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I don’t usually post these two weeks in a row, but I came across a number of good reads this week!

Answering Claims That the Bible Contains Errors, and Why It Matters That It Doesn’t, HT to Challies.

What Expository Preaching Is Not, HT to Challies.

God Has a Heart for the Vulnerable. Do you?

Feel the Love

Doing Church Away From Church Isn’t Church, HT to Challies.

Nine Questions to Ask Yourself to Prepare for 2018, HT to Challies.

100 Years. 100 Million Lives. Think Twice, HT to Challies. I’ve been quite alarmed in recent months to see young people lauding communism. “For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.” “Communism cannot be separated from oppression; in fact, it depends upon it. In the communist society, the collective is supreme. Personal autonomy is nonexistent. Human beings are simply cogs in a machine tasked with producing utopia; they have no value of their own.”

On Leaving Jerusalem. “While the media is great at capturing events, they are not so great (or so interested) at capturing context or proportion.”

Living Out Our Faith. Great ways to serve the Lord as a family.

Crying in Home Depot at Christmas.

Lastly, I don’t know anything about the speaker here or the film he talks about, so this is not an endorsement, but a friend shared this on Facebook and I found it interesting. I had never heard what he shared about the significance of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes before.

Happy next to last Saturday before Christmas!


Friday’s Fave Five

christmas FFF

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

In this busy season, I love the opportunity to pause and reflect over the best parts of the previous week.

1. Sleep. A couple of nights in a row, I woke up during the night and then couldn’t get back to sleep for a couple of hours. Sometimes when that happens I pray, most often I turn on some soft music. I want to keep everything conducive to going back to sleep, so I don’t get up except to use the bathroom. I was particularly frustrated when this happened on a Saturday night (as it too often does), afraid I’d be sleepy, draggy, or irritable all through church, but thankfully that didn’t happen. I took a long nap Sunday afternoon, but when the same wakefulness happened that night, I set my timer for a short nap Monday. And Monday night and following I went right to sleep and didn’t wake up til morning.

2. Rest. It’s a busy season, and I pushed myself more than normal a couple of days. I always look forward to evenings – I try not to be on the computer or working on a project at night when my husband’s home. Even if we’re not doing anything directly together, I enjoy being in the same room while we read our tablets. But those couple of days, I especially looked forward to getting the day’s work done and sitting with my feet up for a while.

3. Getting Christmasy things done: packages mailed and Christmas cards sent this week.

4. New Christmas decorations. I’m not sure why I’ve felt inclined to add to our Christmas decor this year – a combination of half-price sales and Hobby Lobby gift cards, I guess. 🙂 I decided to look for a very small tree for what I call the spare or front bathroom, and found this:


Though this bathroom is a lot smaller (we don’t have much more counter space than that), it’s also less messy and cluttered, so this fits well there whereas in the others it would be just one more item. And this is the bathroom guests usually use.

Then, I saw this neat idea on a friend’s Facebook page: using oversized balls outside on plant hangers. I put one where we usually have the hummingbird feeder, outside my kitchen window:


And this one is by the front door (amidst my sadly overgrown rose bushes that need cutting back):


The flowers are a circlet that I usually put around the globe of the sconces in the family room, but just hadn’t done it yet this year. But the hole in the middle fit the ornaments perfectly. I think I’ll take them off, though, and replace them with a bow lest the sunlight fade the flowers. I don’t usually do much red – we have some red in the Christmas decorations, but no red in the house otherwise. I got silver at first, but returned them. The red shows up outside so much better. I have a few plant hangers outside the window by my computer and I am thinking of adding some there…:) But then, I don’t know if these are meant for outside, so I might wait a bit and see how they hold up in the weather.

5. A sweet exchange between Timothy (my grandson, 3 1/2) and Mittu (my daughter-in-law). Mittu has been recovering from an infection and not feeling well. She was drinking some tea, which Timothy thought was coffee.

Timothy: Coffee make you feel better?
Mittu: Coffee makes everything better. But you know what always makes me feel better?
Timothy: Me! Me! Me!

Happy Friday!

Book Review: French Women Don’t Get Fat

French WomenFrench Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano is certainly an eye-catching title, even acknowledging that it’s more likely a generalization than an absolute statement.

