Wednesday, December 28, 2016

9 Daily Devotionals and the Title I Chose for 2017

Here's a tear-filled memory from my youth that never fails to turn up as each year draws to an end. What I'm referring to is a New Year's Eve event at my church that I went to as a teenager. For a few hours we played games, watched a movie, sang songs, and ate munchies, but as midnight approached the activities were set aside so all present could form a huge circle, hold hands and pray. Tears trickled down my face during the minute or two we took to acknowledge God and our need of Him in the year ahead. 

What a contrast to the fireworks, champagne, and confetti that often depicts how many spend this holiday, right? But for me, it's the perfect way to begin a new year.

This is also the time of year I determine what approach I'll use as I read my Bible in the next twelve months. This past year I kept it simple: read at least two chapters a day of Scripture. Other years I've read my Bible from start to finish. One year I read it in reverse! Often, I combine reading a daily devotional book plus a passage of Scripture. Here are 6 I recommend along with three recently published titles, one of which is my choice for the coming year.  

The classic, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers was among the first devotional books I ever read, and it's still among my favorites. His meditations challenged and made me hunger to know God on a deeper level. Note: The book comes in many formats, plus available in an updated, modern English option, though many still prefer the original version, published in the early 1900's.

Moments that Matter: Inspirational Thoughts for Each Day of the Year by Catherine Marshall. Years ago a friend gave me this devotional book by this well-known author and it remains on my bookshelf for a number of reasons. First, it's beautiful design, inside and out. Love its exquisite graphics. Second, it's brevity. Marshall is gifted at capturing a poignant thought in just a paragraph or two. Third, its humor and honesty, meshed with practical wisdom that often stems from her own life with its many challenges, overcoming Tuberculosis being one of them. 384 pages, hardback with a ribbon bookmark. Though no longer in print, used ones can be purchased on Amazon.

He is Real -- 365 Devotionals by Millie Stamn. If you were to scan the pages of my copy of He is Real you'd find almost every page bares my markings: underlined passages; notations by me on the side, top and bottom; and occasional highlights of words too good to forget. I've read He is Real several times, and most likely will again. The author worked with Stonecroft Ministries for years and has published three other devotional books. I'm particularly fond of Stamn's work as she weaves in more Scripture than I've seen in other devotionals, but still maintains a friendly writing style. 368 pages; no longer in print but used copies can be found on Amazon.

More Precious Than Silver – 366 Daily Devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada. Most people know Joni via her biography or movie about how she became paralyzed due to a swimming accident in her teens. In the decades since that ordeal, she's written other books, including several devotionals. I'm particularly fond of this one as right from the start it taught me the value and beauty of God's Word, along with silver, and as a result, I purchased my first “silver” cross soon after I read the book's short intro. She a gifted writer, a student of Scripture, and her devotional is full of insights about the purity and power found in God's Word. Unique to her book is the challenge and prayer she offers after each meditation which helps the reader take what they've just read and apply it to that day.

Long Live the Child – Devotions Designed for Daughters of Promise by Christine Wyrtzen. I never tire of looking at the cover on this book, nor reading Christine's insights based on her in-depth study of God's Word. Usually devotionals are geared for any audience, but Christine's is primarily for women (Not to say that men can't benefit from her book, as some have given Long Live the Child high praise.) who struggle to receive love and affection, or strive to be perfect or work hard for the approval of God and others. This is one of those books where you quickly feel at home with the author because of her vulnerability, honesty, and sensitive spirit. Go here for her online devotionals:

Experiencing God Day-By-Day — The Devotional and Journal by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby. This father and son team have created a terrific devotional. It's based on their book, Experiencing God, a bestseller at one time that continues to sell. What I like about this edition is the opportunity and generous amount of space to journal along side each day's reading. I found as I went through the book, taking the time to journal my thoughts or noting things I wish to remember, definitely reinforced what I was learning. It has since become a treasured document of what God did in my heart that year. Given the popularity of journal art these days this is an excellent option to blend your personal touch with insights from these Bible scholars. An added plus to this book is the index of subjects and readings in the back. 380 pages.

                                                      + + + + + 

Daily Guideposts 2017 –- A Spirit-Lifting Devotional published by Zondervan. For some 40+years Guideposts has been publishing daily devotionals, that I believe were formerly distributed as a monthly booklet. In this new volume the devotionals' theme is “In God's Hands,” and penned by 49 men and women, a number of whom are well-known authors, such as Debbie Macomber. I like the idea of enjoying various styles of writing and perspectives by so many contributors. Each one presents a scripture verse and first-person story, followed by a short prayer and additional Bible passages that relate to the day's reading. 342 pages; available on Kindle and in a large print edition.

