Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

Confessions” by Sarah Bessey – “Pride is a tricky thing, it makes liars out of us. If we don’t ever admit to our stumbles or our failings, our weaknesses and struggles, then how will we know when we’ve found our people?” 

Sometimes the first few sentences of a piece have me arrested immediately, all my defenses broken. This is one of those pieces. I’ve only just recently started reading Sarah, though I’ve known her name for a long time, and I am absolutely falling in love with her writing. Her love for Jesus spills through every word she writes – and seriously, what is there not to love about a Canadian girl who can rock both a nose ring and Ingrid Michaelson glasses and is a self-confessed Whovian? I mean, really.

Here’s What Your Soul Needs You to Know” by Emily Freeman – “Our inner life hums quietly beneath the surface, speaking only to those who make space to listen.” 

The 26 Worst Things That Can Happen to a Book Lover – this made me laugh out loud several times.

Mindfulness in the empty moments” by Carmella Rayone – “I wouldn’t do more, I would simply learn to see. I would see the creative nourishment and mindfulness waiting in the empty minutes of the day. And I would pick up the needles and knit, if only but a few stitches…. I would color slowly across the linen with embroidery floss, just one stem of a flower. I would open the journal, pick up the pencil, and sketch – what did that cloud look like today?

It was less about making room and time, I realized, and more about recognizing the room and time that I already had.”

 

Enjoy your weekend, friends!
XO Jenna

What I’m Into – January 2015

As we kick off the second month of 2015 (how can it already be almost February?!?), I wanted to share a roundup sort of post touching on some of my favorite things from January. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer, who is the host of a monthly “What I’m Into” linkup. I hope to make this a monthly feature, in which I will share what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and otherwise captivated by in the past month.

Things I Love:

INFJ

Personality tests! I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of personality tests and the unique and complex elements that factor into our personalities as human beings. On something of a whim, I took a personality test that my sister sent to me earlier this month, and I’ve been on a tidal wave of research ever since. I’m decidedly an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs side of things, and a 2 / Helper on the Enneagram.

{I love this post from Anne at the “Modern Mrs. Darcy” blog, with 5 reasons why it’s helpful to know your personality type.}

photo 1

WorkFlowyMy boss shared one of his WorkFlowy lists with me recently so that we could collaborate on a project, and after doing a bit of research, I set up my own account, and within a day, I was using it obsessively. It has become my mobile brain, and I absolutely love it. It has both a desktop and a mobile app version, which sync with one another automatically, and I love the fact that I can pull it up on my computer and then pop open the app on my phone and see all of my changes there as well. With an extremely simple and streamlined design, it’s hard to believe how powerful it really is. It is already saving my sanity, and I know it will continue to do so as I use it more and more effectively.

irunurun

The irunurun app. Like WorkFlowy, this is another app that you can use either in a browser or on your phone, and the account automatically syncs. I’m just getting started using it – hence my fairly pathetic score so far – but I am excited to see how it will help enhance my productivity in coming weeks. I have learned that I desperately need accountability, as I am a terrific starter but a terrible finisher when it comes to setting goals (which apparently is a typical INFJ trait!). Hopefully this app will help me to continue developing good habits in the new year.

SevenApp

The Seven app. I learned about this one while listening to the Art of Simple podcast, and it sounded so completely brilliant that I went and downloaded it immediately. I’ve only done 2 days of workouts so far, but I’m definitely feeling the burn, which tells me two things very emphatically: one, I am dreadfully out of shape, and two, I need this app! Again, the app includes lots of motivational and habit-building features, which I think will help me stay on track. And seriously, if I can’t make time for just 7 minutes a day to work out… something is wrong with my life!

 

Reading:

January is traditionally a big reading month for me. Somehow, though, I have only managed to finish one book so far this month, although I hope to finish at least one more over the weekend. That said, here are the books I’m currently reading:

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  • Is God Listening? Making Prayer a Part of Your Life by Andrew Steinmann
  • Comforts from Romans by Elyse Fitzpatrick (in conjunction with my ladies Bible study group, currently studying Romans)
  • Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonRe-Reads:
  • Scribbling in the Sand by Michael Card (a delight)
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (this is my 4th year of reading Pressfield to kick off a new year)

I have also discovered and re-discovered some new favorite bloggers in the past 6-8 weeks, and I am now eagerly following Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy, Natalie at Natalie Creates, Sarah Bessey, and Sarah Selecky. I signed up for Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts last week, and have been thoroughly enjoying them thus far.

