Favorite Books of 2018

2018 was a record reading year for me – I finished 42 books! There are many reasons for that, but I also have to give credit to my Kindle. I’m two years in to life with a Kindle, and as a former skeptic I have to admit it has helped me increase my reading.

I had a number of favorites this year, and a few I got through just to finish! I hope you find something below to inspire you! And I will always take recommendations (or arguments for why I am wrong!).

Favorites:

A Tangled Mercy

A random Amazon Unlimited find that was a delightful surprise! The history buff in me loved the historical mystery aspect, and going back in time to the characters ancestors, though painful at times seeing the devastation of society with an economy centered around slavery, was very interesting. Great characters as well with a redemptive conclusion.

Truly, Madly, Guilty

I got on a Lynne Moriarty kick this year; this was my first and favorite of hers. The suspense of the “great event the story centers around but you don’t learn the details till the end” was fascinating. The characters were so real and endearing in their own quirky ways.

How to Walk Away

Loved this debut book by newcomer author Katherine Center. I literally couldn’t put it down and finished it in one day. I don’t want to give it away but sometimes it’s nice to have a good, and “real” read that still makes you feel satisfied and inspired at the end. Great characters with interesting conversations and reflections on life; don’t let the plane crash at the beginning scare you away! Definitely a good beach or ski lodge read, but with substance.

The Great Alone

I discovered why this book is so popular and I had to wait for weeks for the library e-book to become available for Kindle – I couldn’t put it down. An epic coming of age tale set in the pioneering world of a remote Alaskan village in the 1970s, I really enjoyed the robust characters and being taken to a world I know little about.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Absolutely fascinating true story from the Italian front in World War II, which I, and most people, know little about. Listening to on Audible, the story of Nino Pinello came alive, with his daring missions to help Jewish families escape danger, as well as his undercover spy. It is a beautiful story of a young man coming of age during a traumatic time in world history, filled with courage, love, and heartbreak.

A Man Called Ove

I’d also particularly recommend listening to this one, as the curmudgeonly yet faithful Ove comes alive through Audible. It is a thoughtful and creative look at aging, community, and the value of life. EVERYONE matters.

Just a little reading in a chapel on a hillside in Cinque Terre, Italy:

Least Favorites:

How Should a Person Be

If this is what a popular millennial author/book is supposed to be, no thanks. I almost stopped reading at times…very meandering, and a frustrating and foul main character.

Annihilation

This was popular on the charts, but I just didn’t quite get it, and seemed to miss the explanation. I enjoy dystopian lit, but this just didn’t make sense to me and was a bit boring.

Artemis

This was the first Andy Weir novel I had read, and friends and family in science careers recommended to me. I enjoyed the movie take on The Martian, but I struggled getting through this…perhaps you have to be really into science? The technical details were a bit much/boring for me, and I found the main character to just be annoying and hard to root for.

Gone Girl

I’m a few years behind on this one, but I felt angry at the end of Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. Yes it was a page turner…I don’t want to give too much away, but the character development was too hard to follow and deceptive for me to understand the story’s arc and the characters’ motives.

Hunt for a Red October

I of course love this classic movie (who doesn’t?) and I wanted to read the book prior to the new Jack Ryan Amazon Prime series. It was certainly interesting at some points, but overall, the technical details slowed me down so I could never quite get into the flow of this. I didn’t feel like I could quite get to know the characters; although the Cold War history and the psychology beyond the Soviet dissidents was interesting.

Classics:

With 2018 being the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I wanted to read a few books about the Great War. These were heartbreaking and moving. 100 years ago and yet people, war, tragedy, and trauma – it’s still the same.

  • Farewell to Arms
  • All Quiet on the Western Front

Self-Help/Educational:

Perhaps I will write more about these later! The latter two on the Enneagram – wish I had discovered a long time ago! Highly recommend. You might hate it, but you might love it.

  • Power of Habit
  • Road Back to You
  • The Sacred Enneagram

Birthday Reflections

Shared some honesty on Instagram for my birthday. Here it is for the blog!

33.

My Jesus year birthday 🎂.

Watch out, world 🌎!!!

32 was a year of death…including losing both of my dear grandmothers this spring.

And yet it has also been a year of life…and living. Death AND life, bad AND good. Pain AND joy.

Real life is not Instagram, and it will never be summarized in a post, or fixed in a year, or tied up in a neat bow.

But striving for, seeking, and sharing beauty and goodness and simplicity can help us survive the hard things, and the tension of both/and living.

32 Highlights: lots of travel!

Pictured:

  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  • The Netherlands
  • Cinque Terre, Italy
  • Pisa, Italy

Back on My Feet Baltimore

Friday is race day for “Sneaks Come Out At Night!” I’m running a 15K with City Church in support of Back on My Feet Baltimore. Hoping and praying the thunderstorms hold off!

I’ve enjoyed getting to learn about this organization and hope to get more involved in the future. Here’s what they do, in brief:

Back on My Feet seeks to revolutionize the way our society approaches homelessness. Our unique running-based model demonstrates that if you first restore confidence, strength and self-esteem, individuals are better equipped to tackle the road ahead and move toward jobs, homes, and new lives.  

