Monday, January 31, 2011

30 Days of Photos: 1

My youngest sister, Kayla, has been doing this on her Facebook page - and it's been so fun to read!  So, I thought I'd copy her and do it here...  Here goes!

Post a picture of yourself with 15 facts:
(In Portland last fall.  Enjoying the afternoon at a park with my friend, Jill.)

1.  My feet get really cold, therefore I love fuzzy socks and Smartwools!
2.  I do my best thinking in the shower... and most recently, on the elliptical!
3.  I'm a night person.  Mornings are still rough.
4.  I can't have caffeine after 10am or I won't sleep...  Isn't that sad?
5.  I'm addicted to Indian food at the moment.
6.  I've been learning how to make all kinds of bread products over the last year. My next challenge?  Naan.
7.  I have never craved going somewhere warm more than I am right now!
8.  I've been sky-diving twice and there's a hum on the grapevine that I may be able to do it again this summer for charity!  Woo-hoo!
9.  I love fireworks.  LOVE them.
10.  I love my job as Director of Youth and Outreach at a Methodist church.  It's a great place to be.
11.  I'm cheering for the Packers on Super Bowl Sunday!
12.  I can't wait to go back to Ireland...  There's so much more I want to see and experience!
13.  I got the hubby a gift certificate to brew his own beer - and I can't wait to go with him!
14.  I love the sound of my dog's toe nails on hard floors.  It makes me smile.
15.  One of my biggest pet peeves?  Cell phones.  People talking on them, or texting, while they're driving, walking, grocery shopping, in a restaurant, etc.  Pay attention to what you're doing and to the people you're with, please!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A quiet day at home.
2.  Not needing to drive on the roads today.
3.  Having time to read.
4.  Leftover chili - Yowsers!  It's spicy!  (yum...)
5.  The hubby shoveled.
6.  The hubby got to go snowboarding.
7.  Feeling rested.  Finally.
8.  Blue Heron soap.
9.  Fresh baked bread.
10.  A quiet night.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Body

"Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!"
--Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

"O Lord, I have been called to be part of a holy community.  You did not call me in isolation but placed me in the body of Christ, along with every other believer in Jesus throughout the world in every age.  Let us grow as a team, work as a team, worship as a team, weep, laugh, and live as a team.  Grant me the wisdom and the strength to partner with you and with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  For Jesus' sake and in his name I pray.  Amen."
--Max Lucado, from "Outlive Your Life"

Today was a wonderful Sunday!  A reminder of being part of a faith community that truly is "one body" working to move forward in faith and trust.

In worship this morning, there was such joy and laughter in the service that I couldn't help but LOVE this community.  The kids and I did the 'hokey pokey' during the children's sermon - and the whole congregation spontaneously joined in!  Awesome.  Small groups were being talked about in exciting ways.  The chili-cookoff that would be happening this evening had everyone teasing that they would win!  We had two people share inspiring stories on the ways their $5 (from the Living a Better Story Challenge) had made a difference in the world.  We even rolled out a list, that stretched from the altar to the back of the sanctuary, of ALL the ways the people of our congregation are serving in the world around us!  A visual that brought many gasps and surprised "oh!"s.  Our Pastor said a special blessing today on our community - and all the ways we are present in the world, as a sign of God's love.

It was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. 

Then, this evening the celebration continued!  We had our first ever chili-cookoff!  A very fun night!  Lots of yummy food - and fun conversation.  Prizes were awarded.  A young kid came just to eat all the chili he could - and even says if we do it again next year, he's bringing his grandma's chili!  It was a fun and light-hearted way to share fellowship with one another.

Following dinner, we went into the sanctuary for our Annual Church Meeting.  (I've been to many of these over the years - mostly boring, lifeless, or full of intense bickering.)  But this was a celebration!  The leaders of our church were able to give uplifting and encouraging reports of what we had accomplished in the past year - and had high hopes for the coming year!  There was laughter, jokes, even a toy puppy that rolled around on the floor laughing with glee! 

It's such an honor and a privilege to be part of a congregation that is so ALIVE.  (At my workshop on Saturday, we learned that leadership isn't about having all the answers - but about asking the big questions.  And not about everyone agreeing - but everyone staying in the conversation.  This is happening here - on many levels.)

Thank you St. Paul's Church - for a great night, and a great year!  Here's looking forward to another one!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On."  If you like a little whimsy, and a fun laugh - check out this video.  It makes me giggle more every time I watch it.  (Thanks, Matt, for sharing it with me!)

2.  So MANY little kids at church today!  It sure made the Hokey Pokey fun!
3.  People recognizing all the things I'm up to behind the scenes at work.
4.  Talking with Steve and Dana during the fellowship hour - so fun!
5.  The hubby making our chili and cornbread so I could take a much-needed nap.  Love him!
6.  The team of ladies that helped with the dinner - I'm so grateful for their help!
7.  Jennifer winning the chili-cookoff - she's been pretty intense about the competition!  She deserved it!
8.  Lots of great food!
9.  A wonderful, uplifting meeting.  So many great people, asking great questions, and sharing postitive observations.
10.  Coming home, and feeling content.  Life is good.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Thanks

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  The hubby making me coffee for my early morning drive.
2.  An excellent all-day training event!
3.  Sharing the event with a friend from church.
4.  Seeing old friends at the event.
5.  Feeling affirmed in the way we are leading our church forward!
6.  Lots of laughter - and great food!
7.  Going downtown to an outdoor beer-tasting event - love my long underwear!  (The Beer Dabbler at Mears Park in St. Paul, MN)
(There were a LOT of people out to taste beer in the 20 degree weather!)
(Oh yeah - crowds around the bonfires, warming hands, feet, and butts!)
8.  Beer-enthusiasts are the nicest people!
9.  Having a delicious dinner afterwards!
10.  Having fun with the hubby!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Everyday Devotion

"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."
--Thomas Moore

"Does flossing your teeth feed your soul?  Does sorting laundry make you thrive?  It most certainly can.  It's not just prayer that brings us closer to our spiritual selves.  We don't turn off our soul's work in order to do the dishes.  Any action at all can be devotional in nature if it is done from a clear, loving place.  Caring for your body, your home, and your family don't have to be time away spiritual practice.  They can be meditative, or they can just be what they are: simple actions, repeated, toward a goal of living better.  The more positive energy we bring to them, the easier they will be and the more they will serve us on many levels."
--Mina Parker, from "Less is More"

Simple actions, repeated, toward a goal of living better.  People make fun of me for being so neat and making sure my house is clean and in order - but this is exactly what it is.  Simple actions.  Time to think.  De-cluttering = de-stressing.  I've even found lately that I do some of my best brainstorming when I'm on the elliptical!  Half an hour of pushing myself in repetitive actions that make my blood pump harder, my breath forced in and out, and my brain synapses firing left and right!

