Mason-Dixon Trail Rebels

My husband, Josh, is a ultra runner and had been asking me for a long time to design a logo for his trail running group. Finally, I had a chance to start creating their logo! 

They are using the logo to promote their group to help build up a local community of trail runners. They will be using it on various social media platforms, as well as creating some products in the future, like hats and stickers!

I don't get to do logos that often anymore, so it was a really fun project.

How to Prepare Your Family for Easter

A few weeks before Easter I start rummaging around for our Easter-themed books and decorations. I pull out picture books like The Colt and The King and The Tale of the Three Trees to stack in a basket on the coffee table. I find the plastic eggs. I cut branches off the dogwood tree.

The grey buds will be knobby and tight—not yet open. They look dead. I will pull my green pitcher from the shelf and arrange the bare branches in some water. Now they are ready to be transformed into a Resurrection Tree.

As a family, we’ve looked for ways to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection in tangible, hands-on ways. To prepare our hearts during the busy organizing of Easter baskets and planning of a Sunday dinner. Ways that build up to Easter morning, so that we have a clear idea as to why we celebrate. 

And it all starts with remembering.      

Join me over at iBelieve to read more.

What I'm Into Right Now (Feb 2017)

Listening:
I've discovered two new podcasts that have been helping me with Instagram and writing. Hashtag Authentic has been a fascinating look at how to be strategic as a creative on Instagram and is hosted by the delightful Sara Tasker. I've enjoyed her guests too, like Philippa Stanton, who I've followed for some time. Check out her gorgeous feed!

The second show is the Ann Kroeker Writing Coach podcast. First, I love the format. The podcasts run 5-7 minutes but are jam packed with encouragement and information. It's a real boost to my writing life.

Watching:
Josh and I are loving Hinterland. First of all, it's set in beautiful and rugged Wales. Since one side of Josh's family are originally from the Welsh motherland he has always wanted to visit. The episodes are long--movie length, so it's nice on a Friday night. The pace is a slow build. Lots of time to develop characters and Richard Harrington (also of Poldark and Lark Rise to Candleford) is excellent. 

We're watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix as a family. I never read the books, but my youngest sister loved them. It's a bit scary at times for the kids but so smart, witty, darkly funny, and packed with wonderful actors. 

Reading:
I'm slogging my way through The Nightingale. Yes, shoving my way through. All my friends give it a good many stars on Goodreads and it was recommended and loved by so many who have the same taste in literature as I do, but I'm just forcing my way through it. Sorry to those of you who loved it. I hope the payoff is worth it. Once I'm done I'll post a review on Goodreads.

The kids and I are reading Listening for Lions which we are LOVING. Also listening to Nim's Island on audio, which is just as fun and delightful as the movie.

Eating:
I've been getting lots of menu-planning inspiration from Megan's blog lately. She does a Menu Monday series I never miss. Our most recent win was Garlic Butter Pasta with Herbed Pork Bolognese. Just go make it. OHMYGOODNESS! It was incredible! The noodles creamy, the meat and sauce flavorful, the kale crispy and salty on top. We will be making it again and again! It felt like I was eating in a restaurant. 

What have you been loving?

Smoothie Favorites

About a year ago our blender died. I always swore I'd buy a Vitamix next. But in the end we didn't have the funds for such a large purchase so I went with something way more powerful than my original blender but not as expensive as a Vitamix: The Ninja Professional Blender

I couldn't be happier with our purchase. It blends everything I've tried with ease and has a nine-cup capacity. I no longer have to make smoothies in "batches." Although a Vitamix has lots of options and would have been great, the truth is I really mainly use a blender for smoothies, so my Ninja has been perfect for this. 

I've missed smoothies, and so have the kids! They are a cool treat in the summer and in the winter help us get our veggies to fight colds and sickness. My boys are terrible vegetable eaters, so also, it makes me feel good to know when we make green smoothies they are getting a powerful helping of spinach or kale--and with no complaints!

Some of our favorite green smoothies are the creamy Coconutty Green Smoothie, and the Green Banana Blueberry Smoothie. My daughter loves Strawberry Peach Smoothies and I'm partial to this Peanut Butter Banana & Oatmeal smoothie.

