Friday, October 1, 2021

Sisters' October Reading Challenge

 I love waking up to the crisp fall mornings. These are days to light a candle and snuggle down with a book. With the busy season of summer behind us, Charity and I want to stimulate to our reading life so this month's challenges may feel a little more stretching than the last few months.

October Reading Challenges

1. Read a book by an author you’ve never read.

Here is a chance to pull a book off the shelf (or your friend's shelf or the library shelf) of a new-to-you author. 

2. Read a book written by a pastor.

This can be any genre--nonfiction, fiction, poetry, memoir, doctrine, etc.

3. Read a book about royalty.

This challenge includes any book that includes a king or queen as a main character. It can be a book of ancient history, a middle-grade fantasy, a current book on the British royal family, or a book about our king, Jesus. 

Charity suggested Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan if you want an excellent middle-grade novel on Russian royalty. If you ever get stumped on any of these challenges, just ask. We both love to give book recommendations.

4. Press a pretty leaf in a book.

Depending where you live, October may be your last chance to enjoy some sunshine on your face while reading. Take a walk and find a leaf to use as your bookmark this month.

5. Read a book at a coffee shop.

Charity works at a coffee shop so if you are local, you can enjoy some book talk with your barista as well!

Enjoy reading in October.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sisters' September Reading Challenge


Where did September go? The month has been rich and busy, but, of course, Charity and I squeezed in time to read. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' September Reading Challenge 

1. Read a book written by a teacher or about a teacher.

Charity - I Am His Daughter by Emily Steiner

This novel is long and almost frustrating, but somehow I couldn't stop reading it. I know families like this. Many daughters have found themselves caught in the fray between their own desires and opinions, and that of their father. In this story, the dad is passionate about following Christ and he moves his family all over the country, either because of new opportunities, broken relationships, or in search of a better church. As she becomes an adult, she is torn between her love for her father and the independent decisions she wants to make. I appreciated the attitude of the book, while dealing with a sensitive topic.

Gina - Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

This is a classic that has been unread on my shelf for years. It is a quiet book, full of tales of a beloved teacher at an English boys' school. I wondered why the book was so popular both in England and the US. Is it because it was published right before World War 2 and people wanted to read about an earlier quieter time?

2. Read a book on a topic that you want to learn more about.

Charity - Son of Hamas by Mosah Hassan Yousef

I'm always eager to learn more about other countries, especially the Middle East. Yousef is the son of one of the founders of the terrorist organization called Hamas. As a boy he was proud of his father and passionate about fighting for the rights of Palestinians. Yousef was in prison at only eighteen years old. His story helped me see both the Israeli and Palestinian side of the conflict and also shows that terrorists are humans. While not excusing their conduct, I was grateful to see these men as people. This is a story of redemption. There is hope for our world, but it can only be found in Christ. If the son of Hamas could find Jesus then no one is hopeless. (Warning: this book is heavy at times. Yousef tells about torture, bombings, and other violence. It is not extremely graphic, but is not suitable for children or young teens.)

Gina - The Insanity of God by Nic Ripkin

Often when Ed would read a book, he'd tell me so much about it, I'd feel like I had read it myself. This was true of The Insanity of God, but I decided that enough years had passed that I should read it myself. Nic and his family were missionaries in eastern Africa in the 90s. After years of working in Somalia under extreme danger, Nic returned to America completely discouraged. He wondered if it was  possible for Christians to thrive in a place where they were so persecuted. He decided to visit other countries where Christians lived under persecution. The second half of the book tells of his travels to Russia, China, and the Middle East where he listened to the stories of Christians who have been persecuted for their faith. The experience strengthened Nic's faith and this book was faith-strengthening to me as well.

3. Enjoy a wordless book.

Charity - I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoet

As a lover of art, wordless books have a huge attraction to me. It is amazing that people can write a story without using words! Not only are words powerful, but pictures also have power. This wordless book is about kindness and standing with those who are being bullied. The illustrations are beautiful and the message so important for children and adults.

Gina - Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle

Turkle is most well known for his Obadiah books. Deep in the Forest is a twist to the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. No words are needed to tells this story, especially with an artist who depicts emotion so well. I enjoyed looking through the book with my little girls.