I do these things to take care of myself - and to continue to bring clarity into my day.  As odd as it sounds, cleaning and exercising are gifts in my day. 

Whoa.  That was a weird discovery!  Ha ha ha.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Reading for fun.
2.  Getting some more details in place for the weekend.
3.  A date night with the hubby!
4.  Gift cards for an almost free date night!
5.  Mozzarella sticks - a guilty pleasure.
6.  A movie so horrible all we could do is look at each other and bust out laughing.
7.  Running into friends at the movie that had the same response!
8.  Getting my car washed - finally!
9.  A call from a friend.  Love her.
10.  Going to bed somewhat early for a Friday night!  (It was kind of nice...)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Surprisingly Ordinary

"Only if there is beauty in us can we recognize beauty elsewhere: beauty knows beauty.  In this way, beauty can be a mirror that manifests our own beauty.  This has little to do with narcissism or self-absorption.  To achieve a glimpse of inner beauty strengthens our sense of dignity and grace.  The glimpse ennobles us; it helps awaken and refine our reverence for the intimate eternal that dwells in us.  Yet the recognition of another person's beauty can sometimes induce envy and a sense of inferiority.  When we succumb to envy, we have become blind to ourselves.  In the end, the truth is surprisingly ordinary - that there is beauty in every life regardless of how inauspicious, dull or hardened its surface might seem."
--John O'Donohue, from "Beauty"

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A quiet day at the office - easy to get lots done!
2.  Completed projects.
3.  Willing helpers.
4.  Praying with a friend.
5.  A visit from Woods, a beautiful visla (dog).
6.  A wonderfully fun group of women at our "Conspiracy of Kindness" group tonight!
7.  The beautiful ways people are sharing their stories.
8.  The hubby having dinner ready for me when I got home at 8pm.  What a sweetie!
9.  A baby we've been praying for was re-united with his adoptive family today!  Woo-hoo!
10.  My hubby.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yummy Wednesday - Oatmeal Pancakes

I've been looking for a yummy oatmeal pancake recipe for a long time!  I had some at a favorite restaurant a few years ago - and every time I've been back...  They haven't had them.  Buggers.  But now?  Now I can make my own!  They're filling and delish! 

Oatmeal Pancakes
from the Penzey's Spices catalog (Winter 2011)

You'll need:
3/4 cup oat flour (you can make your own by grinding 1 cup whole oats - not instant - in a food processor)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp butter (melted and cooled slightly)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup cooked oatmeal*, not instant
1 Tbsp honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

To make:

1)  Mix together the oat flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.

2)  In a smaller bowl, stir the melted cooled butter, buttermilk, cooked oatmeal, honey, and eggs together until thoroughly combined.

3)  Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients only until combined.  Fold in the pecans.  Do not over mix; the batter will not have a uniform appearance.

4)  Heat a griddle over medium-high heat until water sizzles when dripped onto the pan.  Lightly coat the pan with 1 tsp melted butter. 

5)  Drop batter into the pan in 1/4 cup mounds.  Flip the pancakes when bubbles begin to form around the edges and cook until the bottom is a dark golden brown, about 5 minutes total.

6)  You may keep the pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven, if needed, until all are completed.

* To make cooked oatmeal, bring 2 cups of water, 1 cup of whole rolled oats and a pinch of salt to a boil and simmer on low for 5 minutes.  Let cool.

Makes about 20 pancakes.


Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Penzey's Spices - all kinds of good stuff!
2.  The new Amos Less CD - "Mission Bell."
3.  Spending the afternoon with Em, Sam, and Elly. 
(Mom, the jewelry was a big hit!)

4.  Play-dough.  It's awesome.
5.  Elly's "Oh, sure."
6.  Friendship.
7.  My mom making soup for my friend.  Very nice.
8.  The hubby doing a lot around the house this week - so nice.
9.  Dozing on the couch...  So relaxing.
10.  "Modern Family" - makes me chuckle.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ingredients for Joy and Meaning

In the book, "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown, one of the ways she suggests to set priorities in your home is to come up with a list that answers the question, "When things are going really well in our family, what does it look like?"  The answers that come forth are your ingredients for Joy and Meaning.

So today, I'm thinking about my list...  Here's a start:
When things are going really well in my family, what does it look like?

*  Getting 8 hours of sleep.
*  Eating a healthy breakfast.
*  Making time to exercise.
*  Taking a few moments in the morning to read and write.
*  The hubby kisses me goodbye in the morning.
*  The house is picked up (I know it seems petty, but it's one less thing to get on my nerves.).
*  Laughing throughout the day.
*  Work is fulfilling and fun.
*  Doing at least one small thing a day that makes a difference to someone else.
*  Not rushing...  But noticing the world around me (hawks, rainbows, snowmen, etc.).
*  Having dinner with the hubby.
*  Having the time to talk about our days - the ups and downs.
*  Having a calendar full of fun things to look forward to.
*  Keeping up on my "things I'm thankful for" list.
*  Prayer.
*  Laughing with my parents and sisters.
*  Spending time with friends - and helping them out when they need it.
*  Having the time and energy to volunteer.
*  Music.  Everywhere.
*  Cooking a couple of times a week.
*  Going for walks with the pup.
*  Exploring new things and places.
*  Saying "I love you" to those I love.
*  Surprises!
*  Having faith that everything will work out.
*  Learning from mistakes and moving on.
*  Celebrating successes!
*  Noticing the blessings in the people that surround me everyday.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Inspirational books.
2.  Ways to improve our daily lives.
3.  Getting 8 hours of sleep last night!
4.  Chocolate soy milk on Rice Krispies - a fun morning treat!
5.  The house smelling like fresh baked bread.
6.  Playing with the dog - and all 3 of her tennis balls!
7.  Pictures of my sister in California - looks like lots of laughter!
8.  Prayers for friends.
9.  People talking smack about our chili-cookoff at church - fun competition!
10.  Home.

