Book Review:  Life After, by Katie Ganshert

Book Review: Life After, by Katie Ganshert

Earlier this year, I signed up to be a part of the WaterBrook & Multnomah book launch program. The first book for which I was invited to be an advanced reader is Life After, by Katie Ganshert. My copy arrived a few weeks ago, and I finished reading it last night.

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Life After is the story of Autumn Manning, a young woman who is the sole survivor of a train bombing in Chicago. She struggles with survivor’s guilt and is haunted by the victims who didn’t make it. Paul Elliott’s wife was one of those victims, and when Autumn and the Elliotts’ lives intersect, both must overcome their fear and grief to find the answers for which they search.

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Life After is the first book of Katie Ganshert’s that I have read, and I enjoyed turning every page. Her novel is beautifully written, capturing your heart from the beginning to the end. The characters are well developed and authentic. The story could have been taken from today’s headlines, making it very relevant to our modern lives. It is touching, heart-breaking and heart-warming all at the same time.

Even if you’ve not been the victim of a tragedy such as this, it is easy to relate to the characters in Life After. Everyone has questioned their purpose in life at some point; this book explores that purpose, and offers hope and meaning when we struggle to see either. One of my favorite quotes in Life After is towards the end of the book, when Ina May, who was widowed by the Tragedy on the Tracks, says, “We worship a God who might not give us the miracle, but He will always give us the comfort.”

Life After is available for pre-order at http://wmbooks.com/LifeAfterBook and if you order before March 16, 2017, you’ll receive some lovely bonus gifts ~ a signed bookplate, a beautiful bookmark, and a copy of Everything Beautiful coloring book.

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(Note:  I do not receive any compensation for my review, other than getting an Advanced Reader Copy of the book free. All opinions are my own.)

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On Minimalism

My sister B was the only one to suggest a topic on the blog’s Facebook page posting, so her suggestion of “minimalism” is the winner!

I started out by googling “minimalism”, to be sure I knew the correct definition of the term, and found a LOT of information out there. I read several articles and blog posts, and then I thought about them as I went about my day. This subject could be the entire focus of a blog (and in fact, it is, for many bloggers!). There are plenty of people who have written very informative pieces on minimalism, which leaves me feeling woefully inadequate to broach the topic.

But my little sister asked, and so I will write about what minimalism means to me.

First of all, what is minimalism? Google defines the term as related to the arts and music:  a style that uses pared-down design elements. The same can be said for a minimalist lifestyle:  a lifestyle that is pared-down, uncluttered. Most people who adhere to minimalism reduce the stuff in their lives to focus on what is important to them. Some minimalists go to the extreme of living in tiny houses and not owning any vehicles.

Hmm…this does not seem to be reflected in my own life, considering that I live in a moderately sized farm house, and we have cars all over the place. And then there’s my tendency to collect things. You know my love of fun socks? I’ve got one regular sized drawer FULL of them; not one of the little top drawers designed to hold undies and socks – one of the large lower drawers. And to fit more socks in the drawer, I store them stacked upright, like recipe cards in a box.

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Not to mention my collections of Frankoma pottery, scarves, vintage pins, shoes, Federal glass snack sets, teas (loose leaf and bagged), printed leggings, books, nativity ornaments…. I like stuff. Much stuff. When something makes my eyes widen with hearts zinging from them, I want to gather as many varieties of that thing as possible, for the cheapest possible price. Because I’m a frugal hoarder, you know.

However….

There are times when the volume of my collections overwhelms me. I begin to feel ruled by my things, instead of me enjoying them. Here is where minimalism comes into play for me. When my collection overflows and I’m feeling Frankoma fat, I know that it’s time to purge.

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo hit the blog world by storm last year. I borrowed the book from the library; liked it so much, I bought my own used copy on eBay (to add to my collection of books, of course!). And while I haven’t KonMari’d my entire house, I have employed her method of culling. When I felt the need to reduce my Frankoma collection, for example, I gathered all of it together in one place, then evaluated each piece individually, deciding whether or not it “sparks joy” in me still, or if I had enjoyed it enough already and was ready to let it go.

