2016 Reflection and a Steadfast 2017

Grace and Renewal.Grace (1)

Those were my themes for 2016. I wanted 2016 to be the year I fully got myself back after a battle with depression and fear. I must say, I succeeded in learning to be joyful most of the time again. I chose grace because I knew big changes were coming my way, and I wanted to meet them with joy and poise, not anxiety. Sometimes I did just that, sometimes, not so much. But I will give myself a little grace to say that it’s ok to not be perfect. Of the two themes, I think I did better with renewal. I learned to bounce back more quickly from things that were bothering me. I learned to avoid the dreaded downward spiral. I practiced being optimistic, only allowing a few minutes of stress before I pulled myself together.
I think the best example of this is how Kieran and I matured in our relationship. He lets me get scared and cry about something that is mostly only a problem in my head. And then we talk and he helps me realize that no matter what, we will figure it out. And then I can carry on knowing it is going to be okay. I’ve learned also to say “I trust you, God,” and then to distract myself from any anxious thoughts. I’ve learned to look at scary things head on, and then say, no, you won’t pull me down with you.
Among my smaller goals, I succeeded in purposefully making more plans with friends and in writing down ideas and thoughts in a notebook I carry with me. I decided not to pursue bigger projects besides my Etsy store, which opened this year, and planning my wedding. Those were big milestones! 2016 was good to me, though the world had a tough year. I am engaged, have a new nephew, and a wonderful job with a new coworker who is a best friend. I truly couldn’t ask for more. 

So now, onto 2017.

 

I have chosen STEADFAST to be my theme of the new year.

Google defines steadfast as resolutely or dutifully firm or unwavering.”
When looking for my #oneword of 2017, I looked ahead to all the changes I will be facing. I will become a married woman. I’ll be living away from home for the first time, and living with a husband for the first time. These are HUGE changes, but I am SO VERY excited and ready to start my new life. I have known that this is what I wanted as long as I could have dreams for my future.
But such big changes will take a resolute attitude.
I want to steadfastly hold onto my faith – since marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church. I can’t wait to grow spiritually with Kieran.
I want to be steadfast in my marital vows to Kieran, and steadfast in my role as a wife and -gulp- a real adult person.
I want to be steadfast in the craziness that is wedding planning, and the stress that is planning the rest of my life.
I want to be steadfast in my personal goals, as well. I can’t wait to continue reading book after book, and also to build up my Etsy store into something lucrative!
Steadfast may seem like a heavy and scary word. But for me, I will be joyfully steadfast.
“…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain to the Lord.”
1 Corinthians, 15:58
“I want to be a woman who overcomes obstacles by tackling them in faith, instead of tiptoeing around them in fear.”
Renee Swope
“Have I not commanded you to be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or disouraged, for the Lord your God will be with your wherever you go. “
Joshua 1:9
“When you do everything you can do, that’s when God will step in and do what you can’t do.”
2 Corinthians 12:10
Have a blessed and beautiful 2017, my friends. I hope to be on this blog more in the year. Look out for some changes on this site!
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My 35 Book Journey in 2016 – Answers to your Questions & Stats

My Goodreads goal for 2016 was to read 30 books. But because I am such a nerd, I actually read 35.

Just as last year, beating this goal was a joy. I read many great books, learned a lot, and it felt great to brag to people about the number of books I’ve read. I may be a nerd, but I do love to flaunt it.

First, let’s take a look at some fun stats:

i-am-an-open-bookha-haQ&A

I had my friends on Facebook ask me questions about my Goodreads challenge. Here are the questions and answers. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Swift Kick’s new intern Dee asked me a bunch of awesome questions. So we will start with hers:
 
Which books were most meaningful for you to read?
I would have to say that The Gospel of John and I Love a Cop. 
The Gospel since it was a big step spiritually for me to read a little of a book of the Bible every night until I read the whole thing. I highly recommend reading isolated books at a time if the whole Bible seems overwhelming.
I Love a Cop was incredibly meaningful because it was a fantastic handbook on how to be married to a police officer without going nuts. Since I am about to do  just that in 2017, this book really eased my fears by giving me clear steps to take for the issues that only police families face. I covered this book in notes and highlights, and then handed it to Kieran so he could learn about our future marriage as well, through my eyes.

Which books challenged you (or your thoughts/ideas/current mindset/etc) the most? (This question was echoed by Kristen as well.)
I think Superbetter did this! It’s all about viewing your life, and biggest challenge, with a ‘gameful’ mindset. This book came at a time during which I was getting over the deepest depression of my life, and, coupled with the Superbetter app, helped me take some control back of my happiness. I still use some of the language from this approach today.

At the same time, Superbetter also affirmed some of the things I knew about thinking positively, while framing them in the science-backed psychology mindset that I am so comfortable with.

Which authors would you love to have dinner with?
I actually HAVE had dinner with one of the authors. Katie Cotugno, author of Fireworks, is married to my fiance’s brother. Bet you didn’t see that coming, did ya?

 

The next questions are from a few of my other friends. 

Elisa: How did last year’s book list affect this year’s choices?
I don’t know that it did too much, to be honest. I will say that my discovery of Ready Player One lead me to read that author’s new book Armada, and also more books of the science-fiction realm.

 

Last year’s list probably also helped me be more adventurous with looking for books to read, instead of just going with what I know. On the other hand, doing a book club with my company put a lot of books on this list I never, ever would have read on my own. (For example, The Untethered Soul, The Five Agreements, Deep Survival, Quiet, You Might Be a Zombie.)

 

Sarath: What book do you think you would need/like to reread to understand more fully? Or to take more out of?
I thing that the one book of poetry I read, 99 Poems by Dana Gioia, is a prime example for this. You can always re-read poetry to get a better understanding. I tend to read quickly, so to read it more slowly would certainly give me an even greater appreciation for the collection. Of course, the same should be said for The Gospel of John, since the Bible is meant to be understood more deeply with each reading.

