Friday, January 13, 2012

Temporarily Out of Pocket

Hello Lovely Readers,

I wanted to post here to say that I'm going to be "out of pocket" for possibly a couple of weeks.

My husband and I are in the process of buying a new house. Things are on track to close well before the first of the month. The appraisal was completed yesterday and must now work it's way back through the bank's bureaucracy to the desk of our local loan officer. I think that's all we're waiting on. Yay!

That said, the purchase of a new home often includes lots of work, like painting, carpeting, and of course packing up the old house. Those are the tasks that will dominate my waking hours for, I'd guess a couple of weeks to come.  (Not carpeting, we'll pay someone else to do that).

I'm chomping at the bit to sit down and write. The good news is, in the new house, there's a cozy attic room--complete with slanty ceilings--that I'll call my own. (I love slanty ceilings. They make me feel tall.)

So if you miss my unique and in-depth insight* into the books and music I enjoy, have no fear. In a few weeks, I'll return, hopefully better than ever.

Wishing you all happy reading, happy writing, happy living!

I'll "see" you in a few weeks.

God Bless You!

*Tongue firmly in cheek here. ;-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What I Read Wednesday: Summer of Promise by Amanda Cabot

Summer of Promise (Westward Winds Series #1)From the cover:
Though she had planned to spend the summer in Vermont, Abigail Harding cannot dismiss her concerns over her older sister.  Charlotte's letters have been uncharacteristically melancholy, and her claims the nothing is wrong ring false, so Abigail heads west to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. When her stagecoach is attacked, Wyoming promises to be anything but boring. Luckily, the heroics of another passenger, Lieutenant Ethan Bowles, save the day.

Abigail plans to marry when she returns to Vermont, just as soon as she attends to her sister. As the summer passes, she finds herself drawn to this rugged land and to a certain soldier determined to persuade her to stay. When summer ends, will she go back East, or will she find her heart's true home?

Andrea's Take: ****4 Stars
Once again, I'm reviewing a book by an author brand new to me.  I just love "meeting" new writers and their characters.

Summer of Promise is the first in a trilogy called Westward Winds that will follow three sisters in their adventures as they find love in the American West. Abigail is the first Harding sister to grace us with her story. Abigail is what I might call an adventurous homebody.  She thinks she wants to settle down in a pleasant marriage and live in the same house for the rest of her life.  She doesn't even know the adventurer is buried deep inside until instinct tells her that Charlotte needs her desperately.  This untamed side of Abigail is evident in her impulsiveness, but it is driven by her love for God and her desire to help others know and love Him too.

Ethan is on the receiving end of Abigail's impulsive, problem-solving bent...much to his benefit.  His past has left him little understanding of the truth about God's love and sacrifice for him.  Old wounds have left him blind to the love of those who should have been closest to him. With help from the Holy Spirit, along with Abigail, and a puppy named Puddles, Ethan discovers the truth about God's love, his family's love, and of course, Abigail's love.

Storylines for supporting characters give the book a full and satisfying feel. Characters to watch include Charlotte Crowley, Abigail's older sister (whose story we will have the pleasure of reading in 2013), and Puddles, the cutest little mutt ever, among others.

The one thing about Summer of Promise that I might have changed is that the resolution of the romance came later than I like it to.  The ending felt a bit abrupt to me. Faithful readers here have heard me say - so to speak - that I like for the couple to encounter the story's final conflict knowing they are committed to each other come what may. The resolution doesn't happen that way in this book.

This is a matter of taste for me, and I'm sure there are as many opinions on this as there are readers who enjoy the stories.  It will in no way prevent me from keeping a sharp eye open for Charlotte's story when it comes out in a year or more (a tragically long wait!).

Thanks to Amanda Cabot and her publisher Revell for a complementary copy of this book. I hope to get on their list again sometime (say, early in 2013?).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Song Lyrics: "How Many Kings?" by Downhere

The Album:
Hom Many Kings: Songs For ChristmasDownhere: CD Cover

The Lyrics:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we’ve projected
A child in a manger

Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mothers shawl
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he’ll suffer
Do you believe, is this who we’ve waited for?

