My Latest Round of Book Reviews

Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter

The first half of this fiction book reads like any other fiction book, not really one of the Christian genre, until about half way through the book. It’s not Urban Cowboy level dysfunction, but the characters are human. Around the middle of the book, characters start having realizations about how they are not making good decisions in their lives apart from God’s guidance; in that way, I think Denise Hunter does something new and interesting in the Christian fiction market, instead of starting with innocent characters. Some people will like it, and some will probably be upset by it. It’s a book about grace, about the role that control and independence play in our lives, and about how a family that is seemingly broken can come together. I like the idea of the grandma character, who leaves her peach orchard to the main character, Zoe, in her will, in an effort to bring Zoe back to her roots. I also like the imagery of Zoe as a lion, wild and untamed when she was younger. If you enjoy an enduring love story and watch Hallmark movies, you will probably like this book. Unfortunately, I kept thinking about Cruz Ramirez from the Cars 3 movie every time I saw Cruz’s name in the book — which took away some of the romance for me (haha, mom fail). The constant emotional dissection for every character does make the book feel like a therapy session at times, and certain plot elements seemed a bit contrived (I don’t want to give away too much of the book by going into detail on this point), but I thought it was a redeeming story overall. I can easily see this book as a Hallmark movie.

Staying Stylish: Cultivating a Confident Look, Style, and Attitude by Candace Cameron Bure

This hardcover book is filled with Candace’s tips on style, packing a suitcase, skincare, spiritual wellness, and other daily practices. I thought the photos were beautiful, even though I would have liked to see some more truly candid shots rather than so many shots that looked posed and edited. Her tip to organize your suitcase by items was a pretty good one (rather than by outfit, just in case you want to mix and match). I had heard a lot of the fashion advice before, but I thought it was pretty neat that she shared the brand of skincare she uses (Lancer Method). When she recommended books, I thought it was really neat that she has read A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman. I would like to read some of the other books she recommends. Just the fact that Candace will take a journal and a Christian book along with her when she’s traveling makes me like her even more than I already did. I grew up with her as DJ Tanner, and I’ve watched some of the new Fuller House episodes on Netflix. I think this book would be an excellent gift for teenage girls and for women who grew up watching Full House.

NIV, The Sola Scriptura Bible Project: The Complete Collection

240_360_book-2394-coverIn the same spirit of Bible reading in the early church, the NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project removes chapter and verse numbers, red letters, and cross references found in modern Bibles. The Old Testament is arranged according to traditional Hebrew ordering, and the New Testament is reorganized, placing each of the four Gospels as sectional heads. The printing job on the four books is absolutely beautiful, and I feel such deep appreciation that I was sent this version of the Bible for free in return for an honest review. I have this version of the scriptures setting on top of my bookshelf, and the four hardcover cloth books look wonderful decoratively — but they won’t just be a decoration. These will serve as a reading experience for the NIV scriptures. Today, I sat down and read the first 42 pages of the Torah volume. It is pretty neat to read Genesis without numbers or cross-references getting in the way. Of course, it is important to have  chapters and verses listed in your regular Bible so that the scriptures can be studied and referenced more easily, but the reading experience with NIV Sola Scriptura is excellent. Obviously, the original writers of the scriptures did not put chapter and verse numbers in their texts. “The present system of chapter divisions was devised in the thirteenth century, and our present verse divisions weren’t added until the sixteenth,” the preface explains. As a person who loves to read, I am completely on board with this version of the Bible. I think it is an incredible idea, and I’m glad to own and read the Bible this way. This might even help me finally read the entire Bible from cover to cover, as I have wanted to do for a long time. I love it when Christians think outside the box and still stay true to God’s original message. As a side note, this set weighs about eight pounds; that’s more than my son weighed when he was born (lol).

30 Days to Peace

This hard cover journal is full of prompts focused on peace — how you define it, how you find it, colors that remind you of it, and so forth. I like the idea. I am going to keep this journal for the next month leading into the Christmas season, as a writing practice for Advent.

Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey

This book is easy to understand. It gives suggestions for the best supplies, but it does not overwhelm you with the suggestions. Some how-to books go so over the top on the recommended supply list that it becomes intimidating to move forward, but I think the recommendations listed here are do-able. I want to learn how to watercolor, so I think I am going to ask for the supplies for Christmas. The techniques could come in handy for Bible Journaling or as a way to bring a little more creative expression into my life in general. The steps seem easy to follow for a beginner who wants to build skills. I think the illustrations in the book are lovely.

Noelle by Greg Kincaid

This book is a quick read to get you in the holiday spirit, especially if you’re a dog person. It’s the fourth installment of novels about the McCray family of Kansas. I’m a newbie to the series, but it works fine as an independent read. The dog on the cover looks a little bit like mine, so I couldn’t resist. If you’re looking for a novel for the holidays, I recommend this one. Curl up with a quilt, your slippers, some hot cocoa, and your own dog by your side.