Monday, January 24, 2011


When I took out this card... I have to admit, I wasn't sure I could do anything with it. I always keep my phone in my purse or pocket, and on silent if I'm with someone else. It drives me nuts when I'm visiting with people and they're constantly checking their phone. So I'm very aware of putting mine away.

(In fact, I used to never wear a watch - I'd just use my phone as my clock. But I realized, it meant I always was looking at my phone to check the time and the person I was with probably thought I was more interested in waiting for a call or text, than talking to them. That was not ok. I bought a watch and wore one for the first time in 10 years!)

So, back to the card. I wasn't sure I could use it - but I noticed myself paying more attention to how other people used their cell phones - and found someone to be very proud of!

I recently met one of my former youth group kids for lunch. He's in college now and doing very well. He's fun to be around and full of interesting conversation. We were having a wonderful time catching up when he told me that his new girlfriend and he were going sledding after he and I finished lunch. (We had already been talking for a couple of hours!) I asked if he needed to go, realizing his phone had vibrated a few times during our conversation and wondering if he was anxious to leave. But, he didn't even check the phone. He was completely present in our visit.

For a college guy, to put away his phone, when he's awaiting a call from his new, beautiful girlfriend - in order to chat with an old youth director?! Wow. I was so proud of the consideration and respect - and of the person he is, and is becoming.

What a wonderful gift to me. Thanks, John!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  The ability to sleep in after a rough night.  (Loud winds = migraine.  Ugh.)
2.  Hubby comes home tonight!
3.  Making homemade marinara sauce.  Yum.
4.  The dog is SO HAPPY to have the hubby home. 
5.  Daydreaming.
6.  Good books.
7.  Pastor Penny comes back this week - work will get back to normal!
8.  Egyptian Licorice tea.
9.  Getting through a tough workout today.
10.  Did I mention the hubby is home?  :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Life Inventory

The lesson from this week's chapter of "Secrets of Simplicity" is about identifying excessive responsibilities in our lives.  Part of today's reading:

"Overabundance affects more than just the stuff we buy - it can show up in all areas of our lives, including work, home, social activities, and parenting.  Just like that bright-colored cereal box that somehow ends up in our grocery cart (did we really choose those cornflakes?), one area of your life may automatically commandeer most of your time and energy, and you may not even realize it."

The following inventory is an exercise in looking at what is standing in the way of "your livelihood, your health, your ability to ultimately grow...  As you review your responses, think about whether they represent a life of your choosing."

(As you read through this list, respond "Always" "Sometimes" or "Never" - and see what you notice about the choices you are currently making for your life...  What does it reveal?)

Do I make time to exercise?  Always (at least, since Jan. 2nd)
Is my home life serene?  Always
Do I have downtime?  Always
So I have time to deal with incoming mail and bills?  Always
Do I have time to volunteer for a charity?  Sometimes (I'm working on it!)
Do the significant people in my life receive my attention when they need it?  Always
Do I keep my appointments?  Always
Do I see my friends?  Sometimes (could use more visits...)
Do I eat regular, healthy meals?  Always
Am I in control of my calendar?  Always
Are my home repairs done in a timely manner?  Most of the time?
Is my pantry stocked?  Always
Do I find time to get out and enjoy nature?  Sometimes (would like to more)
Am I getting enough sleep?  Sometimes
Do I take regular vacations?  Sometimes
Do I work less than 10 hours a day?  Most of the time...
Is my work fulfilling?  Always

Interesting...  I was thinking a couple of weeks ago, that I feel pretty "balanced" these days...  And I think this list hints at that, too.  The things I'd like to work on aren't exactly surprises!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A great morning at church.
2.  Teamwork.
3.  Matt's birthday (and Ghiradelli brownies!).
4.  Chatting with Marion, Jean, and LaDean after worship - what cool ladies.
5.  Going to visit my future bed and breakfast with my parents.  Ha ha ha.  It really is a LOVELY property.  I wish, I wish, I wish...  (Anyone want to donate to the cause?)
6.  Dinner with Mom and Dad at San Pedro.  Yum.
7.  Aliza was back!
8.  My nightly phone call from the hubby (he's home in Milwaukee til Monday).
9.  Watching and movie and reading before bed - a nice, quiet night.
10.  Catching my headache before it got too bad.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Thanks

Today I am thankful for:

1.  Quiet.
2.  Dancing to good tunes.
3.  Jalapeno poppers with raspberry preserves.
4.  Fresh, cut up veggies to snack on.
5.  The movie, "Alice in Wonderland" - I actually kind of liked it!
6.  Other people's generosity.
7.  More pesky chores getting done.
8.  Making homemade bagels!
9.  Actually getting the shoveling done...
10.  Fun plans for tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just a Day

"Nothing hurts you more than your expectations. 'If you trust life and learn to embrace it and try not to control everything, then life can be more wondrous than you thought it would be.'"
--Sarah Ban Breathnach

Just came across this quote today and thought it was so true!  Had to share...

Otherwise, it's been a pretty quiet day.  I got to stay home all day - reading, watching movies, doing some chores.  It was lovely.

Now, I'm looking outside and seeing snow falling.  Doh!  The hubby is gone for the weekend, which means I'm going to have to SHOVEL for the first time in years!!!  LOL  Oh well.  I suppose I could use that for some of my exercise today, huh?

I have plans to go out with one of my favorite people tonight - and I can't wait!  Just a simple dinner out - but we always have a wonderful time and talk until we're yawning more than talking... and realize it's really time to get on the road.  That's a sign of a great friendship! 

Life is good.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Sleeping in (as much as I can with the dog, anyway - she woke me up at 5am, 7am, and 8am!).
2.  A clean, quiet house.
3.  Restaurants that have nutritional info online so I can plan what I'll order before I get there.  Tricky tricky!
4.  I made it through a rough workout.
5.  Beautiful, fluffy, glittery snow falling!
6.  A wonderful evening out with Em!
7.  Em's funny way of including everyone in her night out - including the waitress.  She offered Em free dessert for her first girls' night out since having a baby!  Too funny!
8.  A funny phone call from my mom.
9.  Great music in the car while driving home at midnight!
10.  Deciding to wait til tomorrow to shovel...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Its Own Reward

"Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude."