It’s who we’ve waited for

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me

All for me
All for you
All for me
All for you
Andrea's Take: 
I was looking for a song to post this Epiphany weekend, besides the obvious "We Three Kings," and my friend Melissa, whom you heard from earlier this week, recommended this. She calls it her newest favorite Christmas song. 

It certainly is appropriate as a Christmas song. Even more so as an Epiphany song (though few people in the modern Church would trouble themselves to write an Epiphany song). But it really is universal. In fact, I heard it on the radio just this week, long after most of us have put Christmas behind us.  I have heard my almost 5 year old daughter singing several times since then too.

Told from the viewpoint of the wise men at their introduction to the Christ child, it explores the wonder they may have felt at finding Him in a humble country stable instead of in the grand palaces of Jerusalem they had so recently left. 

It expresses the wonder we all should feel. At Christmas, at Epiphany, at Easter, on the second Tuesday in September. All the time.  Wonder should fill our hearts every time we think of where He came from and what He gave up to come here and save us.

My favorite lines are these:

Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother's shawl

This is not the only reference in song to the cloths that Jesus was wrapped in, but I think it's my favorite. Would Mary and Joseph have carried extra supplies on their long journey? I doubt it. Would they have wrapped the baby in just any old dirty rag? Certainly not. But a mother would easily sacrifice her own garment for the comfort and safety of her child.

How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?

My faithful readers know me to be an an avid romance reader, so it should come as no surprise that I cherish the picture of God giving up His greatest prize in order to woo his Bride.

And of course:
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.

A stark and simple question with its stark and simple answer.

I hope this Epiphany weekend has you in awe and wonder as the wise men must have been on that day. Let's always be sure to offer our best gifts to Him as they did. After all, He gave His best gift to us.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Special Guest to Honor a Little Observed Holiday

Today is Epiphany. You may be asking, "So? What's Epiphany?"

Epiphany is observed in some parts of the Christian world to recognize the day the wise men came to worship Jesus and offer him their wonderful gifts. Most Protestant denominations don't observe it at all. Catholics will observe it, but to the best of my knowledge, mostly they do so with nothing more than a mass devoted to it.

But this forgotten holiday has a rich tradition. I don't know as much about that tradition as I would like to, but I have a friend who has researched it thoroughly, and actually celebrates it. I have asked her to join us today to share about what Epiphany means to her, and how she and her family observe it.

Please welcome Melissa Jagears.

Celebrating a Forgotten Holiday

“We don’t do anything special for Christmas.” “She doesn’t know who Santa is.” “We celebrate Epiphany.” “I’m not putting up a Christmas Tree.”

All of these sentences have come out of my mouth and earned me some incredulous stares. So what is wrong with me? I got tired of celebrating because everyone else was celebrating and feeling like I had to do it just like everyone else because, well, everyone else did it that way.

Even before I had children, I decided that I wanted to focus on the reason for the holidays, not the trappings of the holidays. Both of my families gather for Christmas, but it’s simply a get-together with a bonus present exchange. I couldn’t imagine after the hubbub to go home and do it all over again, and I don’t ever plan to. So, I decided we would observe an entirely different holiday, make our own traditions, and tailor the focus where we wanted it.

The obvious choice for a generally unobserved religious holiday was Epiphany, King’s Day or Twelfth Night. What is Epiphany? Epiphany means “manifestation” or showing forth of Jesus as divine Son of God. Christmas marks Jesus’s humanity, the Epiphany is to highlight his divinity (Wise men visit, Dove descending at baptism, and wine into water). In the first century church, the only holiday observed was Easter, the second century added Epiphany, the third century added Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the twelve days between Christmas (Dec. 25) and Epiphany (Jan. 6).