Be the Gift by Ann Voskamp

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I have not read Ann’s other two books that probably influenced this one, but One Thousand Gifts is on my reading list. Her latest book, Be the Gift, is full of spiritual truth, but it is not something to read when you want to just feel lighthearted and move on with your day. The feeling of sadness and sacrifice — and the quiet joy that comes in the midst of those when you focus on giving and thanksgiving — is prevalent. The feeling of sadness stuck with me in a way that made my heart ache for the tragedy that the writer has experienced in her own life. The Christian walk is often about self-sacrifice and joy in the midst of sadness. Rather than comforted, I felt uncomfortable (which is not necessarily bad, as the Christian life is not entirely comfortable if you are really following Christ). Part of “being the gift” in a hurting world is the willingness to minister to people who are going through hard times, to inconvenience yourself, to walk through the sadness with them, to give when others would take, to stay when others would pull away. At this current stage of my life, I find myself often putting the needs of others around me ahead of my own, which feels pretty draining sometimes, to be honest. I understand what Ann is saying, so I find myself going to Christ and praying, “Fill me so that I can keep doing what you are asking. Fill me so that I can do a better job at this life You would have me lead. Light my way. Guide my steps. Make the path straight.” Without thanksgiving, it is impossible to keep the mindset necessary to journey through hard times. Communion with Christ comes through thanksgiving and through sharing in — and accepting, with thanks — his sacrifice. This is how we have a strength that those who are not Christians might find hard to understand. This book is about turning your brokenness into abundance.

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Finding Gobi: The Amazing True Story by Dion Leonard

I am a person who adores dogs; a dog story gets me right in the heart every time, and this story is no exception. Gobi, the cute little dog on the cover, starts running after Leonard as he competes in a marathon across the desert of China. Leonard and Gobi form a major bond, joined by their journey across sand and rivers, and Leonard is heart-broken to have to leave Gobi after the race. He begins a quest to bring Gobi home to Scotland with him, but international laws and cultural views about dogs create many obstacles. Leonard even takes a sabbatical from his job for six months in order to complete the logistics necessary to make Gobi a part of his life. The story is heart-warming, even though I found myself wondering how Leonard did not give up as the challenges seemed to stack against him. This really is a story about the lengths someone will go to for love. Since it is a young readers’ edition, the sentence structure is not necessarily compelling on an adult level, but the story itself is very compelling. I am now passing the book around to my students at school. I told them about Gobi and showed them the pictures, and many of them want to read this book. I told them we could make it into a little book club and talk about the book as students finish it. There are a few blank pages toward the back, so I told them to write each other short notes about what they thought of the book. I read some other reviews from people who wished this book stopped at the end of the race, but the story really is not complete if you stop after the race. Gobi pursues Leonard during the race, but then Leonard must pursue Gobi to complete the circle. Even though this book does not have an overt Christian message, it makes me think about how Christ pursues the church, and we pursue Him in return. Gobi: A Little Dog with a Big Heart is a children’s picture book, also by Dion Leonard. It has a ton of charm, and the writing easily holds a child’s attention. There’s something about a dog making friends with a marathon runner and going on a race together that really appeals to a child. The true story appeals to me as an adult too, especially because I am a dog lover. When I finished reading the book, my son said, “That was cool!”

 

 

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The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I thought this book was really cute and gave me some ideas that I will apply in my own home. I have not read the original book that this manga was based upon, but you would have to be living under a rock to not already know about the concept of “sparking joy” that Kondo has popularized. I liked how the visual element of the manga made her folding methods really easy to understand. I plan on going through my clothes and books in the way that she describes and eventually tackling everything else in the order that she recommends. I already tend to be somewhat minimalist about what I’m willing to bring into my home; I don’t need every new gadget. My home is already joyful and functional, but her method can help me hone those areas even more. Some of her ideas sound a little silly, but I might try them anyway (no promises, lol). In the manga, the chaos of the poor main character is pretty exaggerated, and the story line is funny in its obvious direction; the character will start dating her handsome neighbor (who already knows how to be tidy) as soon as the poor gal figures out the magic of tidying up, of course.

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Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight out of this Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker

The direction Hatmaker is taking with this book is not as strong as the message she had in For the Love or Seven. I had high hopes for Of Mess and Moxie because I had read and enjoyed her last book (plus I had seen her current book featured in Redbook), but this collection of essays did not resonate with me. The title sounded intriguing, but I felt like the essays were not really cohesive, and the recipes seemed random (including variations on a couple recipes I have already seen in another Christian essay collection). Honestly, I will still try the recipes anyway, and I bet they will be good. I read two books this summer that had a pretty big spiritual impact for me (Start with Amen and He Calls You Beautiful), so my bar was set pretty high for Christian writing. I feel like a lot of the ideas that Hatmaker addressed have already been covered very well by Christian writers in recent years. I did think her “how to” sections were hilarious; for me, that was the best part of the book. Humor is definitely her strong suit.