This is a great way to keep my possessions from owning me, or becoming overwhelmed by them. And once I’ve pared down a collection, I remind myself to be content with what I have when the temptation to purchase a new piece arises. (This is really difficult to do sometimes, and I’ll admit to buying things because the price was so low it was irresistible! A Frankoma snail vase for 99¢? How can I pass that up?!)

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There are more reasons to keep my collecting in check. All this stuff is temporary. None of it is going with me when I die. One brief encounter with a Kansas tornado, and it’s all a pile of rubble. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:6-7)  The only things that will go with me when I die are my faith and what I’ve done in response to that faith.

Minimalism, for me, I think, is a balance. A balance between enjoying the things that I have and not allowing them to overtake my life. I like fun socks, but I don’t need every pair ever made. I can enjoy my collections, but not allow them to clutter up my life so that I neglect what’s important. Minimalism is also a tool that I can implement to ensure that my life is balanced. It’s a way to keep the proper perspective.

My Unicorn At The End Of A Rainbow

Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that I don’t spend much money on my wardrobe. I shop second-hand first, scour the internet for the best deals on the pricey shoes my feet require nowadays, and never buy anything (except perhaps socks) that isn’t on sale. Being frugal is in my blood.

I’ve been on a quest for a long time – years, actually – to find a trucker style denim jacket that fits me well. Denim jackets fit great on people with broad shoulders, long arms, and slim hips. My puny shoulders, teradactyl arms, and baby-carrying-shelf hips have made my search a big challenge. I’ve found several blazer style denim jackets that fit well over the years…but that’s not what I want. I want a trucker style jacket! And of course, being Mrs. Frugal, I want to find this mystical jacket for a buck at a yard sale. Heck, I’d settle for finding one on the clearance rack at a department store.

Alas, what few denim jackets I’ve run across at yard sales fit me just like the ones on the clearance racks:  too big on top and too tight at the bottom. If I’m lucky enough to get one that fits one area, the other area is all wrong. Petite sizing would offer the best fit for me, but in my area, few stores offer petites; those that do have a very limited stock. Shopping online doesn’t work very well for something that really must be tried on.

Recently, I received a $10 coupon for JC Penney’s, and my heart was set on using it to buy myself a trucker jacket. JCP featured one in their sale ad, so I had high hopes. Indeed, there were several sizing options available in store – misses, plus, juniors, even petites! I tried on jackets from each department (except plus)… but not a single one fit properly, or even close.

Was I chasing an impossible dream? Am I the only woman shaped in such a way that there isn’t a jean jacket on this planet that can be worn fully buttoned, without drooping off the shoulders and requiring the sleeves to be rolled? Would I be forced to sew my own? (It’ll never happen; I’m not that good a seamstress.)

All that disappointment made me hungry, so I left JCP behind and headed to the food court. A fluffy Mrs. Powell’s cinnamon roll would be quite comforting. Normally, because I don’t like eating out alone, I’d take my roll out to my car to enjoy, but it’s simply too unbearably hot for that in August. So I sat at a table in the food court, all by myself, and ate half the ginourmous cinnamon roll. It was delicious! As I tucked the remaining half of the roll into a take-home container, I noticed the shop across from where I sat had a sign advertising a sale:  Denim ~ buy one, get one for $10! Christopher & Banks…not a place I frequent, primarily due to their prices being rather high. I do like finding C&B pieces at thrift stores, however. Well…what the hey, it’s worth a look at least, right?

I crammed the styrofoam container into my purse and entered Christopher & Banks. There was a small sign near the front of the store stating that they now offer petite sizes. I found the petite section near the back of the shop, and BEHOLD ~ a (very high) rack of denim trucker jackets!!! (Side note:  why do they put petite sized clothing on high racks? We’re SHORT; we can’t reach the stuff on the top!) I managed to pull down a PL jacket to try on, purposely not looking at the price tag.

Guess what?

