Books: November Edition

It’s been a lighter month of reading, but these were both enjoyable books, although very different in theme and writing style.


The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson

I always enjoy reading Christmas-themed books throughout November and December and this one was immediately available via Overdrive from the public library. This was a simple story of faith, honoring a family obligation, and the special connections that exist between felines and humans.

A few years ago I would not have voluntarily read a book with the word “cat” in the title, but after our rescue cat Sylvester came into our lives and home over a year and a half ago, I have a soft spot for kitties, and this was a wholesome story that demonstrates the power of matching good pets within homes and families.


Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson

Yes, this book will make you want to eat a hearty, all-American breakfast. Yes, this book will make you want to travel to Paris to eat a hearty, all-American breakfast at Breakfast in America.

What I wasn’t expecting was for this book to be filled with such a thorough background, business details, a long timeline, and the many personal ups and downs Carlson recounts in establishing his overseas business Breakfast in America in Paris. Yet, seeing his dream fulfilled and becoming so successful was rewarding to read.

My thanks to NetGalley for this digital ARC!

More Christmas (and non-Christmas) reading to come in December as the end of the semester nears, giving me more time to read, and Christmas break awaits!


What I’ve Learned: Fall 2016

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman & others, sharing the silly and sublime of what I’ve learned throughout the past few months of fall.

  1. A little light makes a big difference!

    I’m a big fan of cozy lighting and The Optometrist has been asking me for a while if I would like a nice piano lamp. I kept hesitating about buying one, but every time I turned on the living room light, I didn’t enjoy the full brightness that surrounded me.

    One recent evening The Optometrist found an unused desk light, which I’ve had since college. He placed it on top of my piano, and voila, cozy light by which to see piano music in the evening! (I’m loving my simple Christmas decorations: stack of favorite Christmas books, Father Christmas, Believe sign, and selection of Christmas sheet music/books.)

    Yes, there are much fancier, more expensive, LED models out there, which I might want to purchase someday, but with just this little helper I find myself sitting down to play a lot more often, and thus, wanting to keep my skills honed.

  2. Progress takes time.

    This semester my load of teaching library research and other classes is significantly lighter than last fall, but I’ve found myself appointed to two library committees, two University-wide committees, plus two more University-wide subcommittees. Several of the committees have been tasked with making new, sweeping, and impactful choices that will directly shape students’ curriculum choices next academic year. The VP who oversees many of these committees wisely selected the members, impressively so. Yet, even with a team of qualified faculty members, I’ve been reminded that big changes with deadlines still need the appropriate amount of time for the right conversations to take place, history to be evaluated, which then leads to the right decision being made with confidence by those invested and involved.

  3. Up front communication is good for the soul.

    I’m convinced that Satan wants nothing more than to plant seeds of doubt and insecurity in the hearts of believers who encounter perceived slights by other believers in the church.

    One such occurrence came my way this fall and my assumptions flew all around my soul. …Have I done something to upset this person?  …Is this because I’ve not been there every time?  …Does this person think I’m not reliable to step up and lead in the future?

    Realizing that a text or phone call wouldn’t come across appropriately, a face-to-face conversation lasting approximately one minute allowed me to ask, “I was wondering, have I done something wrong? Because last time…” quickly assuaged my doubts, soothed my worries, and set me back in place to keep serving with a cheerful spirit. (Take that, Satan.)

  4. There’s room at the table for everyone.

    From the previous lesson learned, I had to swallow a mouthful of pride and let someone else take a turn in the spotlight.

  5. Alabaster offering

    Journeying through the New Testament Gospels, I had never realized until recently that Mary, the brother of Lazarus, was the same one who anointed Jesus with alabaster oil, wiping his feet with her hair (John 12).

  6. Gryffindor

    I’ve often wondered in which Harry Potter house I would live, so after three random online quizzes, plus the official one from Pottermore, all said the same thing:
    Oh to live up to the characteristics of being brave, courageous, chivalrous, daring, and bold!

The God Who Sees Me

The first weekend in November, my momma, my aunt, and I joined a host women as we worshiped and were taught during the Fresh Grounded Faith conference in Springfield, MO. It was a sweet time of encouragement, laughter, and spiritual renewal.

