Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. We did the travel for Thanksgiving thing, and it seems like at the beginning of every trip I have a why are we doing this??? moment. Kids are cranky, it feels like there's snacks and activities and water bottles flying everywhere. Nothing feels natural or easy. And clicks. Everyone adjusts and adapts and relaxes and it's all good. Reminds me that like a lot of things, being comfortable with travel takes practice. The more you do it the shorter those why moments become.

2. Let's talk Christmas shopping. I skipped Black Friday, and seriously I never regret skipping Black Friday. Now, I have taken advantage of Black Friday sales a few times, but usually it's a social occasion for me. A friend or family member suggests it and asks me if I want to go along, and I do, because misery loves company...I my opinion shopping in general is more fun with a friend. J did take advantage of a few online sales on my behalf, so it wasn't a total boycott.

3. Who out there observes Advent? Last year I learned that the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones can be read easily for Advent, and I really enjoyed doing that. I discovered this year that the publishers put together some free Advent materials specifically to go along with the JSB, so I'm excited about downloading them. I attempted my Advent reading with C last year, but the JSB was a little too old for her. I'm thinking this year she might enjoy going through it with me a little more. Growing up in a church tradition that didn't follow the liturgical Church calendar, Advent wasn't something we payed much attention to, but I've been exposed to it a bit more over the past few years  though and it's really helped me enjoy the Christmas season a little more, helping me tune out the excess of noise that can crop up during this time of year.

4. We got to have a dinner out with some old friends while we were up in Missouri, and they took us to one of their favorite restaurants. The best part of the night was spending time with old friends, but the food itself was The restaurant had a classy, sophisticated vibe and it was also kind of fun to feel like a grownup -- something that doesn't always happen chasing after preschoolers. We also found out this restaurant has a location in Houston (the Galeria, natch). I'm filing it away for a date night in the future.

5. I finally read Finish, by Jon Acuff and it is truly a gem. It's a follow-up to his book Start: a research team approached Acuff after he started his 30 Days of Hustle course, and wanted to study the participants -- what made them successful at the course or not. What they found was that a surprisingly small percentage of those who start goals/projects/ideas actually finish them, and this book looked at that research to give super practical and proven ways to help someone get from start to finish. The best part is that the whole premise of the book is basically how to make things easier, that success isn't always dependent on your ability to work harder or more, but to make projects or goals easy and even fun. Brilliant! It's a quick, funny read (it's Jon Acuff after all)  that will inspire you and help you to finish what you start. Speaking of reading...I also read a book by Dave and Neta Jackson -- Grounded -- over the past couple of weeks. They're the authors of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series which I read ages ago and enjoyed. It wasn't ground-breaking or earth shattering, but Grounded was entertaining, cozy, and a good mix of easy-going and thoughtful. It's definitely what I'd call a "message" book, but the Jacksons typically do a good job of balancing storytelling and sharing a word from God. Since we've spent a lot of time in the car, I also started listening to Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson. It's the last book in his Mistborn series. I've been on a podcast kick for so long it's been nice to get into an audiobook again. And speaking of Brandon Sanderson...I'm going to start Oathbringer this week.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Giving Tuesday -- Shevet Achim

I'm not sure how long Giving Tuesday has been a thing (the conclusion to a long weekend of buying -- Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday) but I am 100 percent on board with it being a thing, and this year I'm going to put a word out there for one of my favorite non-profit, goodwill organizations that could use any year-end donations you're in the mood to give.

Shevet Achim is an organization in Israel that works to bring children from neighboring areas-- Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), Syria, Gaza and others -- to Israel to receive life-saving heart surgeries. Shevet Achim arranges everything necessary for travel, provides housing and care for the children and their caregivers while the children wait for surgery and during their post-hospital recovery period before going home, and pays the fees necessary to the hospitals and doctors they partner with. More than that, Shevet Achim provides community for children and families during a stressful time. The all-volunteer staff at Shevet Achim live out the love of God in a hands-on, practical way. The community at Shevet Achim is a piece of the Kingdom of God here on earth, and in their interactions with Kurds, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, the community of Shevet Achim are true peacemakers with no agenda but caring for the vulnerable and loving others.

So here's where financial partners come in: it takes funds to feed and house volunteers, children, and their caregivers. It takes funds to secure visas and travel arrangements. While the doctors and nurses who operate on and care for these children generously donate their time, hospital resources cost money. There are a couple of ways to donate: a general donation or a donation toward the care of a specific child. Why not get a few friends, family members, or coworkers together and pool your money to fund a child's heart surgery?