Are you a smoothie maker? Drop your favorites into the comment section!

Family Fun for Valentine's Day

I love Valentine’s Day. Growing up my mom always made the day special with pancakes for breakfast and an afternoon tea. Now, I love making the day special for my kids too. I also enjoy the fact that there’s no “right” way to celebrate it. No need to travel, buy gifts, or host a dinner. It is a fun day that brightens up winter and celebrates love. And is an opportunity to eat chocolate. Can’t pass up that opportunity!

Today I’m sharing our traditions for celebrating Valentine’s Day as a family. I hope they may inspire you to create some fun memories with your family too.

Come join me over at For the Family.

What Valentine's Day traditions do you and your family share?

What I'm Into Right Now (Jan 2017)

Listening:
Lilac Girls on Overdrive. The readers are excellent (there's three different ones for each of the main story threads) and it is gripping thus far. 

Watching:
Paranoid on Netflix
We found a winner with Paranoid! It's my favorite type of crime drama: heavy on the suspense, not heavy on explicit violence. Probably one of my favorite crime series since Broadchurch. The Brits know how to do it!

I'm also enjoying Masterpiece Theater's Victoria. It's not as good as The Crown, for sure, (comparisons can't help to be made) but I find Victoria's reign interesting, especially the early years, so I can't help but find it appealing. 

Reading:
Besides listening to Lilac Girls I'm also reading The Nightingale after so many friends who have similar reading tastes recommended it. I'm not sure why I'm doing two books set in W.W. II right now though, that probably wasn't wise.

I also bought myself an issue of Taproot magazine. I've wanted to read an issue for a long time and it is inspiring!

Eating:
Our blender broke a long time ago and I swore I'd buy a Vitamix the next time my blender went bust. However, our budget didn't allow it so I went with this Ninja. However, it's just awesome! We are back to enjoying green smoothies, trying to stay healthy this winter while everyone around us seems to get sick. My boys are TERRIBLE veggie eaters (the girls love their greens) so it's a way for me to have them get a nutritious dose of spinach in them each day. This Green Banana Blueberry Smoothie is our current fave.

And this crab soup was easy and delicious.

What have you been into lately?

What I'm Into Right Now (December 2016)

I missed the month of November but wanted to make sure I shared my December edition of What I'm Into Right Now. 

Listening:
Sarah Jarosz's newest project, Undercurrent has been on constant rotation a lot. I love her voice and style. Definitely check out her music.

Watching:
We finished up Poldark. Season 2 was a nail-biting, riveting, emotional roller coaster! If this promo doesn't make you want to watch the series, I don't know what will. And Demelza just might be one of my favorite mini-series heroines thus far.

After Poldark we discovered The Crown and it definitely deserved the two Golden Globes that it just won. Claire Foy is fabulous and I had no idea how much political/family drama was packed into the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. It's a show I like to keep my phone by me during to google the facts of the story (yeah, I'm a nerd like that) and I've been delightfully surprised at how close to history they've kept the show. The acting, writing, and cinematography are superb! Check out the trailer.

Reading:
I'm reading my first Wendell Berry and finding Hannah Coulter wise and beautiful. It is hard to believe an elderly man wrote the story of a young woman so absolutely believably and with such tender nuance! 

Eating:
We've been enjoying Rosemary Ranch Grilled Chicken and this Warm Kale Salad with Bacon, Dates, and Almonds is just the perfect winter salad!

What I Read in 2016 (Non-fiction Edition)

I really enjoyed my non-fiction picks this year! So many good ones! I think my highlights were Roots & Sky, A Scandalous Freedom, Be Still My Soul, and Dead Wake.

It wasn't until I was putting this list together, however, that I realized I only read one narrative history the whole year (Dead Wake)! I found this surprising, given how much I love that sort of book. (Think Destiny of the Republic and The Immortal Life of Hennrietta Lacks.) So my non-fiction goal for next year will be to read more narrative history. I already have my first title waiting for me: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World.