Enjoy the Shepherd — Daily Lessons from Sheep by Ray Carman. If this newly released title is anything like the author's daily YouTube videos from his sheep farm in Tennessee, you will love it. Ray has this wonderful ability to glean hundreds of biblical principles as he cares for his flock and then show how they apply to our lives. Don't forget, we too are sheep with Jesus as our Shepherd. If you've only time for a very short daily reading and have a fondness for animals you'll find Ray's book a delight. Available in paperback and on Kindle.

                                                   + + + + +

These are only a few of the many devotionals available on the market today. All are useful tools in developing a routine to spend time with God on a consistent basis, but never as a substitute for time in God's Word. So, if you've never read a devotional book I hope you'll find one that appeals to you and discover the benefits of starting each day filling your mind with thoughts based on scripture.

And what devotional book will I be reading in 2017? I'll either revisit Experiencing God, or buy this new devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada, A Spectacle of Glory -- God's Light Shining Through Me Every Day. One of the reasons behind this option is due to noticing Larry Libby's name on the cover. I worked with him at Multnomah Press and so admire (and at times envious) his skill as a creative writer. Whenever I see his name on a cover it becomes a must read.

Whatever title I go with I know reading it will be time well spent. So, with a devotional in one hand and God's Word in the other, I'm all set for a new year. 


P.S. Do you have a favorite devotional book?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

21 Christmas Gift Ideas and 1 Fun Surprise!

My Mom painted a train and I did this moose one Christmas. Such a fun memory and keepsake.

The frenzy has begun! That is unless you are one of those shoppers who buys all your Christmas gifts in one swift scoop on Black Friday. Unfortunately, for most of us, including me, the purchasing or making of Christmas gifts has barely gotten underway, or we're only now starting to come up with gift ideas!

Which is why I opted to pull together these Christmas gift ideas, all based on gifts I've received, and liked, or one's I took the time to make for a friend or family member and seemed to be appreciated. Most are reasonable in price to purchase or create, and one is a simple and fun alternative for those who wish to give money or a gift card.

In case you wonder if I was asked or received funds to recommend a certain product, the answer is "No." I simply wanted to pass along a few suggestions for anyone with a tight budget, or in the mood to make a few gifts this year, or simply in need of assistance in answering this question: “What am I going to get ____ for Christmas?”

1. Coloring books for adults. Last year these books seemed to be on everyone's wish list but the subject matter was limited. This year, the assortment of topics is plentiful: flowers, animals, houses, Bible verses, zen tangles, seasons, and on and on. You can find them in most stores or online. I gave a coloring book and colored markers to a friend last year when I heard her comment, “Coloring is a way for me relax.” I know of another woman who takes a coloring book to her Chemo treatments and am aware of several groups of women who meet monthly to color! 

2. A quiet book. Though not expensive to make, this type of book takes time to create. Some designs are very basic, others more intricate and can be interactive. My sister, Ginny, has created several for her grandchildren that teach skills and provide hours of entertainment. Lots of ideas and patterns on Pinterest.

3. Pillows. Embroidering a friend's favorite saying or scripture on a pillow can be a treasured gift. Just be sure to keep your friend’s décor colors and style in mind as you design the pillow so it’s something he/she will enjoy putting out on display. If embroidering isn't your thing, how about quilting a pillow? Can't sew? There's always the no-sew-fleece ones.

4. Books often turn up on my Christmas ideas list as many in my family like to read. My selection is usually based on a hobby or topic the individual is interested in or a specific title from their wish list at Amazon. Or, take a look at my book recommendations in my other posts or my list of titles (See "Books" label at top.) I've read in recent years. 

5. Food carrier. This is a nice idea for someone who loves to cook, or frequently makes a casserole for a church potluck or family gathering. It does require basic sewing skills, and familiarity with cross stitching if you opt to add the pocket on the outside where a spoon can be slipped into. Look for patterns online or at your local fabric store.

6. Homemade cards for various occasions. One year I made an assortment of cards (60 in total) and bought pretty box containers to put them in to give to each of the females in my family at Christmas. Warning: It is a time-consuming craft so best to give it to someone who loves to write notes in cards and appreciates all the effort you put into the gift.

7. One-of-a-kind-book. Photo books that capture moments from a child or adult's life, plus captions to go with pictures, make a lovely gift. This one was done for my brother's 75th birthday who was born on Christmas day! We used Costco photo services to produce our book but other stores or online options exist. We did this book for under $20.