The theme was Unshaken and each of the speakers, Jennifer Rothschild, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Abercrombie shared insight into their personal struggles, all the while trusting the promise that “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6). Specifically Jennifer, who is blind, shared that she has made the choice not to fear. She said she just doesn’t do fear.

Never has a theme from God’s Word been more timely, because of all that happened last week…

The election results troubled my soul and made me very anxious.

And then I received word that my dad’s cancer had returned.

During our weekly church choir rehearsal Wednesday night, I shared this diagnosis with our people, many of whom have personally walked or are walking with someone who has cancer, so they know how this news takes the wind out of your sails.

Upon arriving to work on Thursday morning, this note and beautiful leaf were propped against the door to my office. Such a heartfelt, gracious, and intentional gesture from a sweet sister in Jesus who heard the news and took time to reach out to me.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him ~ Nahum 1:7 (NIV).


Then a little while later, we had our library-wide Thanksgiving luncheon and in the time it took me to establish my seat and then return with my plate of food, one of my colleagues jotted a little note on the paper table cloth aimed my direction, “We are thankful for you!” He didn’t know who was sitting there, but chose to just leave a little note of encouragement.


Tears sprang to my eyes as I felt the Holy Spirit saying to me, “I see your frustration and hurt. I see you.

When Hagar was on the run from Abram and Sarai in Genesis 16, the angel of the Lord spoke to her and “she gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13, NIV).

In her despair, I doubt she was expecting to hear a word from the Lord’s messenger, just as I was not expecting to have two back-to-back moments of encouragement. Yet, the overwhelming assurance of peace came over my soul as I realized once more, God sees me.

With so much uncertainty still ahead, I choose not to fear, I cling to unshakable character of God, I continue to thank Him for seeing me, and remember the example of Father Tim in the beloved Mitford series, as I pray the prayer that never fails, Thy will be done.

Books: October Edition

October began with a valiant endeavor to read several books as quickly as possible. It reminded me of when I was in my final semester of library school when I read one to two books a week of various genres for my reader’s advisory class. It was a fun challenge then and was again now!

Yet in this instance my reading goal was to share personal insights with our University’s common read committee (of which I am a member) to decide next year’s Freshmen reading selection, so my timeline and reading list were much shorter.

We had ten overall candidates and, ironically, each of the three I read are our top three contenders, which will soon be voted upon by our faculty, staff, and students! It’s nice to know I can confidently advocate for any of these, as well as discuss plots and subject matter from a thoughtful, informed place.


Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by Dave Isay

My common read list kicked off with this compilation of short personal accounts, shared with the producers of the audio StoryCorps project, of which you might have heard segments on NPR. Each are memorable, many bring a smile, several bring a tear, and all of them have a connection to what fuels personal passions and motivations. My favorite was a conversation between two men who work together as repairmen on the Golden Gate bridge, who have been able to also prevent several people from jumping off the bridge and committing suicide. This was a great contender for next year’s common read!


So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

This is another contender for our university’s 2017 common read, which stretched me and made me think about the serious ramifications of online behavior. And not just the “I posted pictures of me partying and I was fired” types of situations, but things that people posted that became trending topics on Twitter and “blew up the Internet,” causing tremendous backlash from perfect strangers who weighed in on the situation. An overarching theme Ronson offers is that the “they” of the Internet is actually “we.”

In the current political climate, where a certain Presidential candidate doesn’t indicate any apparent shame for his actions, makes this a very timely read…

There were some very R-rated themes and language, a high “shock value,” which makes me hesitant about this being our selection, but at the same time, I kept finding myself talking about what I was learning.


How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

This third common read selection was a terrific one and was my favorite! Johnson uniquely researches the history behind our modern reliance on six common, ordinary objects or phenomenons: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. As I read this from a college freshman’s perspective I think they, too, would love discovering unknown historical facts that have a present-day connection, the supporting diagrams and photographs were an added touch, and my overall impression was one of amazement and appreciation for human perseverance and ingenuity.


The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

After reaching the end of my common read commitments, I picked up this ARC I had been wanting to read for several months. My thanks to Edelweiss for this advanced reader’s copy!

This debut novel is written by an actual baker, which lends an air of authenticity to the descriptions of ingredients and methods for baking pies and other kinds of desserts. There’s also a nice subplot of folk music, which I also enjoyed. Each year I look forward to reading a good book about food (especially desserts) and thought this one was a fairly gentle story with a happily ever after, especially since the story begins in the fall – perfect timing. The main character Olivia was likable and found myself rooting for her to be successful with professional and personal decisions and to come out on top (which she does!).