All of the buttons fastened and there was even wiggle room at the bottom. What?! I trotted to the mirror to check the fit at the top. Drat – it was too big across the shoulders, baggy under the arms, and the sleeves would need to be rolled. A friend of mine from church happened to be in the store shopping. She suggested I try sizing down to a medium, but I was skeptical that it would button at the bottom. The sales clerk brought me a PM and I put it on.

Guess what?

IT FIT PERFECTLY ALL OVER!!!!!

(Cue the heavenly trumpets here!)

Doesn’t hang over my shoulders: check!

Doesn’t bag under the arms:  check!

Sleeves stop at the end of my arms, not over my hands:  check!

All the buttons fasten, even the bottom one:  check!

Oh my goodness gracious! I have FOUND the elusive denim trucker jacket of my dreams! Le sigh…

The only drawback to this jacket was the price tag. I did, in fact, have to look at it, and it shouted $44.95. Whew! That’s not a Walmart price. Then again, it’s not a Walmart jacket. I told myself I’d only buy it if I could find a pair of jeans that fit perfectly, too. After all, the sale was “buy one, get one for $10”. Gotta buy two pieces to get the deal.

C&B offered three styles of jeans for the petite lady; I chose a 12P and a 14P from the “modern fit” and the “almost boot cut” (skipping the skinnies) and went to the dressing room. The 12P in the modern fit were fine in the hip and thighs, but way too big in the waist. If I sized down to a 10P, they’d be too tight in the thighs, and probably still too big in the waist. Not for me. The 12P in the almost boot cut fit so well, my heart went pitty-patter! Perfect at waist, hip, thigh, and length. Wonderful!

Now the inner debate began…the jeans were $54.95, and I’d get the jacket for $10, but my total would be $65 plus tax. Could I justify spending that much money on only two articles of clothing? After bouncing back and forth for several minutes in the dressing room, I finally decided to buy them. I took the lovely denim pieces to the counter and handed my credit card to the sales clerk. Then I walked out of the mall with a white and blue shopping bag in my hand, half a cinnamon roll in my purse, and a smile on my face.

We live about 12 miles from town, which is about a 20 minute drive. Not even half way home, I began having anxiety about spending $70 on jeans and a jacket. By the time I rounded the last curve before our house, my hands were gripping the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were white and I had the AC cranked up to Arctic to combat my sweating brow. What was I thinking?! I don’t spend that kind of money on clothes! I don’t spend that kind of money on anything! GAH!!

After I unloaded the car and put away the groceries, I set the C&B bag on the bed but didn’t take out the contents. Surely if I saw those price tags again, I’d have a heart attack. It would be an hour or two before Some Postman returned home from work, but when he did, I planned to show him the evidence of what I’d done. If he fell over from sticker shock, I’d stop at the mall first to return the items the next time I went to town. I was certain he’d have a cow. After all, *I* was having one!

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Once my husband got home and had settled down with his after-work snack of peanuts, I confessed my Huge Shopping Spree. I showed him the Very Expensive jeans and jacket. Cringing, I held out the receipt for him to read the Enormous Grand Total for himself, because it caused me far too much anxiety to say the number out loud.

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Do you know what that man said?

“Will you get a lot of use out of these things?” Well, yes. Denim totally fits into my everyday wardrobe. “So keep them.” Are you sure? Didn’t I spend too much? That’s a LOT of money for jeans and a jacket! “Well, if you can find the exact same thing for less online, return those things to the store and get the stuff online.” I searched. Nope. Can’t even find the stuff online, except at C&B’s website for the same price. “So keep ’em. It’s fine.”

Well. OK. Yay!

But the anxiety still lingered almost a week later, when I met my friend Cassie for coffee. In the process of catching up on each others’ lives, the entire sordid tale of The Jacket poured out. Cassie pointed her cup of coffee at me and told me that I’d found my unicorn at the end of a rainbox, and if I returned those jeans and jacket, she’d be very upset with me and something quite unpleasant would occur! (Not sure what she’d do, but she’d think of something memorable! ha ha!) Sometimes, Cassie said, when that thing for which you’ve searched finally shows up in all its perfection, you just whip out your credit card and buy the thing. And then wear it and enjoy every aspect of its awesomeness.