4. Buy a book at a thrift store.

Charity - When I walk into a thrift store, sometimes I completely skip the clothes. I don't need clothes, but somehow I can always add another book! This month, my mom, my sisters, and I went on a day trip and explored a little town. Of course at some point Gina and I were found searching through the book section of a thrift store to find a book we couldn't live without. I'm excited to dive into another book on hospitality. Also I was thrilled to pick up a few books at my local library's book sale. An old library copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins makes me happy.

Gina - I too enjoyed the mom-and-sisters' day and was glad it included a thrift store. At our vacation last week in Chincoteague, I biked down to the small downtown area and lost myself in a delightful book store. The prices were a little high, in my opinion, so I only selected two books to take home, but still the possibilities of a used book store can't be beat.

5. Share something you learned in a book with someone else.

Charity - Do you think I could read an interesting book without talking about it? The books I read this month had me talking to anyone who would listen! Reading books is only half the fun, the next best part is when I get to tell someone all about it. At least one sibling now knows everything I read about Israel's Shin Bet. Some information is too interesting to keep to yourself. The question is, does my family think that too?

Gina - I'm capable of finding a way to insert a book discussion into about any conversation. The book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy that I read this month found its way into many discussions. Next month it will probably be another book. I like to think of a book like a stone that hits the water and we see the ripples long after the last page is read.

What did you read in September?

Monday, September 27, 2021

Summer of Faith

We just got home from a week's vacation in Chincoteague. Now summer is officially over, and we will begin fall routines.

When I flip through the photos from summer, I see joy. Life was busy and full. We had new experiences and tackled new challenges. We hosted guests that expanded our world view, interacted with youth who were passionate to serve Christ, and watched my older children learn new skills. Numerous people invited us to join them with events, trips, and activities. (I've been asked, what can I do for the widow at my church. My answer? Invite her to do things with you.) Here is a glimpse of our family's summer.

In August, friends invited us to join them for a work project in Maine. We helped remodel the VS house, including painting the entire outside. Our children loved spending the week with their friends, we accomplished a lot of work, and we were given a taste of Somalian culture because of the large Somalian immigrant population in that city. 

We took a few hours off to visit the Maine coast. The water was cold but the children still got in. The highlight was seeing a whale.

At the beginning of September, we spent a week at campmeeting. We enjoyed inspiring messages, hours of volleyball, and campfires. The fellowship was even more precious since campmeeting had been canceled last year.

Last week my brother and his family invited us to spend the week at Chincoteague with them. 

We tried our hand at crabbing.

Enjoyed the miles of bike trails.

And, of course, loved the beach. The water was warm, there were no crowds, and cousins make everything more fun.

I couldn't help but think of the contrast between this trip to Chincoteague from our first visit, three years ago. That was the first trip I had planned and executed alone. Even though Ed was with us, his cognitive ability had declined to the point that I felt like the sole adult. I remember feeling constantly on guard and responsible. 

This time I was so much more relaxed. My sister-in-law and I took a long walk one morning at sunrise while the men were making breakfast. One afternoon I rode my bike to a little used bookstore and lost all sense of time while perusing the shelves.

So our summer has been good. But when I think of the last few months, I remember my fragility. Underneath the rich joy of a full and busy life, many times I felt hollow. 

When Ed died in the spring of 2019, I told a friend that I couldn't mourn. I had spent two years, grieving the loss of Ed one inch at a time, and by his death, I couldn't wish his soul to stay in his broken body one more day. Caregiving had been brutal. Even though life wasn't normal without Ed, in many ways it wasn't as painful as life with a broken Ed. 

But grief met me in a deeper way this summer. Or maybe just in a different way. The permanence of losing Ed gapes wider and more intensely. There is nothing easy about single parenting - even with lots of help from family and friends. We again felt the claws of cancer when my dad was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago. Other friends face pain, and I'm reminded of how broken this world has been since the fall.

God continued to meet me through the blessing of friends, messages from His Word, and songs of worship. And I've enjoyed several books from those who have walked through grief. (This includes affiliate links.)

