Previous month:
March 2016
Next month:
May 2016

52 New Books in 2016 | 25


Soul Survivor by Philip Yancy

More a book about what he's learned from the stand-point of a writer, for a writer; or how Christ's Church often leaves Christ out of Church. A 'what not to do' book.

Here's how I read it: The chapter on Dr. C Everett Koop I totally get how Yancy could have received Koop as an 'unlikely mentor'. The story, the life of Koop, while dreadfully criticized and ostracized by the church as a whole, was someone I could learn from and, yes, agree with; "he recognized the distinction between morality and legality", he was for "truth over agenda", "Christian absolutes cannot always be imposed on those who do not share Christian beliefs. [Mr. Koop] learned instead compassion and mercy for the downtrodden, and love for the enemy", "when the AIDS example came along, [his] obligation seemed pretty clear, [he] viewed the lifestyle with a certain revulsion, but...I had to look upon AIDS patients primarily as sick people." This chapter alone is 5 Stars.

But, the chapter on John Donne, and Anne Dillard, I couldn't grasp, for the life of me, from the long-winded writing, what in fact of their lives influenced Yancy, except I found 'a faithful pilgrim's struggles have become to others a source of comfort and...doubts have strengthened others' faith." Okay, but, still, except for their writing styles, what they wrote about...what was influential?

The Dr. Robert Cole chapter and 'how do we, the privileged ones, act as stewards of the grace we have received...we begin by finding a community that nourishes compassion for the weak." Yes. And yes to this. The Frederick Buechner chapter hit strikingly with "The Christian faith strikes him as good news because it presents the truth of the world as he has experienced it, giving words to the deepest things he has felt by living on this planet." But, I often wonder if the reason the Christ's Church here in America isn't preaching 'good news' with their lives is because we have no reason to live out Jesus' story because when do we truly suffer instead we only live our own. As Nouwen put it "the poor and oppressed have a more profound sense of God's love than Westerners who live materially privileged lives."

Henri Nouwen also said, "God is inviting me to become like himself, to show the same compassion to others that he is showing to me. He is calling me to reach out to the broken and the needy, to welcome them to God's family...the great paradox which Scripture reveals to us is that real and total freedom can only be found through downward mobility. The Word of God came down to us and lived among us as a slave. The divine way is indeed the downward way."

Throughout the book there were nuggets of gold but as a whole, while these people may have become Yancy's unlikely mentors to surviving the Church, and each person may have struck hard with their lives spotted with living such as mentioned above, but honestly, is the Church so full of hypocrisy that Yancy could find not even one non-famous person who also helped him survive the Church. I don't believe the Church could have survived over two thousand years without them. And was those nuggets enough to give the book, on the book's merits alone, 5 Stars. I don't know.

Digital Products: One Little Bird

May 2016 Menu Plan.

May 2016 Menu

A busy and event-filled month ahead juggling our lives, maybe by the skin of our teeth and added to the mix a ton of new recipes because I JUST CAN"T NOT add new recipes to our family's lives and taste buds and repertoire. An anniversary celebration getaway, a boys-only camping trip, family delightfully invading our small, humble abode for the graduation celebration slash pary of the last of my Mom's grand children, John and Jarrod - finally! Besides the new recipes as I continue my tour of 50 States 50 Recipes hosting Kentucky, Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, I have three new recipes just because they sound good and different.

I love spending the time hunting down Pinterest and researching new recipes from food blogs or cookbooks. So often, I nudge the recipes to make them just my own, for our tastes, our likes and dislikes, expanding our palettes with things like Bacon and Eggs Fried Rice (with peas) with Chinese Chicken and Sausages or Bacon and Smoked Gouda Cauliflower Mash, both I believe, will be winners.

Gradually, I am filling my own recipe album, which as I type this I realize I need to have copies made for my kids' recipes books, full of delightful family favorites with main dishes, breakfasts, sandwiches, soups, appetizers, side dishes, and desserts, many of which I'm serving up in the month of May 2016.

52 New Books in 2016 | 24


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Hmm. I'm not sure what to say. I liked the characters, Liesel, Hans (loved the kind and courageous Hans), Rosa (we truly see Rosa for who she is when she shows up at the school to 'yell' and 'smack' Liesel), and Max.

I hated the narration by Death.

