would be keeping my own house and planning for a family and I never really figured in a career…it didn't seem to matter.

Seems pretty absurd, I know, but ironically these wishes haven’t really gone away.

Here I am sitting in my parent’s home, my bed is one foot away from my sister’s and my hair is taking FOREVER to grow out. I have a career, but no guy is in sight.

Life is not what I imagined. Any other day I love the fact that I live with my parents. I enjoy sharing a room with my sister and I enjoy teaching! So why do I feel dissatisfied now?

I am trying to see it as a reminder that God has the plan, not me, and His plan is ultimately better than I could ever imagine.

So once again, as I always do when I find myself low and dissatisfied, I look to the heavens and lift my life to the sky. It is heavy and I struggle under its weight.
I hold my breath as He takes my offering and cradles it in the palm of His hand. I think I see Him smile or at least I hope I do.
Before He pulls His hand away I realize I am still holding my breath and everything in me screams “No, take it back! He might drop it!” But I stand still, mesmerized as He closes His fingers around this, my greatest gift.
Now I must wait. I let out a small sigh at the thought of that word. Wait. The word seems to float on the breeze. How many times must I hear it? Wait.
“But waiting is so hard,” I whisper, looking at the cold ground.
I feel the rays of the sun warm my shoulders in what feels like an embrace. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done. Autumn leaves swirl around me, carried by the cool breeze. Be still and know that I am God. The wind picks up swirling around me, whispering in my ear.
“I wait for you, Father,” I say to the skies. “I know you will answer me.”
The wind whips around my legs, my shirt, my hair. I lift my arms to let it surround me.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. These words seem to be spoken directly into my very soul.
I smile and let the sun’s rays warm my face. I breathe deeply of God’s presence and rest in the knowledge that what He has for me is good and greater than I could ever plan out myself.

“Thank you.” I whisper as I walk through the crackling leaves. In awe of God’s love and filled with hope for tomorrow.





Ps: It is amazing how writing out a face to face scenario with my Heavenly Father brought me such amazing peace. You should try it sometime. ;)

Monday, September 2, 2013

First Day of School. Bliss or Blues?

Well, it is that time of year again. School is back in session. As a 7th grade Reading teacher who has entered her second year of teaching I have officially become a part of the norm. Yes, I am still excited about teaching, I still look through my rose-colored glasses from time to time, I am usually optimistic; however, I agree with those who wish we had a longer summer, longer weekends, fewer students, etc. You just come to a point where you are tired. You think that getting 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep should cure that, but it doesn't because you eat, sleep, and breath your students. Figuratively, of course. For example, I often have dreams that my students (especially the sneaky, slightly annoying ones) are running around my bed at night. But that is another story for another blog, preferably a psychiatric one.

As the back to school process begins there is that feeling of excitement with the occasional nervous feeling of bats flying around in your stomach (butterflies are too nice and sweet to describe this feeling). Usually, before you can begin the school year you have to go through some kind of training. We call it "staff development". So for a week you repress the nervous flutterings of the screeching bats, get out your multiple notebooks, pens, and highlighters and settle in for a long week of: learning school procedures, participating in team bonding activities, arts and crafts, setting up your room, pump-you-up speeches from the principals, piles and piles of hand outs, and butt-numbing seats in every venue, just to name a few. The week leaves you worn out and wondering why this isn't possible:




 When staff development comes to a close and you can barely think (because your mind is so full of information that it is oozing out of your ear) you begin to wonder who your students will be. Will they like you? Will they be nice? Will you end up pulling as much hair out of your head this year as last year? In your exhausted stupor you envision sweet students who do everything you ask, who already know how to read, and who look like this on the first day of school:




Isn't he cute? This is a student who is eager to come to your class and learn!! A MIRACLE! He is a studentswho will use "please" and "thank you" and who will love you because you are his teacher!! 


But then you remember you teach 7th grade and those students are hard to come by. Your students will more than likely look like this on the first day of school:
Nope, you don't have the sweet smelling, polite, hugable elementary students. You have the sullen, moody, chip-on-their-shoulder tweens who when they hear the word "Reading" automatically envision putting a picture of you with a bulls-eye in their room to use later for target practice.

Yep, teaching middle school is another animal. As a middle school teacher I don't expect the hugs, the cards, or the candy. As a middle school teacher I have to demand that my students say "please" and "thank you" because once they get past six years old no one expects it of them. I have to remind them to sit up straight and at least pretend like they are listening to me. Middle school students are challenging to say the least.

So why do I do it? Why do I teach 7th graders? I will get to that in a minute. Back to the first day of school.