So I haven’t returned the jeans and jacket. Neither have I worn them, though. Mostly because it’s still too bloody hot for wearing such things. I did remove from my closet the denim blazer jacket that’s been hanging languidly, unworn, since I bought it at a second hand store several years ago. (It wasn’t what I really wanted, but it was supposed to “do”. It didn’t.) And I took pictures of that blazer, listing it for sale on eBay. (Hopefully it will be right for someone else.)

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For sale here.

Just seeing that C&B trucker jacket snuggled up in my closet with my other jackets made me happy. It made me even happier putting it on for a quick mirror-selfie:

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My “unicorn at the end of a rainbow”!

But…the tags are still attached. As are the tags on the jeans. I’m going to keep both pieces, truly. It’s just going to be a really big deal to cut the tags off. Maybe Cassie will come over to assist me in a Cutting Off of the Tags Ceremony…

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And I’m sick again….good gravy! This is the fourth time I’ve had upper respiratory issues in the past five months. Nothing too serious, but enough to knock me onto my couch for a week. I had plans to get back into the swing of things after the KS District LWML Convention was done this past weekend. After all was cleaned up and returned to its rightful place, I went home and took a nap. When I awoke, my throat felt like a knife was lodged there and my body felt like it had been run over by a tractor. The knife has since moved into my sinuses and I’m afraid my hacking cough is keeping Some Postman awake at night. I’ve been keeping tabs on my temperature, and it’s stayed perfectly normal, which indicates that this crud is a virus, not an infection. Thus, I will not be seeing the doctor or getting an antibiotic.

My weapons in this battle against The Virus are honey, various essential oils (used both topically and diffused into the air), rest, and drinking LOTS of hot tea. My poor little Hot Shot hot water dispenser barely has time to cool down before I’m using it again. Etta Pooka doesn’t mind much if Mama is sick; she is happy to join me on the couch as I read, nap, and watch The Walking Dead. So far, I’ve had only one day (yesterday) of feeling like one of the “walkers” on the tv show.

I am eager to join the land of the living once again. Tomorrow morning, I am determined to shop at a few yard sales in town. (Don’t fret – I will use plenty of hand sanitizer and cough into my sleeve.) Yard Sale Season has begun, and I am super excited about that! I’ve got an adorable baby granddaughter that can surely use every cute floral sundress and ruffle-butt onesie I can nab for a song. My grandson has informed us that he has PLENTY of Hot Wheels now, so I won’t get any more of those, but if I find some tracks or play sets, he can make a huge race track down the hall. And maybe, if I’m very lucky, I’ll find a piece of Frankoma pottery to add to my ever-expanding collection. You never know what you’ll find at the sales!

It’s time to refill my tea mug. I hope to be back in the swing of things for real next week. There are ideas swirling around in my brain that I hope to implement on the blog very soon. Stay tuned!

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Here’s to banishing The Virus!

Writing About Writing

Today, I stayed home from church.

This rarely happens; pretty much only if I’m sick or we’re on vacation or at a family event. My body is battling allergies, so I’m sitting at home in my fleece pants and flannel shirt, sipping tea, snuggling the dog (when she’s not basking in her sunbeam), and inhaling essential oils. Since I’ve neglected my blog for a few weeks, I thought I’d use the quiet time alone to write.

What shall I write about? I could whip up an outfit post; I’ve had Some Postman take a couple of photos of me in the past few weeks. Or I could tell you about my experience making dog food for Etta Pooka…but we’re still in the trials with that and not ready for a full review of the results. I’ve done a wee bit of thrifting, but neglected to take pictures of my finds. Yeah… I’m not in the mood for any of those subjects. I think I’m stuck in a rut. Perhaps it’s time to shake things up a bit.