 

I received all of these books in return for my honest review from Book Look Bloggers and Blogging for Books.

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The Search for Archaeological Evidence of the Exodus

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I did not even realize the biblical account of Exodus was under skepticism by archaeologists and historians until recently. When I read a Jewish author’s sentiments that the biblical account of Moses may not be historically accurate, my first thought was that it seems very flippant for someone of faith to so easily dismiss a foundational part of the Bible. Around that same time, I got an email about an opportunity to review a documentary film called Patterns of Evidence: the Exodus on my blog. It is interesting how God’s timing works that way. I just finished watching the documentary tonight, and I think it is quite affirming for those of us who have faith and want to see how the archaeological evidence lines up with it. After all, the Exodus is a foundational story for people of the Jewish and Christian faiths.

Filmmaker Timothy Mahoney’s 12-year investigation of archaeological and historical findings in Egypt and Israel reveals a powerful pattern of evidence that connects with the biblical account of Exodus. The evidence has been largely unrecognized because it exists in an earlier period of history than where most scholars are looking. Yet, the historical information in the Bible itself points to the Exodus happening in a historical period that is centuries earlier than the standard view today.

Mahoney combines a vivid retelling of the biblical story with interviews of top authorities from both sides of the debate in an investigation spanning the ancient and modern worlds. His bold new approach identifies six primary steps of the Exodus account before looking for evidence matching these steps wherever it exists in Egypt‘s history. The results could fundamentally transform the way the world views history and the Bible. Significant connections are given for the story of Joseph (the ancestor in Genesis who came to Egypt after his brothers sold him into slavery), the plagues mentioned in the Bible, the holding of Jewish people as slaves, and the Battle of Jericho that happened after the Israelites left Egypt.

If you are curious about the archaeological and historical connections, which are fascinating for a person of faith, email me at mamamuseme@gmail.com and let me know you would like a copy of the DVD. I will give away a copy, courtesy of FlyBy Promotions.

 

 

Five Reasons for Gratitude

I’m sitting on my swing with my laptop and pretty French coffee cup, looking at the trees and listening to the birds sing. Life is so far from perfect, but I do know that I am very blessed today. Some of my favorite memories from this summer have been going to Dutch Wonderland, a day trip to the ocean, and an afternoon at the lake. As I’m reflecting this Friday morning, here are five reasons for gratitude.

  1. Being called a “daughter” of Christ. I grew up in church but never heard the phrasing “daughter of Christ” consistently until this summer. It has shown up over and over in my life, like God is trying to tell me, “yes, I mean YOU.” I have struggled with a feeling of belonging for awhile. I grew up in a little country community where everyone knew everyone; people knew me, my parents, and sometimes even stories about my great-great grandparents. Then the housing boom happened. Now I rarely know people when I go places. Some of the roads are semi-scary to drive on because they were never meant to have this kind of population on them, and there is a drug epidemic in a place that used to feel like Mayberry. On top of that, these past ten years have brought changes (and a lot of hurt, to be honest) from some people that I thought would be constants in my life. When I married my husband, he already owned a house in an area where people enjoy a lifestyle, complete with the golf course, that I have trouble connecting with, and I have never really bought into (or lets be honest, ever had the money for) that way of living. I love nature that we can see from the backyard and the beautiful family we have built inside of the house though. Add the job losses that both my husband and I went through during the down economic times, and it is easy to see where things that I had “counted on” and things that I thought brought me worth were very, very temporary. I also found that I disagreed with many Christians around me during the presidential election. Yet, God calls me his daughter. That is a constant. That is unchanging. That is a beautiful thing. Strangely enough, God really started to call this idea to my attention when I decided to sponsor an orphan in another country. Really, he kept telling me he wanted me to do it in his still, quiet voice and was specific about the little girl’s name. After I said “yes” to him for something that he was asking me so clearly to do, He started pointing out how I am a daughter, not an orphan in his eyes too.
  2. The ancestor who looked so much like me that it’s uncanny.  Margret Dunham (1858-1924)Around the time that I was embracing the phrase of being a “daughter of Christ” this summer, I saw this picture of an ancestor for the first time. I did a double and triple-take because she looked so much like me. I showed the picture to my husband just to make sure I wasn’t exaggerating, and he said it looks like me dressed up in old fashioned clothes. I could see my own eye shape, eyebrows, mouth, hair — my face — in this woman named Margret who was a child during the Civil War. How’s that for connection?
  3. Finding beauty in the Song of Songs. Also called the Song of Solomon, this book of the Bible was forbidden by the ancients for anyone under 30, according to He Calls You Beautiful by Dee Brestin (p.28). Fortunately, I am past that mark (wink). In the past, I had heard of the Song as a tribute to marriage and the sensuality of that bond, but Brestin’s book illuminates the Song as so much more than that. I opened my Bible and read the entire Song aloud before I started reading Brestin’s book, and what I was first struck by was the sheer beauty of the words. Being a person who loves the written and spoken word, I was in awe. This is beautiful, I thought. I highly encourage you to read Song of Songs aloud if you never have and then pick up a book like He Calls You Beautiful to help bring its message into focus. Brestin writes of the many similarities between the couple in the Song in relation to Christ and his church. The man in the Song is a Shepherd-King, and he pursues, waits, goes away, and returns to his beloved. The Song is not an allegory, where everything is literally a parallel symbol of something else, but it is full of allusions. Brestin writes: “I believe the primary focus of the Song, as with every other book in the Bible, is the relationship between God and his people. But whether you see the primary focus as a husband and wife or as Jesus and His bride, I know you will be blessed by seeing both” (p.28). I received a copy of the book from Blogging for Books in return for my honest review, and I highly recommend it. I plan on reading it more than once.

