Best Audio of the Summer

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Book marks I colored while listening to audio books!

We’ve gotten into the habit of listening to a lot of audio books over the last few months. I read The Chronicles of Narnia aloud to the boys in the spring, and as soon as I finished The Last Battle, they wanted me to read them again. Instead, I got a couple of them on audio book and they’ve been listening to them at night when they go to bed every night. It warms my heart how much they love to listen to books.

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I received a couple of free audio books a few months ago – both were narrated by Richard Armitage, whose voice seems to have been designed for audio narration. So when I was browsing and found that he had narrated David Copperfield, I decided to take the plunge. When I was in high school I read Great Expectations and truly thought that I hated Charles Dickens ever since. I haven’t enjoyed an audio book more than David Copperfield – ever! The characters were unforgettable and the suspense – would Agness marry Uriah Heap?! – was palpable. I thought David was possibly one of my least favorite characters until toward the end of the book, but he was redeemed in my eyes. The ending was probably one of the most satisfying I’ve read in a long while.

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One of the reasons I’ve not read David Copperfield before this was because of its sheer length. I like long books, but with all of the other reading I’ve been doing I am sure I wouldn’t have read it for a long while if I hadn’t listened to it. Once I had completed it, I decided that audio was the perfect way to consume those long classics that I wouldn’t otherwise get around to reading, and I downloaded Middlemarch by George Elliot, narrated by Juliet Stevenson. (People, I’m in love with audio books narrated by British actors. <Insert multiple heart emoticons here.>) Elliott had a masterful understanding of the intricacies of marriage, as well as the interconnectedness of a small community, and how small choices we make can ripple and impact those around us in a magnified way. This book is a virtual feast and the beauty of its ending brought me to tears:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.”

– George Elliot, Middlemarch

If you’re looking for a delightful audio book, both of these are sure to fit the bill!

Book Club

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Doesn’t a book club sound like a wonderful idea? I’d been thinking about trying one for over a year and took the plunge this summer. I hand-picked the books and the ladies for the club. We met three times over the summer – once in June, July and August – and at each meeting discussed one book. Somewhere along the way, what was meant to be simply a summer book club morphed into something we just had to keep going.

I believe this is going to be the year of the re-read for me. While I haven’t completed all of Austen’s novels (yet! I do still intend to read them all before the year’s end!), I’ve re-read several other books this year. The books I selected for book club were all re-reads for me.

In June, we discussed C.S. Lewis’ book Til We Have Faces. The first time I read Til We Have Faces was on a perfect beach day, and the story filled my heart with longing. I don’t know why, but I have recently realized that I prefer stories about female relationships, whether that is a friendship or family relationship, and I really love the stories of older women. In any case, this tale of a sister who loves selfishly and hides her face deeply impacted me and I know this won’t be the last time I read it! Lewis deftly argues for sacrificial love and the absolute necessity for vulnerability in relationship. In a word, Til We Have Faces is sublime.

For July, book club read and discussed Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. This novel is a wild adventure/western romp which forced discussion on the reality of miracles and testifying to the work of God in our lives. It is strongly reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird in that it is written from the point of view of an adult looking back on a series of events that happened in childhood. Our group had such fun talking about this one!

In August, we dove into Rosalie DeRosset’s book Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices. This one created lively discussions on a variety of topics. I highly recommend all young women read this book, and if they read in order to discuss with a mentor (or mom!) so much the better!

I thought it might be difficult to spark discussion in a group, so I had planned a long list of questions for our first meeting, but after that I realized I didn’t need to prepare quite so much. The ladies in our group are predisposed to talk and don’t mind sharing their opinions. It’s been lovely to discuss books with other people – I really think it’s my love language! – and I’m excited to continue. We’re re-reading Jane Eyre for next month and I couldn’t be more pleased, unless we were reading Pride and Prejudice. 😉

 

The News

Back when I was in the business world (yep, can you believe it? Over a decade of experience in the financial industry right here), we had TVs set to the news in our lobbies and we listened to the talking heads all day. That was when I realized how discouraging the news can be, and I started not to pay attention to it.