Once the first day of school rolls around you don't want to get out of bed.

But you know that this is the career you have chosen and your Principal is counting on you. There is no use resisting. It is going to happen. The bell will ring and the students will come.



And as class time comes closer and closer those bats turn into elephants in your stomach and you feel like panicking and wonder if you can leave the building without anyone noticing because...



In a matter of minutes, or even seconds, you go through the stages of grieving. First you're in denial that summer has ended at all. "This must be a dream," you tell yourself. "This must be a dream." Then you morn the loss of your summer...

And then as the bell rings and you take a deep breath you put on your "TEACHER" hat and open the door with a smile. Because whoever said "don't smile til Christmas" doesn't realize that it is impossible for you not to smile.


And when some of your students enter looking clean, excited, and greet you with a "Goodmorning, Miss G____!" You know that you are in the right place. Choosing to teach middle schoolers was a good choice. They are a challenging age, but you are up for the challenge because that moment when what you teach clicks with them...it is the most exciting feeling you've ever felt. A feeling that makes up for the elephant turned bats. You are where God wants you to be.


And then lunch rolls around, you're exhausted, and thinking that the parents of these children probably looked like this at the bus stop. 



Yep, now you are stuck with their precious kiddos for 9 months while they hang out all day in their pjs.

So, whether you are a teacher, parent, student, or you do something else meaningful with your life...remember how teachers feel stuck in a room with 25 precious children ALL DAY LONG. While you are thinking about that teacher pray for him or her because we can use all the prayers we can get!!



Sunday, September 1, 2013

Prairie Song by Mona Hodgson


The first step in a challenging journey is often the one that means the most. 
 
Though it means saying goodbye to the beloved friends and spiritual mentors of her St. Charles, Missouri quilting circle, Anna Goben is certain that she needs to enlist her family in the Boones Lick Company wagon train. The loss of her beloved brother in the Civil War has paralyzed her mother and grandfather in a malaise of grief and depression and Anna is convinced that only a fresh start in the Promised Land of California can bring her family back to her. Although the unknown perils of the trail west loom, Anna’s commitment to caring for her loved ones leaves no room for fear—or even loving someone new.  
 
During the five-month journey, trail hand Caleb Reger plans to keep a low profile as he watches over the band of travelers. Guarding secrets about his past and avoiding God’s calling on his life, Caleb wants to steer as far from Anna as she does him, but she proves to be just as he assessed her from the beginning— independent, beautiful trouble
 
Led by a pillar of hope, the group faces rough terrain that begins to take a toll on their spirits. Will the wilderness of suffering lead them astray, or will the gentle song of love that echoes across the prairie turn their hearts toward God’s grace and the promise of a new home?



~ ~ ~ ~

Prairie Song, a novel by Mona Hodgson, is the continuing story of The Quilted Novellas, which I have reviewed before on my blog.

I began reading Prairie Song during a stressful part of my summer (staff development). Thus, the book was like a tall glass of refreshing water at the end of a hard workday. It was a blessing to read. Not just because I was beginning to become stressed about school starting, but because it is a well-written novel. The length of the book gave Ms. Hodgson time to develop the characters well. Since I had read The Quilted Novellas Two and Three prior to this novel I was familiar with the main characters, Anna Goben and Caroline Milburn. Both women are strong and independent. They rely on God for strength and help. During the novel they learn about hardship while being pursued by two leading men. The love stories in this novel are charming and the way the characters learn more about themselves and how to lean on God for understanding and direction is moving.

I suggest that any reader interested in this book read The Quilted Novellas first to get the back stories of the characters. However, if you want to delve into this novel first you should not find yourself confused. It is just my preference to read books in order. :)

If you enjoy Christian fiction this novel is a must read! I am whole-heartedly looking forward to Ms. Hodgson's second book.

Thank you to the author for a delightful read and to the publisher for a free ebook copy in exchange for an honest review!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis

Every Friday, a postcard.
Every Friday, a love poem.
Every Friday for sixty years.
 
Adam Colby is just doing his job, sorting through the unsold Alexander belongings after the estate sale. He is unprepared for what he finds in an old photo album, overlooked by the bargain hounds and treasure hunters—six decades of postcards and poems from Gabe Alexander to his wife, Pearl. The mystery of the Alexanders’ love entices Adam, a man unhinged by divorce and puzzled by the depth of commitment that he finds in the unabashedly romantic cards.
 