    I believe you will be greatly refreshed to see that you are more cherished than you dared to dream. The Song will help press that truth into your heart, for it is one thing to be told that God rejoices over us as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, but it is quite another to see it. — Dee Brestin

    4. Learning my Happiness Style. I took the Happiness Style Quiz on Jennifer Dukes Lee’s site and learned that I am primarily a thinker, closely followed by being an experiencer. This makes a lot of sense to me because, for me, my “happy place” truly is reading books and thinking about life. Yet, I am also the person who gets lost in the beauty of a sunset, who really likes to experience art, music, travel, nature, and the taste of homemade Amish rootbeer on a summer day. The experiencer looks for happiness in moments rather than in a store. I feel like I have been “explained.” Other happiness styles include the relater, the giver, and the doer. I read The Happiness Dare for some more explanation of each style. I think this gives me an interesting, new way to look at myself and the people around me.

    5. The little surprise. I am getting ready to set up my classroom and start another year in the wonderful, wacky world of Language Arts, and I have had one thing on my mind: a little coffee brewer. I could picture myself making coffee and brewing hot tea during my planning period. I could literally taste the hot tea. I don’t really like sharing a communal Keurig because you never know if it’s being descaled and cleaned as well as you’d hope (maybe I’m the only one who thinks about that stuff…). I thought about buying a little one-cup brewer for my room. I thought about it a lot. Then I went to an Alzheimer’s fundraiser concert, and I won the exact brewer I was thinking about in a drawing. Yay for that!

Hope you are having a great month. If you have any thoughts, email me at mamamuseme@gmail.com. Please continue to pray for my healing after a leg surgery that did not go as smoothly as I had hoped earlier this summer. If you have made it this far on this long blog post, I really, really appreciate you!

xoxo Teresa

Linking up with High Five for Friday and Tell His Story.

 

Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country: A Great Day Trip from Washington, D.C. or a Fun-Filled Stop for Your East Coast Vacation

I have vivid memories of visiting Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country when I was a little girl. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of introducing my son to the theme park for the first time.

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It’s a short day trip from the Washington, D.C. or Philadelphia area, and it’s well worth the drive if you have little ones around ages 3 to 10. Opened in the 1960s, the park still has a really neat mix of vintage attractions along with its modern rides. Dutch Wonderland is a “kingdom for kids,” starting with its huge castle-shaped entrance and its cast of characters that roam the park, and continuing with its rides that will make kids feel like a prince or princess for a day.

 

This park really is amazing for younger kids who aren’t quite big enough to ride at regular amusement park. At 38 inches tall, my four-year-old son could ride almost all of the rides (he needed to be accompanied by an adult sometimes). Honestly, I wasn’t sure what he would think because he was still a little afraid of the car ride at Chuck E Cheese a couple months ago. I didn’t need to worry at all, though, because he dove right into the fun and wasn’t afraid of any of the rides – including ones that went fast or high.

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This was my favorite ride.

Let me bring you along with us for the day. We entered the park about a half-hour after it opened and went straight for the little hand-cranked riding trains. Since it was still early, the line was short enough that my son got on different trains and went around four times without having to wait. He had been on hand-cranked trains at Strasburg Railroad before, so he felt comfortable with those already. From there, we went on the monster trucks several times, the frog ride that takes kids up in the air and bounces them around a little a few times, and the monorail (which my son called “the air train”) to get a view of the entire kingdom.

 

He “milked” the cow that squirts water out of its udder, which I remember doing as a girl, and then he drove the remote controlled cars a bunch of times. The RC cars do take tokens, so have a few extra dollars with you if your child is into that.  At that point, we were hot and hungry, so we checked out the food options. The buffet was air conditioned, which is a plus, but it was also pretty pricey, so we decided on Nathan’s Hotdogs, just to the right hand side once you’re inside the park, instead. We thought the hotdogs, fries, and lemonade were yummy and reasonably priced for amusement park food. Usually, we do eat healthier than that, but hey, it is fun to splurge sometimes. For families that have food concerns, there are healthier choices too.