The biggest observers of this holiday are Latin American Catholics and the Orthodox Churches in Europe, so I researched all their traditions and then chose the ones I liked most that fit what I wanted to do. Here are the fun things that many of them do to celebrate (Besides liturgical practices):
  • A King’s Day Cake or Bread. A cake is baked with a crown/ring (or other item) inside. Whoever gets the crown gets to be King for the day and the others serve this person.
  • The children take down the Christmas tree that has hidden candy and cookies. The children keep the spoils they find while dismantling the decorated tree. Burning the tree.
  • A procession, usually made up of children dressed as wise men who parade around the neighborhood caroling and carrying the Bethlehem star, some giving away coins or treats to the houses they visit or getting such from the houses they visit to donate to church that typically is the final destination of the procession. Or they bless each house they stop at. Or three men dressed as the Wise men hand things out to the village children.
  • A presentation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or other plays, pageants, and dances.
  • Men scramble into the ice cold water to retrieve something thrown there, or cut out a cross-shaped hole in the ice to be baptized in, bless the water and distribute the blessed water, or just to show off their manliness–predecessor to the Polar Bear Plunge, I assume.
  • Children leave out stockings or shoes for the Wise Men to fill up when they visit, or they fill a box with grass and hay and place under their beds for the Wise Men’s camels which gets replaced with treats.
  • Yule Log, Wassail and other specialty food which they gather together to eat.
I wanted the emphasis to be on Jesus and less on ourselves. But as typical me, I decided I want to do it my way. So here are the things I’ve decided to do with our family:
  • For the Twelve Days of Christmas, I intend to read a book(s) each night about Christmas and its true meaning. For the younger children, I have a nativity set they can play with that I can use to tell them the story.
  • If I ever get suckered into a Christmas tree, we’ll take it down that day.
  • We’ll leave our boots outside the front door and hang a star to guide the wise men to us who will fill them with stocking stuffer items. I never liked Santa, but I like these historic gift givers.
  • The wise men will also leave three gifts per person (one for each traditional “3” wise men):
    • A gift to represent gold which will be money equal to the age of the recipient; however, this gift will not be to keep, it will be used to buy Jesus a gift. The family will decide whether to pool our money together or purchase Jesus a gift individually. We will read Matthew 25 and discuss that giving to poor people, visiting prisoners, etc. is how we give Jesus gifts. Then we’ll brainstorm options, whether purchasing something from Heifer International or similar places, giving the money to or volunteering at the various charities available in our area, or seeing a need and using our money and time to meet it, etc. and make a plan on when and how to do so. Any extra money from piggy banks would certainly be accepted.
    •  A gift representing wisdom aka books (or how-to DVDs, CDs). I limit myself to no more than 3 books per person in this package or I know myself and there’ll be more books than square footage in my house!
    • And a gift or themed package for fun—the typical “big” Christmas gift.
  • Our families have never read the Christmas story, so that was one of the main things I wanted to incorporate—perhaps when the children get older, I will have them write a Christmas play during the 12 days to perform for a nursing home (since we don’t live by any relatives). I really like the idea of a procession of wise men, but I think no one would know what to do with us if we showed up on their lawns singing on January 6th. So, the nursing home/shut-in audience in the future will satisfy my desire to try that aspect and be another service project for a gift to Jesus.
  • I don’t like the king for a day aspect of a King’s Cake because I could see that creating quite a bit of sibling rivalry and focusing on ourselves, so since we are celebrating this day as Jesus’s birthday party, we will bake a birthday cake for Jesus.
  • Getting rid of the cake, er, Game Night with Friends. To share our Jesus birthday cake and spend some time with others, we intend to invite a different family over every year on the evening of Epiphany (or closest weekend evening) to play board games, and will probably purchase a new game every year to accommodate our children’s ages.

I want to challenge you to think about the last few weeks. Did your family focus on the things you wanted to focus on? If not, how will you address it for next year? Life is too short to do what everyone else expects you to do.  Be bold, dare to get stared at with incredulity, make sure you family is making the memories you want to make.

Melissa Jagears is a stay-at-home mom who writes fiction into the wee hours of the night and Andrea's crazy, highly opinionated, socially inept, blog collecting, former college roommate.

If you read Christian Historical Fiction, check out her Inspirational Historical Fiction Index to find those books sorted by setting, decade and other subjects.

If you are interested in frugality, check out the archives of her Making Do With the Not So New blog.

Melissa, thank you so much for telling us about your version of this "forgotten holiday."

To all of my readers out there,

Were you familiar with the name and meaning of the Epiphany holiday? Did or does your family do anything to recognize it? Or was this all new to you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.