Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What I'm Reading: January

I'm moving through books at lightning speed this month! Expect a couple more books to be added to this post in the next week. Honestly, I can say I haven't been this excited about the books I've already read this month and have stacked beside my bed (too many to read) in years. A great mix of fiction and nonfiction books. A few of them are books that I've requested from blogging review websites to read, but several of them have been either purchased or from the library. All of these reviews are my honest opinion, like always. It's a good lot, y'all!

What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery // Oh, how well timed this book was for me! I just went dark on my social media accounts. It was a decision that I had been waffling back and forth on for most of 2016, and started the process of stepping away from social media in December.

This book was written by Esther Emery, a successful playwright and theater director, wife and mother. Faced with a period of crisis where she felt empty, alone in her marriage and grasping for identity that wasn't defined by busyness, Emery felt it was time to make a change. And so she and her husband moved across the country, and she spent a year without internet. (Now, obviously if I'm posting this book review, I'm not going as far as to give up the internet like she did. I mean, she used a paper MAP and phone book to find places!). She gave up the internet in 2009/2010, and the use of the internet and social media is MUCH more prevalent today than it was 7/8 years ago. It's a bit trickier to give up those things in today's world, but the need for a "reset" and all the things Esther gleaned from her year is still beyond applicable. I truly enjoyed this book! I thought Esther's writing style was fascinating. It was definitely a different style of writing, so be prepared for that.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman // This book Written by a Swedish author, this book had a few things that were different, like currency and the layout of the main characters neighborhood - no cars could drive up to their houses? But there's a reason it was a New York Times bestselling book. This book was truly amazing. Sad at parts, but quite a beautifully written story of an old man named Ove. To everyone Ove is a cranky old man, who operates in a strict routine, staunch principles and a short fuse.

This book is about the people in Ove's neighborhood, from the old neighbors that moved into the development with him before it was a development, to the new couple with two little girls who backed their trailer into his mailbox when they moved into a house near Ove's, to the stray cat that seemed to be anything but afraid of Ove's exasperated yelling at it to scurry away his shed. But this book is more than that, it's about relationships, it's about friendships, it's about why we get up in the morning. I could probably write for three hundred more words, but I'll leave it at this - this book moved me in a way that I haven't been moved by a book in a long time.

Hitler's Forgotten Children by Ingrid von Oelhafen // This biography is written by a woman who was kidnapped as an infant from her village in Yugoslavia and placed with a German family for "Germanization" by a Nazi program called Lebensborn.

I have watched many documentaries on the Nazis and their programs, and I had never heard of the Lebensborn program. It was secretive program that was run by the SS and Himmler himself. Himmler was highly interested in creating a super race of people, using the best of the best men and women. He encouraged the most attractive, physically fit SS agents to procreate with German women - all of whom were rated a certain level (aka, were able to trace their heritage back to the 1800's as "pure"). The other side of the Lebensborn project was to kidnap babies in occupied territories who had the most German characteristics to be raised in German families, with no knowledge of being anything other than German. After having read this book, I was even more overwhelmed with how cruel and evil the Nazis were.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly // What drew me to this book was the list of awards its collected. Normally, I wouldn't reach for a book about LA gang members traveling the country in search of a witness they've been ordered to murder. Doesn't seem like my kind of book...although, it IS a suspense story line, so that's a lot more my style than a romance book would be.

The main character of this book is a boy named East. He grew up in LA, drafted into a gang by his uncle. Within the first twenty-five pages of the book, East is off to start his journey to Wisconsin with other teenagers. He's never traveled outside of "The Boxes," a neighborhood in LA, and the journey stuns and changes him. Despite the crimes they commit, they are strangely likable characters.

The writing style was unique, and I can certainly understand why it won so many awards. Please note that this isn't a Christian novel.


Disclaimer: Some of the books in this post were provided to me free of charge in exchange for my honest review. All the opinions expressed are completely my own. Also, affiliate links used. This means that if you purchase a book via the Amazon links, I'll receive a small percentage. Thank you for supporting Sunday Charm! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Current Obsessions

My lavender zebra May Designs notebook // I can't get over how stinkin' adorable and fun this notebook cover is! If you aren't familiar, May Designs is an online store where you can customize your own notebooks. They offer three sizes of notebooks and over a hundred different notebook cover designs, with the ability to add a monogram or saying to the cover in multiple styles and colors, and THEN you're able to customize what type of style your inside pages are (regular lined, graph, agenda, workout tracker, meal planner, baby diary, coloring book, gratitude journal...and more). Basically, the May Designs website will suck you into a blackhole, only to emerge hours later with several lovely personalized, but expensive notebooks in your shopping cart. I'm not sure I could ever pay full price for one of their notebooks because I'm a cheapskate. This lavender zebra notebook was 50% off, and I skipped adding the monogram/saying to the cover to save that money. Recommendation: wait for a sale.