8.Make a music CD of someone’s favorite songs. I’ve seen this done by a son for his Mom and by someone for their grandparent who was missing music from the Big Band era. There's little cost, other than your time, in creating a one-of-a-kind CD, but it is worth it.

9. Audio books. Listening to an exceptional story is ideal for people who travel, or like to multitask, or who have eye problems and are forced to cut back on reading. There are many sites online who provide audio books to download, or your local bookstore and Amazon carry books on CD. One company I use and like is

10. Portable office. I created this moveable file for a friend who has a small business at home and limited work space. The bin and hanging files can be bought at any office or chain store. To give it a bit of color the bunting and ribbon were added, and for a bit of fun the company logo was printed out and taped to the inside of the bin. I also tucked in a few office supplies (pen, post-it notes, paper clips, etc.) so all the essentials could be close at hand.

11. Bunting to hang at the office, or home. If you’ve someone who is not the creative type, but wishes she was, then a bright and colorful bunting to brighten up a bookcase, mantle, or boring office/cubicle might be the ideal gift. What would make this gift even more awesome is to make this a year-long-gift by promising to make a new bunting for each month. The bunting in this photo I pulled together for a friend using scrapbook items I had at home and a bit of help from a Martha Stewart sale.

12. Small bag or card holder. This usually goes over well with female friends who carry lots of gift or credit cards in their purse, or could use something for their make up, or other miscellaneous items at the bottom of their handbag. You might want to add a little extra surprise by tucking inside the pouch a few items, such as mints, travel tooth brush, etc. Another option to consider is buying the security-card holder to safeguard against theft. I've given these to friends and will be giving more as identity theft seems to be on the rise.

13. Kitchen towels. There are many colorful and cute towels available for every holiday and season to buy these days. Since women tend to be in the kitchen a lot it's always nice to receive some fresh towels to replace those old stained ones. Or to simply brighten up your world. I’ve gone one step further and bought a package of towels at a craft store and then embroidered on them for a friend who likes “vintage” décor. 

14. Personalized boxes. These go over well with kids, especially when you add their name (Alphabet stickers are easy to apply or acrylic paint will work too.) to the top of the container along with some fun stickers, etc. Inside you can fill up the box with an assortment of inexpensive toys: jacks, mini cars, hair clips, jewelry, Legos, etc. One year for a friend's grandson I simply spelled out with stickers "Logan's Legos" and inside the clear box tucked in a Lego toy to assemble. So easy, and was a big hit with the 6-year-old.

15. Fleece hat or throw. I don’t know anyone, man or woman, who doesn’t like a warm, cozy blanket on a chilly, wintry night. Hard to go wrong in making one of these blankets, especially if the design on fleece fits the person's personality or favorite sport team. Another easy fleece project is a simple hat. Doesn’t take long to make, and no sewing machine required. I didn't have a pattern for this blue hat, just measured to get the size of my head and estimated on the height. Took less than an hour to make.

16. Themed Gifts.  I've a friend whose favorite color is purple. One year I filled up a gift bag with all sorts of purple items: pens, socks, notepad, mittens, wallet, bookmark, scarf, etc. Turned out to be a fun gift to give and to receive. My friend, Nancy, came up with a clever theme gift recently. She bought the book Spot for her best friend, a former librarian which inspired her to find other items that were spot shaped. She bought round, colorful hanging lights, candy circle wafers, etc. Even the wrapping paper had spots! It’s amazing what you can come up to make a memorable and personal gift.

17. Planner accessories. Anyone who is super organized most likely uses a planner or bullet journal. There are oodles of darling stickers and creative embellishments out there to personalize and make a planner unique. Fill up a small basket or gift box with an assortment of supplies (Washi tape, seasonal stickers, gel pens, charms, divider clips, and more) or splurge, and purchase a nice planner.

18. Christmas tray. I'm a saver of photo-Christmas cards I receive and one year, for a friend, I gathered all her past photo/greeting cards to create a personalized gift. I took a tray, and beneath the glass I placed some festive Christmas scrap paper. Next, I added the photos, and once happy with the placement of the pictures adhered them to the scrap paper using double sided tape. To bring it all together I added a headline using some stick-on type, a photo blurb or two, plus a few other decorative embellishments. To my surprise, she loved the gift and brought it out every year to display in her kitchen.