Forever Friday invites you to travel back in time to the early twentieth century Texas Coastal Bend where a young couple—Gabe and Pearl Alexander—are swept up in a miraculous love. As the heartwarming, pulse-quickening story of their relationship develops through Gabe’s poems, the Alexanders reveal a new way to consider what it means to be truly devoted to each other. Could the secrets of their love affair, laid to rest twenty years ago, hold the key to one man’s future?



Once again I have had the privilege of reading a book not yet released. Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis was a treat to read. You can get your hands on it on September 17, 2013. 

Adam Colby, the main character, gets to do what all of us can only dream of! Adam Colby gets his hands on an album of old postcards written with words of love from a devoted husband to his wife. (I have personally always dreamed of finding old letters written back and forth between a couple who had a rich marriage.) Timothy Lewis does a masterful job switching between "present day" (for the novel) and the days of Gabe and Pearl Alexander. The reader is able to experience Adam Colby's journey through learning more about how the Alexander's marriage lasted and experience the great love story of Gabe and "Hutch," as Pearl is affably called.

As a single woman, who has thought about marriage a lot lately, this book definitely made me jealous of these fictional characters who have a honeymoon that spans some 60 years. Gabe and Hutch's relationship is not without struggles, but they always remembered that "they were two hearts commanding devotion."  

As you read this book you will be touched by Gabe's weekly postcards to Hutch. Each postcard illustrates his devotion and with each new postcard my heart sighed a little. Just to give you a glimpse.

"Beneath midnight stars
Caressed by spring's pure breeze
Two lovers strolled
Hand in hand
While waves lapped moonlit sand
Connecting souls."
Forever, Gabe

While this book is written by a Christian author I did not find the message of God's love or Christ very strong. The emphasis was placed more on angels. Gabe and Hutch are said to have faith in God, but they seem to cling to each other more than openly sharing their love of Christ to the reader. However, the story teaches the reader how to choose to love...how to have a forever love everyone dreams of, but do not quite understand how to capture. This message is certainly needed in a culture filled with quick marriages and even quicker divorces.

If you are looking for a good read this fall Forever Friday should definitely be on your list.

Thank you to Timothy Lewis for an inspiring novel and to the publisher for a free copy in exchange for a honest review.



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Most Important Dance Ever

This past weekend I spent some time visiting my cousin. Before I went on my trip to see him I decided that I would get out of my comfort zone as much as possible during the trip. It started with driving three hours away by myself (I made it!) and ended with going two-stepping. 

Not only had I decided to get out of my comfort zone that weekend, but I continuously prayed that God would be closer to me and that I would learn more about Him through each experience I went through. It is amazing that when you ask God to draw close to you He really does! I never would have guessed that dancing would teach me more about my relationship with God.

* Wow, if my (very traditional) grandmother were to read this she would either fall over or fall to her knees praying for me. Thankfully she has no access to the internet. ;) *

Sunday night, as I learned to dance, I realized that I had to surrender control to my partner. The moments where I didn't follow his lead, or when I tensed up (or thought too much--I tend to do this a lot) we would miss a step or lose contact. But when I allowed him to lead me we moved smoothly and I ended up making moves I never would have imagined I was capable of.

I've realized that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is like this. If I hold back a part of my self or try to take over control, life doesn't seem to go very smoothly. I may stumble or feel like I am losing contact with God, but if I give complete control to Him He will lead me to places I've never been. He will allow me to experience amazing things I could never imagine on my own.

When we were dancing I also had a hard time knowing when I was supposed to do something. There were at least a couple of moves that I was actually supposed to place my hand on my partner's shoulder, or duck under his arm a certain way. If I didn't act quickly or accurately we usually got all tangled up (making for some good laughs).

The same goes with my relationship with God. I am going through a stage in life where I don't know when I am supposed to do something. After you've given up control, how do you know when you are supposed to act? Thankfully, much like my dancing partner, God will lead me through the next move and whisper cues in my ear when I need them. He won't leave me out on the dance floor alone and totally confused. He has a plan, He knows the steps and as long as I follow His lead without taking over control He will allow me to experience more than I could ever ask for or imagine.

Ironically, as I started this blog post in the dark last night I read Psalm 37. A lot of the verses in this chapter tie into my theme.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act." 
Psalm 37: 3-5

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand." Psalm 37:23-24

The way I see it is that my relationship with God is the most important dance I could ever be a part of. Yes, I often dream about the daddy-daughter dance at my wedding, and my first dance with my future husband, but I am not in that season of my life yet (though God clearly knows that is one of the desires of my heart). So, while I am waiting I will give control over to my Heavenly Father and allow Him to spin, twirl, and dip me to His heart's content. When I stumble I will get back up and look to Him for guidance. When He teaches me a new move I will listen with an open heart. 



