How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Fifteen Books of 2016

The year will be ending soon, so it’s time for me to safely tally up the fifteen most impacting books I’ve read in 2016! I love making this list, though, as usual, it was rather difficult to narrow down and rank the best ones. Please comment and let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you think of them, or if any of them pique your interest. Also, which books in the vast array of literature were your favorite reads of 2016?
The Joy of Less
Francine Jay
Although this book itself was not heavily influential on me, it encapsulated what I’ve been learning this year about minimalism and how less is more where it comes to possessions. Francine Jay, “Miss Minimalist,” was able to make me think very positively of this concept . . . and when you’re a packrat, the first step is to change your thinking.
Captain Blood
Rafael Sabatini
This swashbuckling adventure was a lot of fun! It’s the favorite book of my character Marion in my upcoming novel, Suit and Suitability. Besides that, I, like Marion, found depth in the honor and courage portrayed by Captain Peter Blood as he faced his hardships.
Coffee With Cooper
Daniel Lee Cooper III
This is a book I proofread, actually. It’s the story of an inspiring journey taken by the author to connect with strangers across North America. Having survived a battle with cancer, Cooper wants to spread hope among people going through life struggles. It’s a fun, honest, thought-provoking look at our problems and how we can cope and move forward.
In His Steps
Charles Sheldon
This Christian classic sparked a movement in the late nineteenth century, prompting Christians to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and follow the honest response. Its timeless message encouraged me to look at my life and how I should act out the answer to that question.

Before Jane Austen
Harrison R. Steeves
This wasn’t just a book of literary criticism; it was a history that gave me a sweeping view of the eighteenth century through its literature. I knew hardly anything about English literature before Jane Austen, besides the most famous classics, and this book enlightened me on many different levels—including why Jane Austen is such a landmark.
Jane Austen
I delighted in rereading one of my favorite novels of all time. The familiarity was comforting, the characters and humor were always fresh, and the new insights enriched my appreciation for Austen’s talent.
Anne of Green Gables
L. M. Montgomery
Another reread this year, I opened this beloved novel when I found out I was going to Prince Edward Island. I loved it just as much, delighting in its beauty and character, savoring the story I know so well, and being surprised by the situations I had forgotten. Above all it prepped me for PEI!
Grey Is the Color of Hope
Irina Ratuskinskaya
This haunting memoir was difficult to read at times, but it taught an important lesson I had never encountered before: how not to give in to your tormentors and suppressors. How to remain strong and look down on them as the misguided wrongdoers that they are. How to emerge from captivity with your spirit unbroken.
Elizabeth Gaskell
I read this lovely story partially when I was sick (the only time I was sick this year, thank God), and it was one of the most comforting books I could read. With its cozy storyline and cast of sweet and amusing characters and its rich portrait of Victorian village life, it wrapped me in its arms. Miss Matty is delightful and I was of course reminded of the A&E miniseries I love so much.
Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat
L. M. Montgomery
Although I prefer Anne over Pat of Montgomery’s heroines, it was my first time reading these books, so they impacted me more this year. And the last portion of Mistress Pat affected me like few fiction does (i.e., had me sobbing because its resolution touched me right where I was raw at the time). I read these books on my way to and from Prince Edward Island.
Crazy Love
Francis Chan
This best-selling book about God’s love and how it should inspire us to live had me both convicted and encouraged. It was a faith-strengthening book that I needed when I read it.
The Bird in the Tree and Pilgrim’s Inn
Elizabeth Goudge
Again, these novels hit me right when and where I needed them. I’m excited to read the third book of their trilogy. Goudge’s beautiful prose sinks into my soul and reminds me of what is beautiful in this world, both in nature and spirit. The characters go through situations that challenge them to die to themselves and to choose the path of real love.
Green Dolphin Country
Elizabeth Goudge
Wow. This was one of the hardest-hitting novels I’ve ever read. The characters, like in all Goudge novels, are extremely well drawn, and their lives take on epic proportions when some of them emigrate from the Channel Islands to New Zealand. All of them had much to learn about God, life, and love. I’ll never forget Marianne, Marguerite, and William and what their lives taught me.
Pursuing Justice
Ken Wytsma
This book almost made number one. In some ways, it should be in that position. It forever changed my view of how Christians should live; it made me ponder our mission to the world and realize things need to change . . . starting in my own life. It’s a true wakeup call to serve.
Sparkling Gems
Richard Renner
I’d say at least 100 of these daily devotionals touched me on the exact day I was experiencing whatever they addressed. It answered many questions and soothed many issues I was going through, pointing me to the greatest and deepest source of all, God’s Word, and pressing me to take my cares to Him.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Another Year Gone By . . .