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Optometrist and I enjoy audio entertainment, including lots of 30-60 minute podcasts we listen to on shorter car rides, and it’s not unusual for me to read books aloud to him. Yet, we have a very short commute to work so we don’t feel we would get our money’s worth out of a full Audible subscription. But thanks to our Amazon Prime subscription, we have a handful of Audible audio books we can stream for free, without having a full, stand-alone account.

Last week I took advantage of listening to a shorter book, the unabridged version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, narrated by Scarlett Johansson. I had never read this childhood classic and found it bizarre, witty, and memorable. Johannson’s voices and accents were consistent and often made me chuckle. (If you liked her voice in the movie Her, with Joaquin Phoenix, you will like her interpretation of Alice.)
As November dawns, I’m endeavoring to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time (I’ve been intimidated by this fantasy series quite long enough and I’m being brave!) and queuing up a slate of Christmas books. Hurrah for overcoming challenges and cozy Christmas stories!

Books: September Edition


Giddy Up, Eunice: Because Women Need Each Other by Sophie Hudson

Since this book is so new, I had to wait a while for it to arrive from InterLibrary Loan, but once it arrived and I began reading, what a gift it was! Sophie outlines the inter-generational relationships of three pair of women from the Bible: Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1), Ruth and Naomi (book of Ruth), and Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1) – how both older and younger generations of women need the support of one another. She interweaves her own personal stories, some filled with deep vulnerability, some with chuckle-worthy humor, but overall it was a complete package of encouragement and truth I didn’t know I needed to hear/read.

I rank this as the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year!

Furthermore, even before having access to this book, I had signed up for the new Beth Moore Bible study, Entrusted, a study of 2 Timothy, with an inter-generational group of women at my church. I’m in the thick middle of a “sacred echo,” where God is getting my attention with some of the same themes in Giddy Up, Eunicementoring, inter-generational friendships, purpose, love, and service.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” ~ Romans 12:10 (ESV)


The Fireman by Joe Hill

When I heard the premise of this book earlier in the year, I was intrigued: an epidemic is sweeping the nation, where the spore “Dragonscale,” is infecting people, causing them to catch on fire. Yet, one man, The Fireman, has somehow figured out a way to tame the flames. Even though this apocalyptic book clocks in with 752 pages, I found it a fast and compelling read, suspenseful and exciting, but not overtly scary (which surprised me since Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King). Additional themes include altruism, group dynamics, and reliant trust on those who become your “family” during hard times.


The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood

This was featured prominently in the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading list. When it was on sale for Kindle earlier in the summer, I went ahead and took advantage of the discount. While some raved about this book, I simply found it heart-stirring as kindness is shown and attempts at understanding are given among several unique inter-generational relationships (there’s that sacred echo again). Additional themes include the expectations we have for others and the importance of accepting people as they are.

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Armada by Ernest Cline

In April I mentioned reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I enjoyed so much I requested the audio book version (narrated by Wil Wheaton) and listened to it with The Optometrist in May. It was a treat for me to “read” it once more, this time with the added bonus of being able to discuss it with him (or discuss it after I had woken up from taking a nap in the car).

When I saw Cline’s newest book at the public library a few weeks ago, I promptly grabbed it and decided it would be our next read-aloud together (even though I’m sure Wil Wheaton’s performance for this one is equally fun). As I read it, there were many “Am I saying this right?” moments to my husband, since he’s the gamer/sci-fi aficionado, but I hung in there as I learned some additional  gaming/sci-fi lingo and occasionally earned “+10 nerd points” from The Optometrist when I remembered a quote or situation from an existing book or movie.

The premise follows a similar trajectory as Ready Player One: everyday video game playing teenage nerdy types are tasked with a life-changing video game challenge. But this time the ante is upped when our hero Zack is tasked with helping save the world after he discovers there’s more than meets the eye with Armada, his favorite video game.

Ahead in October are several contenders for our university’s 2017 common read initiative!


Books: August Edition


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

What a treat to return to the world of Harry Potter! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up where The Deathly Hallows (book 7) left off with exciting themes of past regret influencing the present. The reader is also introduced to some new, memorable characters who synchronously fit in with those found in the original canon.