When I stopped working outside the home to care for my boys full time (and home school now, eek!), I stopped listening to the news altogether. There is a whole, long, drawn-out story about how much I did NOT care about the presidential election in 2012 (something about having a child in the hospital for months that sort of makes the rest of the world fade into the background), and after that I paid no attention. I mean, I live in this world, but do I really need to know what’s going on in other countries? Or even in the rest of *this* country? It’s depressing! It’s discouraging! Why do I want to hear about the evil of humanity, on repeat ad nauseum?

A little over a year ago, my sister Alli told me, “You need to be informed on current events.” To be fair, she wanted to have a conversation about what was happening in our world and I had no clue.  After some pondering, I decided that she was correct, and I started listening to a news podcast called The World and Everything In It every week day. I’ve been a subscriber to WORLD magazine for years, but if I am truthful I would say that I read about half of the magazine about half of the time, so it wasn’t doing me a lot of good. Besides, news in magazine form like that is bound to be dated. I needed current events, currently!

Since I started listening to the WORLD podcast, I am now equipped with more knowledge of what is going on in the world, and can be a much better conversationalist (just ask my sister). Not only do I know what is going on, but I also know more about our government and the leaders therein. I’ll give you one practical example: Can you name the Supreme Court Justices? Before I started listening to the podcast, I couldn’t have named one. Because of the podcast, I *knew* why it was a big deal to conservatives when Antonin Scalia passed away earlier this year. (Thank you, WORLD!)

Because I am better informed and the current events of the world are brought to my mind on a daily basis, I have prayed more in the last year for our nation, its leaders, and other people throughout the world (the persecuted church, those who are displaced, those who need a Savior, etc.) than I ever have before in my life.

I am thankful for what the people at WORLD are doing, and I want to share that you can get a FREE three-month trial subscription at WWW.GETWORLDNOW.COM. I listen to The World and Everything In It podcast through my podcast app, but WORLD has its own app you can use as well. If you’re like I was and you’re sticking your head in the sand, here’s an opportunity to become a better conversationalist, citizen, and prayer warrior.

Still Anne

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The good news is that when I read Persuasion, I’m still Anne.

The bad news is… well, there is no bad news. I finished Persuasion and could hardly stand to part with Anne and Captain Wentworth. It’s fascinating how many details I’ve forgotten from these books. Has it really been that long since I’ve read them? How could I forget how masterful Austen is at capturing the emotions of her heroines? The use of blushing cheeks at the very least is a detail that I noticed for the first time in this re-read.

I think Persuasion is often undervalued because it is currently countercultural to submit to authority. Anne is the perfect example of one who submitted, suffered (there is no denying that submission has a cost), grew, and ultimately conquered heartache through her submission.

Much as I love Lizzy, Anne is the Austen heroine with whom I most identify (Elinor Dashwood takes a close second place in this category) – similarly to how I identify more with Emily than with Anne in Montgomery’s works. Something about the autumnal feel of these books resonates  in my very soul. Anne is a heroine who keeps her counsel, yet feels things keenly. She understands what it means to be rejected, yet she perseveres in what she knows to be right.

Plus, who can possibly resist a love story that hinges upon the receipt of a letter?

Just Call Me Mrs. Gardiner

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My friend Heather texted me recently to let me know that she was rereading Sense and Sensibility, and I suddenly felt the urge to re-read Austen. It’s probably been two years since I’ve read any of her novels cover to cover, so I decided to re-read them all, starting with Pride and Prejudice, then working in order of which I like best to the one I like least. So I’ll be reading them in the following order:

  1. Pride and Prejudice
  2. Persuasion
  3. Sense and Sensibility
  4. Emma
  5. Northanger Abbey
  6. Mansfield Park

I’m blessed to own a copy of her minor works, and my mother-in-law gave me a copy of “My Dear Cassandra” for Christmas, so I think I’ll read those as well. I also own three different biographies of Jane herself, and while I’m not sure I will re-read them all, I think a re-read of one is in order.