Happy December, everyone! I don’t know about you, but this month always makes me nostalgic yet anxious and excited. My years are usually filled with highlights to remember fondly. Even the sting of unhappy things has dulled, and I’m left with a deeper knowledge of God’s unfailing strength and presence. The next year always holds new and invigorating possibilities, though I still feel a sober sense of caution about the state of the world and what new challenges we’ll face. Yet most of all, I’m grateful to have the assurance of the Lord’s faithfulness at every turn!

I’d like to share my highlights of 2016:

- My nephew’s birth in February. The birth of a healthy baby into your family is one of the most joyous gifts God gives.

- A dear friend’s wedding in May. I was blessed and honored to be in her bridal party. It was such a touching and fun occasion.

- Meeting three fantastic long-distance friends in person for the first time this summer. We had such sweet times together.

- Camp Yeshua in July. Even though it’s wonderful every year (I’ve been going since 2006), this time was especially so because I led a tribe (small group) with my dear friend.

- Volunteering at a music day camp in August. I love working with kids.

- Prince Edward Island, Canada, in September. Not only was this trip a dream come true, it was made even better with three incredible friends.

- Visiting my 98-year-old grandmother and other relatives in September. 

- The Feast of Tabernacles in October. Amazing, godly people, powerful worship, many spiritual life lessons, and great fun with the children’s program. 

- Taking introductory sword-fighting lessons in October and November. It was fun and stimulating. 

- Getting my proofreading/copyediting business underway. 

- Completing my novel Suit and Suitability. Next year looks on point for publication. I’ve had so many joys and frustrations with this thing . . . but that will be a story for other posts!

Thank you to all my family and friends who made 2016 one of the best years yet! I thank God for you!

So! What were your 2016 highlights? Was your year steady, or full of changes and surprises? Was it difficult or happy?

Friday, November 25, 2016

The White Stag

A flash of glowing white . . . like moonlight from a living body. It glints among the dark tangle of woods. So near, so near . . . if you could only press through the tangle, you might have a fair chance of apprehending the ethereal creature. Even as you pant from your endless run, stumble over undergrowth, and wince from scratching branches, the pearlescent quarry draws you on. You must attain it . . .


I think we’re all familiar with the white stag that dashes through the legends of many European cultures. Its symbolism has always intrigued me—although it represented different things depending on the culture, the most prominent symbolism today, from Arthurian legend, is the hunter’s desire to capture it and its perennial success at escape. It’s something we yearn for but can never quite reach. It eluded the Pevensies in the final chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. What happens when it’s captured isn’t entirely known, because no one has ever succeeded, but in the Narnia story it was supposed to grant wishes.

Elizabeth Goudge, the author I’ve been reading most recently, uses the symbolism of the white stag (she’s a master at symbolism, by the way) in a manner that’s particularly meaningful to writers. In the book Pilgrim’s Inn, the characters discover a carved white deer from medieval times. Inspired by it, the young amateur painter, Ben, paints a picture of a white deer running through a moonlit village with a herd of plain red deer streaking after him. Ben says, “The other deer are galloping after him and the light comes from him. Without him the other deer wouldn’t know what direction to take, or if they did they couldn’t see the way.”