 

Just past the Nathan’s Stand was a face-painting area, and my son wanted to look like Marshall the Fire Dog. Ta-da! He was so proud to look like Marshall. After that, he rode the merry-go-round a bunch of times. Then we hopped on my favorite ride of the day that made us fly around like Super Man. For a kid’s ride, I thought it went pretty high and fast. It was awesome. Carson wanted to ride it again, but I told him mommy would lose my lunch if we did it again (lol).  Around that time, a princess and a wizard stopped to chat with Carson, which was a good distraction.

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From there, we went to the big slide, little construction diggers, a roller coaster, the vintage Turnpike Cars (such a cool attraction), and a boat ride that paralleled the Turnpike cars. It was late afternoon at that point, so my husband and I sat on a shady bench and watched Carson bike around a track many, many times.

20170722_171446We stopped to take a photo at the giant pretzel, which I feel like my family did when I was young too. My son rode the whip ride a bunch of times, and then we saw the Badland Bears show, which I also am pretty sure my family watched when I was a girl. The automated bear band sings country and bluegrass songs like “Country Roads” and “Grandma’s Featherbed.”

Next up was the airplane ride, the space shuttles, and the water park. Daddy bought Carson the plastic toy boat that he had been obsessing about so that he could play with it on the water tables. Carson got splashed in the face, and his cute Marshall face paint ended up looking more like he was a zombie who had been doing some greasy mechanical work under a car by the time he was done playing. Fortunately, my son could not see his own face. It was about a half hour before the park was going to close, so we walked back toward the entrance and ended the day by buying a couple of photo keychains to keep the memories with us.

It might sound cheesy, but I really will cherish all of the smiles and laughs from that day. Even with a couple of rides closed for roller coaster construction, there was plenty to keep us busy for nine hours. We collapsed into our vehicle, and both Carson and my husband were asleep within minutes of being on the highway toward home.

Dutch Wonderland generously gave our family free admission to the park, and we spent our own money once we were inside the park. To help you budget if you decide to go, meals, face-painting, driving the RC cars, drinks, a toy boat for the water park, sunglasses, and souvenir keychains added up to about $70 for us. You can use the discount code MamaMuseMeSBlog16 to save a few dollars on admission if you order tickets online. Thank you, Dutch Wonderland, for a wonderful family experience.

 

 

 

 

Start with Amen

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So be it.

That’s amen.

When you start a prayer with amen — so be it — you are saying that God is in control, and you’re agreeing with him that he will do what is best before the prayer even starts. That is not an easy posture, to admit that you’re not in control, but it is a beautiful form of worship. It shows trust that God has your ultimate good in mind, even if his will is not the easiest path to take. Honestly, it might not be the easy path — but he is up to something eternally good, even when we cannot seem to see it this side of heaven.

Amen “was the congregational response of affirmation or agreement in both Hebrew and Greek gatherings” in the Bible, the “expression of praise to the Lord,” and “the confirmation of a blessing,” according to Start with Amen by Beth Guckenberger (p. 189).

♥ Amen

When someone embraces this word and uses it with the solemnity it deserves, there is a sense of settle that follows. I accept. I affirm. I praise. I bless. It testifies in two syllables to the conviction that God’s way is best. We might not always understand his ways, and certainly we might not always like them, but we can always be confident of them.  (Start with Amen p.189)

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Lamentations 3:21

In Start with Amen, Beth Guckenberger quotes a staggering statistic that out of 2 billion children in the world today, 1 billion have been abused — assaulted physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually. As an educator, I think about my own students when I hear this, and my heart breaks. I think about children in other countries who are orphans. My heart is stirred: what more can I do to share God’s love with those who have not felt it? Guckenberger also writes about the “orphan spirit” that shows up in believers, those who think they can somehow earn his love through works and those who lack spiritual confidence. In the book’s prologue, she writes:

As for me? I am to live and love like a daughter [of God], talk like a daughter. I am to invite and extend myself and risk . . . I am to root myself in his identity and not gorge myself on counterfeit affections. I am then to testify every chance I get: freedom is found in forfeiting my own way. Amen.

As I was reading this book, God spoke to me specifically and deeply. As I asked questions of Him, He answered and let me know that His presence was there. Acts 2:26 showed up twice in my day and felt significant both times. I saw the verse in A Homemade Year by Jerusalem Jackson Greer (a neat book, I might add) and then again in Start with Amen. God seemed to be telling me to pay attention to it.

Acts 2:26 (The Message)

I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.

I had a surgery on my leg over a week ago, and I am having some type of very bad post-surgery allergic reaction that the doctor has never seen before. It looks like I have burns and welts all over my leg. I am praying, and I know others are praying for me too. I feel like I am in a land of unknowns right now, and obviously it is not an easy thing to go through. I wanted to be outside with my son, enjoying this beautiful time of the year instead of in a place full of unknowns. I know I am not in control of this situation, but I am trusting that God will take care of me (amen♥). I started reading Start with Amen the day after my surgery. It is challenging me and comforting me at the same time.

xoxo Teresa

*I received Start with Amen from Book Look Bloggers in return for my honest review. I found the photo at the top of my post here (not an affiliate link).