I've Seen the End of You by W. Lee Warren is the personal story of a neurosurgeon who fought to hold onto his faith as he watched his patients die with GBM (Ed's brain cancer.) The book doesn't hide any of the hard facts of GBM and I wouldn't recommend a brain cancer patient reading it, but I found it life-giving to hear Dr. Warren so honestly ask the hard questions I've asked. (Note: I don't agree with all of Dr. Warren's personal choices.)

Just Show Up by Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn is a combined effort of two friends. Kara wrote only a small portion of the book since she was in hospice at the end of a battle with cancer. Her friend Jill wrote about facing death with a friend and what she learned through it. Ed and I had read Kara's other book The Hardest Peace which also depicts the struggle, but ultimately victory of faith in death.

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop is a study in lament. Digging into the Lament Psalms and the book of Lamentations, the author uses his own experience of losing a daughter to show how lament can draw us closer to God. Lament is vastly different than the world's way of coping with grief. I copied so much out of this book and highly recommend it for anyone grieving or attempting to help others who grieve.

I hope my faith has grown stronger this summer. I suppose only time will tell because I know that new challenges lie ahead and I'll need the continued presence of God. 

I'd love to hear how your faith has been challenged and strengthened this summer.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Introducing Motherhood Magazine

Many days I'm amazed at the small, seemingly random ways that God finds to bless me. 

For example, the last few years I've been given numerous editing opportunities. I don't consider myself an editing professional, but I've enjoyed stretching my skills. I haven't searched for any of these projects, but each one has been a blessing in a specific way. For example, I was working on an Anabaptist history book during 2020. Studying God's faithfulness to the persecuted church gave me a valuable perspective to the Covid challenges. 

This spring, through a series of unexpected circumstances, I had the opportunity to help edit a new magazine for mothers. Only God knew how much I would need to read and reread words of hope and blessing to moms. I was surprised to find that even after multiple readings, a phrase or line could still move me to tears as I fought days of discouragement this summer. 

Motherhood Magazine shares words from mothers and grandmothers from various countries, ages, and stages of life. Over and over they repeat the message that God sees and knows and cares for each mom. The words are combined with carefully selected artwork, photos, and design for a calm reading experience. I especially enjoyed the selected Scriptures. This is a magazine to be savored. 

Kerra Troyer is a young mom who has the vision for a magazine to encourage mothers. She has a background in design and marketing, but as a young mom herself, she and her husband knew they would need to set up boundaries. 

So Motherhood Magazine is a non-subscription magazine. Each issue will be sold individually. This removes the pressure for Kerra to produce a magazine under a time limit. At this point she doesn't know how long or how often she'll offer a new issues of the magazine, but her goal is that each issue will be a high-quality keepsake for mothers. 

This week, Kerra is opening the Motherhood Magazine website for preorders. If you want to make sure you get a copy of this new magazine, order now. The magazine will be shipped in October, and once they are gone, they probably won't be reprinted. 

Each issue of the magazine cost $10 plus shipping. 

If you combine your orders with friends, or order extras as gifts, shipping costs will be reduced. If you order 10 copies or more, the cost is $9 plus shipping. 

If you live near me and would like a copy of Motherhood, message me I'll combine your order with mine. 

Visit for more information. You can also sign up for updates so that you will hear about future magazines.

If you prefer to place an order by email, contact Kerra at stan.kerra2012 .

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Sisters' September Reading Challenge

Though many children (including my own) started school weeks ago, September still feels like the beginning of the school year. To me, the change of seasons is a great time to reflect and make goals. So our focus this month has those themes in mind.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' September Reading Challenge 

1. Read a book written by a teacher or about a teacher.

This could be a modern book about education, a memoir of a teacher, or fictional story that has a teacher as a character. Or maybe the author is a teacher, such as Emily Steiner and Jonathan Rogers.

Examples: Dangerous Minds by LouAnne Johnson

Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

2. Read a book on a topic that you want to learn more about.

Many of us are in the habit of going to Google when we want to learn about a topic. There can be great value in reading a longer length piece on a topic to gain a wider view. The book doesn't have to be deep (but could be.) Maybe you want to read a fictional story set in a place you'd like to visit, or a nonfiction about a specific subject, or a memoir of a person that had a fascinating life experience.


