Book Review: All is Bright

Book Review: All is Bright

All is Bright by Nancy Guthrie AdventI am absolutely loving this Advent coloring book. Might this be the one that finally pushes me to complete an entire Advent season of devotions??

All is Bright, by Nancy Guthrie and Lizzie Preston, is a beautiful adult coloring book and devotional for the Christmas season.

Grab your colored pencils, cozy up with your favorite blanket and a cup of tea, and settle in for a night of peace and wonder with All Is Bright.

I have already admitted my love of coloring, and when I saw this special holiday coloring book focused entirely on “a devotional journey to color your way to Christmas”, I thought this would be right up my alley. Sure enough, it’s a lovely collection of reminders of anticipation of our Lord’s birth (and, in fact, all the way to December 31). Most of the coloring pages are absolutely lovely, a few leave something to be desired. But I think that’s typical, as not every drawing is going to speak to every person.

The author of the devotionals, Nancy Guthrie, is familiar to me through the GriefShare program that she and her husband developed and host and through a women’s conference where I heard her speak. I know her teachings are Biblical and on point. Read more

Book Review: M is for Manger

Book Review: M is for Manger

M is for MangerM is for Manger is a delightful children’s book for the holiday season written by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley, illustrated by Claire Keay.

As it goes through the letters of the alphabet, M is for Manger features a piece of the Christmas story for little ones — from the Angel that came to Mary to the Zillions of stars in the sky.

I really enjoyed this little alphabet primer all focused on the true Christmas story. While my little one won’t be joining us in time for Christmas this year, I expect next Christmas this will be a much-loved book in our house. The illustrations are simple and adorable, while the letters and rhyming provide a great rhythmic read that children will love. And, of course, this book teaches the story of Jesus’ birth — the center of all of the Christmas celebrations in our house. I love that each page tells a piece of the story and provides the Scripture reference where you can point children when they begin asking more questions as they grow a little older each holiday.

I definitely recommend M is for Manger for all those with little ones in their lives!

I received a complimentary copy of M is for Manger from Tyndale House Publishers, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.

Book Review: Children’s Christmas Books

Book Review: Children’s Christmas Books

Childrens Christmas giveaway 3books

A Donkey’s Little Tale

A Donkey’s Little Tale by R. Mitchell Scott is an adorable, simple telling of the Christmas story from the perspective of the donkey carrying Mary to Bethlehem.

I never thought about how the donkey might view the stable not as an inferior resting place but as a delight. I know my own animals are fond of their dry, clean stall and sweet-smelling hay. Perhaps Mary’s donkey was just as happy to have such a place to sleep the night of Christ’s birth.

I loved the illustrations in this book — designed by the author in clay and translated into sketches and final illustrations by Brittany Huskey — and the rhyming tale would be easy for even young children to follow along with.

The Manger Mouse

Most who know me well know that I think mice are just adorable, especially tiny little field mice and even the trouble-making ones I find in my barn. So a children’s Christmas book about mice seems right up my alley.

The Manger Mouse by Sarah Martin Byrd tells the story of a young stable mouse whose job it is to prepare the manger for the Baby Jesus on that first Christmas so long ago. The story teaches children not only about the birth of Christ but also about being “called” to serve our Lord and Savior.

Beautifully illustrated with pastels by Debbie Wall, this is a pleasant tale of a special little mouse and his encounter with the King of Kings.

Chesed’s Order

I wasn’t sure what I would think about J. Aaron Culpepper’s Chesed’s Order, but I found myself enjoying the children’s book. It is definitely full of narrative, not nearly as short as some other children’s books. And the illustrations aren’t my favorite. But the rich vocabulary used in this book had me reading with great pleasure.

Words like lowliest, peculiarity, pensively, didactic, acquiescent, foolery and herald.

The book reminded me quite fondly of another childhood favorite, The Littlest Angel, which also had such unique and rich verbiage. As a child, I listened to my mother read that book aloud every Christmas Eve, transfixed by the words, even if I didn’t understand them all. And it is precisely this that make Chesed’s Order stand out among children’s books.

I received copies of A Donkey’s Little Tale, The Manger Mouse, and Chesed’s Order from Ambassador International, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.

Want to win one of these books? Ambassador International has generously offered to give three readers one of these wonderful books. Use the Rafflecopter below to enter today! Winner’s will be contacted.

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Adventure: Bluestone SP

Adventure: Bluestone SP

Cabining in West Virginia

From the day we arrived and took a deep breath of fresh mountain air at Bluestone State Park in West Virginia:

This is perfection. Right here, right now.