Watching:

GilmoreGirls

When I started to hear rumblings of Gilmore Girls coming to Netflix toward the end of 2014, I knew I would probably finally get sucked in. I had several friends in high school who adored the show, but somehow, I never saw it. I haven’t finished it yet (season 6!), but I know for certain that it will go down in history as one of my all-time favorite shows. Between Rory’s bookishness, the constant banter and sparkling wit, and the all-around delight of the tiny town of Stars Hollow and its quirky and endearing characters, I just can’t get enough. Sidenote: the rewatch value is truly epic, and I laugh harder every time I go back to an episode again. My hubby gave me the full series on DVD for Christmas, because he knows how much I love to rewatch. Good man. <3

supernatural-poster

I shared last year about my sister getting me hooked on Supernatural, and this year’s midseason cliffhanger was a DOOZY. Needless to say, I’m thrilled that it’s back – and seems to be better than ever so far.

 

Listening To: 

I recently discovered the OverDrive app, and I am absolutely delighted with it. I’m currently listening to an audiobook version of Mary Poppins and loving every minute.

I fell in love with Alex & Sierra after seeing their adorable audition on The X Factor, and I’ve enjoyed following them ever since. Their version of “Gravity” still blows me away every time:

 

What are you into lately?! Tell me about it in the comments!

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

The Wonderful Ache of Beauty (Why We Need Art) by Jeff Goins – I always love Jeff, but every now and then, he bursts out with such penetrating insight that it makes me catch my breath. This is one of those posts.

The Spiritual Discipline of Wearing Better Pants by Emily Freeman – I’m so thankful for writers like Emily who are teaching me how to turn ordinary moments into Gospel-filled, Christ-honoring experiences.

A little Japanese word makes all the difference by Tsh Oxenreider – Goals are overwhelming, but not when seen in light of this little word. This is the only way I have found to truly accomplish goals, and I think most people would agree.

Anne‘s new living room “library” setup has to be the most beautiful, bright, and cheery bookshelves I’ve ever seen. Just looking at these pictures makes me so happy!

Photo Credit: Anne Bogel

Photo Credit: Anne Bogel

Also, her “9 novels to curl up with this winter” list? I want to read every.single.one.

Enjoy your weekend, my dears!

XO,
Jenna

Growth: My Word for 2015

For several years now, I have watched my favorite bloggers choose “their” word at the start of the new year – the one word that either summarizes their attitude toward the unfolding year, or describes something they want to work toward, or perhaps serves as a reminder of a lesson they want to make sure they don’t miss in the new year. At first, I found it slightly pretentious, but then I became more intrigued, and now I love January and seeing all the words people choose for their new year.

One word for 2015

I have never actively participated, but when I saw Bonnie Gray’s new “Beloved Brews” linkup, and her first writing prompt that asked for a post on this very topic, I decided that this will be my year to participate and join the “one word” community. I have pondered and journaled about it for the past couple years—in fact, earlier this month, I had journaled and chosen my word and reflected on it, although not necessarily planning to share it. But I create much better accountability for myself when I share things, so… here I am.

I have chosen “growth” as my one word for 2015.

In 2015, I want to challenge myself to new things that will enhance my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth throughout the year. I’m a natural and eager learner, so this should be fairly easy to embrace. “Growth” certainly encompasses a vast array of applications, which is part of what excites me about choosing it for the whole year, but for now I want to focus on growth in two specific areas: my writing and my personal discipline.

I have my own ideas of what that might look like, and perhaps I will discuss some details in a future post. For now, it looks a lot like setting my alarm earlier in the morning, setting multiple alarms to get myself to bed earlier, and waking up with my trusty Moleskine next to my Bible each morning. Baby steps, right?

Did you choose one word for your 2015? Tell me about it in the comments!

I’m linking up to the Beloved Brews Linkup, hosted by Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray. 