Is your heart breaking over Afghanistan? Read In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord

Do you want to build better habits this fall? Read Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Do you wonder if you have value to God? Read Unseen by Sarah Hagerty

3. Enjoy a wordless book.

Wordless book are such fun! They beg you to find a child to talk about the pictures. I didn't know I enjoyed so many wordless books until I found this list in my files. These books depict very different illustration styles and content. Your librarian could find you many more

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Journey by Aaron Becker (first of a trilogy)

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Float by Daniel Miyares

Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole

4. Buy a book at a thrift store.

I decided to track my book purchases in 2021 and have discovered that most month I buy several books at my local Goodwill or I can hardly drive by Goodwill without stopping in to see if there are any new treasures on the shelves. 

5. Share something you learned in a book with someone else.

It has been proven that we remember things better if we share them with others. It may be easier to discuss the weather or things we have read online, but part of this challenge is to share what you have learned from a book. There may be value in the latest words being written, but many of them will be obsolete before the end of the month. Reading a book allows you to slow down your information and read words that had a chance to settle for at least a few years.

I can't wait to hear what you choose to read this month!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Sisters' August Reading Challenge

 My reading life in August was surprisingly rich. I read more than usual, despite it being a busy month. I won't list all the books I read this month, just the ones specifically for the challenge.

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Enjoy a graphic novel.

Charity - March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

This delightfully illustrated graphic novel tells the riveting story of John Lewis. In his own words he tells of growing up as an African American in the south. As the Civil Rights movement sweeps across the US, Lewis grapples with what his part should in in the history unfolding around him. I was so happy that my librarian suggested this book or I may have missed out!

Gina - When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Omar and his brother will never stop searching the thousands of faces at the refugee camp to find their mother though it has been years since they had to flee their home in Somalia because of war. This graphic novel depicts the life and dreams of a refugee boy. I found myself moved to tears, but didn't realize until I finished the book that the author was telling his own story, and he now lives with his family near me. Note: The author is Muslim and this book contains mention of his religion.

2. Read a mystery.

Charity - Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
I'm scared of crime novels. Too much blood and murder and you can count me out. But I do love Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, so I started this book with caution. Friends, I loved it! Lord Peter Wimsey had me laughing out loud and the plot had me reading feverishly. I'll be making a trip to  my local library for some more of Sayers novels!

Gina - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
One of my goals in this reading challenge is to read some of the many unread books on my shelves. This was one of them. For years I've wanted to figure out why Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time (behind the Bible and Shakespeare). And Then There Were None has been called the best mystery book ever written. The plot feels impossible, bordering ridiculous, and certainly morbid but by the end I was in awe of Christie's skill in fitting together the pieces.

We both enjoyed listening to The Literary Life podcast episode on the detective novel. This episode discusses why the years after World War 1 were the Golden Age of the detective novel, including the roles of both Sayers and Christie.

3. Choose a book of the Bible and read it several times this month.

Charity - Revelation
For the past two years I have been writing a summary of each book of the Bible as I read through it. But I have to read each book several times before I can accomplish that goal. This month found me at the last book of the Bible. As I read it again and again, I was struck by the faithfulness of God and His incredible calling that He has given to the Church. I keep asking myself, am I a faithful part of the Bride of Christ, waiting and working in delighted expectation for His coming?

Gina - 1 Thessalonians
I chose Thessalonians since that is where I happened to be in my Bible reading. I found that the Bible app on my phone (Tecarta) has numerous Bible translations that I could access through free streaming. I read through the book several times choosing various translations. I found myself looking at familiar verses in new ways.

4. Read while sipping a cold drink.

Charity - I finished locking up at work and grabbed my Cold Brew Green Tea, compliments of a shift as a barista. At home in my quiet house, I settled down to finish one book and start a new one. The Perfect afternoon refuel. 

Gina - My older children have been sometimes making a pot of coffee and chilling it. I've enjoyed starting mornings with a glass of iced coffee and my Bible

5. Send a book quote to a friend.

Charity- I took the "send a quote" seriously. In my mind it meant snail mail, though I could have done it by text. It was a great excuse to send a friend some encouragement!

Gina - I hadn't even considered snail mail until Charity mentioned it. I couldn't let my little sister beat me and since I wanted to send a few cards anyway, I looked through my quote journal to find some appropriate quotes.