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Broke My Own Rule!

If you were to check my Kindle right now you would realize I have broken my own rule. I am currently reading more than one book. I usually get by with reading one fiction and one non-fiction (or possibly "school" book), but that is not the case right now. I think it is because it is crunch time which just means summer is almost over and there are a lot of great books! So, I am going to steal my sister's idea and tell you what is on my nightstand...although technically three of the four books are on my Kindle.


The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller was assigned to me by my principal. The 7th and 8th grade Reading department is reading it as a book study. This is one amazing book. I read half of it in one day and plan on finishing it next week. The only draw back is that it is not my own copy so I can't write in it; however, I have solved that problem with a TON of sticky notes and tabs. You should see this poor book it has paper sticking out of each end. There are so many quotes I love from this book, but I will share with you one that really resonated with me.

"I share with my students what no literacy expert could ever teach me. Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters-the saints and sinners, real or imagined-reading shows you how to be a better human being." Donalyn Miller (page 18)

Wow! That get's me excited about this next school year! I hope that I can teach my students all those things about reading!


Your Money Counts by Howard Dalton came to me by way of my dad. He asked that my sister and I read one of Howard Dayton's books this summer and we picked this one. I am very much ahead of my sister in reading by the way! Well, I do not have those daunting nursing books staring me in the face so she has a good reason for not starting this book. I am enjoying this book more than I thought I would. Dayton gives Biblically based financial help through practical examples. His book is very encouraging. I know this will be a book I go back to throughout my life.



I have been reading a lot of Christian fiction this summer. A LOT! Many people would call Christian fiction fluff. I have to admit that among the Christian values presented in this genre there is a some fluff. After I read a lot of Christian fiction I do sometimes get caught up in the romance and the perfectness of it. So I decided to go to something more classic. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Yes, there is still romance, but the language of the novel makes up for it. I really have to use my brain to understand Austen so I feel like it is a bit more intellectual. Now, of course the movie is my favorite so it is easy to picture the movie scenes while reading which helps me understand it a whole lot more. 


The Pursuit of Godby A.W. Tozer came to me through my sister. It was a free download on kindle and she said she really enjoyed it. I started reading several months ago, but recently started over again. What an amazing read! If you want something to challenge you this is what you need. I would recommend it to everyone I know. This book will shake up what you know and challenge you to think higher about you relationship with God than ever before. Tozer reminds me of Jane Austen in that he uses higher language. It takes a little time to understand everything he is writing, but once you understand the rich language your get sucked in. I think I have highlighted almost all of the first two sections. Some people today would say Tozer is old school, out of date, but I would say he is a classic that should stick around. We have a lot to learn from this Christ-follower. Here is one of the quotes I highlighted.

 "We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed." A. W. Tozer


So these are the books I am reading. Hopefully I can finish all of them before school starts! What are you reading? Anything I should get my hands on? I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

One of the best things about reviewing books is that sometimes I get to preview a book that isn't even on shelves yet. It is an amazing thing to hold a book and drink in the thought that I might be the very first reader to turn its pages. Okay, so maybe other people have already read it, but it doesn't hurt to hope does it??




As I held The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky the first thought I had was the pure joy of holding a new book. I am a new book addict. It doesn't have to be "brand new" to be wonderful, but that new book smell doesn't hurt. The second thought I had was "Oh, right. I am reviewing this one." This helped me come back down from the clouds.

I have decided to break this book review into sections about each part of the above novel. I am not certain if it will be a more entertaining format, but it doesn't hurt to mix it up once in a while.

~The Cover~
At first glance, or glances, I found the cover to be very appealing. The colors are beautiful. I love how the title is showcased. I LOVE the mansion in the background which is, you guessed it, Highland Hall. The back of the book is also lovely. I don't find anything disagreeable about the heroine being on the cover; however, I have begun to like the books where the main characters' faces are not shown, as seen on several of Karen Witemeyer's book covers. It gives the reader a hint of mystery and allows them to use their imagination. This book cover tells me exactly how Turansky (or the cover designer) views Miss Julia Foster, the governess of Highland Hall, which in the end became beneficial to me as I will later describe. So, yes the cover is appealing and the woman on the front playing the role of Julia Foster is most agreeable; however, I did not envision said person as I delved into the novel.