Travel, Tunes, and Reads

I’m going to be collaborating with Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania for a travel feature on my blog later this summer, so I’m excited for that. If you’re going there, here is a link for a discount especially for my blog readers. The promo code is MamaMuseMeSBlog16.

For a short list of what I’m loving so far this summer, it would have to be the new Mandisa “Out of the Dark” album that leaves me in such a joyful mood, really neat looking temporary tattoos from tattly.com that I plan on wearing all summer, and my new Keen hiking shoes that are working out great on the trails.

I just finished reading The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close, and I thought it was a great fictional peek at Washington, D.C. I took a little day trip to the Spy Museum in D.C. and bought the book not long after that. My family is going full throttle at summer already, with an outdoor concert and a beautiful day at the lake already checked off the bucket list.

Hope your summer is off to a fun start too! If you’re curious about the Mandisa album, you can listen to most of it on YouTube right now.

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I am checking out Positive Discipline: Tools for Teachers by Jane Nelsen and Kelly Gfroerer, sent to me by Blogging for Books in return for my honest review. It has tips for modeling kind and firm leadership in the classroom, keeping students intrinsically motivated (very important), improving self-regulation, and more. I have heard most of this in my education classes and trainings, but it’s good to have a refresher.

♥Teresa

A Heapin’ Helpin’ of Hygge: My Month of May in Food and Books

The little Danish hygge trend? I got on board with it this month too. I cooked a recipe for Boller i Karry — a.k.a. meatballs in a curry sauce — from The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wikihyggeng. What intrigued me about the recipe is that the meatballs are simmered in broth so that they are really moist instead of being baked. In the past, my meatballs tended to be more dry on one side or even fall apart. This recipe really was perfect. My husband raved about it. You can Google Boller i Karry if you’re curious. The recipe is going to become a regular part of our family meals, but I will probably cut back on the heavy cream to make it a little healthier. I know the hygge trend might sound a little cheesy and obvious on social media, but I think it’s because hygge is something that cannot be fully translated; it is something that is felt. The book did give me some good ideas for cozy practices to incorporate into my family’s life.

Books, Books, Books: 

athome-smI finished reading At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider. She mentioned my blog post on her podcast site, which I really appreciated. The book definitely captured my imagination and allowed me to vicariously experience family travel around the world. I pictured what it would be like to walk down the sidewalk in Hong Kong or snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef with my guys. I will probably re-read this book every once in a while because there is something about armchair travel that is just so enjoyable, especially when the writing is so vivid and insightful.

 

51wyozuq5ol-_aa300_The book that really surprised me in a good way this month was An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith that Brought Me Home by Jessi Colter. The writing in this book is vivid and lyrical, which makes sense for the voice of a singer-songwriter. I grew up on country music; my heroes were Crystal Gayle (I wanted to grow my hair as long as hers) and Ricky Skaggs (I got out a wooden spoon for a microphone and had “concerts” along with him). Nothing gets me like a record of Kenny Rodgers or Buck Owens. I used to listen to Country Gold on the radio every Saturday night, and in my college years I kept a good rotation of Johnny Cash, Merle, and Waylon in my CD player, along with Britney Spears, Christina, and Eminem. I got to see Merle, who was part of the “outlaw country” movement twice in concert, which was amazing. Anyway, all of this preface is to say that any background story that I can get about the classic country singers — especially told in such a beautiful format as this book — is something I will give two thumbs up to any day. I remember hearing Jessi Colter’s song “I’m Not Lisa” on the radio, and I knew she was married to Waylon, but I never knew her story of faith. I was really drawn in as she told her story, starting with her mother, a Pentecostal faith healer, and her father, the mining race car driver. Colter writes of how she drifted from faith and then returned to it to sustain her. This book was provided by Book Look Bloggers in return for my honest review.

773507I finally finished the third book of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily series. I did a slow trudge on this one because I could tell by the foreshadowing that Emily was going to get engaged to Dean, and I kept wanting to tell her don’t-do-it! On one hand, Dean could offer Emily good conversation and access to travel that she did not have before, but on the other hand, he lied and told her that her writing was not good because he thought she loved her writing more than she loved him (she did). Unfortunately, she believed that her writing was not good and stopped creating completely. The Emily series is about the making of a writer, so having a season when Emily does not write is almost like having the life stolen from the book. Fortunately, Emily does eventually find her way, with the help of her family; a family member submits her book to a publisher, and Emily finally achieves the “Alpine Path” that she has been dreaming about, just as she finds out that her best friend is engaged to Teddy, the man that she has truly loved since she was young. It drove me nuts how passive Emily was about expressing her love for Teddy after his wedding to Ilse fell apart (because Ilse really loved their other childhood friend). I thought she would tell Teddy how she felt since she realized they both loved each other and had only misinterpreted each other’s actions. Emily’s passivity frustrated me, but I was glad that she ended up getting the happy ending that she deserved after a lot of uncertainty. Mostly, I wondered, what if LM Montgomery had allowed the Emily character to go to New York after all? Certainly the story would have been more fun to read, but it might not have achieved the message that Montgomery was trying to communicate about how home and sense of place shapes a writer. Here are my posts about the first two books: Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs.