I liked the book thief as an underlying story, Liesel stealing words back. Although, I couldn't for the life of me understand the reason for the specific books she stole, except the Grave Robber's Handbook of all books. Of course, at the point of the second stolen book I was laboriously struggling through the remainder of the book.

I hated the literary devices the author used: bullet bold-texts brazenly inserted everywhere that I suppose are the authors attempt at informing his reader exactly what he was meaning, like we wouldn't be able to figure it out ourselves, a truly unsettling narrative style, and his attempts to make this a page-turner by telling what happens next then tells what happens next and I'm left irritated he told what happened next. 

I liked seeing the German people as human beings rather than the derogatory termed Nazi; and the insights into life as a German (not a Jew, although we see that also) in a war-torn country.

I was emotionally charged during the last chapters, but after a long long story, life within the pages of the book thief seemed to just come to an abrupt, screeching halt. And, left me saying, Huh?

While reviews for this book are overwhelmingly positive I cannot give The Book Thief a good review even though I did love the character Hans, liked some things about the book, but disliked much, if not all, of the writing style. 2.5 Stars is about all I can muster.

52 New Books in 2016 | 23


5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Almost as soon as we pulled out of the driveway I pulled out the book, the 5 Love Languages. We had already agreed prior to our trip down south to my Mom's for the weekend that I would read a-loud to Jeff the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In our marriage counseling session we'd been given the assignment to take the 5 Love Language quiz and begin filling each other's love bank by meeting the love languages of our spouse. We decided to read the book to see if it would offer a more complete understanding of the love languages. Fittingly, I would give this 4 Stars. We're talking relationship maintenance. Just as a car will not run for long without maintenance, neither will a marriage. Knowing Jeff's love languages (we both took the test) and he knowing mine means we can regularly add to each other's love tank by speaking with love language. 

For example, my number one love language is Acts of Service; meaning, I feel loved by Jeff when he provides acts of service. This past weekend he filled my tank full! Not only did he work hard for my extended family working on cleaning up my Mom's yard, but when we go home he washed my truck! This is pretty cool stuff. Read the book!

inspiring links | 8


How to be a Bad Listener. Or what not to do.

I hesitate to include this opinion piece because, while it is exceptionally well written and thought out, it is not 'inspiring' information - just plain sad - on the state of one university which I fear other universities will follow, and the sad state of our young adults today; and this article that spawned the opinion piece.

I've always been endeared toward Reese Witherspoon so I loved reading of her new role as a power broker - a literary taste-maker of book-to-screen - books, I mean - movies.

Write your six-word memoir.

As we are on the cusp of walking two adult young men out the door into life this article "What do you tell your kids when they have unrealistic dreams" is - timely.

Oh man! This photographer is awesome. And he and his family are traveling in an Airstream around the country.

I'm going to work on this.

The most ultra-successful people - read. And...Susan Bowers reads 52 New Books in 2016. Oh, wait...just kiddin', she said, sheepishly. 

This is just sweet. I loved it. Kids will dig it!

This is a great post on simplifying your memory keepsakes without necessarily removing all of it from your life.

The little printable is for Ashley (if she likes it). It is an 11 x 14 print I created in Photoshop Elements that I'll have printed for Samuel's (my soon-to-be grandson) baby room. I got the idea from this print.

52 New Books in 2016 | 22


Stephen King  |  On Writing A Memoir of the Craft 

When I was finishing my bachelor's degree in my early forties, I took a Senior's writing class with a popular professor who was also a published author. We were a class of only seven students reveling in our good fortune for personal attention of having a teacher all to ourselves. During the semester we were assigned to write various types of writing. One piece of writing was a memoir.

Growing up I'd written any number of cheap-trashed dime-store short stories, cheesy poems, and a few pretty decent writing assignments in high school that garnered an A plus with a note from the teacher, "You write very well," or, "It was enjoyable reading your work." Over the years I've written a few spiritual-based talks, and a military retirement speech that garnered comments like, "That is the best retirement speech I've ever heard!" And, it wasn't from the lowest ranking airmen in the room whose first retirement ceremony was mine.

It was that one single event of my story, that four-page memoir with four rough drafts before final submission, the one which I only received a B plus for but still clearly spoke, "Susan, maybe you should write a memoir. You have an arresting past." After The Tablespoon, the title of that four-page memoir, I wrote another called, The Three-Fifty-Seven Magnum. I never showed it to anyone. It's somewhere locked in my digital memories. But the idea has never left my waking consciousness. Maybe, I could write a memoir. Maybe, I should write my story.

