Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation of the Lord by Leonardo da Vinci

From today's American Catholic Saint of the Day:

The Story of the Annunciation of the Lord

The feast of the Annunciation, now recognized as a solemnity, was first celebrated in the fourth or fifth century. Its central focus is the Incarnation: God has become one of us. From all eternity God had decided that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity should become human. Now, as Luke 1:26-38 tells us, the decision is being realized. The God-Man embraces all humanity, indeed all creation, to bring it to God in one great act of love. Because human beings have rejected God, Jesus will accept a life of suffering and an agonizing death: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Mary has an important role to play in God’s plan. From all eternity, God destined her to be the mother of Jesus and closely related to him in the creation and redemption of the world. We could say that God’s decrees of creation and redemption are joined in the decree of Incarnation. Because Mary is God’s instrument in the Incarnation, she has a role to play with Jesus in creation and redemption. It is a God-given role. It is God’s grace from beginning to end. Mary becomes the eminent figure she is only by God’s grace. She is the empty space where God could act. Everything she is she owes to the Trinity.
Mary is the virgin-mother who fulfills Isaiah 7:14 in a way that Isaiah could not have imagined. She is united with her son in carrying out the will of God (Psalm 40:8-9; Hebrews 10:7-9; Luke 1:38).
Together with Jesus, the privileged and graced Mary is the link between heaven and earth. She is the human being who best, after Jesus, exemplifies the possibilities of human existence. She received into her lowliness the infinite love of God. She shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life. She exemplifies what the Church and every member of the Church is meant to become. She is the ultimate product of the creative and redemptive power of God. She manifests what the Incarnation is meant to accomplish for all of us.

Reflection


Sometimes spiritual writers are accused of putting Mary on a pedestal and thereby, discouraging ordinary humans from imitating her. Perhaps such an observation is misguided. God did put Mary on a pedestal and has put all human beings on a pedestal. We have scarcely begun to realize the magnificence of divine grace, the wonder of God’s freely given love. The marvel of Mary—even in the midst of her very ordinary life—is God’s shout to us to wake up to the marvelous creatures that we all are by divine design.
*****
From the Book of Common Prayer 2011, here is the Collect for the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
LORD God, we ask you to pour your grace into our hearts; That as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, by his cross and passion may we be brought to the glory of his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 2.9-10; 13.9; Romans 1.3-4; 5.2-5; Matthew 1.18-21; Philippians 2.20-21) 
Wishing you a blessed remembrance of the Angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary,


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ready For Lent!



Updated from the Archives....

As Elizabeth and I plan to make pancakes (gluten-free and grain-free varieties this year) for dinner this Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Tuesday as it's known in our household), I'm also preparing myself spiritually for the beginning of Lent.

Tomorrow morning I'll attend the Ash Wednesday Imposition of Ashes with the kind folks of Blessed Trinity Anglican as we meet together in Father Acker's home in Alpine. (Message me if you'd like to come, and I'll give you the directions. It's mind-blowing and soul-blowing ancient worship!)

I have my Lenten fast decided and my Lenten additions ready. I don't usually tell either one publicly--only my family knows so that they can help keep me accountable.



A few years ago, I had continued all year with the previous Lent's addition of The One Year Book of Hymns to my Compline prayer time before bed each night, last night's hymn struck me, and I want to share it here as well as copy it into my Common Place Book (quotation journal) as it expresses many of the reasons why Lent is my favorite time of year:

Lenten Hymn
by Claudia Frances Hernaman (1838-1898)

Lord, who through these forty days
For us did fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins,
And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend
And didst the victory win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.

And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy Passiontide,
Yea, evermore, in life and death,
Jesus! with us abide.

Abide with us, that so this life
Of suffering overpast,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last!

The Scripture verses accompanying this hymn in this devotional is Mark 1:11-12 from The Living Bible: 

"Immediately the Holy Spirit urged Jesus into the desert. There, for forty days, alone except for desert animals, he was subjected to Satan's temptations to sin. And afterwards the angels came and cared for him." 

So Lent consists of the forty days before the Resurrection, not including Sundays (which are always a celebration of the Resurrection) and thus Lent parallels the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his earthly ministry.



Lent prepares our hearts for the joy of Easter--the celebration of the Resurrection of our Living and Loving Lord. How can we truly celebrate without suffering just a little first? Through fasting and prayer, we draw closer to the heart of the One who loved us first.

Can we fast and pray at any time? Sure. But do we? Not enough--or at least, I know that I don't fast and pray enough. Lent reminds me to do so, to allow the Holy Spirit into the dark corners of my soul and do a spiritual "spring cleaning," showing me my sin so that I may confess it and be cleansed.

To read more about Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent you may read my post On Lent using this hyperlink or by going to the "On Lent" page beneath my blog header.

I wish you all a Holy and Blessed Lent as we all draw closer to our Lord and King!


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Own Green Thoughts

Daffodils in my front garden a few years ago....