19. Fabric decorated plate. This idea has been around for years, but people still love receiving the hand-made gift, especially when cookies are part of the present. There is not much expense or time required, particularly if Modpog already resides in your craft supplies, along with leftover scraps of holiday fabric. Directions on how to make a fabric plate can be found at Pinterest or YouTube.

20. A cute mixing bowl combined with a colorful dish towel, plus a batch of recipe cards tied up in a ribbon might be a welcome gift for a friend who loves to cook or someone setting up house for the first time. Note: Consider handwriting a couple of your favorite dishes on those recipe cards as an extra surprise.

21. Devotional book for the coming year. I like gifts that people can enjoy 365 days out of the year and devotional books definitely accomplish that. There are many beautiful and well-written ones available these days. My Utmost for His Highest is still popular and now comes in a modern-English version. One of my favorites is Long Live the Child that was a gift from its author. Lucky me. Joni Eareckson Tada's More Precious Than Silver is also excellent. 

If none of the above 21 ideas will work, then try this clever idea my niece, Darsi, came up with one year that had us all laughing and two young boys very happy!

She went to her bank and purchased $50 in crisp, one dollar bills. Back home she wadded up each bill before tossing the money into two shirt size boxes along with some candy kisses to give weight to the present. After that, she did the normal Christmas wrap, bow, and gift tag to each of the containers. From all appearances, it looked liked her two young nephews were getting new shirts for Christmas. Boy, were they surprised! And oh what fun they had straightening out and counting up how much money they received.

This may be the year I use Darsi's idea if I can't figure out what to give one little boy this holiday.  

P.S. Has anyone ever surprised you with a gift you absolutely loved? 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

7 Books You Might Enjoy If You Like Dogs, Mysteries, Medicine and Author Karen Kingsbury.

An eclectic group of books has provided a bit of reprieve from all the political mayhem recently. Could be they'll bring a little sanity to your world too. Two are about dogs, one is a series from Karen Kingsbury, another is a fiction work with a catchy title, two are riveting mysteries, and one is a title due out next week that I'm eager to read. And if these don't interest you, maybe one from my current reading list noted at the end of this post will intrigue you.

Okay, let's get started with the book with the unusual title. 

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin. I hate ugly book covers and I see a lot of them as I search daily for future books to read and recommend here on The Suitcase Journals. In the case of “When Crickets Cry” I not only liked the cover, I also liked the title. Both intrigued me. But what convinced me to try this book was the short summary statement about the novel on the back cover. It alluded to a serious medical condition of a 7-year-old girl as part of the story along with a former surgeon, in hiding, who is dealing with his own issues. How their lives intersect is only the beginning of this interesting novel with the sale and cry of crickets playing a minor but poignant part of the story.

But did I like the story as much as the cover? Yes and no. Even before I finished the introduction I was impressed by the author's writing skill and had high hopes the development of the story line would match or exceed Martin's ability. What I discovered was that the writing surpassed the story which became a bit predictable in places. Still, it's a book I would recommend for the very positive things it conveys about friendships and handling losses. 325 pages. Audio version good. Note: Author came out with a new release this year which I've not read but just might consider: “Water from My Heart.”

The Second Chance Dog - A Love Story by Jon Katz. I'm a fan of all of Katz's books written about his life on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York with its menagerie of animals—donkeys, sheep, cats, cows, and of course, dogs. In his latest book, Jon introduces us to Frieda, a newcomer to the farm, who has a huge problem: she doesn't like people! Well, except for Maria, her owner who by book's end becomes Jon's wife.

As Jon patiently, and sometimes in exasperation, tries to win over Frieda he eventually delves into the dog's background thinking it might have bearing on why the dog is so fearful of humans.What Jon discovers alters how he views the dog and their relationship which leads to some insightful thoughts about seeing the true heart of the canine. And also about Jon's own heart.

It's an endearing true story that made me want to look into adopting a pet no one else wants. 288 pages. Audio version very good.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. This well-written book, with its simultaneous three mysteries in one story, kept me intrigued from start to finish.

One of the mysteries revolves around a female first-year cadet at the Canadian Surete Police Academy, another involves the discovery and interpretation of a 100-year-old map and the third about the murder of one of the Academy instructors. All three mysteries intermingle, making for a complex case Inspector Gamache is called upon to solve, with one of the cases linking back to the death of his parents.

Though impressed with the author's ability to write such a complicated story her overuse of inappropriate language by more than one character left me wishing I'd not read the book. It makes me sad to have to say that as the story can easily stand on its own merits without the inclusion of the profanity. 400 pages. Love the narrator's British accent on audio version.