I wonder if taking a creative writing class would be helpful? But classes cost a lot of money, and I’d have to drive somewhere and take a big chunk of time out of my life to attend a class. Maybe an online class would work, but I’m not convinced it would be any better than a traditional class. It seems silly for me to spend money on a class if I’m not pursuing a degree. No, I have no desire to obtain a degree. There used to be a time that I felt looked-down-upon for not having a college education and a useful career, but not anymore. My calling is to be a wife/mother/grandmother, which doesn’t require a degree. I no longer care what other people think about my lack of education. I read books, talk to other people, listen to music. I know where to find the answers….

The library! I will simply find a book or two on improving one’s writing and go from there.

But…it’s going to have to stay on the back burner for a few weeks. The majority of my creative energy the past several months has been channeled into being the chairperson of the Decorations Committee for our LWML District Convention. All the centerpieces, favors, etc. my committee has labored over the past three months will finally be on display in a couple of weeks. I’m a teensy bit nervous about pulling it off; invariably, something goes awry during the event. But I’ve got a terrific team of women backing me up; we can do it!

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It will probably be two or three weeks until I get back here to write again. I’m glad I took the time this morning to write this entry. It’s good to have a pot of something yummy simmering on the back of the stove. You know it’s going to have lots of great flavor and be oh-so-satisfying when it’s finally ready!

A Week of Awesomeness

A Week of Awesomeness

This week is turning out to be super-fun! God’s mercies are new every morning, of course, for which I am so very thankful. But some days, you get to put something on your schedule that makes you smile every time you think about it. And each day this week has had or will have had an activity for me to enjoy and/or look forward to doing. (Thanks, God, for filling my week with happy faces!)

Sunday…

…was Church Day! Filled with singing, praise, worship, and fellowship, Sunday always starts off the week on the right foot. I’m really getting a lot out of the Bible study during Sunday School hour; we’re doing Rick Warren’s “Transformed” series. This week’s chapter was on emotional health. To me, it seems very closely related to last week’s mental health; both chapters emphasize keeping our minds focused on God, trusting Him with our futures, and not worrying. The peace that God gives is incredible! ‘Peace’ is my one-word study for this year, so I’m paying close attention.

Even though it’s rather frivolous in comparison to the important spiritual aspects, I was very happy with the outfit I put together to wear to church. I wanted to participate in this week’s Style Imitating Art challenge; it turned out quite nice, I think! The inspiration piece was Ansel Adams’ 1958 photograph “Aspens, Northern New Mexico”.

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My outfit interpretation:

Monday…

…I had a mammogram. Sure, I suppose most women wouldn’t say that was awesome. Or fun. And it wasn’t fun, exactly, but it wasn’t horrible. The fun part was supposed to be afterward; I had plans to meet a friend for lunch. But…she had to cancel. Still not great, huh? Well, since I wasn’t going to have some girlfriend time, I decided to shop at a couple of stores I rarely visit because they are on the opposite side of town I typically frequent. That was fun! At Marshall’s, I bought an organizer wallet with detachable cross-body strap on clearance for $10. My stroll through Target was almost a bust, until I wandered into the coffee appliance aisle. The Bella Single Serve Dual Brew coffee maker was on sale – and I’ve been wanting to replace my aging drip brewer for a while. The nice thing about the Bella is that it can use either Kcups (any kind!) or the included filter basket. While the Bella Dual Brew has mixed reviews online, I am finding it perfect for my needs and enjoy it very much.

Tuesday…

…We made plans to go out for a late lunch / early supper as soon as Some Postman got home from work. Tuesday is typically a lighter mail load day, so he gets home around 2:00 pm. We had a coupon to use at Pizza Ranch, only to discover it was closed when we arrived! Neither of us had eaten much since breakfast, so we were far too hungry to finish our other errands and just eat when we got back home. My being vegetarian seriously limits where we can go out to eat, but anyplace that serves Mexican food is usually a good option. And so we went to Carlos O’Kelly’s. We were the only patrons in the restaurant the entire time we were there! Kind of nice, actually. When our waiter learned my food restrictions, he produced a vegetarian menu, which I didn’t know they had. We enjoyed our meal, and while it probably won’t be a regular eating spot for us, it’s definitely on the “veg-friendly options” list.