But first, what I read last year:

Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy*****
I just loved this book! A full review here.

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson****
A thought-provoking book about where we as women find our identity.

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes the Soul by Hannah Anderson*****
I love that Hannah doesn't give us one more thing "to do." Instead, she reminds us of what we can become in Christ. It really is about identity. Instead of giving us an extra burden of needing to "put on humility" she offers the freedom to let Christ work in us. I wrote a full review over on Goodreads, so check it out!

Christ in the Chaos by Kimm Crandall****
"Jesus is not my example . . . He is my replacement," is one of the many great quotes I highlighted in this book. That said, I couldn't relate with the author constantly beating herself up. And the fact that she struggled in this way simply highlights the need for thinking of ourselves through the lens of the gospel and God's grace, not legalism. This is part of the story she's in process of sharing. I'd just say our starting places are different and I'm coming to this book from a place of already understanding God's grace in my daily life (although not completely or perfectly, of course!) thanks to the awesome teaching I get in my local church.

Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon****
A little book packed with inspiration for the creative person!

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines****
A beautifully written spiritual memoir.

Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by Lawrence Goldstone***
I read this in preparation for our homeschool kids book club this year, but it is great inspiration for reading with and discussing books with your kids.

The Satisfied Heart: 31 Days of Experiencing God's Love by Ruth Myers***** (devotional reread)
Ruth Myers begins the book by sharing how she's grown in the love of God through her life: in losing her husband to cancer on the mission field, single parenting two small children, and remarriage. Through it all, Ruth grows in understanding and resting in God's love. So by the time she gets to the 31 days of devotionals, you feel like you know she's sharing from a deep, well-tested place of faith in Christ. Ruth is a warm and engaging writer. She doesn't just demonstrate head-knowledge of God's love but experience too. And she wants her readers to experience the satisfaction and joy of God's love in their daily lives.

A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel by Steve Brown*****
I highlighted and dogeared this book up! Like this quote: "The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway. God will not only love you if you don’t get better; he will teach you that getting better isn’t the issue. His love is the issue."

Refreshing, funny, thought-provoking. For the past several years I've been slowly peeling layers of subtle legalism off and gaining a deeper more faith-filled approach to my spiritual life. My pastor referenced this book several times in his sermon series on Grace and it is been a big help in exploring the topic further. 

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson***** (audiobook)
I was enthralled from beginning to end. I loved learning about all the passengers on the ship, Room 40, and all the details of early submarine warfare.

The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson****
Inspiring book about the culture of home.

Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot*****
After reading so much contemporary Christian non-fiction Elliot's book felt very fresh. Her writing style is so simple and straight forward yet profound and wise. She is more down-to-earth than I remembered from my teenage days. I highlighted so much to go back and reread and remember. 

A Very Present Help by Amy Carmichael*** (devotional reread)

*This post contains affiliate links.

What I Read in 2016 (Fiction Edition)

Pour yourself something hot and let's talk books. It's that time of year when I do my round up of all the books I've read in the past twelve months. First I'll be sharing my fiction reads and I hope you'll share at least one favorite fiction read with me in the comments section!

The mystery/detective genre takes center stage this year. The Louise Penny series about Inspector Gamache were my favorite books this year. Her ability to probe the complicated motives of the human heart are insightful and dare I say, deep, while weaving a fantastic whodunit. The other winner was Robinson's Lila. I love her writing but I also struggle with it. Lila is my favorite of all her novels. As much as I love historical fiction I didn't find a title I loved this year in that category. I read several but none amazed me. 

What was your favorite fiction in 2016?

The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle***
My first Sherlock! 

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny****
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny****
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny****
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny*****
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny*****

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie****
Good to the last twist! And the movie was fabulous!