I've been blogging for almost 10 years and it wasn't until recently that I realized I've never had much to say. Short quips or pleasantries, journal pieces from scrapbook pages, but nothing serious - or provocative, except the stuff of life. I haven't even been saying that well. Oh sure, an occasional 'wow' blog post but primarily, to put it simply, - dull. Could I change this? Rather than pound out blog posts just to post something every day could I write something good, something worth reading. 

When I began this years 52 New Books in 2016 I began compiling a list of books from other lists I'd compiled over the years that I have wanted to read some of which I've already purchased but have since shuffled to the back of the bookshelf. As someone who sees writing as a future part of my life, I'm always on the lookout for books on writing recommended by people whose writing I enjoy. Ali Edwards, a scrapbook entrepreneur, probably one of the most gifted and successful in the business today, wrote a blog post on Books about Writing and writing our stories. On that growing list of new books to read, and because it was recommended by Ali Edwards as someone I value her opinion, is Stephen King, On Writing.

With the caveat, I've never read any of Stephen King's fictional novels, I found his short, snappy, non-fiction On Writing to be engaging, inspiring, and extremely relevant for this would-be, I mean, for this - writer. I was thrilled to find the first third of the book was short snapshots, autobiographical, a memoir, of what made him into the writer he became. For any writer this book is a nugget of gold.

52 New Books in 2016 | 21


Simply Tuesday, Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by  Emily P. Freeman

This book jumps to my top 5 list, definitely. I don't know what to say. I'm floored. I'm still trying to process the profoundly healing grace within this book. It is a gentle giant of a book. It is an extraordinary book on savoring and cherishing the ordinary, the small moments. I will absolutely, never again, be afraid of small moments, small talks, small successes, small problems, small chats, small dreams, small moments experiencing the kingdom of God, nor consider them - small. Never will I see the simple days the same ever again. This books calls us to relate more, compare less, enjoy simple things, simple tasks, build relationships, find the ordinary (it's ok for life to be ordinary). It is a release - and a hope. To hang onto and re-read again, and again because it is half-full, not half empty, there is an opportunity in every difficulty, not the difficulty in every opportunity, spreads cheer, encourages, plants seeds, nourishes, sees prosperity, discovers a remedy, changes, finds friends - it is optimistic - so full of optimism.

a good life | traditions.


Photo Source

I recently read a blog post over at Becky Higgins' blog, on small traditions. As I read through the lengthy post of her families traditions, her teams various daily, weekly, and annual traditions, and even her readers' traditions it sparked thoughts and memories and feelings surrounding our own family traditions. Some traditions currently in use and some we used to have but in this season of life they've been set aside - for whatever reason. Some of those traditions I read about were intriguing, exciting, thought-provoking, left me wondering, could we do that? Would that be something that would resonate with my current family dynamic and strengthening our family bond, or would it just be - burdensome? Anyways, I wanted to put pen to paper, figuratively, wanting to remember some of the traditions we've had as a family that, thinking about them, have meant so much to me, to us, and have created lasting memories.

Eating Dinner together Every Night. I think because I grew up eating dinner at the table every night, even if everyone wasn't around the table, this is something that came naturally for me and for us. Sure, there are those occasions when we skip the table like on December 31st when we do a pig out feast and eat in the living room with a movie marathon or a television binge (but that's another tradition). Especially when it was all four kids at home, and even if our jobs meant one or the other couldn't be at the table we still would sit down and eat together. From that blog post someone shared a tradition of playing High and Low at the dinner table, where each person shares what was a highlight of their day and low point of their day. What a great conversation started! 

Date Night. For quite sometime now, probably 6 years or so, Jeff and I have regularly been going on dates. When we first started putting them on our calendars, literally inserting a date night into our menu plan calendar, it was once or twice a month. Over the past couple of years it has grown to weekly. This is sacred business for our marriage. We have been struggling for the past year and a half and yet, those date nights continue. I am so glad they have. 

Family Movie and Pizza Night. Once a month we make homemade pizza and buy a movie or pick an old one out of our huge pile of DVDs and eat pizza in the living room while watching a movie. Our homemade pizza has become an art form and usually takes a couple hours to prepare from start to finish so pizza night is usually on a Saturday night. When the boys were younger they'd always have to eat at the folding snack tables (and leave their drinks on the dining room table). It would take the boys forever to eat one slice of pizza because they'd be so engrossed in the movie. 