I sit quietly in a one-room cabin in the mountains of West Virginia. It’s cold outside, and the chill pierces the room every time the door opens. But a cozy fire in the stately stone fireplace keeps us warm. I love watching the flames flicker, adding even more to the soot that has for many years stained the tan stone.

Knitting by the fire

Husband is grilling steaks and mashing potatoes as I sip hot tea and watch Jane Eyre. The puppy is curled up on the bed, which is covered with a well-worn, well-loved quilt once purchased at an antique store in Amish Country.


In this place, I feel peace. I am at rest — all of me. My heart, my soul, my mind. The concerns and responsibilities of our life are just melting away and leaving behind a purer version of myself. Giddy and grinning, I made a dash for the door when we first arrived, excited beyond belief that we had finally arrived. Arrived at stillness. At quiet. At peace.


I know it won’t last, in a few days we will head back to our real lives. And I remind myself that that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it is the “realness” of our lives that make it worth living. The messy relationships, the heartbreaking work, the dreams and aspirations. Without them, I’m not sure what life would be. But for the next three days, we’re here. Just here. Just the two of us. At peace.

So tonight, I’m looking forward to a tasty meal. A roaring fire. Perhaps even a hike in the coming days.


Christmas thoughts

Christmas thoughts

I think this is the first Christmas I’ve ever been alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been alone all day and I won’t be this evening. But I am right now and it’s…perplexing.

I was able to straighten things up and sweep the floors, I even took a nice long hot shower and got fully dressed (I even dried my hair!), and since I’ve been sick as a dog on the couch for two days, I finally feel human again.

I’m sick , that’s the reason I’m alone right now.

Normally, we spend the middle of the day with Husband’s family, but the last thing I want to give someone for Christmas is whatever has had me laid out for the past few days, so I bowed out. I sent Husband with the gifts and stocking stuffers and volunteered to remain behind — I don’t want any littles getting sick from me.

Celebrating Christmas

It’s calm and peaceful here right now. The pup is sighing as she snoozes next to the space heater, and I am sipping some peppermint tea to calm my throat. Christmas music, the soundtrack of the season, is playing softly in the background, and a spicy candle burns on the side table. I’m even thinking I’ll pull out a book (currently reading Pot Luck by Emile Zola) for a little solitary reading before Husband returns and we continue our own celebrations.

But it’s also a little lonely being here all by myself in the quiet on a day that should be filled with children’s laughter and good conversation and oh-so-many well wishes. It gives me a sliver of understanding for those who are without family and close friends during the holidays. I can see why it is so difficult, lonesome, and full of heartache for some. And for those, I take a moment today to pray. And I take a moment to be thankful, that I have never been without someone I love on such a holiday — be it family or friends. It is a blessing to spend these days with the ones we love.

And now, to cherish this moment of peace, I’m off to pick up that book. Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas

{Memories} Holiday Baking

{Memories} Holiday Baking

I managed to bake two batches of cookies last week. Two! I’m very proud.

I carved out an evening from the schedule and invited a friend over and we got to work right away. My two kinds of cookies (peanut butter blossoms and spritz cookies — tree shaped this time) are better than last year’s one (peanut butter blossoms, what can I say? I like chocolate and peanut butter), but a far cry from the six or seven varieties I made the first Christmas we were married.

That year I was working part time and in school. I had more time around the holidays, and I was missing my family like crazy. So I did what I would have done at home — baked every family favorite cookie.

It took a while for me to realize that even with giving a bunch of them away and freezing more, there was no way 2 of us (1 who doesn’t even like cookies) would eat dozens and dozens of sweet treats.

It got me to wondering, why did we make so many different kinds in my family? Ironically, none were traditional cut-out sugar cookies or gingerbread men.

That’s where the memory comes in. Baking. With my mom. At Christmas.

I don’t know how she did it (really, the older I get the more it amazes me), but every year at Christmas she would set aside a special time to bake with each. one. of. us.


We could each pick our favorite kind of cookie and in our one-on-one time with Mom, we would bake.

As much as I loved my brothers, I also loved being creative at my own pace. No one pushing me to work faster, no one trying to influence my choices and decisions, no compromising to appease others. My choice every year were candy cane cookies, made with red and white dough, rolled into little snakes and twisted into candy cane shapes, then topped with crushed up candy canes.

I think back on it and wonder how on earth my mother had the patience to help me make those tedious cookies.

And she did it three more times with my brothers, making their favorites. And then she would make a few more kinds that she and my dad loved. So. many. cookies.

And wonderful memories.

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Deep breaths

Deep breaths

It’s time for deep breaths. Christmas is only eight days away. Moving day is 11 days away.

We signed the lease last night. We got the keys. We’re going to start moving things tomorrow. (A HUGE thank you to our landlord for letting us begin the process before the holidays!)