Mireille Guiliano was born and raised in France. When she came to America as an exchange student in college, she put on weight, and even when she went back to France, the bad habits she had picked up led to more weight gain. Her concerned mother took to to a doctor.

His prescription was first to write down everything she ate for three weeks. Then he sat down with her to evaluate her eating habits.

Like an addict’s, my body came to expect too much of what had once been blissfully intoxicating in small doses. It was time to enter rehab, but fortunately Dr. Miracle had never heard of cold turkey. (The French don’t much care for dinde at any temperature) (p. 22).

For the next three months I was to pare back, finding less rich alternatives, reserving the real thing for a special treat–as it is intended. This was less deprivation than contemplation and reprogramming, because, as I would discover, achieving a balance has more to do with the mind than with the stomach…(p. 24).

After cutting back for three months, she could gradually start adding items back in, in moderation. But she was to begin with 48 hours of nothing but water and “Magical Leek Soup” (which she says is delicious. I’ll take her word for it.)

Obviously, if one is overweight, there’s no getting around the need for cutting back somewhere. But the emphasis in this book is in the subtitle: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. Rather than dieting, guilt, and deprivation, she advocates balance, eating foods fresh and in season, and truly enjoying one’s food, concentrating on the food and taking pleasure in it rather than eating mindlessly while doing something else. The most pleasure we get from food is in the first few bites, so savor those bites. Aim not for a certain size or number, but rather “‘well-being’ weight, the one at which a particular individual feels bien dans sa peau (comfortable in his or her own skin)…the weight at which you can say, ‘I feel good and I look good'” (p. 23).

She says that for the most part, French women don’t go to the gym, preferring to incorporate more movement into everyday life. “It always astounds me to see people who live no higher than the fourth floor taking the elevator” (p. 211).

A few other principles that stood out to me:

Do not eat on autopilot (p. 31).

On the whole, “offenders” are foods we tend to eat compulsively, with less actual pleasure than you might think. Often they are poor versions of something better (p. 32).

French women never let themselves be hungry.
French women never let themselves feel stuffed (p. 254).

French women typically think about good things to eat. American women typically worry about bad things to eat.

Learn to say no, with an eye to saying yes to something else.

Seasonality (eating the best at its peak) and seasoning (the art of choosing and combining flavors to complement food) are vital for fighting off the food lover’s worst enemy: not calories, but boredom. Eat the same thing in the same way time and again, and you’ll need more just to achieve the same pleasure. (Think of it as “taste tolerance.”) Have just one taste experience as your dinner (the big bowl of pasta, a big piece of meat), and you are bound to eat too much, as you seek satisfaction from volume instead of the interplay of flavor and texture that comes from a well thought out meal (p. 118).

She shares recipes, seasoning information, different tips for different stages of life. This being a secular book, some of its philosophies and principles I would not ascribe to, like the information on alcohol and meditative breathing.

As an adult, she divides her time between France and America, so she’s well familiar with both mindsets. She has shared these principles and practices with others through the years who have asked how she can “get away with” seeming to eat so much yet staying slim, and they have found them successful as well.

While I wouldn’t minutely follow everything she says (I don’t think I could ever get “hooked on the sensation of that tender grayish glob of seagoing goodness sliding down your throat” [p. 100] – oysters), I’ve marked some recipes to try and gleaned quite a lot of good thoughts and especially attitudes.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Keeping Christmas

Keeping ChristmasIn Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh, Stan and Judith Winters are empty nesters. Stan enjoys having a little more freedom of schedule and quietness, but Judith’s life has always been wrapped up in her children, and she misses them. She’s sad that they can’t come for Thanksgiving, but when she learns that none of them can come for Christmas, she falls into a deeper depression than Stan has ever seen. She doesn’t even have the heart to decorate the Christmas tree. That was something they had always done together, and most of their ornaments are what Stan calls “ugly ornaments,” ones Judith made with the kids.

Judith’s best friend does her best to distract her, with minimal success at first. Judith doesn’t think her friend understands, since all of her children and grandchildren live in town. But her friend conveys that just because they’re all there doesn’t mean everything is idyllic and shares some of the family conflicts and quandaries.