~The Setting~

1911. England. Highland Hall. Seems pretty generic. Granted, I did not personally experience post WWI England. But as an literary scholar I want to ask why 1911? In this novel there seemed to be no significance in the date choice. Though I would guess Turansky might use the first world war in subsequent novels. However, here one might think she pulled the date out of a hat. (I have often wondered how an author chooses a date and pulling one out of a hat might be the easiest method after all). England. What a novel idea! (pardon the pun) These days I do not find many Christian fiction novels set in England. There seems to be an overabundance of Western novels (some of my favorites mind you) and Contemporary novels. Turansky seems to be following in Julie Klassen's footsteps, bringing back the Jane Austen-like novel which I am very fond of. Highland Hall. As I mentioned before the cover does a good job of portraying the esteemed Highland Hall; however, I do not remember a description in the book itself. This may be due to my lack of long-term memory skills or it may not have been a memorable description. I will leave that up to you to decide.

The first thing I noticed about The Governess of Highland Hall was how similar it is to Dowtown Abbey. The setting plays a big part in this comparison. All three parts of the setting remind me of the beloved (well I love it!) television series (if you haven't watched it you must!). The setting of this novel is also reminiscent of Upstairs Downstairs, another BBC favorite. 

~The Characters~

This novel is about a governess, as the title suggests; however it is not just about this one character. As the novel progresses characters seem to come out of the wood work. But I am getting ahead of myself. As I mentioned before the heroine, Julia Foster, is very agreeably portrayed on the book's cover; however, her description is lacking in the book. I want to make it clear that Turansky does an excellent job painting Julia's inward self. It is easy to learn from Julia's character because she is such a strong Christian who only becomes stronger in her faith. Nevertheless, the novel lacks a solid description of Julia Foster's appearance. If it wasn't for the book's cover I would not know what Julia looks like. Yes, there are descriptions of her later in the book, but I needed to be introduced to her person at the beginning.

I found the same to be true for Sir William Ramsey's character. I had to use a process of elimination to determine William's appearance. The reader is told that William's children have red hair and freckles. William himself mentions, later in the story, that the children take after their mother in this regard. So I deduced  that William does not have red hair. Then the reader is told, even later, what William's brother looks like. David has a mustache and is shorter than William. To no avail, I still don't know what William looks like. 

This lack of knowledge continued with many of the characters. I felt that their heads and appendages were made out of question marks. So I used the old imagination. My comparison of this novel and Downtown Abbey did not stop at the setting it also leaked into the characters. For Mrs. Emmitt I envisioned Mrs. Hughes, played by Phyllis Logan. For Mr. Lawrence I saw Mr Carson, played by Jim Carter. For Ann, the maid, I saw Daisy Mason, played by Sophie McShera. You probably see a trend here so I won't bore you with the rest of my list. Many of the Dowtown Abbey characters appearance not only fit the bill, but they also had many of the qualities of Turansky's characters.

As the characters kept emerging I truelly wondered if Carrie Turansky watched Dowtown Abbey before writing her first draft. So many of the characters remind me of Downtown Abbey characters. To top it all off Turansky adds a love interest between lady of the manor, Sarah Ramsey, and the head gardener, Clark Dalton. Does this remind anyone of a similar lady and chauffeur?  

Although the descriptions of characters' personal appearances were lacking, their personalities were rich and by the middle of the book the amount of characters ceased to be confusing and I realized they all had a purpose to fulfill in the plot.

~Overview~

In the end, I enjoyed The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky. There were a few twists and turns that made it exciting and a happily-ever-after ending that everyone longs for. I think I would have liked it to end badly though. Or maybe if it would have ended with a cliff hanger I would have been much more eager to read the second book Turansky is now writing. However, as my sister just pointed out, it is Christian fiction...nothing every ends badly. 


Thank you to Carrie Turansky for a good read and to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for a honest review. 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ripples Along the Shore by Mona Hodgson



Can a War Widow Escape Her Grief—and Find God’s Promise—on a Wagon Train West? 
When Caroline Milburn steps off the boat and back into her hometown of St. Charles, MO, part of her wishes she could step right back on board and sail away. St. Charles, though home to her beloved friends and quilting circle, hasn’t felt like home since the death of her husband. And living with her sister, Jewell’s family hasn’t provided much balm for her grieving heart. Caroline knows something needs to change—but for now she’s stuck sharing her sister’s home, and enduring the anger and bitterness of her brother-in-law.
 
But change is brewing in St. Charles. A group of brave souls are preparing to head west on the Boones Lick Wagon Train, led by the mysterious and handsome Garrett Cowlishaw. Despite her dislike for Mr. Cowlishaw, who served as a Confederate soldier in the war that killed her husband, Caroline is tempted to join the wagon train and start fresh somewhere new.
 