Normally, my imagination creates a vivid world, characters, and scenery for a story, but reading this was a bit trickier this time. I harkened back to my fond mental images from the original books, famous depictions from the movies, plus incorporated the stage directions as I imagined how this would be acted out live in a theatre. Yet after reading a couple of scenes, I began to slip into the flow of the play, everything merged in my brain, and the story swept me away.


Trashed by Derf Backderf

I heard about this book through a librarian newsletter/e-mail and thought it sounded fascinating: a graphic novel about garbage. It’s semi-autobiographical, based on Backderf’s previous experience as a garbage man, and sheds light on a subject many people don’t want to think about. Yet, my takeaway has been to be more mindful of what I throw into the trashcan and be more diligent about my recycling efforts. Every little bit matters!


Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I raved about this book when I read it in May from a digital ARC , and was thrilled to choose it for my August Book of the Month pick in hardback! As soon as it arrived I asked The Optometrist, “Would you like for me to read this aloud to you?” With his fascination of and ease in understanding sci-fi themes, I had a feeling he would enjoy the plot, pacing, and scientific concepts, and I was anxious to re-read it.

As I shared before, this novel addresses quantum physics, is filled with suspense and hope, and the overarching theme of the book centers around fighting for love and being at peace with the decisions we make. The second go around was just as enjoyable, if not more so since I was able to share and discuss it with my love, and remains my favorite book read in 2016 (at least so far).


Fire in Beulah by Rilla Askew

Recently our university chose this as our inaugural Freshman Common Read, and since I’m teaching a small group of freshmen, it’s imperative I read the book they are required to read. Fire in Beulah is a historically fictitious account of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, of which I knew nothing previously.

Askew doesn’t hold back as she interweaves stories of Oklahomans (white, black, and Indian) and their prejudices, in a gritty, raw, gut-wrenching, and violent way. (Overall, “gloom, despair, and agony on me.”) It’s been years since I’ve read anything this emotionally difficult, the last being Push by Sapphire.

The author is somewhat of a local, whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting on a few occasions, and had previously read another of her novels, Kind of Kin, which addresses the current state of immigration in the United States. I found it impactful, but interlaced with humor. In comparison, and in my opinion, Fire in Beulah is definitely not for the faint of heart. Yet it has made me more curious to find out more historical facts about this tragic conflict in our state’s and nation’s history. Plus it’s good to remember that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

If you’re interested in learning more, this segment from 60 Minutes provides interviews and background information about”Tulsa burning.”

(And looking ahead to September, I’ve recently begun Giddy Up, Eunice by Sophie Hudson and One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood.)

Just another day…well, yes & no

As an academic librarian I have a 12-month contract, so while today is just another Monday reporting to the university, it’s also the first day of the fall semester.

Thinking back on previous first days of school, I’m reminded that today marks my seventh first day of school working in my current library, and if you count the three years I worked at a community college (pre-grad school), this totals a decade of first days of school working in higher education. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty proud of that!

Last year our Provost shared with the incoming freshmen how, regardless of their chosen major and future career aspirations, they would more than likely be working in a profession that served others. These words of wisdom have stuck with me, helping me realize this broader goal of serving others as an extension of my life-service to Christ is what motivates me to keep-on-keepin’-on. Seven years in, I’m thankful I remain excited to partner with faculty and learn alongside them, plus connect with their students as I teach them effective and transferable research skills. Even though I continue to do the same thing year in and year out, new professional and personal opportunities continually arise and keep me feeling vibrant and fresh.

It’s also good for me to remember today marks a milestone in the lives of many freshmen stepping foot on campus. Their first day of college signifies something more than just “it’s what I do after I graduate from high school,” since many come from very rural areas and are first generation college students. The pursuit of a college degree changes not only their lives, but alters the course of history for those generations to follow. How humbling that I get to play a small role in their academic journey and eventual achievement.

Today also marks the first day of school for our nephew who begins 1st grade! Our favorite little strawberry-blond boy is excited about this new year of school and his new teacher. He enters 1st grade reading like a champ (!!!) and we are all excited for the good things in store for him this year.

So regardless of age, here’s to a renewed commitment of serving, growing, and learning!