Rifle Paper Co fabric // The light blue floral and it's two similar prints with navy floral and pink/coral floral is the most yummy fabric I've ever seen...outside of vintage floral sheets, of course.

The new Papermate InkJoy Gel Pens (0.5mm fine point style) // I love the Papermate Flair Felt Tip Pens, so when these new InkJoy Gel Pens were released during back-to-school time, I grabbed a few shades of blue to test. They dry incredibly fast and write exceptionally smoothly (no big dot of extra ink when ending a letter - you know what I mean?). I like the finer point pens because I write big and don't want thicker ink to take up too much room on the lines of my journal.

This blog post by my friend Valerie // I love her inspiration for holiday decorating. It's festive, yet simple.

This book - Walking on Water // Don't be confused by the title, it doesn't have anything to do with Jesus walking on the water. It's a book about how creativity/art and religion go hand and hand. I read it earlier this fall and it ranks in my top five books OF ALL TIME. Literally, amazing book. I'm re-reading it now.

The local donut place called QuackDaddy // This is about a 25 minute drive from our house, but oh so very worth it! You fill out an order form to customize your donuts (pictured). The donuts themselves are smaller, but the most perfect donut I've ever tasted. I got two donuts: strawberry icing and the white icing, both with their raspberry drizzle. THEY WERE HEAVEN. This sounds extreme, but they truly are the best donuts I've ever tasted.


Monday, December 12, 2016

It's The Holiday Time to Give (Back)

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by CARE,
but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.
The simple white lights decorating houses, popcorn tins, brightly colored wrapping paper and double sided tape on the endcap of every aisle, whiffs of pine around freshly cut trees, sprinkles accidentally dropped on the floor from your cookie baking marathon. The holidays have a special way of making ordinary things magical.

Instead of leaning into all the gift-giving and shopping hustle, we're focusing on how we can simplify our Christmas season and preserve the magic of the holidays by purposely giving meaningful gifts, by focusing on how we can help others. Like Evelesi, an incredible eleven year old girl from Malawi. Evelesi dreams of becoming a nurse in a country that has a lack of medical staff. But she can't do it alone. CARE has highlighted her story along with the stories of other young dreamers (#DreamWithHer) and made it as easy as ever to give to a project that will genuinely change the life of another human in a part of the world where he/she simply can't earn the resources to do it themselves.

CARE is a humanitarian organization that works to save lives, defeat poverty and fight for social justice. This organization is doing great things around the world. And rest assured, I did a little homework on them - for every dollar donated to CARE, ninety cents goes directly to its programs (this is pretty amazing!). But enough about that. Have you seen the amazing holiday gift catalog they put together? Their online catalog is right here.

Their new gift catalog highlights over thirty ways that you can directly impact the life of another person. Gifts to help teach women how to sew or raise animals to support their families, providing books for refuge camps to allow children to continue to learn, emergency medicine, building water wells for villages, gifts that help with the prevention of child marriage and so.much.more. at all different price points. I'm getting excited just thinking about all the possibilities and good that can be done for men, women and children all across the world!

This holiday season, would you consider giving back to help create lasting change in women's lives? Add one of the CARE gifts to your wishlist. Let's #DreamWithHer and dream big!


Friday, December 9, 2016

What I'm Reading: December

Last month was a busy month with Thanksgiving and the HVM Kids market (I sold quilts and quilted wall hangings!), and this month is shaping up to be busy with all that comes along with the Christmas  holiday and the year ending, plus I have custom order quilts to keep my sewing machine occupied. Somehow, I'm still able to find time to plop myself on the couch with a few books. :)

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles // I absolutely can't believe how fast this book was assembled and published. The summer Olympics weren't that long ago!

Reading the behind the scenes details of someone else's life is strangely fascinating to me, and Biles' stories was a good read. The book follows Simone through many stages of her life, from her entrance into the world of gymnastics on a daycare field trip to her time in foster care to her close relationship with her sister, and even the first time she was recognized by a stranger in public. This girl was beyond likable at the Olympics, and you'll feel even more "Team Simone" after reading her biography. Isn't all of America captivated by how adorable and yet stunningly fierce Simone Biles is?

It's a quick, but fascinating read. Her writing is obviously more conversational due to the fact that it's an autobiography. I wholeheartedly give this book two thumbs up.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller // This fiction book revolves around Olivia Rawlings, a pastry chef from an exclusive Boston dinner club. After a fire engulfs the club, she decides to escape to the town her best friend, Hannah, lives in - Guthrie, Vermont. It isn't long before the owner of a local inn offers Olivia a job with the hopes that her new pastry chef will be able to help her reclaim the inn's blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest (helloooo small towns in America - I absolutely love it!). Before she knows it, Olivia has settled into small town life.