Judith and Stan had developed different and separate traditions for their after-Thanksgiving activities, and not only had they hardly talked over their meal, but Stan had even left the TV on. But as he tries to help lift Judith’s spirits, he becomes more attentive. Finally he has an idea, one involving the box of “ugly ornaments” and some sacrifice, but it’s his last option.

My thoughts:

Though predictable, this was a sweet story, not just about helping an empty nester mom’s depression, but about a husband and wife learning to reconnect after all their kids are gone. I’d be a little concerned that moms in the same situation reading this might be even more down since the Hallmark-type happy ending in the book is not likely to happen in real life. But perhaps there’s enough in everything else the characters go through and learn to be beneficial even without that ideal ending. Overall a nice, heartwarming Christmas novel.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase is hosting a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge, and, since I like to read Christmasy books in December, I decided to join in! More information on the challenge is here.

I have read or am planning to read the following (the ones I have already read and reviewed are linked back to my reviews):

Sarah’s Song by Karen Kingsbury
Silver Bells by Deborah Raney
Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh
I’ll Be Home For Christmas, four novellas in one.
The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett

That will probably be more than enough, but I have a few others on hand or in my Kindle app if needed. 🙂

Book Review: Silver Bells

Silver BellsSilver Bells by Deborah Raney opens in small-town Bristol, Kansas in August 1971. Michelle Penn has had to leave college after two years because her parents can’t afford to send both her and her brother, and they hope that having her brother in college will keep him out of Viet Nam. Michelle has found a job as the city reporter in Bristol’s small newspaper. She meets the sports reporter at the desk next to hers, and after she makes a comment about the boss’s son, she’s chagrined to learn that’s him. “First day on the job and she was toast. Burned-to-a-crisp toast.” Thankfully, the boss’s son, Rob, thinks the whole thing is funny.

He shows her the ropes and takes her along for a breaking case, which involves a domestic disturbance. While he’s snapping pictures, she’s supposed to be getting details, but compassion for the battered wife and daughter stop her in her tracks. She talks Rob into using the least graphic of the photos and goes back later to see if she can help the woman.

Later she humanizes the paper a bit by putting a fun, good-feeling photo on the front cover. At first the editor is not pleased that the cover photo did not involve politics or sports, but the response is so positive that he grudgingly assigns her the cover photo from now on. But he does warn her that he has a policy against employees dating.

Unfortunately, Michelle has already taken a liking to Rob, and he is attracted to her as well. They’re thrown together often to cover stories, but Rob’s father once again warns Michelle away from Rob and threatens her with losing her job. Rob wonders if it’s time to get out from under his father’s thumb so he can live his own life the way he wants to.

My thoughts:

This was a sweet, funny, touching, clean romance. I loved the banter between Rob and Michelle. The faith element was woven in naturally as the characters learned to seek and then to trust God with their situation. The 1970s were the era of my teens, and I enjoyed the touches particular to the times that Deborah incorporated. This era is not often written about, so it was refreshing from that aspect as well. The plot ends at Christmastime, making it a perfect Christmas read.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

“Managing” Christmas

Most of us are in a quandary to some degree during the Christmas season. There’s more to do, a lot of it enjoyable in itself, but it adds to an already packed schedule and can leave us feeling frantic rather than enjoying the season, much less pondering the meaning of it. Though I am not an organizational expert, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:

Start early. Some people shop all year for Christmas. That doesn’t work for everyone – they might not have the storage space, or desires might change over the year. It’s been a big help to me to buy Christmas cards fairly soon after they first come out, usually in November before Thanksgiving. I can find a good selection at a discount store then, whereas later they’ll be picked-over. The last few years, we’ve asked for everyone’s “wish lists” by Thanksgiving week, and by taking advantage of online sales that week, we’ve gotten the bulk of our Christmas shopping done then.

Evaluate traditions. Composer Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Traditions are lovely ways to enhance a season and create family memories, but sometimes they become a burden rather than a blessing. I recently read of a family where the mom/grandmother had passed away, and the first Christmas afterward, someone made the special dish that she had always made for Christmas dinner. But then they realized that none of them were that crazy about it, and there were other, better ways to remember their loved ones.

Involve the whole family. We always decorate the house for Christmas together as a family, and, though some years we didn’t get Christmas cookies made, I did that with the kids. My husband and I divide up the shopping. The kids help clean the house.