"There is much to be said for uncomplicated motivations.  Less is more.  Do what you mean and mean what you do.  There's no point in cluttering up a perfectly good gesture with a bunch of excess expectations."
--Mina Parker, "Less is More"

We started a new small group tonight, based on the book, "The Conspiracy of Kindness" by Steven Sjogren.  The whole idea is about sharing our faith through actions.  Intentional, unexpected actions.  Actions that inspire people to ask, "why are you doing this?"  So that we can simply say, "to show you God's love in a practical way.  That's all!"

Fits right in with some of my other goals for this year - and apparently is intriguing to many others!  We have about 12 people signed up for the 7-week group.  Very cool!

We had some great discussion tonight about what it means to show love through actions - and our expectations when we do.  I think it's funny I read the above quotes tonight - they perfectly reflected our discussion!

I can't wait to see how the next 7 weeks develop: how we begin to view sharing our faith together through these acts, the things we'll brainstorm for our own community, and the little "practice" assignments we'll do throughout the study!  I think it will be a lot of fun!  And a great way to bring our community together.

What are you up to tonight?

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Working from home.
2.  Having lunch with the hubby before he left for a long weekend.
3.  Brussel Sprouts.  Whoa.  I made them for the first time last night - and I liked them!
4.  A great group tonight - everyone was very supportive of one another.
5.  Seeing a friend at Target tonight - fun to catch up.
6.  It's nice to have the dog at home, ready to greet me when the hubby is away.
7.  Indian food for dinner.  YUM.
8.  Curling up in bed with a book - a rare luxury.
9.  A great workout.
10.  Plans to go out tomorrow night!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yummy Wednesday - Spicy Shrimp Curry

Well, ever since we got back from Amsterdam, where I had Indonesian food for the first time - I have been in love with anything containing curry, cocount milk, and spice!  I have cravings that don't abate until I get myself some Indian food... and have been looking for some recipes to make at home.  The hubby came through last week with this recipe - it rocked my world!  (And yes, it is pretty spicy!)

Spicy Shrimp Curry
Found in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Newspaper

Adapted from a recipe for a curry from Goa in the south of India in "American Masala" by Suvir Saran (Clarkson Potter, 2007). Curry leaves, available at Indian markets, lend a nutty flavor. Serve with cooked basmati rice.

You need:
1 pound frozen, peeled raw shrimp, thawed
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons canola oil
20 curry leaves, optional
4 small dried red chiles
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 piece (3 inches long) ginger root, peeled, minced
1 red onion, chopped
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 ounces) coconut milk
1 cup chopped cilantro

To thaw shrimp:
Run the frozen shrimp under cold water or soak them for 10 minutes or just until thawed. Then, cook the shrimp with seasonings or a sauce for three minutes or until shrimp turn pink. And if you want dinner even faster, use already-cooked shrimp and skip the marinating step. Add the shrimp and some lemon juice at the very end of cooking.

To marinate shrimp:
1)  In food storage bag, mix shrimp, salt, pepper, red pepper and lemon juice.
2)Toss to coat. Refrigerate.

To make sauce:
1)  In wok or large skillet, heat oil, curry leaves and chiles over medium-high heat for 1 minute or until sizzling.
2)  Add pepper, ginger, onion and salt. Cook, stirring and sprinkling with a little water to keep from sticking if necessary, for 5 minutes or until onion is golden.
3)  Add garlic, coriander, turmeric and curry powder. Cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Reduce heat to medium.
4)  Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. 5)  Add coconut milk. Bring to a boil.

To add shrimp: Add shrimp and juices. Heat for 2 minutes or just until shrimp are cooked through and pink. Stir in cilantro.

Makes 6 servings.


Today I am thankful for:

1.  Aveda moisturizer.
2.  Ellen DeGeneres.
3.  Chatting with Diane.
4.  Smoothies.
5.  A great workout!
6.  Nice notes from faraway friends.
7.  Plans to go out with a friend this weekend!
8.  A nice dinner with the hubby before he leaves for a long weekend.
9.  Recognizing that vulnerablilites lead to so many blessings!
10.  Book group last night -so fun!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Gifts of Imperfection

We finally had book group tonight and got to discuss Brene Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are."

Can I tell you - I really loved this book!  (In fact, if you are a close friend of mine...  Don't go buy it if it sounds intriguing...  There may be one in your mailbox soon!)

I loved it.  There were so many things in this book that rang true in my life - and so many things that keep coming back to me in certain moments of my day...  The author is funny and down to earth - and so easy to relate to.  I thought I'd share a few of my favorite insights with you:

1)  "Men and women who live Wholeheartedly (meaning they engage in their lives from a place of worthiness) DIG deep... when they are exhausted and overwhelmed."  They D: become deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors through prayer, meditation, or simply setting their intentions.  I: are inspired to make new and different choices.  G: They get going.  They take action.  In other words, we have control over our lives even when we are feeling like we don't - it's just a matter of taking a moment and taking inventory of what is really happening, and then making intentional decisions to move forward in a way that is life-giving to ourselves.

2)  The gifts of imperfection that Brene focuses on throughout the book are Courage, Compassion, and Connection.  When we practice these daily in our lives, we begin to feel worthy through love, joy, and gratitude.  So true!

3)  One of the key topics is the courage to be vulnerable.  When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable within relationships, we more fully live out courage, experience compassion, and develop connections.  I feel like this has been the theme of my last year!  At one point Brene says, "Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.  In today's world, that's pretty extraordinary!" 

4)  The chapter about Compassion spoke VOLUMES to me.  She says, "The heart of compassion is really acceptance.  The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.  Well, it's difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us...  If we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior."  Boundaries + Accountability + Acceptance = Compassion.  Great lesson.  Great chapter.  It goes on to say, "When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated...  It's impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment."

5)  Another eye-opening lesson - about giving and receiving.  "Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart.  When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help."  Light bulb!  I have had so many discussions lately with people, encouraging them to ask for help when they need it...  And I've never thought about it this way.  Beautifully put!