Jeremy, my Dad, and I spent a week as guests at Shevet Achim a few years ago, and I can say that the people there are the real deal. This is something you can feel good about donating to, now or any time of year. Bookmark the site if you're not in a place to give right now, but might be in the future. If you missed the link above, here it is again:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. Homemade Chex Mix in the house! Now if I can just keep from eating it all before Jeremy gets home.

2. Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer released yesterday (the third in his Stormlight Archive series). It'll probably be a few weeks before I dive in (and since I hit up the library for some unneeded books last week, I have plenty to occupy me in the mean time), but I'm looking forward to it. Fall seems like a good time of year to dive into a doorstopper fantasy novel.

3. Still working on the shawl I started at the beginning of October. It's my first foray into lace knitting, and I've unsurprisingly (for me) had to backtrack several times. At first it was mostly frustrating, but now I'm reminding myself about how much I'm learning and how much practice I'm getting in. Let's hope I can keep that perspective...and finish before the cool weather is gone!

4. Speaking of yarn arts -- my friend Stephanie and I are planning knit/crochet weather scarves next year. We have seven different colors of yarn that each correspond with a 10 degree temperature range. Each day of 2018 we'll knit/crochet two rows that correspond to the high temp for that day. At the end of the year, we'll have one colorful, LONG, fun, wearable memory.

5. I had a feeding-people-at-your-home realization the other night (I'd say entertaining, but that makes me think fancy dinner party, and no one's fancy dinner partying around here). One of the best ways to make hosting someone for dinner relaxing and enjoyable: fix food that can mostly be prepped before people come (and cleaned up). Here's two examples: chili or other soups, make your own pizza bar. Everything can be prepped ahead of time. Clean up after eating is minimal. So you get to spend more time with your friends! Win, win, win.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Wednesday list...

1. Last week I read Maggie Stiefvater's latest YA novel All the Crooked Saints and it is fantastic. The story of a family who helps people face their own darkness but ends up getting lost in their own. It's a story of love, hope, family, courage, and honoring the past by forging a new future. One of the things that really struck me reading this book was how it felt like no word was wasted -- every word specifically and deliberately chosen. So fantastic.

2. Jeremy and I went to see Thor: Ragnarok yesterday I absolutely adored it. It's getting rave reviews and that is no accident. Amazing action? check. Pitch perfect performances by everyone from the small cameos (Matt Damon!) to the lead actors and actresses? check. Delightfully unconventional superhero soundtrack? check. Comedy? check. Brothers united against their evil big sister? typical family drama but with super powers and set in space. The perfect mix of the absurd and the grounded? check and check.

3. At the movies we saw a preview for Marvel's upcoming Black Panther (introduced in the last Avengers), and I have one thing to say: sign. me. up. That movie looks amazing.

4. Speaking of previews....thanks to a glut of commercial viewing watching the baseball World Series (Go Astros!) last week, I got to see a lot of previews for a new January show called 9-1-1 starring Connie Britton, Peter Krause, and Angela Bassett. I'll say it again: sign. me. up. Fingers crossed it's good because I love all three of those actors/actresses.

5. I've got a pretty annoying cough this week, meaning my return to a normal post-baseball (go Astros!) sleep schedule has been interrupted by lots of attempting to sleep, but not so much actual consistent sleep. Fortunately, we're stocked up on coffee and Earl Grey (today's afternoon treat in honor of the cooler weather and gray skies).

6. Next on the book and viewing docket: Finish, by Jon Acuff. Black Wolves, by Kate Elliott, and Stranger Things 2 (which we started finally this week).

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reading... Girl in the Blue Coat

Girl in the Blue Coat Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is a fantastic historical fiction novel set in Amsterdam during World War II. Hanneke, like many people in Nazi occupied countries, is simply doing what she can to protect herself and her family. Her personal form of rebellion is selling sought-for items on the black market, such as extra meat, coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes. When a client asks Hanneke to help her find someone close to her who has disappeared, Hanneke resists, not wanting to get involved in anything personal, anything more dangerous than her small-time black market delivery. However, her conscience gets the better of her and she starts to look into the girl's disappearance, and gets pulled into broader resistance efforts. As she begins to learn more about the missing Jewish girl and her life before the Nazi occupation, she begins to face her grief and guilt over the death of her boyfriend. 
Girl in the Blue Coat is poignant and heartbreaking. It's a quiet story, but one with tension and stakes that feel very real. I enjoyed getting to read a story set in Amsterdam, someplace I'm not familiar with, and a somewhat non-traditional setting for a World War II novel. The author also does wonderful job with the characters, particularly Hanneke. I felt like I got to go on a journey with Hanneke, one that felt organic and realistic.

Bottom line: a thoughtful and also suspenseful historical fiction novel, perfect for picking up during cold weather.