 

K’yla: Did you ever feel it was a chore? Or more of a goal? Like did it ever feel burdensome or overwhelming to have a stack of books to read?
Hm, good question. No, I never did. I tend to fly through books so quickly that I knew I was going to surpass my goal back in October. Since I don’t have a predetermined list at the beginning of the year, each new book choice is full of possibilities. I would say the reading challenge is one of those goals that are more to make me feel great than challenge me, since I will always be reading and hitting that number.

 

I wonder what number of  books will be my downfall…? ;)

 

Alright, that’s my wrap up about my wonderful 35 book journey! I will say, I think I had altogether better book choices in 2015, because how can you beat Ready Player One and The Martian?

Wishing you a book-filled holiday season and New Year!

PS – Read my official review of The Never-Open Desert Diner here!

The Never-Open Desert Diner – Book Review

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A red sun was balanced on the horizon when I arrived at the Well-Known Desert Diner. Sunrise shadows were draped around its corners. A full white moon was still visible in the dawn sky.

Those opening lines truly set the tone of The Never-Open Desert Diner, by James Anderson. My guess is that Mr. Anderson decided to write a story about the desert on Route 117 first, the plot second. And I mean that as a compliment. Like the desert setting of the novel, Anderson spins a tale that is at once peaceful and uncomfortable. Reading it was a journey that felt like home, but a home you were slightly nervous to go back to.

Let’s go through the book review checklist, shall we?

Beautiful prose? Check.

Satisfying dialogue? Check.

Characters? Compelling and real.

The story starts out slowly, with only an immediate hint that there might be a mystery afoot. For a while, you don’t remember that mystery. But like the prevalent desert flash floods throughout the novel, everything important happens at once. And then it’s over and you are forced to think about what you’re left with how.

The Never-Open Desert Diner makes you feel two things at once, always. Joyous, and sad. Calm, and nervous. I put down the book after the last sentence and wished I could run to my fiance’s house and hold him tight.

In other words, this book did exactly what it was supposed to do, and did it well. 

When I finally climbed into bed after finishing the novel, I looked at the clock on my cable box. It was 1:17am. I smiled knowing that I now knew the story of 117. 

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

4 Christmas Songs that Will Awaken Even Your Cold, Scrooge Heart

  • Finish shopping
  • Wrap all of the gifts
  • Finish more shopping
  • Get the cards in the mail
  • Cook and bake till you explode.

Anything else? Oh yeah –

  • Stop, put on your favorite Christmas song, and let yourself be moved to tears. 

That second list is the more important one, I’d say.

It’s hard to get into the full spirit of the season when the commercial aspect takes over all your brain’s stress centers. It’s hard to sit in church when you’ve gone non-stop for three weeks straight, or enjoy your family dinner.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s so easy to forget the reason for the season.

So I decided to share with you four Christmas songs that stop me in my tracks, and bring tears to my eyes. I implore you to take a moment and listen with me, to at least one of the songs below. The last two are my absolute favorites, the ones that inspired this list.

A New York City Christmas (Rob Thomas)

Dang, feel those post-September 11 feels of heartbreak and unity. Feel them. And listen to Rob Thomas’ sweet voice.

December 1943 – John Michael Montgomery

Now THERE’S a Christmas story. Love your enemy, literally.

The Angels Cried – Alan Jackson and Allison Krauss

And, it’s a duet. Those always get me. Yes, I am a little country, leave me be.

And finally, the Christmas song that has given me more spiritual understanding of this holiday than any other.

Mary Did You Know – Jordan Smith (studio version)

For me it has to be this version, because he’s so amazing. -sigh-

And there’s my list!

I was going to put a ‘Lyrics of note’ section for each song but I realized each entire song is worth the listen.

As the Grinch would say, “I’m leaking!”

Have a beautiful, blessed Christmas, my dear readers. God bless you!

What’s your favorite, tear-inducing Christmas song?

How To Find Cheap and Gorgeous Old Books for your Wedding Centerpieces

I may not have the dress or the guest list finalized, but my wedding will at least have centerpieces! Oops.

old books wedding centerpiece
-swoon-

That’s right, I had the brilliant idea (thanks Pinterest)  to incorporate old books in my wedding centerpieces, along with flowers and pearls. In about a month’s time, I was able to gather 40+ books. It was shockingly easy and inexpensive. So I thought I’d share the wealth of knowledge with you!

Step 1: Tell everyone, and their mother.

Tell your friends, your mom, your bae’s mom. Your brother and sister. Your neighbor. You will have an army of people bringing you old books and then you will have a surplus to choose from. Everyone wants to be involved in the wedding planning, and this is an easy way to get them to help out.

Step 2: Sign up for estatesales.net

You can set up alerts for sales in your area that list what you’re looking for, in this case, old books. The site will send you an email every time one of these sales is coming up so you can plan to drop by!

Step 3: Hit up your local library sales.

Often, they will have deals that if you fill up a bag, you can pay $10 for all the books inside. Or, hardcovers can be $1-$2 each. Seriously, the majority of my books came from these sales. It’s crazy how little they are giving these books away for!

Step 4: Be spontaneous!

I got my first few books at an estate sale that was on the lawn at the historical society in my town. I saw the sale while I was driving by, stopped the car, and started hunting. I found the most gorgeous books, and the lady sold them to me for $5 each! (And those were the most expensive books of all the ones I bought.) That’s when I knew my centerpieces were going to come together. Because when you’re holding a gorgeous copy of Pride and Prejudice, things just work out.

Now I just have to figure out where to keep these books for the next 300 or so days…

old books wedding centerpiece
(A small sampling of my stash.)