Wednesday (today)…

…turns out to be National Chocolate Cake Day! There’s a day for everything, you know! In honor of this most delicious observance, I baked an Old Fashioned Hershey’s Chocolate Cake with One Bowl Buttercream Frosting, all from scratch. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to use my recently purchased aluminum round cake pans, and I am very happy with the results. After all these years wondering why my round cakes had a tendency to come out dry on the outer rim and sink in the middle, I learned that my dark, non-stick cake pans were the culprit! Get some heavy-grade aluminum cake pans, people. They aren’t very expensive and are totally worthwhile.

Thursday (tomorrow)…

…has three fun things on the agenda. First, Pilates. While sorting out workout DVDs I can no longer use due to my bum foot, I found a Leslie Sansone Pilates DVD that I forgot I had. It’s terrific! It’s so nice to have something other than riding Marcy (stationary bike) or practicing yoga, as much as I love them both. Variety is good! The second fun thing to do tomorrow is running errands in Little Town, including a visit to the library and a pop-in at the thrift store. The third item on the list is the funnest – it’s Book Club night! We had to postpone book club due to the snow last Thursday, but the snow has mostly melted now. Our hostess requested that we read a non-fiction book from the 500 section of the library; I read a fascinating book about snails – “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating”, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Book Club is a highlight of my month. We are a close group of friends and always have a grand time together!

Friday…

…a neighbor friend (who is also in book club) is hosting a Girls’ Night at her house. It will be like Round Two of book club, I’m sure, except we probably won’t talk about books! Friday is also my daughter’s 25th birthday, but I’ll celebrate that with her on…

…Saturday.

Min has requested Grandma’s Chicken Casserole and my Bread Pudding as her birthday meal, so I will prepare both dishes and take them to her house in the morning. The casserole must sit in the fridge all day, so she can bake it fresh for supper in the evening. I think she and I might go out for coffee, if Baby Miss Pie is cooperative.

Finally, next Sunday…

…We will make our annual visit to our Hometown, go to worship service at the church Some Postman grew up in, and peruse the local antique shops. I’m hoping to score a piece or two of Frankoma pottery; Some Postman might find a crock to add to his collection. In the evening, we’ll go back to the church for their soup supper and catch up with some old friends.

Not all of my arrangements this week turned out exactly the way I’d expected, and it’s likely that the days to come might change a bit from how I’ve planned them out. But that’s OK! Sometimes the unexpected things are the best things. Enjoy life! Each day is an adventure!

Sneak Peek!

Sneak Peek!

Look what finally arrived today!

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Yes! My zulily.com order! Have you ever ordered from this site? I’ve only ever gotten shoes, except for the one time I ordered a breezy cotton swing dress. I’ve been pleased every time! Only once did I order something only to have it become “unavailable”. (How does that happen??) This zulily box also contained shoes:

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Just a sneak peek! You’ll see them here on the blog soon. And often. They are all Vionic shoes with Orthaheel technology. I’ve finally found a shoe that actually enables me to be on my feet without the constant knife-stabbing pain in my right foot. Normally these shoes are quite pricey, but thanks to zulily, I was able to buy two pair of sandals and one Mary Jane type shoe for LESS than the retail price of just one pair! You know how I love cute shoes…thankfully these are fairly cute despite being orthopedic.

It does usually take a little time to receive your order. This is because zulily collects orders for a grouping until a certain date, and then all the orders are shipped at that time. So if you need something fast, this probably isn’t the best option for you. But if you’re able to wait a couple of weeks, it’s well worth it!

I have NOT been asked by zulily or Vionic to write this post or declare my opinion. It would have been nice, but other than taking my money, they really have no idea that I exist. Ha ha! But I really do highly recommend checking out zulily if you’re looking for a specific brand of just about anything at a nice discount price (they sell everything for your closet, your kids’ closets, the kitchen, the bath…pretty much anything in your house!). If you use my referral link, then I will earn $15 credit. After you become a customer, you can invite your friends and earn credits, too. Not that I’m pressuring you to go shopping. Just sayin’…if you’re interested…and you like shoes the way I do. 😀