When the lovely young widow makes her intentions to travel west known, Garrett Cowlishaw forbids her—a single woman—to travel with them. Will one man’s prejudice destroy Caroline’s hope for a new future? Or will the ripples of God’s love bring the answer she needs? -Amazon.com

-*-*-*-*-*-

Ripples Along the Shore  written by Mona Hodgson is the third installment of her series The Quilted Heart.  This novella continues the story of Mrs. Bratenberg's quilting group and the ladies within it. The reader is given updates of Emilie Heinrich and Quaid McFarland featured in the second novella and other characters as well. This third novella; however, focuses more on Caroline Milburn who learns that her husband has died in the Civil War. She struggles to move on with her life and learns to cling to God's will for her future. 

This novella seemed shorter than the last one. The length of the story did not make it less worth reading, but it did make me eager to read Hodgson's upcoming book Prairie Song the first in her Hearts Seeking Home series which will come out in August of this year. Supposedly in this series, the lives of those in The Quilted Heart will continue. Especially the stories of those who are journeying west in Garrett Cowlishaw's wagon train (which was featured in Ripples Along the Shore

I enjoyed the budding relationship between Caroline Milburn and Garrett Cowlishaw which included more banter than heart-felt words in this novella. I hope they will be featured in a novel of their own to finish off their soon-to-be romance. From the novella I could ascertain that both characters have a lot of emotional baggage to work through before they can truly be together.

I hope that the novels will be even better than the novella series. I look forward to reading about these characters in more depth and length as only a novel can accommodate.




Friday, July 12, 2013

Back to School Blues

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

Yesterday I made a serious mistake...I printed out the school calendar and updated my planner. How could I have known horror awaited me: 

Only 34 Days Until I Return to School!?

Somehow, time has flown by without me noticing. The sand in the hour glass has fallen at a rapid speed while I have been distracted by summer. 

I don't want to go

I know we all feel this way. Except for parents....I think parents secretly pray for the day they can send their kiddos back to school so that they can get back to regular schedules. I have no knowledge of this so if I am wrong please forgive me. I was homeschooled and I know my mom loved every moment with me. I was a complete joy to be around. I doubt she ever wished she could send me somewhere else. 

In light of only having 34 days left I realized that...

I still have a LONG to do list to accomplish before the 15th! How am I going to get it done when all I want to do is sleep in and eat sugar all day? Here I thought I would be itching to get back planning, but I am very comfortable in my summer coma. This summer coma, as I call it, includes lots of Fiction, movies, pj days, and yes, the occasional ice cream sandwich. So instead of focusing on my TO DO list I have made a list of things I will miss after we start back to school.

What I will miss once I welcome 100+ teenagers back into my life:
  1. I will miss drinking liquids-especially water-when I want or need it.
  2. I will miss sitting down when my legs are tired.
  3. I will miss being able to go to the bathroom when I need to go.
  4. I will miss being able to eat my lunch for as long as I want. (I finally re-learned how to eat my food slowly-chewing before swallowing.)
  5. I will miss waking up at 8:30. 5:30 is going to be difficult.
  6. I will miss wearing whatever I want to wear. (I don't think my principal would approve pajamas at work.) 
  7. I will miss not being judged by what I am wearing. (My sister wears her pjs too and so do the majority of people at Walmart.)
  8. I will miss the quiet of home.
  9. I will miss looking over and seeing my sister in the room (she is my buddy).
  10. I will miss the energy to stay up late....back to an 8:30 bed time routine.
  11. I will miss wearing my baseball cap. Washing your hair every day is overrated. 
  12. I will miss free weekends without papers to grade and lesson plans to put in.
As I think towards the first days of school I can't help but cringe because as much as I love summer vacation my students love it 100 times more. I wish there was a way to make them forget summer vacation.


I would probably have a lot of angry parents once they found out I hypnotized their kids the first week of school. Or they may give me a hug and thank me because it is a lot easier to get their kids out of bed in the morning. 

Nope, there isn't a way to stop time for passing and their isn't a way to make the kids think they weren't just on summer break, but there is a way for me to change my attitude. So instead of focusing on the list above of :what I will miss" I am going to focus on a new list of what I look forward to. You have to admit it, fellow teachers, you look forward to these things too!

What I look forward to when school begins again:
  1. Redecorating/organizing my classroom.
  2. Hearing our principal pump us up for the new year.
  3. Seeing students in uniform rushing to their classes.
  4. Meeting students who absolutely LOVE to read.
  5. Meeting students who hate to read, but looking forward to the day when I hand them that one book that they will enjoy.
  6. Seeing my teaching partners in the hall between classes. 
  7. Seeing my students from last year. I am sure they have grown so much! They had better say hi to me!
  8. Finding out if I really have grown as a teacher. Will some thing be easier for me since I have done it before?
  9. 7th and 8th grade football! I have two grades to cheer for this year. (adding to TO DO list: dust off pom poms)
  10. September 2nd, Labor Day, the first day off of the school year!