Taco Tuesday. This tradition is an older tradition that now is a once-a-month tradition on a Saturday. Remember, seasons of life sometimes transform traditions or even removes them all together. It's ok. But, Taco Tuesday holds such amazing memories. These aren't just any 'ole tacos. These are my homemade tacos (that my mom used to make, a recipe she acquired in the 60's), my decadent, delightful, albeit fattening tacos. They are a deep-fried folded taco filled with cheese as soon as they come out of the oil and served with all the fixings, plus a homemade taco sauce dubbed Parent Sauce because when my boys were little the homemade taco sauce was just a bit too spicy for their young palettes so they called it 'Parent' sauce - as in 'the taco sauce for the parents'. We still call it Parent sauce. 

Taco Tuesday, for a couple seasons, was especially special because our dear surrogate daughter Stacia would come over and share tacos with us. Stacia was a college student on a volleyball scholarship and went to our church. We first befriended her when she and a couple other volleyball players attended our small group for a season. Stacia stayed the longest with the small group, but she also shared our home many times. We became her extended family while she was here for school. We even moved Taco Tuesday's to Thursday's for a couple years because of Stacia's volleyball schedule.

Reading aloud. For five years of homeschooling from 7th grade through 11th grade all of the literature pieces John and Jarrod were required to read from the large history selection of shorter novels in 7th grade, to the American history works in 10th grade, through the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I read the aloud. Because both boys read individually on their own and liked to read their own books I had zero qualms about reading aloud all of their required reading - and then some. I seriously miss this side of our homeschooling!

For a short season, maybe a few years, when the boys were pretty little, 5 or 6, and the girls were still secure at home, I would read aloud at the dinner table after dinner, usually I'd begin when I finished eating. We read through the Chronicles of Narnia. It wasn't an every night read aloud session but if time permitted I'd at least read a chapter or two.

Tucking the boys in with a book and prayers. For years when the boys were little until well into their elementary ages, at least through 6th grade, we tucked John and Jarrod into bed with a book and prayers. Life happens and this has gone away but that time, whether it was just me or just Jeff, or both of us together, reading a book, saying prayers, and tucking them in, I don't remember one time when we had difficulty with our sons' going to sleep. Sometimes we'd read the same books over and over again. 

New Years Eve Binge Watch and Eat. For a couple years now we've created a favorite appetizer/snack food spread, watched a series of favorite movies or binge watched a television show on New Years Eve (sometimes New Years day depending on work schedules). It is how we ring in the new year. Jeff and I, as a couple, have never done the partying thing, and now that the boys are older we sure want them to know it isn't about booze that makes a party. It's the food! Just kidding. 

Fireworks on River Street. Downtown Savannah, historic district, snuggled against the Savannah River is River Street, blocks-long row of hotels, restaurants, shops, and a long river walk ending at the Marriott hotel. Across the river each year on the 4th of July the city puts on a stunning fireworks display. When the boys were 1 year old we began the tradition of heading down to River Street early in the evening, setting up chairs along the river, totting a cooler full of snacks and drinks, sporting a DVD player (when the boys were bit older), sat watching the boats meander up the water, or the people leisurely walking the river walk behind us, sometimes reading a book, waiting on the fireworks display. At some point Jeff and the girls (and the boys) would walk to the Savannah candy store for a bag - or two - of sweets to share - or not - and a sampling of pralines for me. John and Jarrod are 18 now and over the years we've only missed a few trips down to River Street for fireworks. 

Good Morning, Gorgeous! Friday mornings I anxiously await my morning text from Jeff as he heads to work after his very early morning helping to make breakfast for the Band of Brothers, a men's Friday morning breakfast and Bible study. It's become a little tradition.

Saturday morning Waffle House. We are blessed to have a Waffle House a mile from our house. For the past couple of years, on some Saturday's Jeff and the boys, or Jeff, the boys, and I, or Jeff and I can be found fairly early on at least a couple Saturday's a month at the local Waffle House down the street before we start our Saturday - day. Whether it is a Saturday filled with errands, or serving somewhere, or a Boy scout activity, or just work around the house, a Waffle House breakfast of our traditional favorites always starts the day off right. Awesome is our favorite waitress and as soon as she sees us come in she puts our order in and brings us coffee as we're sitting down. It's such a good thing.