Beloved Brews Linkup

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

Episode #77 of the Art of Simple podcast, where Tsh talks to one of my favorite bloggers and authors, Emily Freeman. My favorite part was when Emily talked about learning to pay attention to what makes us come alive – I’ve heard her talk about this many times, but something about the WAY she said it this time made me pause the podcast and then rewind, just to listen to and drink in her words again. It also tied in perfectly with another favorite blog post from this week…

Stocking the Pond” by Shauna Niequist – “The first step in writing happens way before the typing: it’s the stocking of the pond. Take notes on your phone, snap pictures, scribble on the back of receipts–notice everything. The first part of writing is noticing.” [emphasis added]

Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt” by Glennon Doyle Melton – The perfect antidote to my all-too-Pinterest-saturated sighs and wistfulness toward my house sometimes. I needed this reminder. Maybe you do, too?

Old Books and Old Friends

Returning to re-read a favorite book is, for me, like sitting down to have coffee with an old friend after an exhilarating but exhausting day of meeting new people. Even if I’ve met particularly delightful people – people I know will deserve more time and attention in the future, or who I sense could nurture my life or the life of someone I love – there still is nothing quite like settling back into a comfy chair and smiling at an old friend. I don’t necessarily have to be on my best behavior; I know where we stand and what to expect; the relationship we have already established gives me every confidence that we will enjoy our time together now.

This is exactly why I love to re-read favorite books. I know where I stand and what to expect, even though I always see something new on each re-read, if the book is truly worth revisiting. Of course, I do love the excitement of a brand new book – and even the uncertainty that comes with a title I have stumbled upon with no prior knowledge or recommendation. At the end of the day, though, sometimes my greatest enjoyment comes when I settle down with an old friend who can tell me that same story I’ve heard a dozen times but in such a new way that I couldn’t be more thrilled to hear it again.

Have you re-read an old favorite recently? Tell me about it in the comments!

Thoughts on Kate Morton

Kate-Morton

I’ve had Kate Morton on my to-read list for quite some time now; I’ve seen rave reviews of her work on various literary-type blogs, writers whose judgment I trust, and since I thrill with delight over a historical novel, I knew I couldn’t resist her for long. On a recent library visit, I stacked up three of her novels on my arm: The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, and The Secret Keeper. When I came home that day, I sheepishly told my husband, “I might have bitten off more than I can chew this time…” Thank goodness for online library renewals!

HouseAtRiverton

I finished The House at Riverton, Morton’s debut novel, about a month ago, and honestly, I was underwhelmed. First of all, the story horribly depressing, which is not, I must clarify, an automatic deal-breaker for me. I actually appreciate (I don’t necessarily want to say “enjoy”) a sad and melancholy tale now and then, provided it also has redemptive qualities—life, after all, does not always include a Hollywood happy ending. I also tend to find depressing stories deeply emotionally compelling, and far more thought-provoking than the average “fluff” read with no lasting message. However, in addition to the depressing nature of the story, several of the characters in Riverton fell flat to me, and also, I predicted the major plot twist long before it happened, which is always unfortunate as a reader. [Incidentally, Riverton is basically Downton Abbey in novel form, so much so and with such eerie similarity that I finally Googled to see which one came first. Kate Morton did. To which I say, really, Julian Fellowes?!?]

I refrained, however, from passing full and final judgment on Kate Morton after reading Riverton, knowing that I had two more novels to try. I have slowly worked my way through The Forgotten Garden over the past several weeks, and I finally finished it yesterday, flying feverishly through the final pages and dying to know how the story would turn out. Although it still ends with a depressing finale, I felt less disturbed than I did after finishing Riverton. The characters felt more richly developed—and I certainly did not see that plot twist coming. Because the story spans multiple timelines and a rather confusing cast of characters, I found myself wishing I had started a “family tree” at the beginning, but I eventually got everyone straightened out.

Morton’s prose shines brightly in Garden, and a couple of times, I found myself taking pictures with my iPhone of a handful of delightful passages such as these (I would have highlighted had the book not belonged to the library!):

“Ever since Eliza had discovered the book of fairy tales in Mrs. Swindell’s rag and bottle shop, had disappeared inside its faded pages, she’d understood the power of stories. Their magical ability to refill the wounded part of people.”

“What a delight it was to have a place of one’s own, an entire garden in which to Be. Sometimes Eliza liked to sit on the iron seat, perfectly still, and just listen. To the windblown leaves tapping against the walls, the muffled ocean breathing in and out, and the birds singing their stories. Sometimes, if she sat still enough, she almost fancied she could hear the flowers sighing in gratitude to the sun.”