6)  Brene Brown's main research over the years has been in Shame and Vulnerability.  And what she writes on these topics is very well done.  She talks about shame being the fear that we am unlovable - but that when we have those special people in our lives who can listen to our shame stories - the shame loses power.  She says of "the people who own and share their stories - I realize they are also people who practice shame resilience" (the art of living without shame).  Once again...  It all comes down to being able to share our stories - this time for our own health and well-being.  She continues saying, "Shame is about fear, blame, and disconnection.  Story is about worthiness and embracing the imperfections that bring us courage, compassion, and connection."

7)  Wonderful chapters on Authenticity, Perfection, Hope and Spirit, Joy and Gratitude, Intuition and Creativity, Play and Rest, Calm and Stillness, Meaningful Work, and Laughter Song and Dance.

8)  "Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism.  Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection."

9)  "Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we're all in this together.  Imperfectly, but together."

10)  "Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power that is greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives."

11)  "Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions.  To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn't come with guarantees - these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain.  When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy."

12)  "People were quick to point out the difference between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that's connected to circumstance and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that's connected to practicing gratitude."

And with that, my friends, I give you the things I am thankful for today:

1.  Lots of reading today - for work and pleasure.
2.  Peppermint tea.
3.  A great (and fun) workout.
4.  A big group for Book Group tonight!  So fun to have new people join the conversation!
5.  Lots of laughter - good for the soul.
6.  Being able to pray for so many friends.
7.  Keeping perspective.
8.  My hubby.  He's great.  And he puts up with me and my crazy ideas.
9.  Sharing a chocolate bar.  A special treat.  (Vosges Caramel Blood Orange - delish!)
10.  Feeling blessed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

BOOM BOOM: Taking My Time

I was a little skeptical with this card. I hold doors open for people all the time, so I didn't know if I'd really see any new opportunities or witness any unusual reactions. But today, as I headed out to meet a friend for lunch and shopping on a busy street in St. Paul, my hubby reminded me it would be a great place to play this card. So I did!

I decided to splurge and park in a parking ramp (it's an area of the city where it can be nearly impossible to find street parking!)... feeling a little guilty for spending the money on the convenience factor. But I ended up parking on the roof of the ramp - at the same time as several other cars, obviously all together! As I walked to the door for the stairway, I noticed them all falling into line behind me - so I held the door for all of them (maybe 9 or 10). They laughed and said "thank you." And I went on my way, down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. It looked like I was early for meeting my friend, so no rush!

I got downstairs, and was met with a long hallway to get outside. As I was walking down the hallway, I heard the elevator open behind me - and heard the voices of the laughing group of ladies from the roof! Once again, as I reached the door to outside, I stood and opened the door while they cheerfully passed through.

Once outside, they stood around chatting like they didn't quite know where they wanted to go first. So, I politely squeezed by and headed to the building of the restaurant where I was to meet my friend. I walked inside, looked around, and noticed Jill wasn't there yet... So I stood by the window, watching people pass by.

A couple of minutes later, guess who decides to come to the same restaurant? Yep! The same group of ladies from the parking ramp! So, once again, I go to the door and hold it open for this group. They seemed shocked and giggled - asking if I was their personal door-person for the day. I laughed. I enjoyed being part of their day.

They seemed to be a group of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters - out enjoying a day off of school and work to have a little shopping fun together. It was nice to share this act of simple kindness - and watch them light up and laugh each time.

Throughout the rest of the day I paid extra attention at each door we went through to see if I could hold it for someone - and noticed that my friend always did the same. It's such a simple act of courtesy - and a pity more people don't do it automatically. I know, while I already do this much of the time, I'm going to make the effort to be more intentional about it in the future...We all should, really!

To read about other Boom Booms, check out the website!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Waking up with the hubby home on a Monday.  How nice!
2.  A re-scheduled dentist appointment - lucky me!
3.  Good news from a friend!
4.  Another Boom Boom completed!
5.  A delish cup of chili at lunch.  Mmm...
6.  Fun, funky shops on Grand Ave.
7.  Exploring the new world of consignment shops!
8.  Sharing my day with Jill - so fun!
9.  A yummy, light dinner of baked trout and edamame.  Yum!
10.  A glass of wine before bed.  Lovely.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Today's reading of "Secrets of Simplicity: Learn to Live Better with Less," focuses on shopping and our wardrobes.  There's a simple quiz giving you possible insight into what kind of shopper you are (cryer, stalker, hoarder, up-grader, etc).  It's funny - while I like to shop, and feel I probably do it too often - I don't really fit any of the categories...  Interesting.

The chapter ends with a challenge to clean out our closets, taking a moment to analyze each piece of clothing and ask these questions:

"Does it fit?
Is it worn or torn?
Is it out of fashion?
When was the last time I wore it?
Will I wear it again?"

What's funny to me, is I just did this - almost with these same questions - right before Christmas.  AND I went one step further!  I did the old trick of hanging everything on hangers - hooked backwards to the rod.  When I wear something, I flip the hanger around.  By the end of the season, anything that hasn't been flipped is going to be donated!  It's working pretty nicely so far...

And yes, I've been trying not to spend money.  I haven't shopped for anything for myself in almost a month now.  (Of course, trying to lose weight plays a part.  I'm saving up for all those smaller sizes I'll be able to buy eventually!)

Here's the conclusion of the chapter (nicely put, I thought):

"In learning to say no and let go, you'll learn an important lesson: the difference between sacrifice and deprivation.  Sacrifice is a choice.  Deprivation creates a constant state of want.  Releasing what you do not need can help you regain control of your choices and ultimately your life.  Now that you know the ground rules, consider the following ten tips to let your home reflect your new sense of control:

1.  ...Take stock of your wardrobe often to make sure it's up to date...

2.  Be size proud.  Nothing says self-sabotage like keeping too-small clothing in your closet waiting for you to fit into them again, or holding onto larger sizes, just in case you gain weight..

3.  Learn to say no to second helpings and takeout.  Stock your kitchen with healthy choices, because most diets are derailed by temptation...

4.  Get comfortable with the idea of using, not amassing.  Use the pieces you have instead of buying multiples or replacing with a different model.  Love what you have.