The ordinary deer represent human ability, while the white deer is the perfection we strive for, or rather, what inflames us to create beauty in our lives and art. We won’t capture it in this life. But another lesson from Pilgrim’s Inn helps show that our struggle isn’t in vain: “This futility. . . . It’s nothing, merely the reverse side of aspiration, and inevitable, just as failure is inevitable. . . . Struggle is divine in itself, but to ask to see it crowned with success is to ask for that sign which is forbidden to those who must travel by faith alone.” This passage means so much to me. My inadequacy to write anywhere near a perfect novel often overwhelms me, as do my failures at living the way I know I’m supposed to. Elizabeth Goudge may have felt the same way herself at some point (though, in my opinion, her novels are some of the best). Many people, not just artists, feel this futility when they fall short of their aspirations. But perfection is not available to us in this life. God doesn’t require it. He only wants us to do our best and humbly praise His perfection, pointing to His greatness with our efforts. He leads us on like the white stag, showing us the beauty and righteousness that we should strive for, the purpose for which we were created. This makes life worth living. The chase itself is worthwhile, and all anyone can do in this life is chase. Someday, we will reach it.

The sentences I quoted in the last paragraph come from a vicar named Hilary Eliot; he’s talking to his nephew David, who is an actor struggling to rekindle his art after fighting in WW2. I HIGHLY recommend Pilgrim’s Inn and other books by Elizabeth Goudge.

And . . . I hope you all had a blessed Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Patricia Gardiner: Montgomery's Forgotten Heroine

Maybe Pat isn’t completely forgotten, but she is certainly on fewer bookcases than the other fictional young women Prince Edward Island is known for—Anne Shirley, Emily Starr, and Sara Stanley.

I read her story this August in Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat. Like the other heroines, we meet Pat Gardiner as a precocious little girl and watch her come into her own as a strong young woman. She has imagination and a deep, poetic love for beauty. Her world is peopled with idiosyncratic relatives, friends, love interests, and characters from Judy Plum’s stories (more on that later!).

But she’s different from the other heroines in a myriad of ways. She has a complete family, with a surviving father, mother, and four siblings. She lives in one place throughout the course of her story—Silver Bush, the old family home passed down from Gardiner to Gardiner since the last century. She’s intelligent, but not in a scholarly way; she’s not ambitious and prefers to excel in domestic wizardry. Mathematics is actually her thing, although she’s good in English, too. Though she’s not supposed to be as beautiful as Anne and Emily, she’s a sweet and eligible young lady, so countless men fall at her feet. But she refuses them all because she doesn’t want to leave her beloved Silver Bush.

It’s entertaining to see a nuclear family in Montgomery’s hands, but actually we barely get to know Pat’s parents and older siblings, Joe, Winnie, and Sid. Her relationship with Sid, who’s one year older, is important to the story, but we don’t become all that familiar with him, just with what he means to Pat. However, little sister Rachel, aka Cuddles, develops beautifully in Mistress Pat as a vivacious lead character.

The other star of the show is Judy Plum, a charismatic character with the unforgettability of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and Rachel Lynde. She’s the Gardiners’ servant, but far, far more than that, she’s part of their family. Silver Bush could not do without her. On any given day, she tells dozens of stories about people near and far: funny gossip, tall tales, ghost stories, and family anecdotes. She keeps the house running with her old-world wisdom (she’s Irish), constant labor, and fiercely loyal and loving heart. Pat has the enviable distinction of being her favorite.

More than any of the other houses in Montgomery’s titles, Silver Bush factors heavily in the lead heroine’s story. As I mentioned earlier, Pat will not leave her home. When she’s a child, her clinging loyalty is a little hard for me to understand, but as she grows older and takes part in running it, my heart, too, becomes knit to Silver Bush through seeing her devotion. It’s a delightful place, old and full of personality, set in a wood of silver birches and a wild garden. It’s full of heirlooms and history and even has a family graveyard. Everyone who comes to Silver Bush loves it, even the despicable Binnie family in their own twisted way. Charming, old-fashioned hospitality is a matter of honor with Judy Plum, Pat, and her mother. The 1920s and 30s are roaring by, so this is becoming rarer.