I thought this book was a delight! The characters were well crafted, the description of the treats and sweets Olivia whipped up could make anyone's mouth water. As someone who grew up in a small, country town, I especially loved how the author painted country living. :)

I listened to this book on audio book for my long commutes to work. The person reading the book had a pleasant voice, but it was a hard transition to move to this audio book from the Harry Potter books read by Jim Dale (he has such a great voice!) .

Strengths Based Marriage by Jimmy Evans and Allan Kelsey // This book was a bit disappointing. Let me just start off with that.

In this book the two authors - Evans, a marriage expert and Allan, a StengthsFinder expert - dive into how to have a happier and stronger marriage by applying the concepts from the popular StengthsFinder assessment to their relationship. The StengthsFinder test is a popular personality test that identifies one's strengths in many categories.

While the book itself offers some great insight in how to expand upon learning your results from taking the StengthsFinder assessment, it doesn't offer the test itself. You have to pay $89 (I think) to take the test itself. This book seems to be more for the couples who have previously taken the tests to couple both this book and their results to expand their knowledge of themselves and their spouse. Given that nature of the book, I was still able to find interesting points and helpful advice for growing a stronger marriage. So while I didn't quite like it because of the high price point of the StengthsFinder assessment you'll need to take, I guess I wouldn't completely write off this book if you haven't taken the test.

Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen // I own another book by Jennie Allen, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet (it's her book Anything). This book will be released mid-January, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a early copy via Blogging for Books.

In this book, Allen tackles the subject of inadequacy and insecurity, the fear that we are not enough. She dives in and invites us to experience that our souls can overflow with contentment and joy when we stop buying into the lie that our cravings will be satisfied if we are enough and if we have enough. You know those cravings that manifest themselves when we chase images, answers, clothing, people, relationships, status, etc? It's when we stop and realize that we have nothing to prove, that we are loved by God regardless of anything thing we attempt to accomplish, relationship we have, decision we make, clothing we wear. It's the simple fact that we are His child.

What did I think of this book? It was good. Full of traditional Christian living book ideas and examples, but still good.

Disclaimer: Some of the books in this post were provided to me free of charge in exchange for my honest review. All the opinions expressed are completely my own. Also, affiliate links used. This means that if you purchase a book via the Amazon links, I'll receive a small percentage. Thank you for supporting Sunday Charm!

Exhausted by All the "One Simple Step" Articles

As I was scrolling through Pinterest, it took me a minute to realize that I had just seen roughly ten pins that referred to some way to earn money by working from home, pay off debt, dress for fall or inexpensively feed your family with just "one simple step." And I found myself clicking on almost every one of the pins...or remembering that I already had read several of them, including a blog post with some variation of "One Simple Step to Making Your Home Cozy."

Sigh, it's exhausting.

I'm officially worn out by all the things I could accomplish by just doing "one simple step." I know that bloggers and companies are trying to draw me into their content and effectively get their coveted number of page views and/or clicks for the most recent ad network campaign they're running. The idea of their content is typically great...but vague. One simple step to spending less at the grocery store? Meal planning. One simple step to making your home tidy? Kon-Marie-style declutter it. One simple step to paying off your mortgage faster? Make extra payments. One simple step, or more like the one fall wardrobe item you need, to stay trendy? Tall boots.

There's always another thing that I should be doing, as outlined by all the "one simple steps" out in Pinterest-land. And like I said above, I'm exhausted by all of it. If everything in life had a "one simple step" mentality to achieve the end result I want, theorically I should be able to be superwoman with zero debt, meal planning prep done before the work week begins and a house that has so little possessions (only what I actually use, need and brings me joy all simultanesouly, right minimalist enthusiasts?) that it's a cinch to keep clean with only an hour's worth of cleaning every week, while finding time to workout in those pin-able workout outfits (because "one simple step" to cute workout clothes is Fabletics) and baking adorable mini apple pies that I saw on Pinterest.

Sigh, it's exhausting.

I guess what I'm saying is that I can't juggle all the things I want and need to do in life, let alone balance those things with the pressure to do more because, after all, I just need to adjust or add one simple step to my week in order to make it lighter, more debt-free, more fashionable and cleaner. Nothing is actually accomplished by "one simple step." It's through hard work and minor life alterations as you move toward the goal you're dreaming of. It's through real action plans and not vague statements like start "meal planning." Give me more than that, give me depth in an answer. Give me the big picture that it's hard work to do change a spending habit or something better, and that hard work will come with peaks and valleys. Give me something real to chew on, Pinterest-land. and please stop overwhelming me with all the simple little steps I should be doing?

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