Charity and I have never taken so many photos together, and we are having such fun doing these book photo shoots each months. We typically do no planning, just grab a book sometime we are together and find the nearest person to shoot some photos. Thanks to our sister Darla for being willing to stand on a ladder in an alfalfa field for us!

Saturday, August 14, 2021

My No-Till Mulch Gardening

I grew up with a traditional garden - plowing in the fall, tilling in the spring, and tilling/hoeing between the rows during the summer. In Pennsylvania, bare soil means weeds. I spent countless childhood hours fighting weeds in the garden. The work didn't hurt me, but the battle with weeds wasn't enjoyable and the weeds always won. 

When I married, Ed introduced me to mulching. We collected grass clippings from our yard and used them to mulch the garden. Sometimes we also layered cardboard and newspaper. I was amazed at the difference. Covered soil results in far fewer weeds. But it was always a fight every spring to get enough grass clippings to cover the freshly-tilled soil before the weeds grew. We usually loss. 

Over the years I have read about mulch gardening - a method of keeping your garden covered in mulch and not tilling the ground so weed seeds are not exposed. There was an older woman (I can't remember her name) who wrote about mulch gardening in Organic Gardening magazine decades ago, and I found a compilation of her articles. Lasagna Gardening was a popular book that came out twenty years ago. And Back to Eden has made the method popular in recent years. 

I've experimented with various mulching methods through the years, but got more serious the last two years. I'm hardly strong enough to handle our tiller and though my brothers are willing to help, it would be nice to be able to garden without always asking for help.

We have a large yard with many big trees so I started by layering grass clippings and leaves on sections of the garden. In the spring, the mulch had settled and began to rot, and I dug holes in the mulch and directly planted things like tomatoes, broccoli, and pumpkins. I had nearly no weeds. Success! 

But I wasn't sure how well I could plant seeds in mulch. 

Last fall I covered the whole garden with at least a small bit of mulch. This spring I did no tilling. Using a hoe, I pulled aside the mulch and planted onion sets, beans and corn seeds, and vegetable plants directly in the mulch. I had a large amount of finished compost from my compost pile that I added to the planting rows as well.

I was able to plant the entire garden with only a hoe - no tiller needed.

The result has been a lovely garden with almost no weeding. I'm still learning what ingredients such as lime that I'll need to add to my garden to increase its fertility. As mulch decompose, it can lock up certain nutrients which is why some people allow their mulch to rot before adding it to their garden.

Garden in June

After the strawberries were finished in June, my brother tilled under some of the old strawberries, and I planted some late beans and corn. These tilled areas immediately grew a fine crop of weeds. The contrast between the mulched and tilled areas was significant.

Potatoes were another experiment this year. I often have volunteer potatoes grow in the spring from potatoes that were missed in the harvest. I decided to have purposeful volunteer potato patch. 

When we dug our potatoes in the fall, I sorted out some of the small potatoes. We tilled one end of the garden, made rows, and planted those small potatoes. We then covered this section of the garden with leaves and waited for spring.

This spring the potato plants emerged.

Potato patch in June

Not every potato grew, so we had a few skippers in the rows, but it was a lovely potato patch, with no work at all in the spring.

Last week the potato plants were nearly dead so we started digging.

I first pulled out the plants, and since we had not hilled the potato plants, the potatoes were right at the surface under the mulch. This made digging potatoes much simpler, but it also meant that quite a few of the potatoes had green skin from exposure to the sun. The mulch from the fall had rotted down too much to protect them.  We should have added another layer of mulch in the spring to protect the potatoes from the sun. The green on potatoes is poisonous, but we'll cut off the green part and eat the rest of the potato.

But despite our dry weather, the potatoes were a great size - some larger than my hand. We are getting about a half bushel per row (my rows are short), which I think is about average from past years.

When we finish digging the potatoes, I plan to sort out the small potatoes and plant next year's crop. I'll try to be more diligent in adding another mulch layer in the spring, but otherwise, this experiment worked well enough to repeat.

I love gardening, but hate weeding, and mulching allows me to maximize my favorite parts of gardening (planting and harvest) and minimize the least favorite. I look forward to learning how to make this method work better for us.

Have you tried mulch gardening?


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