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows*** (audiobook)
Having loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I was excited to read Barrow's newest novel. This novel, however, was very different. The details were so convincing I could almost feel myself on Jottie's front porch with the sweltering summer heat with iced tea in hand. Barrows explores the lives of three women: Layla, Jottie, and Willa and their relationship with Felix, a man who controls through manipulation and lies. Barrow's characters and their motives are complex and muli-layered. She explores what forgiveness looks like within a family, between sisters and brothers, father and daughter.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin*** (audiobook)
I liked this book, then I didn't and almost didn't renew it, then I did like it again. I stalled in the middle, but I'm happy I kept pressing on. In the end I got teary eyed and I loved all the literary references.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee****
I was glad I reread this as an adult. I think it was even more beautiful through my grown-up eyes than when I read it as a young teen. 

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes**
Sorry to the many people who loved this book but I can't see why. It didn't squeeze one bit of emotion from me (which I would have welcomed) and I was so glad when it was done. I thought the writing did not do justice to the topic it tackled (it seemed almost flippant) and the characters didn't resonate with me personally or even seem that real to me. Least favorite book of the year.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell***
A fun literary romp.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley***
I didn't love this book. I wanted to. The designer in me adores the cover more than the story. The plot was interesting, but it didn't grab me. I almost didn't feel like finishing it, although I did really want to find out what ACTUALLY did happen on the plane. I think it was the writing itself I didn't love. 

I did appreciate how the author uses the narrative to critique news media/outlets and how our society craves the sensational and often wrecks the lives of people without good reason--just for a juicy story that isn't even true. One of the main characters, Scott, survives the "fall" of the disastrous plane crash and makes it to shore. But can he survive the aftermath? The twisting of the story? The illegal media tactics? I think this is the question "Before the Fall" wants us to grapple with the most. 

Lila by Marilynne Robinson****
This is the first Marilynne Robinson book I've listened to on audio and it definitely helped me get through it. I always struggle with her books. They are so not your typical type of novel. Hardly novels at all, really. The reader was excellent and I have to say I liked this story the best. It had more of a narrative arc than her others, if I can remember correctly. I was really beautiful writing (of course) and I enjoyed finally getting Lila's own thoughts and back story.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield****
This book reminded me of a darker version of a Kate Morton novel. At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. There's definitely some disturbing material, but thankfully, the author doesn't delve into the gory details. Also, the twin theme was hard for me at times, given that I'm a "twin mom." However, the story kept me riveted and I read it quickly. It has a crazy twist at the end I did not see coming. All in all, it had a satisfying ending.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera***
An interesting book that reminded me of Chocolat in terms of the small town moralistic element. It's definitely a story with a message. Almost a fable? It was unique and delightful and thought-provoking but at times too preachy for me.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery****
A reread because I couldn't remember this story and I was craving the comfort of Montgomery's world and words. Never disappoints. 

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge**** 
This book centers around the relationship of two very different sisters and their love for one man and what seems like a chance mistake that changes all their lives. It was rich, deep, and epic. Marianne, who kind of comes across as the main protagonist is smart, determined, brave, manipulative, and selfish. She reminds me a lot of Scarlett O'Hara. Yet she grows, matures, and changes. There are times you definitely don't like her, but in the end I think I was really want her to succeed at life.

My main issue with this book was it was long. It is an epic tome that could hold it's own as a door stopper. I love Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse) but it took me over a year to read. Granted, there were places I majorly stalled and put it down for a month or two. But it really did have just too much detail in some places I felt like were not important to the story. 

*This post contains affiliate links.

The Epiphany of Ordinary Days

The knock on the door startles Mary from her housework.

She opens it to find a group of foreign men at her doorstep. They bring treasures for her toddling child, Jesus. They don’t bring rattles or stuffed animals, but strange gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts whisper clues to her child’s identity. Gold for a king, frankincense and myrrh—often burned as incense on the temple’s alter—speak to his deity.

On January 6th many churches celebrate “Epiphany” or the coming of the Magi to the Christ child. The word also can be used to describe a revelation or realization.

Mary has had a good many of these epiphanies thus far in her short life as a mother. First there was the angel Gabriel’s visit, and then Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting. There were shepherds arriving unannounced on the night of her son’s birth and Simeon’s temple prayer. She hides these epiphanies in her heart to ponder them.

As the new year begins I’m on the lookout for epiphanies too.

Join me over at For the Family to finish reading.