5.  Generate good closet karma...  Donating to local charities and shelters will give you a spiritual as well as material cleansing...  Planning monthly organizing sessions will help you maintain your uncluttered closet.

6.  Shop your own closet first.  Put away the credit cards for a few days...  Use that extra time to sort out your stuff.

7.  Many of us buy on impulse, not out of necessity.  Find out if you really need that must-have item by leaving the tags on until you use it.  If you don't put the item to use within two weeks, return it to the store...

8.  Take a steady approach.  You did not get disorganized overnight, and the solution will not be instant either.  Everyday action against your big goal will ensure success...

9.  Detach.  Stuff has no emotion, so stop assigning it meaning...  Take control of your emotions, ad the stuff will seem less important.

10.  ...Consider proper storage for memorabilia (family heirlooms and hand-me-downs).  Your closet should reflect your present, not your past."

So far, so good!  I can work with this over the next week!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A very fun morning at church!
2.  Confirmands that crack me up.  One, when asked, "How is church like a gift?" responded, "Well, for example...  I've had a rough couple of days.  But right now?  I'm feeling all kind of good!"  Love it!
3.  I got to do a sermon about all the fun, sneaky, conspiring ways we can do unexpected kindnesses for people to "show God's love in a practical way."
4.  ...And got a bunch more people signed up to take part in our "Conspiracy of Kindness" small group!
5.  I had half a slice of pizza.  (Yes, I swallowed those points and enjoyed every tastbud full!)
6.  Tommy, a 5th grader, telling me I gave a great sermon today.  Too sweet!
7.  A LONG nap after church.
8.  Looking forward to a surprise in the mail from Elly!
9.  Planning my 29 days of gifts in February.
10.  The hubby doing the grocery shopping...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Thanks

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A lovely morning, sleeping in.
2.  A new pancake recipe: Oatmeal Pancakes.  Delish!
3.  Staying in my pjs half the day.
4.  Country music.  Did I just say that?!
5.  Finishing "The Conspiracy of Kindness" - a good church-y book.
6.  The hubby did his Boom Boom challenge last night!  (
7.  My youngest sister's new blog.  So funny - and smart!
8.  Leftovers from last night's dinner: Spicy Shrimp Curry.  Oh yeah.
9.  My amaryllis bulb is growing by the hour!
10.  Talking to my sister in Alaska yesterday - always fun to catch up!

Friday, January 14, 2011


"A great thought is a sense-spirit object.  It takes on a life of its own.  We are famliar in our history with certain frontiers where such thoughts awakened.  At a personal level, each of us is aware of certain threshold times in the lives of our hearts when such thoughts arrived and changed everything."
--John O'Donohue, "Beauty"

An interesting a beautiful quote...  (Especially after watching the movie, "Inception," last week!)

Do you have "threshold thoughts" that stick out to you?

Like the moment you realized you were an adult - and everything has changed?
The moment you realized "he (or she) is the one"?
The moment a dream was closed to you?
The moment a fresh dream emerged?
The moment you knew who you were meant to be?

Thresholds.  I love that visual.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Sleeping in, with the pup.
2.  Small chores done.
3.  Clean sheets.
4.  My "30th Birthday Music Mix" - a good workout CD today.  Thanks, Amanda!
5.  The songs, "You Sexy Thang," "Billie Jean," and "Walking on Sunshine."  Nice!
6.  The hubby rocking the snowboarding tricks today - he's pretty proud of himself.
7.  An awesome new recipe - I'll post it soon!
8.  A day without any headaches or vision problems.  Woo-hoo!
9.  A pretty snowfall this afternoon.
10.  Being pleasantly tired.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ocular Migraine

This is pretty much what I started seeing yesterday afternoon.  I was working on typing and writing and suddenly realized I was having a hard time reading... and when I tried focusing on the words - half the word was missing.  This "hole" in my vision was on the bottom left side to begin with, but was getting larger.  At first, I thought I had just been staring at the computer too long and needed to walk around for a bit.

So I did.  I went in the sanctuary and closed my eyes for a few minutes... thinking it would pass.  Pretty soon, I heard Pastor Penny looking for me.  So, I got up, turned around and walked toward her - alarmed that I was suddenly very dizzy AND I could only see half of her face!  Yowsers!

Before she asked me her question I told her what was going on.  She demanded I call a doctor right away. 

I spent the next hour talking to nurses and my opthamologist.  They collectively decided this was a new symptom for my migraines.  I should go home, take ibuprofen, and lay down.  My hubby had to leave work early to drive me home (I was way too dizzy and nauseous to drive myself).  And he graciously did.

The migraine pain came on full force once I got home.  But I slept well last night and the pain is gone today - just still a little dizzy and nauseous once in a while.

My friend, Diane, told me this sounded like the ocular migraines she's had in the past - so I looked it up.  For the most part, sounds like that is what it was.  Good to know.  Hope I never have one again!

Just for kicks, I'm going to my eye doctor this afternoon for a check up.  I'm due anyway and it will give me a little peace of mind.  Oh brother.  What a crazy day!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  My vision!
2.  An understanding - and concerned - boss.
3.  A loving hubby.
4.  Working from home most of today.
5.  Waking up with "Skidamarink-a-doo" in my head.  Remember singing that in the car Em and Mom?
6.  A clean bill of health for my eyes.
7.  The hubby driving me to work again tonight.  So sweet.  (And he cleaned off my snowy car, cleaned my windows, and put windshield wiper fluid in my car.  Thanks, babe!)
8.  A yummy new tuna steak recipe!
9.  Interesting, feisty conversations with the hubby tonight.  Politics, values, etc. 
10.  Looking forward to tomorrow - headache free and with normal eyesight!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thank You

"As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose somebody in our family -– especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken out of our routines. We’re forced to look inward. We reflect on the past: Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices that they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in a while but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward -– but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.

We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we're doing right by our children, or our community, whether our priorities are in order.

We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved -- and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.

And that process -- that process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions –- that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires...

...If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate -- as it should -- let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud...

...They believed -- they believed, and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here –- they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us. 