“A story idea began to flutter on the edge of Eliza’s imagination; she snatched at it, refused to let it go, held on as it grew arms, legs, and a clear destination.”

 

I thoroughly enjoyed The Forgotten Garden, in short, and I can’t wait to dive into The Secret Keeper, which I have heard described as Morton’s finest and which I have intentionally saved until last. Hopefully it will not disappoint!

Thoughts on Wonder From an Airplane

[I wrote this piece on my iPhone during one of my flights earlier this summer. It not only represents to me the inadequacy of my words to capture the moment and its poignancy, but it also encourages me when I see the power of those same, inadequate words to help me remember what I experience in life, and to reorient my focus when I find myself aimless and scattered in my daily routine. Beauty shouts all around us... if we only have the ears to listen.]


Emerald Bay

Photo: Flickr Commons

We fly almost due East, and I see Lake Tahoe out my window to the left. Dusk settles over the lake, which looks massive even from the air, and I am suddenly transported down to the shore. I know exactly what this time of day feels like down there, the smells of pine trees and cooling sands, what the waves sound like as they mellow from their afternoon swells into twilight calm. I can make out Emerald Bay, the narrow cutout at the southwest corner of the lake, and I imagine the last rays of the sunset glinting off the windows of the Vikingsholm castle nestled on the far inland shore.

I’m reading N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and “The Greatest Story Never Told” from the Doctor Who season 4 soundtrack bursts through my earbuds, crescendos of climax as I look out the window again and catch a pale pink horizon with cotton candy clouds that look impossibly white against the earth below, which has already darkened into twilight. I find myself almost in tears, Wilson’s poetic prose swirling through my mind and my eyes transfixed by the sheer beauty of this impossible, ridiculous, seemingly insignificant but in fact massively important world. Have I been walking through life with my eyes closed? How long has it been since I saw—really SAW—the world this way, in all its extravagant magnificence? Why doesn’t this beauty thrill my soul and steal my breath every single waking day? The sheer wonder that I exist, and more importantly that I exist as a child of God, an image-bearer of the Creator in His wild world—it should bring me to the end of myself every single day. Why doesn’t it?!

One of my favorite Doctor Who scenes comes during Amy Pond’s first trip in the TARDIS, when the Doctor tethers her from the inside but allows her to float, weightless, in a “bubble” outside the TARDIS, protected and yet fully experiencing the wonder of open space. Her gorgeous auburn mane floats and swirls around her, and her rapt and wondrous expression says it all. How can this be real? How am I actually experiencing this?

That’s how I feel sometimes in this glorious and ghastly world. Sadly, I allow daily distractions to drag me down too often, but in moments like this, I wish I could see the world through those eyes of wonderment more consistently. I think I would smile even more than I do, and my attitude of gratitude would expand beyond the leaps it has grown in recent years.

I am grateful for the chance to pop the bubble I live in all too frequently – to more clearly see the everyday wonders that surround me – and I whisper, fervent and urgent, God, don’t let me forget this. Don’t let my eyes see without knowing. Don’t let me walk off this plane and forget the glory of this beautiful catastrophe of a world that You have created. I don’t want to be blind. I want to see and know, as I am seen and known by You.

After all, that is the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Day 31: Conclusion & Encouragement

Well, my first Write 31 Days challenge has been quite an adventure! To those of you who read and commented, thank you so much for following along. I have enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on my favorite books, and I am now eager to go back and re-read some old favorites that I had nearly forgotten.

I didn’t complete this challenge perfectly, but to successfully post 31 new blog posts within the month of October is a huge accomplishment for me, and I’m so glad I participated this year. I look forward to blogging more frequently (although certainly not every day!), and I would love it if you readers would share some topics about which you would like to see me write in the future.

I wanted to close this series with an encouragement regarding reading, as I frequently hear people say that they don’t “have time” to read. I could counter with many arguments, but this brief quotation from John Piper provides ample encouragement:

“Suppose you read slowly like I do — maybe about the same speed that you speak, 200 words a minute. If you read fifteen minutes a day for one year (say just before supper, or just before bed), you will read 5,475 minutes in the year. Multiply that by 200 words a minute, and you get 1,095,000 words that you would read in a year. Now an average serious book might have about 360 words per page. So you would have read 3,041 pages in one year. That’s ten very substantial books. All in fifteen minutes a day.”
[from When I Don’t Desire God]

I keep books everywhere – on my nightstand, on my desk, in the living room, in my purse – and with my Kindle, especially, I literally never go anywhere without a book, because I never go anywhere without my phone, and I at least have the Kindle app on my phone. It’s amazing how quickly the pages add up with just 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there, and the motivation to read whenever and wherever possible.