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear. I took a chance with this novel though I'd never heard of the author or of the apparently popular Maisie Dobb's Series. But the chance paid off as it was an engaging read. The setting for this title is London, England in 1931 and the key character is a psychologist/private investigator named Maisie Dobbs.

It's a well-paced story that will keep you guessing, from who is the man on the street who triggers a bomb--killing himself, injuring Maisie and others in the area--to who is behind the threatening letter to the Prime Minister that mentions Maisie Dobbs?

The story takes lots of twists and turns, especially when Dobbs gets called in by Scotland Yard and other deaths turn up involving the possible use of mustard gas. All three incidents seem related to the threat and have something to do with those who returned home from WWI mentally unstable and for a time institutionalized. Though frustrated by certain individuals at the Yard and the struggle to identify and find the potential mastermind behind the murders, Dobbs is determined to solve the case. 303 pages. Audio version very good.

Saved by Gracie by Jan Dunlap. Unlike most dog sagas written by men and women who adore canines, the author of this title has a serious aversion to dogs. Does not like them. Does not want one. Is frightened by them. She resists for years the pleas for a dog by her daughter until the family visits an animal shelter and by trips end returns home with a Labrador puppy. And as happens in most families, when a child gets a dog, once the novelty wears off a parent becomes the caretaker.

In Dunlap's true and humorous account she is transformed as she is forced out of the house multiple times a day to walk the dog who awakens her to the beauty of nature and living in the now. Other discoveries about herself and God also emerge through this unsought canine friendship, a key one being to let go of her fear and trust God.

The author's witty anecdotes remind me of the popular “Marley and Me” title, but that's as far as the similarity goes. Often throughout Dunlap's work she brings in some of her theology and scientific data to back up her points about all of mankind's need to embrace and derive the healthful benefits from nature. Overall I liked the book but questioning some of her theological viewpoints. 160 pages.

The Redemption Collection by Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley is a wonderful series of five novels: “Redemption,” “Remember,” “Return,” “Rejoice” and “Reunion.” Each title revolves around the Baxter family who deals with familiar challenges and disappointments often seen in our own families and everyday relationships. Strong biblical beliefs are at the core of every story, often conveyed through John and Elizabeth, parents of the four Baxter children.

Though this series is a work of fiction the characters feel more like real people who you can't help but care about and cheer on as they stumble along in their journey with God.

Note: You can buy each book separately but this bundled version of all 5 books, only available on Kindle, will save you money.

A Baxter Family Christmas is the sixth book in The Redemption Series mentioned above and comes out this next week. The story picks up two years after a car accident and the loss of John Baxter's daughter, her husband and two children. As Christmas approaches, there is disagreement among the family about the father's invitation to a certain person joining the family holiday gathering. How this all plays out I do not know but if this title is anything like titles 1-5 this too will be a great read.

I preordered a copy back in August and eager to read the next installment before the holidays arrive. 272 pages.

Now for a list of what I'm currently reading or listening to on audio:

Franchising McChurch - Feeding Our Obsession with Easy Christianity by Thomas White and John Yeats. A critique of today's church and how it operates.
The Green Ember by S. D. Smith. A classic with bunnies telling the story. Sort of like "Watership Down."
The Disease Delusion by Dr. Jeffrey S. Bland. Presents an alternative view to traditional medicine.
Never Broken by Jewel. A memoir about her upbringing in Alaska, her career, marriage, motherhood and more.

Looks like "eclectic" will also define my reading tastes for the weeks ahead. Good thing I like variety.

P.S. What's a series you like?

Thank you Pixabay for us of the photo of woman reading by lake.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How I Survived the Boss from Hell . . . Admire a Great One . . . and Trust the Ultimate Boss!

Whoever dreamed up National Boss Day must have had a terrific boss and never experienced one from hell. I’ve had both. Seems only fitting, since this "holiday" takes place in a few days, that I tell you about three distinctly different bosses from my life. 


One of my worst bosses was a physician – a high-strung, driven man intent on being a success. Though qualified and perhaps even a gifted physician, as a boss, well, let's just say he and Donald Trump have a lot in common.

My stint as one of his medical assistants was short – a matter of weeks—which came to an abrupt end when he summoned me into his back office. Puzzled as to why he wanted to see me you can understand my surprise when out of his mouth came a torrent of expletives and accusations about my ineptness which concluded with "You killed my plant! You're fired!" Though shocked by his words I managed to speak up and state "I didn't even know a plant was behind the door." To that comment, he picked up a stack of patient files and in a rage flung them towards me. Moments later he grabbed his medical bag, threw open the back office door and left.