Christmas Gift-giving: One Gift from Each Person. For years now, because Christmas shopping had gotten out of control, overwhelmed by the commercialism surrounding Christmas, and we wanted to instill in our kids the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus is the reason for the season, and the reason we celebrate Christmas, we initiated the one gift from each person Christmas gift exchange. It meant for us more thoughtful and meaningful gift giving. Gifts that someone wanted and needed rather than filler or unnecessary gifts. It has truly made Christmas more liberating, fulfilling, and real celebration.

Tree Hunting. Another Christmas tradition is our annual tree hunt at Brewers Tree Farm in Midway, Georgia. Each year we set out on our chosen date for the 45 minute drive to the sprawling Brewers Tree Farm. Since the boys were about 4 years old we've hunted for a live Christmas tree. While it used to be a lengthy event, because the boys little legs couldn't move fast and cutting down the tree required many grunts and subtle help from dad, both boys with sweat running down their faces dragging the tree, now only takes us a half an hour, or so, to pick a tree, snap a few pictures, one of the boys runs the saw through the base a couple of times, with zero grunts, and the other boy picks the tree up hoisting it over his head and saunters leisurely toward the check out.

Serving together. Each Sunday morning we serve together as a family in the Children's ministry at our church. We each fill different roles but we all serve together. 

Annual Family Camping trips. Although we haven't been every year, we have camped enough years as a family that I'd categorize these events as a tradition. We started them when the girls still lived at home, but more often when the boys were older, and the girls had already left home. We've found some wonderful camping grounds and state parks filled with memories for a lifetime.

52 New Books in 2016 | 20


The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

"Kimball chucked life as a Manhattan journalist to start a cooperative farm in upstate New York with a self-taught New Palte farmer, Mark, who she had interviewed for a story and later married. Resolving to 'live outside of the river of consumption', Kimball writes how she and Mark worked the land 'by dint of hard work and smart planning - using draft horses rather than tractors' and built a cooperative on the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model providing a fully-rounded diet.

This book travels through a year of blood, sweat, and tears in the beginnings of what would become (many years later) Essexx Farm, a thriving cooperative feeding a community with all things good and healthy. Kimball's no nonsense, seemingly unemotional, refreshingly unsentimental, yet, compelling, captivating, and brutally honest writing of a year of building a sustainable, life-giving, thriving farm is a documentary of sorts, on the good, the bad, and the ugly side of farm life where sometimes the bad is actually good - in the long term. The subtitle speaks of 'love' but I'd say more sacrifice and compromise and resignation - so I guess, maybe yes, and love. A love built on the backs of hard work; of working together instead of competing; of working together and releasing control of self.

I loved this book because the idea of a sustainable life giving farm is just so good and this book told it like it is. This life is simple living, solid priorities and just plain hard work. This book is filled with life. 

52 New Books in 2016 | 19


The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry.

Book 1, The Templar Legacy, introduces the series' protagonist Cotton Malone, a former covert operative within the Department of Justice, now retired living life as a book seller and collector. Berry does a decent job with his introduction of a likable, capable, and intelligent former spy with a photographic memory whose retirement career as the owner and operator of a bookstore is useful and believable to the impending story. I was intrigued enough with Cotton Malone, who seemed to be able to hold his own even in retirement, that I'd like to read more about this character. 

I enjoyed immensely the history Berry offered within the confines of a good plot of the Knights Templar from their rise and fall, from the knighthood created for the protection of Christian pilgrims to a secret society whose wealth and power rivaled that of the Roman Catholic Church, a fascinating historical legacy shrouded in mystery.

What I did not like, and in fact was appalling and completely unnecessary to the story line which was unraveling a mystery surrounding the Templar Legacy, was the desecration, the all-out attack, fraught with blatant lies and little-held opinion, of the Christian faith, of what is in fact the very foundation of the Christian faith - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ - or in Berry's opinion - it never happened. Thankfully, this is a piece of fiction.

Here's the rub. I enjoyed the writing, the character Cotton Malone, the story line, the history surrounding the Knight's Templar, but was extremely frustrated and confused by Berry's inclusion, unnecessary inclusion, slam of the Christian faith. Thus, I liked the book enough to give Berry some grace and try the next book in the series. Grace where he showed Christians none.