So don’t be frustrated if you think you don’t have time to read, and also know that, as with anything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Go forth, read widely, and read well!

This post is the final installment in the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.
31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 30: Favorite “Blogger” Authors

I spent two days highlighting my favorite blogs (day 1 and day 2), and I wanted to round out the series by highlighting a few favorite “blogger authors” – blog writers who have gone on to write a book or books. Some of my favorite books in recent years have come from bloggers I have followed for some time, and I love sharing these delightful authors.

Sophie Hudson – Sophie has authored the Boo Mama blog since 2005, and in 2013, she released her first book, A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon. I laughed and cried and absolutely adored this book. Annie Downs, another blogger-turned-author, put it best: “For the first time in my life, I’ve found a book I wish every woman in my family could read together. There isn’t a woman, no matter where she is from, who won’t connect with the heart of this book. But the Southern women? They will feel it deep in their souls. That’s the kind of book this is; the kind you read and feel and love and share.” Sophie’s second book, Home is Where my People Are, is set to release in February 2015, and suffice it to say, I will be pre-ordering it! 

Melanie Shankle – Melanie blogs at Big Mama, and she has also released two books: Sparkly Green Earrings and The Antelope in the Living RoomSparkly Green Earrings is a memoir of motherhood, and I laughed until I cried reading it – even though I don’t yet have children of my own, Melanie’s whimsical way of painting a vivid picture with her words had me laughing until I literally had to get up and get a tissue because I could no longer read with the tears streaming down my face. The Antelope in the Living Room, subtitled “The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life”, shares the struggles and the deep joys of marriage, and although I think I laughed more reading Earrings, I also thoroughly enjoyed Antelope. Melanie’s third book, Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir About the Beauty of Friendship, will release April 2015, and again, will definitely be on my pre-order list!

Myquillyn Smith – Myquillyn has blogged for years at Nesting Place, and her blog has become a go-to resource for me in working to make our house a home without being intimidated by searching for perfection. I was thrilled when she released her book earlier this year, The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful

“There is beauty in the imperfection. There is beauty in the lived-in and loved-on and used-just-about-up. Imperfections actually play a starring role in our homes and lives. Imperfections put people at ease.

Once we learn to accept and find beauty in the imperfections, we are free to take a risk in our home and create the home we’ve always wanted.”

NestingPlace

Photo Credit: Nesting Place

I couldn’t put The Nesting Place down, and it now lives on my coffee table, ready to be picked up and flipped through for continuing inspiration at any time. Not only does it provide wonderful encouragement, but it is also simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen.

Tsh Oxenreider – I couldn’t decide whether to mention Tsh in this post or in the favorite blog posts, but she almost falls outside either category! She founded and manages the Art of Simple blog, she runs the Art of Simple podcast (which I love and listen to frequently), she has published several books, and she and her husband recently launched the Art of Simple Travel blog, where they are chronicling their year-long, round-the-world trip with their three children – that’s right, a year on the road with 3 children under 10 years old. Quite simply, Tsh is an amazing inspiration, and I devour her content throughout the week.

Shauna Niequist – Last year, I picked up a copy of Cold Tangerines on my Kindle, and quickly blew through it and then through Bittersweet, both books collections of short essays that are readable, thought-provoking, and so encouraging. Then I discovered her latest, Bread & Wineand I absolutely loved it. My hardbound copy resides on my coffee table next to The Nesting Place, and I love leafing through it for inspiration.

BreadAndWine

Bread & Wine is a collection of essays about family relationships, friendships, and the meals that bring us together. This mix of Anne Lamott and Barefoot Contessa is a funny, honest, and vulnerable spiritual memoir. Bread & Wine is a celebration of food shared, reminding readers of the joy found in a life around the table. It’s about the ways God teaches and nourishes people as they nourish the people around them. It’s about hunger, both physical and otherwise, and the connections between the two.”


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.
31 Days of Favorite Reads