Pat hates change, whether it’s in her family or her home. As a child, she gets legitimately ill at the prospect of moving away from Silver Bush. Although I’m not as averse to change as Pat, I do tend to like things to stay the same and am overly fond of my childhood and even the past that proceeds my birth. So I can identify with some of her longings and fears. The climax of Mistress Pat spoke to me more powerfully than any of Montgomery’s other novels, because I need the same life lesson as Pat. 

The hero of the story is Hilary Gordon, aka, Jingle. He’s even more charming than Gilbert Blythe and Teddy Kent, in my opinion. When he appears on the scene as a ragged little boy who becomes one of Pat’s two childhood friends, the story in Pat of Silver Bush instantly gains intrigue. He’s devoted to Pat, his relationship with his mother will make you cry, and his determination to pursue his architect dreams is inspiring.

In one sense, Pat’s books are slower moving than Anne’s and Emily’s. Not as many exciting things happen, because Pat herself doesn’t seek change. (But they’re interesting because they are so different than a conventional story that proceeds crisis to crisis.) And yet the years bring inevitable change, and the two volumes cover many years quickly.

You’ll certainly feel an autumnal atmosphere in Pat’s story, through the theme of change and nostalgia; through Pat’s character—her favorite season is autumn, and her coloring is like autumn; and through the important events that happen in this season. You might even sense it woven in the writing itself…Montgomery seems more melancholy and mature. She wrote these books less than ten years before her death.

To conclude, here are a few quotes to give you a taste of these books:

“Aren’t you glad our birthday is in September? I think it is one of the nicest things that ever happened to me because September is my favourite month in the year. It’s such a friendly month and it seems as if the year had stopped being in a hurry and had time to think about you.” (Pat to her friend Bets in Pat of Silver Bush)

“‘Pat of Silver Bush,’” said Pat happily. It was beautiful to have home and love and family ties. Bold-and-bad, the kitten of the summer, came flying across the yard to her. Pat picked him up and squeezed some purrs out of him. No matter what dreadful things happened at least there were still cats in the world.” (Pat of Silver Bush)

“Pat took stock of things. She was at peace. Her whole world had been temporarily wrecked…ruined…turned upside down, but nothing had really changed in Silver Bush. There was no longer anything to come between her and it…never would be again. She was through with love and all its counterfeits. Henceforth Silver Bush would have no rival in her heart. She could live for it alone. There might be some hours of loneliness. But there was something wonderful even in loneliness. At least you belonged to yourself when you were lonely.” (Mistress Pat)

Have you read or heard of the Pat books? What did you think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Island Adventure

“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am so glad to be alive in you.” - Anne Shirley (L. M. Montgomery)

After seeing Prince Edward Island for myself last week, I can more than ever agree with Anne’s statement in Anne of Green Gables. Thanks to God and three dear friends, I fulfilled my longtime dream of visiting P.E.I., the small, northeastern Canadian province that’s only the size of Delaware but wrapped in a rich legacy of beloved, true-to-life fiction.

L. M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors. She wrote twenty novels and hundreds of short stories, and all but one of the novels is set on Prince Edward Island. She was born there, lived there for years, and even when she moved away to live with her minister husband, she visited frequently. Her writing revels in the beauty of nature and the quirks of human beings, so it’s no wonder that her books make her dedicated readers yearn to see the setting.

Although we were on the island for only two and a half days, my friends and I had a wonderful time. We visited all four of the major Montgomery sites, Charlottetown, and the northern seashore. We also got to experience the comforting familiarity of visits to Walmart and Tim Horton’s (a popular Canadian coffee and doughnut chain). To think that the Summerside of the classic Anne of Windy Poplars has a Walmart!