I keep telling myself to just be patient. Come January I’ll have time to read, and knit, and do all the wintry things I love to do. And sewing? I long to do a little sewing…

But I’m not sure it will happen. There will be the unpacking/settling period (although shorter, since most of our things will be in storage). And then there will be all the things that didn’t get done at the start of winter, like tax stuff, business stuff, etc. And then there are the time sensitive things like finishing Husband’s anniversary gift (I’m only three months late…), sorting and backing up all our photos before my computer crashes for good, etc.

So many things take precedence over enjoying a cup of tea and good book. It leaves me wondering why life has to be that way.

Christmas itself is often that way, isn’t it? Busy. So much to do. Shopping and wrapping and decorating and baking and parties to attend and on and on it goes.

I was recently bemoaning (again) our lack of Christmas this year. No tree. No lights. No real decorations to speak of. It’s all packed away. Along with most of our clothes, dishes, etc.

But someone at church gave me a big hug and said, “You know what? It makes for a simpler Christmas. One year, all I did was put up a tiny little tree and my family thought I was crazy, but it was so much less stressful than trying to do it all.”

It’s true.

Stress is pretty high right now, but it’s not Christmas stress. The few gifts we’re giving are already wrapped and ready to go. Even stocking stuffers, hidden away in closets, are prepared. Just a few cookies are baked (and already mostly eaten). The only decorations are a small train set, two stockings, and a nativity.



But even if we didn’t have those things, even if all we had was a Bible. Or even just Luke 2 (which I have mostly memorized, so maybe the Bible isn’t really necessary). It would still be a wonderful Christmas.

Just like Whos in Whoville showed, it isn’t the trappings that make Christmas special. In fact, they really aren’t necessary at all.

Christ is Christmas, and He is with us whether we have a tree or not.

Ginger helping wrap gifts

Ginger likes to “help” with the gift wrapping.

{Moments of Inspiration}

{Moments of Inspiration}

“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them;
for those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Christmas Shopping

**I love my job — this week, we spent a few hours gathering toys and supplies to throw a Christmas party for 140 extremely impoverished children at one of our newest schools in Haiti. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our Lord’s birth.**

{Memories} Train Day

{Memories} Train Day

My parents visited about a month ago. Although it was early in November, this was their “holiday” visit so we packed the four days full of fall and holiday things, including a much anticipated bike day and a mini-version of a longstanding family tradition — train day.

The Drakes always had a large train set-up, from long before I was born. Every year at the start of the holidays we would gather all our boxes, pulling treasures out of packing peanuts. We would reminisce over different buildings and special pieces — special exclamations reserved for those pieces each of us had worked so hard on. Amid the unpacking we would also visit a “train store” and choose new model kits, replenish our stock of paints and brushes, and purchase any tiny (and extremely expensive) mechanical pieces we needed to get things going again.

Train day always meant that we covered the longest table we owned with newspaper or dropcloth, filled it with paints, paper plates, and paper towels. We would play Christmas music all day long and work through the painstakingly slow process of painting and prepping tiny plastic pieces to be glued together into a house or municipal building or barn.

We would gather our creative juices and create ice skating ponds, Christmas tree lots, camping spots and (best of all) an entire papier-mâché mountain complete with a working ski lift. It was messy and tedious and fun. We would order Chinese food and when it arrived take a bit of a break to settle our hungry stomachs. But it wasn’t long before we were back at it again, working late into the night.

I still remember my very first “model”. Too young to really be able to manipulate the tiny pieces required for HO scale models, my dad took me aside and helped me build a tiny cabin out of matchsticks. I still remember that year and the care and attention and time my father spent helping me with that little building — taking time away from his own projects.

Today, that little matchstick cabin sits on my own train set.

Matchstick cabin

Yep, I have one too. When my oldest brother married, my parents began the tradition of giving a train and starter track for each couple’s first married Christmas. I received mine December of 2010, when we had been married just three months.

Since then, Husband and I have visited a train store every holiday, often selecting a pre-built model simply because we didn’t have the resources to purchase all the paints and knives and special glues required to build our own.

This year, when my parents visited, they gifted us a brand new starter kit of paints etc., purchased our 2013 model and we spent two entire evenings building models. It was simply delightful.

Dad even built us a platform for our train (because when it’s on the floor, Ginger believes it is her job to attack it).

Model trains at Christmastime

I know model trains are new to Husband, and it might not garner quite the same allure for him as it has for me. Our family may not spend quite so much time, money and creative energy on trains. But I do believe we can pass on this love of model trains to our children someday.

In fact, one of these days my parents plan to hold an auction (with Monopoly money) to allow us to bid on pieces from their massive collection built over the course of our childhoods. What a fun day that will be!

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