I also love that the Serenity Prayer is a foundation of this organization, and is part of the opening of the race. Well, just the first line will be recited, but I love and cling to it in its entirety. Always worth sharing:

Serenity Prayer

– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. 
Amen.

(From BOMF: Why the serenity prayer? The serenity prayer is an integral part of recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. And with ~75% of BOMF members being in recovery, we want Back on My Feet to be a part of their progress and recovery moving forward.)

Flowers & Fragrance

On my last day of my spring trip to the Netherlands, I had a lot that I wanted to do. It was still a bit early for the tulips to be in full bloom; but ultimately, I decided – how can I not go see the tulips while visiting Holland in the spring-time?

After a full-day of traveling from Cinque Terre, with a stop in Pisa and dinner in nearby Delft, I left The Hague at 6 am and set off to navigate the trains and bus system for a full day of sight-seeing.

Tourist tip #1 for tulip season in the Netherlands:

Go to the Keukehnoff! I had some doubts since it’s known as a tourist destination and since it was early in the season, but it still blew me away.

I was greeted by so many gorgeous colors!

Even despite a rainy morning, it was still a breathtaking sight.

Tourist tip #2 for tulip season in the Netherlands:

Get to the Keukenhoff early! Rather than taking the tourist bus, I navigated the commuter bus system (it was pretty easy), and arrived just as the games opened at 8:00 am. It was definitely worth it as I had the entire place mostly to myself for the first hour.

Much easier for taking tulip selfies, too!

This was one of the most refreshing, peaceful experiences I’ve had in a long time. Not only were the vibrant colors invigorating, but the sweet smells of the tulips and other flowers were delightful. It filled my heart with much needed peace and joy.

I’m so glad I went and highly recommend! Enjoy the rest of these pictures!

Most of the outdoor tulips were not blooming yet, but the exhibition halls were beautiful!

Enjoyed an espresso and the delicious, classic Dutch pancakes after a few hours walking through the gardens!

Den Haag

I knew very little about The Hague (or Den Haag in Dutch) until just a few months ago. I may have even just thought it was a building and not a city…!

Enter my amazing sister Michelle, who is a super smart DNA scientist. In late June, she accepted a job with the International Commission on Missing Persons, located in The Hague, Netherlands, with a start date in mid-August.

I graciously offered to travel with her to help her move, and navigate a new city. I’m such a good sister to sacrifice a trip to Europe, am I not?

We quickly fell in love with this beautiful country. The Hague, in particular, is a fascinating international city, with much history, culture, and beauty.

There are gorgeous flowers everywhere, and it wasn’t even the famous tulip season in Holland! As I struggle to keep my flower baskets alive back home, everywhere we turned in The Hague, or other cities we traveled to, we were greeted with vibrant, cascading flowers.

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One fascinating aspect of life in the Netherlands – one of the flattest countries in the world – is the Dutch affinity for biking. As a pedestrian, you’re more likely to get hit by a bike than a car!

With their highly developed bike path system – in the cities and countryside – it’s quite easy to explore, and great exercise!

The best part about having a family member who lives in such an interesting place, is that I have a perfect excuse to go back. Stay tuned for more pictures and adventures!

p.s. WOW Airlines just announced today new (cheap!) flights to Amsterdam and other destinations!

Woman's Best Friend(s)

Not diamonds. Dogs.

Although if anyone’s passing out free diamonds, I wouldn’t turn them down!

In honor of National Dog Day, here are some adorable pics of my dogs!

Waiting patiently for a treat.

Yes, I take selfies with these cuties…

I call this their hieroglyphic pose.

Panting after a long run!

Benefits of Having Dogs, in Particular Our Two German Shorthaired Pointers (an incomplete list):

  • Having a cuddle session multiple times a day (seriously, I’ve never known such cuddly dogs…they are lapdogs inside of a muscular, athletic 60+ pound pointer).
  • Getting to know the neighbors when they escape and I’m chasing them across town.
  • Per the above, getting some much needed exercise in.
  • Having two little buddies follow you around everywhere (which can also become problematic when you need to use the restroom).
  • And the list could go on…

In all seriousness, after nearly a year with these two fur-balls, I truly believe that the sweet relationship between humans and their dogs is a blessing from God!

Basically, dogs are the best. Happy National Dog Day. Go hug your dog (or go adopt one!).

How could you resist this face?

They LOVE the water…

And they love to run!

The Fullness of Time

Merry Christmas!

I’m thinking of my time in Israel today.  I neglect this blog far too much, and have not even found time to write about my incredible trip to the Holy Land, but here are some pictures from Bethlehem, where our Creator, Lord, and Savior came to this earth, in the flesh, as a humble servant!

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Church of the Nativity, built upon the spot where tradition claimed Jesus to have been born.

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The hillsides of Bethlehem

 

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One of my favorite Scripture verses about Christ’s birth is written by Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters].”

From the very beginning, when God created the Heavens and Earth, he set the world in motion so that his Son would be born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem at the appointed time. God sent His son to send Him to the cross to redeem His children from our sin.

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The Garden of Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives.

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Skull Hill, otherwise known as Golgotha, or Calvary in English–the hill where many Christians believe Christ gave his life for us on the Cross. A bus stop sits next to it.

The gifts under the tree tonight are wonderful gifts, but the gift of salvation is the sweetest one of all!