As he made his exit, I stood there in disbelief. A plant? You’re firing me over a plant? Are you serious? Surely he had more justifiable reasons, but none were ever mentioned. As I bent down to pick up the scattered files on the floor, returning them to the desk (Believe me, if this were to take place today I would leave the files right where they landed and let him face the evidence of his immature behavior.) I didn’t know what disturbed me more: the tossing of the files, the loss of a job, a pitiful looking plant, or a man who was a heart attack waiting to happen.

Thankfully, the finance manager assured me I was not to blame and apologized for what had transpired. I found another job, and over the years worked for employers who were a stark contrast to the M.D.


One of those bosses was John Van Diest, founder of Multnomah Press and currently Associate Publisher with Tyndale House. I was a student at Western Seminary and working part time at Christian Supply Centers (7 bookstores in the Portland, OR area) when I first met John. He was its new director and soon after acquired Multnomah Press (MP). It was a tiny, barely known, publishing company whose name few could pronounce but eventually became known for many bestsellers, like “For Those Who Hurt?” by Charles Swindoll.

The staff was few in number in those days, often working in various capacities. I don’t think any of us had a job title, nor did we care. We were enjoying our work at this young company whose leader knew how to give clear directions, be fair, care about his staff, work hard, and be true to God. I’ve plenty of memorable moments from my years as managing editor at MP, like the time he and his family showed up at my house to surprise me with a Baskin Robbins birthday cake! Here are two other events from years ago:

                                        Memorable Event #1

One day at MP's office complex I was sitting across from John at his desk. To his left was a large window which overlooked a field and nearby neighborhood. As we talked my eye caught a glimpse of smoke in the distance which I called to John’s attention. All of a sudden he stood up and blurted out, “That’s my house on fire!” Seconds later he was grabbing his car keys and running out of the office, instructing someone to call 911. Fortunately, no one was hurt but the first floor of his family's home was damaged when their TV caught on fire.

                                        Memorable Event #2

John and I rarely had disagreements, but one conflict over an editorial issue resulted in my dismissal. Too much time has passed to remember all the details, but this I do recall: After a short period of time, John asked for a meeting at which he was first to apologize. I know my stubbornness contributed to the argument, but it was his humble attitude which enabled us to talk things out and find an amicable solution . . . and that is why I respect this man/boss so much.

Decades have passed since working for these men. I can’t even recall the M.D.’s name nor know whatever became of him. As for John Van Diest, we still keep in contact via Facebook and he continues to be semi-active in Christian publishing, mentoring others plus finding time to write a book or two. His latest is “Miracles All Around Us.”


There is one other boss I need to mention. To those who know him he is loving, generous and fair, but for many years I saw him as a dictator with a lot of archaic rules and rigid demands. That faulty view fed my bent towards perfectionism, something I denied for decades.

It was only when serious health issues emerged did I begin to acknowledge and understand what havoc stress, perfectionistic ways, and a distorted view of God had done to me over the years. Not one to give up easily, I attended a class on stress offered at the hospital, rested more, heeded my doctor's advice and looked for a different type of work (freelance from home). But still my health continued to deteriorate and when my savings ran out everything came to a halt. End result: I was down to $.47 cents and a prayer.

It was a humbling place to land, but thankfully God (The Ultimate Boss) heard me and came along side. Slowly, ever so slowly, he gave me the assist I needed to rebuild my life, starting with replacing my faulty view of him for an accurate one. Then came years of spending time immersed in His Word (the Bible) to get to know him which made trusting him easy. During that season I also saw more doctors, altered my diet, began to swim daily, and eventually was able to work part time at my one-woman graphic design business ... with God as the boss! 

It was the best job I ever had.
Thanks, Boss.

Julie -
P.S. What's the nicest thing your boss has ever said or done for you? 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Martha's Vineyard--Isle of Dreams" and 7 Other Books I've Enjoyed Recently.

I am so loving this book!” When those words came out of my mouth this week they even surprised me, as I'm a picky reader and seldom rave about a title. But Martha's Vineyard by Susan Branch is not your normal hardback. Don't believe me? Maybe this photo will help:

Every page of text is intermingled with either photos, little sketches, recipes, quotes, and delicate borders, something unlike any autobiography I've ever seen and clearly reflects Susan Branch's personality and skill.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Susan Branch is an artist, best known for her pastel renderings found on stationery, calendars, scrap booking accessories, and in her books. Often she paints subjects among her surroundings at home on the island: flowers, picket fences, vases she collects, her three cats (Girl Kitty, Man Kitty and Billy), ocean scenes, birds, a vintage stove, and much more.