As the new school year draws closer I will begin to pray for my students and pray for the teachers at my school. God brought us through 2012-2013 and He will carry us through 2013-2014. As long as we are doing everything for His glory He will bless our effort. Once again I am getting excited about what He will teach me. Only He knows what goes before me and I will strive every day to place my hand in His and surrender to His leading.

I hope all of you enjoy the rest of your summer. Whatever you endeavor to do when school begins (whether you teach or not) put your hand in His and He will lead you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What I learned from Man of Steel

I have always wondered what place movies have in a Christian's life. I was contemplating this very thing while watching Man of Steel today. As shards of glass exploded from falling buildings, flames burst into the sky, and cars sailed around this other-wordly man in a tight blue suit and red cape I wondered why I was watching. Was I really getting anything from it?

Disclaimer: Before I tell you what I learned from this film note that if you have not seen Man of Steel you may see or read things below that will give parts of the movie away. Continue with caution. I hope this is as meaningful to you as it is to me. 

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1. Russell Crowe becomes a father and he is a good one! (He has come a long way from his Gladiator days.)  Don't judge him for sending his only son to a new world completely naked.



2. When Clark Kent finds himself shirtless (I am not sure why they put that in the movie) and in need of a change of clothes he grabs the first clothes he can find, even though they more than likely belong to a short and stocky fisherman. 

But don't worry he's Superman-or he will be-so THEY WILL FIT PERFECTLY. 

That fisherman wishes he looked that good in those clothes.




3. Clark Kent is flame retardant. Who knew? (Maybe this is why he had no choice but to take off his shirt.) Why couldn't this event have earned him the name Flame Retardant Man or Fireboy? Okay, so it was good that didn't come about. Superman is way more...super. 



4. This guy is General Zod (who named these people? Really, that's all they could come up with?) He has real issues. Before they encrusted him in ice maybe they should have sent him to counseling. But I guess then we wouldn't have needed the rest of the movie.




5. Thankfully all will be well because this is not an S it is the symbol of hope. Though for Lois Lane...it is still an S. You go, girl!




6. When Clark puts on the suit for the first time he automatically becomes clean shaven. I guess no one wants a bearded Superman.




7. Superman's red cape is not just for flying....it hides a lot.





8. When on the Krypton ship Lois needs something to help her breathe, but why doesn't Superman?  He has been living and breathing on Earth for 33 years, but now he is suddenly BEYOND OXYGEN? Maybe that's why his nose starts to bleed. He should have just asked for the breather.

When I watch this movie again I might just yell out..."Put on a breather!!" to see if anything changes.





9. Lois is indestructible. At this point of the movie she is beyond oxygen too. I guess when you are holding on to a handsome superhero you don't need any air.




 10. When the world outside is crumbling and you are standing in terror never fear! Superman will look over at you and say..."Go inside, it is dangerous out here."





11. Clark Kent/ Superman is a sensitive guy. He doesn't want to choose between his Krypton world and humans. He takes care of his mom. He knows how to control his anger. He doesn't pick on the little guy.  He is tall and dark with blaring blue eyes. He loves Lois Lane, but until the next movie (if there is one) he is still single. He is the perfect man....or whatever he is.


-*-*-*-*-

So, I may not have learned anything life changing from Man of Steel, but it was entertaining. I hope I entertained you a little bit with this post. If you are like me, after watching Man of Steel you can't help but look at the clouds and wonder... Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's....!!



My little pony?!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bending Toward The Sun by Mona Hodgson


Bending Toward the Sun is the second Novella in Mona Hodgson's series The Quilted Heart. The following is taken from Amazon.com.

Can the Divine Quilter stitch together the torn pieces of Emilie’s heart?
 
Divided between the love of her father and the desires of her heart, Emilie Heinrich must rely on the love and wisdom of the women in her quilting circle for support. Since Emilie is dedicated to her education and to helping her father in his general store, she is convinced she doesn't have time for love. But when a childhood friend returns to St. Charles, Missouri, after serving in the Civil War, his smile and charm captures Emilie’s eye and her heart. 
 
Quaid McFarland has a gentleness and humor that causes Emilie to question her indifference toward romance. But her German father sees only one thing when he looks at the young man: an Irish teamster. And Johann Heinrich is not about to let such a man court his beloved daughter.
 