(Please just know that as I’m typing this I have a slap-happy grin on my face. All of this Austen immersion makes me positively giddy!)

I finished Pride and Prejudice earlier this week (and have already begun Persuasion – insert sigh of contentment here) and was shocked at how much better it was than even I had remembered. The characters delight me, and although my perspective on the whole thing has changed drastically, I was still utterly entranced in the story itself and laughed aloud many times.

When I say that my perspective has changed, I mean that I no longer see myself as Lizzy. Please don’t think me morose – I’m most decidedly not – but I’m certainly “ever so much more than twenty” years old now, and much as I might wish things were different (although I wouldn’t go back to twenty years old if you paid me many millions of dollars), I’m just not the heroine of that particular story any more. (You know what I mean, right? When you read a book and you ARE the heroine? I’m not the only one, right?) And I almost think I like Lizzy more now that I have a few years on her.

What really struck me, though, was how much I identified with Mrs. Gardiner, Lizzy’s aunt. She isn’t an OLD aunt; she’s probably 35 or 36, and has four small children. She plays a small but pivotal role in the story. The reason I appreciated her so much this time, though, was because she spoke the truth in love to Lizzy, pointing out an error in judgment that helped our dear heroine to adjust her trajectory just enough to alter the course of her whole life.

You all know how I dearly love to give advice, so this moment in the book where Elizabeth listens respectfully to her aunt made me sit up and pay attention. How did Mrs. Gardiner exert her influence? Well, first of all, she had already built a relationship with her niece. She knew Elizabeth, and loved her, and Elizabeth knew that she was loved. Secondly, she had the conversation in private. Thirdly, she said her piece, then let Elizabeth make her own choices. Lizzy knew that Mrs. Gardiner was a wise advisor and that her judgment could be trusted, so she listened, and Austen tells us this conversation was “a wonderful instance of advice being given on such a point, without being resented.”

If we want to influence others, then, we should be like Mrs. Gardiner and build relationships, give sensitive advice in private, and once we’ve given our advice, respect others enough to allow them to make their own decisions.

Continue Wholeheartedly

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I’ve fallen off the blogging bandwagon in a major way, but I wanted to post a quick check-in on the 90-Day Bible Reading Challenge. How’s it going? If you’re keeping up with the challenge, then you should be in the book of 1 Kings right now.

We read these accounts of lives and they are a span of a few pages – sometimes less. It boggles the mind to think of how quickly lives pass. Even so our own lives in this day and age. Solomon’s life always makes me sad. He had the world – literally, in 1 Kings 10 we learn that he was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth – and yet, He did not follow his own advice in chapter 8.

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This verse hit me in a major way today. What a promise! He keeps his covenant of love with His servants! Praise be to the Lord! But wait – “…keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.” Whoa! When I saw that word “wholehearted,” I was reminded of Brene Brown’s book and what she says about those who live whole-hearted lives… Blessed be the thought! Wholehearted living doesn’t just bring success… it brings obedience and the covenant of love with our God.

What a gracious reminder to continue wholeheartedly in His way.

90 Day Bible Reading Challenge

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Last year around this time, I took the plunge to read the Bible in 90 days. I gleaned so much from that experience that I decided to make it an annual tradition. Today, I am finishing up a Bible study at my church and I challenged the ladies in my study to join me in reading the Bible in 90 days. Twelve ladies signed up for the challenge, and we start tomorrow*! (If this is something you’re interested in joining, comment below and I will email you a reading plan!) I’m going to be forthright: this isn’t for everyone. It’s a fairly extensive commitment. I’m talking about 30-45 minutes of reading each day! However, I do find that those cutesy little phrases that personal trainers use often apply in areas like this, so I’ll just leave you with this thought: If you want results you’ve never had you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done.

I’ll be blogging periodically about this challenge, so stay tuned!

*The odd start date (Tuesday, November 17th seems random!) is due to us completing a Bible study today and starting another at the end of February… we are squeezing this challenge in between studies).