And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us."
--President Barack Obama in his Remarks on the Tucson Tragedy

I wasn't planning on watching the memorial service tonight.  I came home from work early with a horrible migraine and planned to just go to bed... But I woke up shortly before the memorial service began.  The TV was on in the background and I heard the speech begin...

Once again, our President has made me proud.  This wasn't a bland "pray for these good people and God bless America" speech.  This wasn't a continuation of the obsurd finger-pointing that's been going on.  This was a speech given by a man who is connected to this situation emotionally - because he chooses to be.  Watching Michelle Obama holding Gabby Giffords' husband's hand and shedding tears with him through the speech - they are connected to these victims and their families. 

What could have been a bland presidential service turned into a rally.  An appreciation of those who gave their lives and those who jumped into save lives.  Our President gave credit, gave blessings, gave direction, and gave hope - as he is so good at it!

I teared up many times throughout the speech - at mentions of Gabby and the little girl that died, Christina; but also at his guidance in how we live our lives.  America can be a better place - if only each one of us will vow to live better lives.  Treat others better.  Think about what we say before we say - or type - it.  Be respectful and dignified in our discussions.  Show compassion to ALL, not just those we think deserve it.

Thank you, President Obama, for your reminder that we have hope - and we all have a role in making that hope a reality.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  The song "Free" by Donovan Frankenreiter.
2.  Workouts getting easier.
3.  Light vanilla soy milk - makes Rice Krispies taste good!
4.  The start of a productive day at work.
5.  Penny's concern when I wasn't feeling well.
6.  Talking with nurses and my doctor on the phone - a wonderful help.
7.  The hubby leaving work early to take me home.
8.  Hot showers.
9.  Sleep.
10.  A compassionate President.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gift Giving

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving."
--W.T. Purkiser

"I'm sure you've heard the saying, 'With great power comes great responsibility.'  I would also add that with great gifts come great responsibilities.  Whether we're blessed with exceptional talents, abundant resources, or wonderful bursts of energy, the best way to thank the universe for sending them our way is to use them in service of something greater than ourselves.  We can pray and intone and shout out our thanks as often as we like, and believe me there's nothing wrong with that, but as with many things the message comes across loudest through action."
--Mina Parker, "Less is More"

I'm currently re-reading a book called, "The Conspiracy of Kindness" by Steve Sjogren.  It's a book about evangelism (I know, "ick" right?), but not just any kind of evangelism - servant evangelism.  It's about action first and words later.  It's about doing unexpected kindnesses for the people around us (especially those who don't know what they believe) and when they ask questions like "why?" you can say, "Because I follow a God who showed love through action, and so I choose to show God's love to you, too."  Sneaky?  Maybe.  Easy?  Yes.  Effective?  Surely.  Fun?  To me - Yes.

So, I'm getting ready to lead a small group at our church based on this book, and throughout the book it tells of ways different congregations have reached out in their communities through kindness - I love it!  I'm looking forward to getting a "Conspiracy Team" together to reach out to our church's community and do some covert kindness, as well!

Then, I'm currently doing the Boom Boom Revolution.  Haven't heard of it?  Check it out here.  So fun.  You're given cards (or you buy the cards, first, and part of the cost goes to a charity of your choice), then you do the intentional kind act on the card, next go to the website and enter the card's code and your story.  Then - here's the even better part - you pass the card on to someone else!  They do the task on the card, enter it on the website, and pass it on again!  There's a map on the website that allows you to see all the places the card has gone, and what people have done to live out the task.  It's kind of a fun way to do acts of kindness and watch the trend spread!

In February, I'm going to participate in the 29 Days of Giving movement as well.  Based on the book, "29 Gifts" by Cami Walker, it's an experiment in how we change our own outlook on life and change the world by giving to others.  The story of how and why it got started are in the book, but basically the message is (like the quotes above) that we are all gifts and it's our purpose to continue giving all the time.  I love this idea and can't wait to get started!  Once again, there is a website where you can tell your stories - a great way to get inspiration and give it!

When was the last time you gave something away?  Advice?  A smile?  A helping hand?  A flower?  A present?  Your time?  Your presence?  A kind word?

I have to admit...  waking up everyday thinking about "what can I give today?" has been a pretty fun and exciting way to start the day!  Even the gloomiest days have had a ray of sunshine when I've been able to give to someone else.  Try it - you won't be disappointed!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Good workout music:  Dar Williams' "Better Days,"  Ingrid Michaelson's "I'm OK," and Rusted Root's "Send Me On My Way."
2.  The hubby doing chore without being asked.
3.  Homemade rye bread.
4.  A friend buying my dinner.  So nice.
5.  Sharing cross-country skiing stories over dinner.  Too funny.
6.  The ladies on my Mission Team remembering and laughing about the hubby and I taking pictures of our socks in fabulous places all over the world!
7.  This video - very fun.

8.  Getting the last of the Trader Joe's "Joe Joes."
9.  A new Penzey's Spice catalog with yummy-looking recipes.
10.  A nice "thank you" note in the mail. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 Books

Since I'm about to clear my book list from 2010, I thought I'd run through them and give some very quick reviews.  (Then I can start my 2011 list!)  If you're looking for some good reads, feel free to take a look:

"Huck" by Janet Elder:  A very cute story about a family who finally gets their first puppy and falls in love with it...  Then loses it when they go away on vacation.  'Huck' the dog is staying with relatives when he gets out of the yard - but don't worry it's a happy ending - and a true tale of generosity of spirit as the entire New England town comes out to help find Huck!  A fun weekend read.

"Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller:  A memoir of one man's journey of faith.  He's part of my generation and I related to his thoughts on religion and spirituality through different phases of his life.  Funny.  Profound.  Loved it.  (This was my second time reading it.)

"When Christians Get It Wrong" by Adam Hamilton:  This was a book group pick.  It was good...  But didn't really challenge me.  I felt like I already was in line with what the author was sharing.  A message of compassion and grace.

"Beauty" by John O'Donohue:  I'm loving this book!  I'm reading just a bit at a time, during my morning reading.  It's beautifully written, Celtic-based thoughts on what beauty is, where it is, and how we access it.  It's a series of essays and easy to read just a few pages at a time.

"The Life You've Always Wanted" by John Ortberg:  I've been reading this book as a resource for some of our church's monthly theme discussions...  And have found that I really like John Ortberg's way of talking about faith and spirituality - with humor, insight, and in ways we can all relate to.  This book has challenged me in the use of some of the spiritual disciplines - very cool!