Her father’s prejudices test Emilie’s faith in God’s ability to mend the patchwork pieces of her life. Will she be forced to choose between honoring her father and a future with a husband and family of her own? 



~*~*~*~

This is my first encounter with Mona Hodgson. I had the choice between this book or the third book in the series so I chose this one. I hoped that I had not missed much from the first book, with regards to the introduction of characters. I found that each Novella in the series is primarily about one female character; however, there is mention of several of the other female characters throughout the story (an update of sorts). The connecting thread is that each female character is a member of a quilting circle lead by Mrs. Brantenberg who is a godly woman who consistently gives encouragement and prayer to the younger women who join her to sew. I found her character very encouraging. She is the heart and soul of the quilting group and through her, the younger women learn who they are as daughters of Christ. She is compared to a "careful mother hen...who cared for her chicks, even the newest ones." She reminds the girls that "God, the Divine Quilter, has the perfect patchwork pattern for our lives." What a perfect analogy. As a new quilter I understand this analogy a little better and I always need to be reminded of it.

Bending Toward the Sun is primarily about Emilie Heinrich and her growing affections towards Quaid McFarland. The Novella is set soon after the Civil War in a community rich in diverse heritages. 

The downside of Christian Fiction Novellas is often that the author spins the tale too quickly. Events that need more time happen in a day, the characters are often underdeveloped, and there is sometimes too much dialogue. Mona Hodgson's characters are perfectly developed. Even the characters that were only mentioned once or twice in the story were described well. I found that there was not too much dialogue. Hodgson's use of description of setting helped me visualize what the characters were seeing and when there was dialogue it was meaningful. I do feel that some of the events were sped up due to the lack of "time." Although Emilie and Quaid knew each other as children it is a little hard to believe that they would realize they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together in such a short time. From the beginning of the Novella to the end it seemed like merely weeks. As a single young woman, I find this hard to believe and a little disappointing. I like reading love stories that are realistic and inspiring...something I would like to experience. Emilie and Quaid's relationship, though sweet, is a little too good to be true.

After reading Bending Toward the Sun I would like to read the third in the series and I would like to read one of Hodgson's Novels to see the difference in timing. Hodgson's writing style is not one I would discount. I did like how the characters constantly went back to God's love and God's will for their life. Too often in Christian fiction, there is too little faith and too much physical affection. With this Novella that is not the case; although, I would have rethought the placement of the Novella's one kiss. I think it would have been better placed near the end. The idea that a male character has to prove his affection through a passionate kiss unnerves me a little. Why can't the leading man and leading lady just talk it out?? I guess that will always be a conundrum for me.

Thank you to Ms. Hodgson's for a sweet Novella and to the publisher for giving me this ebook in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Be Still My Soul: The Hymn



As I finished Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof I reflected on her choice of titles. In my experience of writing short stories (a long long long time ago!) titles are hard to choose. As the author, you want the title to tell the reader something about the story, maybe the message or a clue, or a hint at what is behind the cover. As an English major we studied the meaning of the titles (not an easy job!). Sometimes I would conclude that the author hadn't really thought about the title at all. When it is one word you often wonder. However, in my experience with this book I do wonder what Bischof was thinking. Be Still My Soul made me think of the old hymn by the same title. So I looked up the lyrics and then found this version (seen above) performed by David Archuleta. Before you continue reading listen to this song and read (or sing) the following lyrics.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.


Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and bless├Ęd we shall meet at last.

Be Still My Soul (the hymn) was written by Katherina von Schlegel in 1752. Schlegel wrote many verses to her classic hymn; however, only five verses were translated into English. The three verses above are the verses most commonly sung by artists and church congregations. 

What I love about this hymn is the wording used. No on writes songs like this one anymore. It is more akin to one of William Shakespeare's sonnets than Chris Tomlin's praise songs. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy worshiping along with Chris Tomlin, but his many praise and worship songs do not sound like this old hymn. 

I am not sure why Joanne Bischof would have chosen this title for her novel without having this hymn in mind. When thinking of the novel and the story of Gideon and Lonnie, this song is a mirror image of what the two characters experience. Throughout the novel and the hymn is a story of struggle, but one with a hope that never ends.

The lesson is this: no matter if you are bearing "the cross of grief or pain" or rejoicing because everything is going well in your life you must urge your soul to be still. Psalm 46:10 says,

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

Through anything we face we need to remember to recognize that God is God. He has a plan for us. He will "guide the future, as He has the past." The greatest hope we have is that one day sorrow will be forgotten and joy will be restored as we meet Him at last.