You don’t have to go to everything. Every group or organization seems to have get-togethers at Christmas, there are school programs and recitals, special things going on in town. Choose the most meaningful things for your family and forget the rest – unless you’re one of those people who likes being out a lot.

Some activities can be scheduled outside of December. I’ve known some people to do their annual Christmas family newsletter around Thanksgiving or just after New Year’s rather than at Christmastime. We had one Sunday School class that scheduled its class party in January rather than December, both to relieve everyone’s December calendars and the church facility usage, and give us something to look forward to in January, when there was typically nothing special going on.

Put off what can be put off. In addition to what was mentioned in the last point, December is not usually the time for massive organizational or home projects. I also try not to schedule doctor’s or dentist’s appointments in December unless it can’t be helped. By the way, you might be thinking of getting appointment or procedures in before the end of the year if you’ve already met your deductible for the year so it will cost less: check with your insurance about when their year starts and ends. We just found out a few months ago that they count our year not from January to December, but from December through the following November, so December expenses count for the new year, not the current one.

Take shortcuts. It’s ok to buy pre-made cookie dough or even bakery or restaurant items rather than making everything from scratch for every activity or gathering. I store my mini Christmas trees (some maybe 10 inches tall, some about 2 feet) with the decorations on in their own containers, so when I put them up, all I have to do is fluff them out a little and put back on any decorations that fell off rather than decorating each from scratch each year (If you have extremely fragile ornaments, that might not work). It makes it easier to put them away as well.

Acknowledge changes in circumstances and seasons. A friend grieved one year because she was in the hospital with a kidney infection Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She felt she was “ruining” Christmas for her family. While I can understand that, in a sense her lamenting made it worse. Since nothing could be done about the circumstances, it would have been a good time to teach her kids to adapt and to maybe try to turn it into something fun for the kids in some way (maybe Dad bringing doughnuts for Christmas breakfast in the hospital room, opening stockings there and saving the big presents for later, etc.). Another friend’s husband was in prison over several Christmases, another was homeless one Christmas. Some people get stranded in airports or can’t make planned trips due to bad weather. It is sad and frustrating, but since it can’t be helped, it’s best to make the best of it in some way. And it’s funny how those “different” Christmases are the ones that we sometimes remember the most. On the other hand, some Christmases are filled with grief, and it’s ok not to be into the ‘frothy” aspects of the season. Also, as the family grows, or decreases when kids move out, the different things you do as a family might change. We used to get Christmas presents for all the siblings, then their spouses, then as families grew, we just got gifts for all the kids and the grandparents, then as we were too far away to really know what anyone liked and it was getting too expensive, we eventually just got gifts for our own children and parents. Empty nesters might or might not do all the decorating they did when kids and grandkids are no longer coming to their house for the holidays.

Find ways to focus on the meaning of the season. There are Advent Bible reading plans online that incorporate OT passages prophesying the Messiah’s birth as well the familiar NT passages about Christ’s birth and other applicable NT passages. I’ve been blessed by focusing on one Christmas devotional book in December. Some I’ve read are (linked to my reviews):

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas compiled by Nancy Guthrie, containing sermon excerpts or essays from as far back as Augustine and as current as Tim Keller.

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie is geared for family usage, but I enjoyed reading it by myself as well.

The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs.

From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A. W. Tozer

I’m currently reading a new one, Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett. I’m only a third of the way into it, but it’s good so far, and I have enjoyed others in the Gospel Meditations series that I’ve read.

Don’t expect perfection. I wrote about our idea of a “perfect Christmas” a few years ago and compared it to the first Christmas, which would be far from our idea of perfection: having to travel 9 months pregnant, not being able to find a place to stay other than a stable, giving birth in that setting, etc. But that’s the Christmas setting of our nostalgic carols, and, more importantly, the Christmas the resulted in the Savior of the world being born. The point of Christmas celebrations is to remember and celebrate that birth, so if every bow isn’t straight or every cookie isn’t baked and decorated just right, it’s not the end of the world.

How about you? What ways have you found to get the extras done at Christmas and still have time for reflection?

“Christmas is so much more than a holiday. So much more than buying and wrapping and cooking and eating and trimming with tinsel and mailing out cards. It’s a season for reflection, for preparation, for renewal.” ~Liz Curtis Higgs, The Women of Christmas 

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)