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini:  I had heard several people say that this book was not as good as "The Kite Runner," but I really disagree!  I found this book to heart-rending and heart-warming at the same time.  I laughed and cried.  It's the story of two women finding friendship and family in each other in a VERY hard world...  Yeah, I probably cried more than I laughed - but it was so good.  I didn't want it to end...  I wanted to continue following these courageous women!

"Be the Surprise" by Terry Esau:  A fun, quick read by a local author.  He talks about praying everyday for God to use us to surprise others (with kindness, love, and faith).  I love the premise - and the stories spark some cool ideas of ways to live our faith!

"The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness" by Karen Armstrong:  This was another Book Group selection.  I didn't really care for it much - but many in my group loved it.  It's the story of a woman who entered the convent at a very young age during a time when convents weren't very compassionate places.  She develops epilepsy while there and when no one acknowledges her medical issues, she spirals into deep despair and depression...  By the time she leaves the convent, she doesn't know how she will ever survive in the "real world."  The book is a memoir, following her through these dark struggles and into the light again.

"Same Kind of Different As Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore:  A Book Group selection that I LOVED!  It's funny, sweet, profound, and made me change the way I see the world.  A beautiful story of a friendship that grows between a homeless man and a successful art dealer (all because the art dealer's wife says that God showed her that they would be friends!).  A wonderful story of following God's guidance and trusting in God no matter what comes your way.

"Fearless" by Max Lucado:  If you're familiar with Max Lucado's writings, it's more of the same.  If you haven't read him before, give him a try!  He has a soft and gentle way of talking about faith - in a way that makes it accessible to all of us.  His writing is compassionate and loving, tender and truthful.  And this book, in particular, challenges us to live past our fears by placing our trust in God in all we do.

"Amazing Grace" by Kathleen Norris:  Another Book Group selection that I loved!  She breaks down words that are often used when talking about faith - and defines them in ways that allow love and grace to shine through (rather than the judgement and doubt that we often associate with the words).  She redefines a life of faith in beautiful ways!

"The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin:  A fun book, a memoir, talking about how the author made intentional decisions to let a little more happiness into her daily life.  Great inspiration for us to do the same!  Fun ideas to spark a little more happiness in all of our lives!

"An Altar In the World" by Barbara Brown Taylor:  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book!  I loved the way this book challenges you to see the sacred all around you, in all you do.

"Journeys to Simplicity" by Philip Harnden: A fun little book.  It's compiled of a series of lists - lists of what people (famous and ordinary) have taken on journeys or had in their homes...  Living simply takes on a whole new meaning!

"Less is More" by Mina Parker:  Love this!  I'm still reading a little bit every week.  Her words offer us peeks into cherishing the simple blessings in our lives.  (And it makes a beautiful, small, coffee table book!)

"This Beautiful Mess" by Rick McKinley:  Hmmm...  Not my favorite.  His messages are good, but he's a little too evangelical for me.  Basically, the message is about being more compassionate and loving our neighbors - and through those actions we share the love of God with our world.  Like I said, great message!  Just didn't care for the style or writing.

"Outlive Your Life" by Max Lucado:  I was given this book at a conference this year, so I read a second Max Lucado book in one year!  And it's good!  Real good!  The message is about living your life in a way that makes a difference in the world, that shares the love of God, that opens us up to how God can use us.  Love it!

"Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert:  One of my favorite reads of the year!  I know people have mixed feelings on this one - either you love it or you hate it...  But I'm a love it kinda gal.  The first time I started it, I hated it - maybe it depends where you are in your own journey...  I just loved the insights she learned about herself, her world, her spirit, her future.  It inspired me to look at a little closer at my own journey (although a little closer to home!).

"Something More" by Sarah Ban Breathnach:  The same author of "Simple Abundance" which I loved...  Can't say I loved this one as much.  It felt like the author was dealing with her own issues through writing this book, and many of the topics I just couldn't relate to.  Of course, there were still some wonderful insights, too - but if you're reaching for one of her books, I would recommend "Simple Abundance."

"A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller:  Another of my favorite reads of the year...  In fact, probably my FAVORITE book this year - it has changed the way I live my life.  He asks, if your life was a storyline - what would you want it to look like?  What do you want your story to be and how are you going to make it happen?  What are the choices you are going to make everyday to accomplish this?  He does it with humor, honesty, and faithful insights...  LOVE it.

"Unbinding the Gospel" by Martha Grace Reese:  I read this for my research and small groups at church.  A great way to understand what evangelism can look like in today's world - and what it doesn't have to look like!  It took away a lot of fear of the "e" word for me - and made it a fun topic to discuss!

"The Lakota Way" by Joseph Marshall:  We read this to prepare for our mission trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota last summer.  A beautiful book of short stories, told by the Dakota culture.  Spiritual, warm, and full of culture - I really learned a lot and liked this book.

"When You Pray" by Rueben P. Job:  A daily prayer book that follows the common lectionary.  It includes scripture references, essays, quotes on prayer, and prayer prompts.  I love it for daily prayer times!

"The Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner:  Not the kind of book I usually read...  It's about the "blue zones" on the planet, the places where people live the longest and the healthiest.  It breaks down the components of diet, exercise, vitamins, lifestyles - all the things that contribute to the longevity of these places.  Very cool!  I'm looking forward to reading his new book, "Thrive."

What was your favorite book of the year?  I'd love to hear!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Finally getting some good sleep in the wee hours of morning.
2.  An "easy" workout.
3.  The song, "I Wanna Lay You Down" by ALO.  It was great encouragement on the elliptical this morning!
4.  WW weigh-in:  3.2 lbs lost!
5.  Getting more little projects done around the house.
6.  Reading for my new small group and to prepare for preaching this Sunday.  Good stuff.
7.  New snow falling!
8.  New highlighters....  Always fun.
9.  Chapstick.
10.  Trader Joe's Joe Joe Mint cookies.  Mmmm...
11.  Oh!  I almost forgot:  The owls that were hooting outside our windows in the early morning hours this morning...  It was so cool to lay in bed and listen to them calling back and forth!
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