Sometimes dream locations disappoint you when you visit them in person. P.E.I. did not. I was prepared for it to be more modern, populated, and touristy than it was 100 years ago, but I was delighted to find it was less so than I expected. The island felt homey, safe, familiar, and idyllic. Tourism, agriculture, and fishing are its main industries, after all; you can’t get friendlier than that. Since we visited off-season, the sites and attractions blended into the character of the island instead of sticking out like busy anthills. I may have been expecting more striking beauty (Montgomery’s descriptions make my mouth water), but P.E.I.’s beauty crept quietly, warmly into my soul. 

L. M. Montgomery was born in this house in New London in 1874.

Her mother died when she was 21 months old, however, so her grandparents brought her up in the house that stood on this foundation in nearby Cavendish. Her father relocated to Saskatchewan when she was seven, but she never lived permanently with him again. 

Through a walk in what’s called the “Haunted Wood” (after the name Anne and Diana gave it in Anne of Green Gables), the actual house that inspired Green Gables can be reached from the Cavendish homestead. The couple that lived here during Montgomery’s time adopted a little girl – much like Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert adopted Anne. 

“where scores of white birches grew, upspringing airily out of an undergrowth suggestive of delightful possibilities in ferns and mosses and woodsy things generally." (Anne of Green Gables)

One more site is the grand home where Montgomery’s aunt and uncle and cousins the Campbells lived. Today it’s the Anne of Green Gables Museum. Just across the road is the lovely natural mirror, the Lake of Shining Waters, that inspired the special body of water in Anne’s stories. 

Historic downtown Charlottetown, P.E.I’s capital and largest city, is quite a charming specimen. Life picks up a little more speed here, just like it did years ago.

This was my first visit to the ocean. Though it was cold, I got right in and let the experience literally wash over me. It was so incredible to gaze out at the horizon and realize there’s nothing but water for miles and miles and miles. The red sand and rocks were lovely. Just look at that sea grass! The only thing that wasn’t how I imagined it was the taste of seawater – I actually found it rather good (in small sips, of course). On this island, you’re never far from the sea.

“On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs.... Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight." (Anne of Green Gables)

Visiting Prince Edward Island greatly enhanced my understanding of Montgomery’s books. No wonder they are so colorful – P.E.I. is full of color, from blue skies, jewel sunsets, green grass, red dirt, reflective water, rainbow flowers, and painted houses. No wonder the books are so cozy – P.E.I. is home to friendly people, close-knit small towns, old-fashioned homes, and industries that rely on nature. The island today is a gratifying descendant of the island so loved by L. M. Montgomery. Have you ever wanted to visit Prince Edward Island? If so, I encourage you to pursue the possibility. You won’t regret it!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guest Post: Hope Pennington!

Today I'm happy to welcome Hope Pennington to my blog! She’s written a meaningful, fun, poignant post that I’m excited to share. Enjoy and be encouraged!

When You Can't Get Out Of Bed...

Morning dawns. Sun dances on my skin from the window and once again...I don't want to get up.

Static in my mind.

I have no plans for my life.

Gee. Life stinks sometimes.

Some people, some mornings get up, stretch like a Disney princess and dance through chores and their job like a Disney princess.

More often I feel like the villain. I don't save the world. My job isn't important. I'm not a hero, I'm not a princess. Why should I even bother getting up?

There's a sunrise outside.

Don't worry that you're in your pajamas. You walk outside. Feel the wet grass on your toes. Bring your bible. Read a psalms. Climb a fence. Look at clouds.

Stop waiting for something big. Your life. Your moment. Right now. Just looking at that sky. Is something big and amazing. Don't waist it worrying. Leave the worrying to God and laugh that happy laugh or if you can't - smile. Enjoy that sunrise. God painted it for you.

And dance. Dance like it's the last day of your life. Don't worry what people think. People get it wrong anyway. It's just you and God and the sky. And God loves in you.



You're the hero of your story. And you rock.