Back in 1993, I and a good friend, took a ferry ride over to Martha's Vineyard and by day's end I was already longing to return for a longer visit. That never happened, but reading Branch's book made me feel like I was back there again. Her friendly writing style and descriptive passages of life on the island were exactly as I remembered and made it easy to enjoy what she had to say.

The engaging story begins with her spontaneous 3-month-escape to Martha's Vineyard to sort things out about her troubled marriage back in California. But when a tiny cottage on an acre of land turns up she opts to buy it and start life over in a remote place where everyone is a stranger. What follows in the remainder of the book are snippets from the next five years of her life as she recovers from a divorce, continues her work as an artist, becomes a part of the community and beautifies and improves her home and life. Whether you've been to Martha's Vineyard or not it's a delightful read. 368 pages.


Branch's book is not the only title I read recently. I also spent time with an espionage thriller; a revised edition of a title I read, and liked, some twenty years ago; a lighthearted mystery; and four children's books ideal for parents with a child about to start school for the first time.

Will any of these titles pique your interest? I certainly hope so! Let's start with a thriller I finished in two days--a sign right there that it was pretty good read.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva. As always, Silva has written another espionage thriller that ties in to today's current events. This time the story involves an Israeli female doctor, turned spy, who infiltrates an ISIS cell in Syria to obtain information about a certain leader--the man behind a recent Paris bombing-- and his plans for the next attack. It's an easy and captivating read in which you learn a bit of history while being entertained. Usually Silva's books are free of foul language, but not in this title, though it is very minimal. 544 pages. Audio was terrific. 

Loved Back to Life: How I Found the Courage to Live Free by Sheila Walsh. This is an updated edition of Honestly written by the author (former co-host of The 700 Club) some 20 years ago in which she tells her story of being admitted into a Psychiatric hospital and what transpired in the years following.

When I originally read the book in 1996 two things surprised me about the book: (1) her vulnerability in addressing depression, a subject rarely acknowledged within the Christian church at the time and (2) the book's need for better editing. I'm not 100% certain but I believe this revised edition has removed some of the extraneous material which has made the story move along at a better clip.

While this is not my top choice for a book about depression from a Christian viewpoint I like it and would not hesitate to suggest it to someone who needs to know they are not alone with this illness, that it's nothing to be ashamed of, and that you can rise above, or for some, overcome it. Audio version was a disappointment. Think it would have been better had Sheila narrated the book to convey the emotion and personality within the story, plus her lovely Scottish accent.

State Fair by Earlene Fowler. This is book #14 in the Benni Harper Mystery series which came as a suggestion from Sharon G., one of my blog readers. According to Sharon, “Fowler's books are light, easy reading, but I love trying to solve the mystery.”

I'd never heard of the author so was curious to try one of her novels in audio format. State Fair turned out to be a whimsical read thanks to a quirky character who loved to play sleuth and in the process mess up a murder investigation. Anyone who likes country fairs, quilts, and solving mysteries would definitely enjoy this “easy read” as Sharon so accurately described it. One other bit of trivia: All the titles in the series are named after a quilt pattern! 320 pages.

Going to school for the first time can be fearful for some children. Here are four titles parents might find helpful in alleviating their son or daughter's fear:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. In this delightful story kids find out they are not the only one who gets scared when the first day of school turns up. So do teachers. But the discovery of who is under the bed-covers and refuses to get dressed for school turns out to be a surprise. The comical and colorful illustrations are great which is also a reason why this has become a bestseller since it's release in 2000. A 32-page fun read for all ages.

Dad's First Day by Mike Wohnutka. This is a 2015 title and certainly reflects our times with more Dad's working from home or making the effort to be more involved with their kids. As summer draws to a close a Dad and his son enjoy a few final fun times together and then prepare for the start of the new school year. But in this case the roles are reversed: Dad is the one afraid and the son is the calm one who must model for the adult all the wonderful, positive things that take place at school. Nice graphics in this 40 page story.