What We Saw There

A fountain in the Versailles garden

A fountain in the Versailles garden

In my senior year of high school, I purchased (and listened to over and over) Chris Rice’s cd Smell the Color Nine and a line of lyrics from the song Life Means So Much still rings in my ears: What if no one wants to read about me when I’m gone?

We saw amazing things in Europe. We saw historic monuments and castles and cathedrals and ruins. We witnessed living art in the form of music and gardens. We experienced so much celebrated, historic beauty that my mind reels just thinking of it. As we walked through Versailles and the Sistine Chapel and the Coliseum and looked at the Mona Lisa, I kept thinking about the people who had created these things, and how all of mankind seems to want to leave a stamp on the world. We want to leave a legacy of some kind… we want to be remembered.

I do not believe that is inherently a bad thing; however, it struck me that no matter how long-lasting our legacy might be, or how celebrated our creations might become, we are all still as dust. I doubt that the creators of the Versailles gardens made it their aim that those who walked through the garden would be pointed heavenward. I’m completely sure that the men who designed and built the temples in ancient Rome did not mean to point me to Christ. Yet, all that I could think about as I walked through all we saw was how eternal my God is. People are born, they live, then they die, but God has always been and will always be.

What we saw in Europe served as a reminder to me that whether or not anyone cares to read about me when I’m gone, I want to live in such a way that will point others to what really matters.

Barcelona

Our cruise ended in Barcelona, so we spent a day touring the sights there. I’ve not ever studied Barcelona, so I was ignorant of what awaited us. The Hubs had taken a class in college about Barcelona architecture, so he was excited to look at structures he’d studied.

Our first stop was the Sagrada Familia. I had heard of this basilica, and our tour guide in Rome had talked about how it was her favorite thing in Barcelona. Personally, I thought it was a massive monstrosity. This building is Gaudi‘s interpretation of gothic architecture, but I thought it was reminiscent of something you’d see in a Tim Burton film. It’s been under construction for over 100 years, but supposedly it will be finished in 2026.

The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia

We walked past the Arc de Triomf. There was a huge festival of some kind going on in the park there. It seems that everywhere we went in Europe something was happening to make it extremely busy!! We saw the Casa Mila several other structures.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

My favorite by far was the Santa Maria del Mar – probably because it’s actually old. Had a difficult time finding it because there aren’t any major roads leading to it… we had to walk through a labyrinth of alleyways between ancient-looking buildings (which housed businesses and shops at the ground level but seemed to be residences in the levels above) in order to get to it.

Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar – Isn’t the photographer cute?!

Out of all of the meals in all of the countries, our dinner that night was my favorite. Of course, I didn’t take a picture of it, but we went to Cera 23 based on Trip Advisor reviews. Once again, we had to walk through a labyrinth of alleyways to get there, and we were a little uncertain of the part of town – it felt a little like “the hood.” When we walked in the front doors, it looked like we had walked into a bar. Fortunately, behind the bar was the dining room and we had the best experience! I ordered ceviche as an appetizer. Oh, my. It was by far one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and my favorite food from the entire trip. I wish I’d taken a picture of it, but you’ll just have to trust me – it was delicious. The red onions were fresh and crisp, the fish tender and mild, with a hint of cilantro in the lemon broth. I wish I could eat it again right now (and it’s early morning!).

 

Cruise

A Mediterranean Cruise?! Yes, thank you, I think I will!

We embarked on the Norwegian Epic for a quick, 4-day cruise with ports of call in Livorno, Cannes, Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona.

First night on the cruise

First night on the cruise

The first morning, we did the shore excursion to Pisa and Florence via a bus. This was a long day with lots of walking.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Palazza Vecchio

Palazza Vecchio

After a few days filled with lots of going, we decided to skip the shore excursions in Cannes and Palma de Mallorca. We stayed on the ship and relaxed!

Reading poolside on the ship

Reading poolside on the ship

Playing chess on the cruise ship

Playing chess on the cruise ship

Fancy Dinner Double Date

Fancy Dinner Double Date

French Riviera from the ship

French Riviera from the ship

We have decided that we like cruises.