9780804189842After reading Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home in the World, the next logical move seemed like picking up another armchair travel book. My book of choice was The New York Times: Footsteps, a curated collection of the New York Times travel column, “Footsteps,” exploring iconic authors’ relationships to landmarks and cities around the world. I was especially curious to read the excerpt about the “dangerous, dirty and seductive” streets of Naples, the setting for Elena Ferrante’s famous Neapolitan novels, because I think Ferrante is the best novelist of our times (seriously, My Brilliant Friend is a skillful weaving of character, setting, and plot). Place is such an influence for writers; take L.M. Montgomery as a prime example. I like to find out “the story behind the story,” and this collection delivers something that a fan of literature like myself can savor. This book was provided by Blogging for Books in return for my honest review.

Have a fantastic month! Hope you get the chance to open a good book and cook something that makes you feel cozy too. If you’ve read any of these books, I would love to talk about them with you in the comments.

xoxo Teresa

Marriage Encounter Weekend

ME

My husband and I have had a lot happen in our lives over the past several years: the birth of our son, the death of my husband’s father, a new career for me, some hard times and good times. We have both been busy with the day-to-day demands of life, so we decided to take a weekend to focus solely on each other. To do that, we drove six hours to a Marriage Encounter Weekend at Virginia Beach in April. Overall, it was wonderful. The weekend is for people who want to strengthen their marriages; my husband and I are already happy in our marriage, but we liked the idea of taking our marriage from good to great.

The weekend consisted of listening to three couples talk about their ups and downs as they responded to various prompts. The couples had been through some very tough things in their lives that Larry and I were thankful we had never experienced, and they were very up front about what they had gone through. After each session, the spouses attending the conference were given a prompt to write about separately in their notebooks, and then the couples came together in their hotel room to read what each other wrote and talk about it. After some time, we would get a call on the room phone to come back down for the next session.

What I liked the most was hearing Larry say the things that I do that he appreciates (that I didn’t even realize he noticed, and that I don’t even think much about, like saying “hey dear!” when he walks in the door each evening). We both told each other what initially drew us to each other; it brought back lots of memories. I thought a lot about how we have changed and grown positively as a couple. We both get along really well, but we don’t necessarily tell each other those things we’re thinking all the time.

Spending time together, writing each other love letters, and the romance were the best parts of the weekend. We renewed our vows to each other at a beautiful candlelight ceremony. The hardest part of the conference was that sharing so many thoughts over the course of a weekend begins to feel draining sometimes — even when you have positive things to say.

The workshop started on a Friday evening, went from early on Saturday morning to late Saturday evening, and then right back at it from early Sunday morning to late that afternoon. By about 11 a.m. on Sunday, we both started to feel really cooped up and ready to get out of the hotel. We knew the beach was so close, and we were inside a hotel. We wanted some fresh air. We ended up leaving a couple of hours early because we had pretty much reached our limit of being inside, knowing that we would go to work the next morning.

We felt kind of bad about leaving early because we did not want to disappoint the workshop leaders; we wanted them to know we were really thankful for everything they had shared. I feel like that weekend was the best thing that could have possibly happened for us — or could happen for any married couple who wants to really dig into what it takes to emotionally support one another. There are different types of Marriage Encounter Weekends, but the one we went to was excellent — no role playing, no group sharing or general cheesiness. The weekend did have a spiritual component, but I think people of various denominations (we are independent) and those who are not Christians still could have felt comfortable.

I highly recommend Marriage Encounter!

Teresa

 

 

What I wish I’d known when I did online shopping last week: Groupon Coupons

With glorious thoughts of summer fast approaching, I did some online shopping last week. I bought a hammock, a huge castle-shaped sandbox for my son, and a fire pit to toast some marshmallows over on a starry evening. I’ve already been enjoying cuddling on the hammock with my son in the evenings, looking up at the beautiful forest trees in our backyard. Ah, how did I not have a hammock sooner?

What I didn’t know about was Groupon Coupons. I could have saved a lot of money on those items. Hindsight, right? Groupon Coupons are a free section of the Groupon site. Just this morning, the site had over 80,000 coupons for nearly 12,000 stores, including ones that I shop at regularly like Target, Starbucks, and Kate Spade.

One coupon listing that caught my eye was for 1-800-Flowers. This morning there was a deal for 40 percent off flowers and gifts. The coupon is good until July, so this would be a great idea for Mother’s Day.