Spot Goes to School by Erik Hill. This is a spin off book from the popular title, Where's Spot. In this title the cute, scared Spot is hesitant to go to school but by day's end, after discovering so many happy things to do and see, he is eager to return. Graphics are simple and colorful, but it's the “lift the flap” feature that makes kids enjoy this series and want to read it again and again. 22 pages.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This sweet story is about Chester, an anxious raccoon, who would rather stay home than go to school. His smart Mama tells him about the wonderful new things he'll get to enjoy and reassures him with a family secret: the kissing hand that will make his time at school seem like his cozy days at home. It's a lovely, thoughtful story, especially for any child fearful about going to school or facing a difficult separation. 24 pages.

I'm currently reading a novel, When Crickets Cry and working my way through two non-fiction titles that are challenging my views. I'll tell you about them next month when I recap what's on my nightstand.

Until then, how about you tell me about a book you enjoyed recently, or perhaps suggest a topic for a future blog post. I'm open to your ideas!


Monday, August 15, 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympics and a 90-year-old-swimmer!

Tomorrow I reach a milestone in my life: turning 70! Birthday plans are up ahead, but for now the celebration will begin with a trip to Baskin Robbins, open a few gifts, read a chapter in a lovely new book I received, and swim laps in the pool! I have Aileen Riggen Soule to thank for that. You probably don't recognize her name, but she's known for a significant accomplishment at age 14. Can you guess what made her famous? I'll give you a hint: it has to do with the Olympics, and not the current 2016 Rio Games.

Need another hint? She won a medal.

Still puzzled? Here's a third clue: Diving.

Can't come up with an answer? Okay, I'll tell you. Aileen was the youngest female athletic in the 1920's Olympics who received a gold medal in Springboard Diving.

The only reason I know about Aileen is due to a 1996 Time magazine article I came across about her quest to be on the USA swim team. Unfortunately, she did not qualify due to her 4' 7” height and 65 pound weight. Instead, she represented our country at the Games in Antwerp in the springboard diving event and brought home a gold medal. Four years later she went to the Games in Paris and garnered two more medals, this time in diving and swimming.

While I enjoyed her Olympic story, what impressed me more was to learn that at age 90, Aileen was still swimming! At the time of the article she lived in Hawaii and active in the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa Swim Club. (Trust me, that is it's official name and not some typo.) and also attended the U.S. Masters Swimming Championships.

Time to relax with a noodle and chat with two good friends: Debby and Linda.

So taken by her example to stay active I saved that article knowing it would inspire me to never give up swimming, a sport I have loved since a child. Other than days when health issues interfered, or thunderclouds appeared above, I've headed to the pool each afternoon with goggles in hand to do laps. Usually a couple of noodles accompany me for water exercises or to simply relax in the refreshing waters on a hot summer day. Often my friend, Debby Alten, joins me in the pool, and frequently speeds by me in her lane with her bright yellow and blue flippers! Where's an Olympic official when you need one.

Last week the USA swim team at the Rio Games captured the world's attention, including mine. Watching world records get broken and hearing the personal stories behind many of the athletes took me back to my own days on a swim team in Vista, California. I was 12 at the time, favoring the freestyle stroke, enjoying competitions and treasuring every win. And, of course, the dream of one day participating in the Olympics was part of my mindset. But then my Dad took a job in another city, requiring a family move to a place far beyond the city limits, where no local pool or swim club existed. As a result, my days of swimming came to an abrupt halt, along with my Olympic dream.

Now, nearly 60 years later, with access to a nearby pool, I find myself swimming daily and wondering: do I have what it takes to even make it the qualifying rounds for the U.S. Masters Swim Competition? Out of curiosity I did a bit of research and discovered this year's event took place in June, but 2017's is slated to be held next April in Riverside, CA--a mere 45-minute drive from where I live. Guess that eliminates the excuse that it's too far away or too costly to attend.

Then I checked the winning freestyle swim times for my age group. Yikes, I'll need a coach for this dream to come true. (Think Michael Phelps would like the job?) It's also going to require dedication, extended practice time, and quite possibly someone with CPR training on the sidelines. Sounds daunting, but I suppose if Aileen can still compete at age 90, surely I'm not too old to try.

Believe me, if I do end up trying out you will be notified and officially invited to be a part of my cheering section. Until then, here's a video clip Debby created from one of our days at the pool last summer to keep you entertained. I'm confident Aileen would love its black/white "vintage" look and have a few suggestions on how I could improve my stroke and times.

Well, now that I've disclosed my age, a long-ago-Olympic dream and future goal ... it's now your turn. You can skip telling me your age, but if you ever aspired to go to the Olympics or had the privilege to attend the Games I'd love to hear about it in the comment box below.

As always, thank you for giving me a bit of your time and somewhere in my words was a thought worth pondering or triggered a smile.