Then go inside. Wear stuff. Who cares what. You kill it kid. So your room's a reck. So you flunked math. So your mom had to tell you for the millionth time to take out the trash. Take it out with pride and kick off your shoes. I need every single one of my adventures to know they're a hero today and live the adventure of having fun here and now.


Kiss your mom.

Hug your dad.

Do your thing and #noworryaloud

Today is your day to #ROCK

Hope Pennington is a nerdy scifi and fantasy author who loves to encourage people to believe that they're the epic hero of their own life story. If she's not writing she can be found vlogging, making comic books or hanging out with random people who like the same TV shows as her.

Here’s how to connect with her:

Blog - The Epic Place, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Author Photoshoot

These photos have been patiently waiting for me to share them since July. A dear friend of mine, Sonja Langford ( is responsible for taking these pictures that, I feel, really capture my personality. 

The impetus was my need for an updated author photo, because my previous one is four years old. But Sonja took such a variety that I had to share more. Don't you just love that vintage typewriter? That's a gift from another dear friend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Surfeited Summer

Life has been chock full of interesting experiences for me lately. Let’s see if I can cover them all in one blog post today!

At the end of June, I spent about a week in Nebraska with some dear friends. I experienced several firsts—first time milking goats (my hands got so tired!), first time helping with calf branding (probably the hardest work I’ve ever done), first time actually directing a horse while I was riding him instead of just sitting back and following a trail. These real-life, out-of-the-ordinary-for-me experiences really enriched me. The time in the unfilled countryside was so refreshing, and the close fellowship with my friends was so sweet.

Nebraska is for the most part wide open country. Southwestern Nebraska, my location, was full of steep hills that gave intrigue to the landscape and made up for the general deficiency in trees. Where trees did take root, however, they were thick and healthy. Mostly there were cattle, horses, corn fields, and wheat fields, but there were also houses, small towns, and wildlife. I was fascinated by the homes built into hillsides, the descendants of Little House on the Prairie-style dugouts. It seems I can’t go anywhere without being reminded of a book or an author; Nebraska is the state of Willa Cather, whose book My Antonia made a big impression on me several years ago. Her books had a big presence at the used bookstore I visited, as did the books by Elinore Pruitt Stewart, a woman who wrote about her homesteading life nearby in Wyoming.

The second week of July, I had a precious friend come stay with me for a bit, and we drove up to be staff members at a Bible camp in Oklahoma. I’ve gone to this camp for eleven years now, and every year is an incredible spiritual event in my life. This time was no exception. I love getting to serve here now that I’m older, but I’m always out-blessed.

When I got back from that camp, it was time to get fully prepared for a local music day camp that took place the first week of August. It was fun putting different creative muscles to work—planning crafts, doing a collage board, choreographing a dance, researching history, writing discussion outlines, and of course listening to music. The kids were fun to teach and interact with, and the other teachers were such gracious and talented people. Our theme was 1950s and ’60s music…talk about catchy songs! They’re still taking turns whirling in my head.

Using clothes as a teaching tool was fun - 1950s

Interspersed with all this, plus working and teaching karate, I’ve been developing my proofreading business. I’ve had almost nonstop projects since June, praise God. Fitting creative writing into that has been a challenge, but I’m still feeling my way forward and hope it will all slide into place once I get comfortable with the schedule and new routine.

So now you know how my summer has been! How about yours? Busier or slower than normal? What new experiences have you had?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Update and Top Five Favorite Authors

It took a Homeschooled Authors Read-to-Win post to motivate me to revisit my own blog today!

First, my top five favorite authors:
Jane Austen
Elizabeth Goudge
L.M. Montgomery
Elizabeth Gaskell
Louisa May Alcott

These ladies inspire me with every word they wrote. Who are your top five favorite authors? Check out the Homeschooled Authors for some great choices!

Update: I’ve missed my blog, and I’ve missed keeping up with other people’s blogs. But that’s what comes with the busiest summer I’ve had in years. God has blessed me with many new experiences and fun and challenging opportunities! One day before too long I hope to share more about them.