The other listing that caught my eye was for Hotels.com. We are thinking about what we’re going to do for vacation this summer. If you scroll down a little on the site, one coupon is for 50 percent off.

You can see all of the coupons at https://www.groupon.com/coupons. I hope this will help your family save a little money this summer. I know I will be checking the site when I shop.

Groupon

Disclosure: These thoughts are entirely my own. My post was written in collaboration with Groupon.

A Place I Felt At Home in the World

athome-smIn celebration of the release of her new book, At Home in the World, about a year spent traveling around the world with her family of five, Tsh Oxenreider is challenging readers to share where they have felt most at home in the world. Before I tell you my place, let me share how much I have been looking forward to reading this book. I went to the travel section of Barnes and Noble the day her book was released this week and immediately bought a copy. I want to support her work because I believe in her message of simplicity, a global perspective, and Christianity that is rooted in Christ’s teachings — not skewed by a political view, not superficial. I listen to her podcast regularly and consider her to be a great influence toward a life lived with intention and reflection.

My travels have taken me abroad to the high-energy sidewalks of London, to a misty fjord of Tadoussac to see whales, to the mountains of Alberta to slide down a waterfall, and to the Caribbean, where the snorkeling was a stunning show of colors and sea life. One trip closer to home that really stands out to me was Asheville, NC, because our week was filled with wonderful live music, food, friendly people, and an evening spent at an outdoor spa hot tub. I’ve only ever had one bad travel experience — on our honeymoon — when our travel agent sent us to St. Thomas, in a spot that ended up being over-priced and sketchy, but we made the best of that.

When I think of where I feel most at home in the world, I would probably pick my cozy red living room chair, curled up with a book and a cup of hot tea, with my Sheltie at my side and my son playing with his Thomas trains on the floor. That would be closely followed by a walk on my family’s farm where I grew up or a hike in the beautiful forest trails near the house where we live now. Hiking with my Sheltie and breathing the fresh air as the trees stretch high above brings such a connection to the land, to God’s creative hand, and to myself. With this view of the world, valuing simplicity and nature, is it any wonder that my husband and I are great admirers of Henry David Thoreau?

I wrote the following post on my blog a few years ago, but the theme of feeling at home in the world brought it to mind again. It connects two of my favorite writers — Lucy Maud Montgomery and Henry David Thoreau — with my travel experience of being engaged at Walden Pond.

“It gave a strange reality to the books 
of theirs which I have read 
to see those places where they 
once lived and labored.– L.M. Montgomery

440px-lmm_signed_photoI saw something in a blog recently that gave me a feeling of awe. The writer probably didn’t realize what she wrote would touch someone else so deeply – but she told me that one of my childhood dreams had partially come true five years ago.

I didn’t even realize it back then.

My dream reveals an early level of literary geekdom: I wanted to visit Prince Edward Island to walk in the steps of author L.M. Montgomery, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables stories, to make the stories come alive for me even more than they already had in the past.

When I was young, I loved Anne’s imagination, her dramatic way of speaking, how she had a best friend as true and loyal as Diana, how she yearned for stylish puffed sleeves, and how she was so oblivious to Gilbert’s love at first. As I grew older and kept returning to the books and movies, I saw the character of Anne as someone who was a role model — a writer, a teacher, a friend, someone whose love ran deep. Anne and Diana were real to me.

The blog said L.M. Montgomery made a literary pilgrimage in 1910 to Concord, Massachusetts — the spot where American greats including Thoreau, Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott once lived and wrote.

Montgomery wrote: “[Concord] is a most charming spot and I shall never forget the delightful drive we had around it. We saw the ‘Old Manse’ where Hawthorne lived during his honeymoon and where he wrote ‘Mosses from an Old Manse,’ the ‘Wayside’ where he also lived, the ‘Orchard House’ where Louisa Alcott wrote, and Emerson’s house.”

My mind immediately connected: L.M. Montgomery had been to Concord to visit literary spots; my husband and I were engaged there five years ago and visited those same spots after a very long drive from our hometown. My husband got down on one knee at the site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, and later that day, we visited the Old Manse that L.M. Montgomery had also written about visiting. We ended up seeing the Alcott house and spending a lot of time in Boston, not too far from Concord.

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It was a romantic engagement that created lifelong memories way before I realized the new connection.

As I read the blog, the realization hit: I had probably walked in L.M. Montgomery’s footsteps without even realizing it. It wasn’t how I imagined it happening, but seeing my memories in this new light is inspiring.

I still want to visit Prince Edward Island someday. In the meantime, I think it’s amazing that my own feet have already travelled a little closer to the steps of L.M. Montgomery than I had realized. As a person of faith, I believe we can never fully know all of the connections that life has in store for us. I’m thankful for the sweet surprises that are revealed along the way, and I’m also thankful for the parts of the story that are yet to be known.

 

 

 

 

I hope life surprises you this week.

With love and blessings,

Teresa from Mama Muse Me