This morning I read Melissa Wiley's lovely blog Here in the Bonny Glen in which she wrote about her gardening adventures in a post called "Green Thoughts." Since she, a well-known author of children's books (and now a Brave Writer instructor!), also lives in San Diego, I felt a true affinity for her post and all of the lovely green things--even "weeds"--that her family has grown. I meant to write just a short reply to her post, but it soon took on a life of its own. Yep, I ended up writing a blog post in reply to her blog post! (Sorry, Melissa!)

So here it is...which some additional "green thoughts":

I've found that San Diego is a pretty forgiving place for gardening. I loved gardening when we lived in North Park; our century-old Craftsman had enough Victorian to it that it was a stand-out on the block naturally, and the family who had own the home before us (from 1945-1991 when we bought it) had planted calla lilies beneath the porch railing. Oh, when they bloomed, honey, they BLOOMED.

And, as I said, I found that I could pretty much ignore all of the gardening "rules," and everything turned out beautifully...most of the time, anyway. I could never get Canterbury Bells to grow...which I loved for the name even more than the flowers themselves. (Does anyone else do that? Choose seed packets or even six-packs of blooms based more on the name of the plant than the plant itself? No? I must the the weird one, then....)

I sowed wildflower seeds on either side of the front walk and ended up with a host of pincushions, cornflowers, Queen Anne's lace, and other English garden-y things. As much as I wanted to try foxgloves, I had little ones back then and wasn't going to chance it. Along the east-facing long side of the house I had hollyhocks (which my husband has always called "hockeypucks") growing so high that they were curling under the eaves--and that's with a significant stone foundation and then the house itself! They were close to fifteen feet! Amongst the "hockeypucks" I had six different kinds of lavender, plus rosemary and other herbs galore (and sunflowers that grew almost as high as the "hockeypucks"!). My husband put in a brick-lined rose garden for me along the backside of the fence separating the back and front yards, and roses of all colors held riots there. Gardening was definitely my "thing."

Our old house, repainted by new owners. We left it gray with white and burgundy trim....

And the kids reveled in the spring clover's "sour grass"; we'd let the lawn keep growing until we were losing toddlers in the vast greenness, and then the kids gathered up armloads of the beautiful bright yellow flowers on their long, juicy stems--the very definition of "cheerfulness." Unfortunately, they never kept long, of course, but I had bouquets of them, overflowing the jam jars as they lined my kitchen counter before the lawn mower heartlessly took 'em down. We had to watch Monty Python & the Holy Grail to calm our nerves and get us laughing again.

But up here in Pine Valley, I must choose what to plant carefully, with an eagle eye for frost-hardiness. We've had frosts as late as June 12th (our middle son's birthday--which also killed our Pippin crop that year!) and as early as the end of September, so the delicate blooms I adored in the city either need more time than I can afford them between frosts or will wilt in our summer heat (sometimes above 110!). Fortunately, two of my favorite old-fashioned flowers, pansies and stocks, are quite frost-hardy, and rosemary abounds. Lavender is a bit touchy--no Spanish lavender here--but the French and English varieties do fairly well. But with the arrival of my autoimmune challenges, I haven't had the strength to garden much, plus, we now have half an acre vs. our little city plot, so the sheer size of it is daunting.

Our mountain home since 2001

This spring I do want to plant more. The daffodils (still blooming after the 15 years we've been here and who knows how much longer before that!) are sprouting, and the purple irises will follow. I've done tulips in the past, too. Now that middle son has worked landscaping, we're going to sit down and plan out our spring plantings and see what we can rescue and what we'll need to replace and what we can add. ;)

And yes, there are a few "hockeypucks" lurking along the back fence, a true homecoming for me when we first moved in and still stubbornly self-sowing. And a few old rose bushes, half-wild now, that need some TLC. But I really want to get out there and make something beautiful in our garden this year.

As I pondered my garden today, I remembered a lovely quotation from L.M. Montgomery's sixth book in the Anne series, Anne of Ingleside:

One gold-grey smoky afternoon [Anne] and Jem planted all the tulip bulbs....
"Isn't it nice to be preparing for spring when you know you've got to face winter, Jem?"
"And it's nice to be making the garden beautiful," said Jem. "Susan says it is God who makes everything beautiful but we can help Him out a bit, can't we, Mums?"
"Always . . . always, Jem. He shares that privilege with us."

So, thanks be to God for the privilege of sharing a bit in His Creation as we plot and plant the bounty of His Beauty!!

Counting on the daffodils,






Saturday, February 4, 2017

Candlemas

Anna and Simeon seeing Jesus and His parents in the Temple
Updated from the Archives...

Yesterday I attended Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, and as it was the day after Candlemas, otherwise known as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple OR The Purification of Mary--all of which are celebrated on February 2 (yep, the same day as Groundhog Day), we celebrated Candlemas during our weekly Healing Service. 

But what is Candlemas exactly?

The site ChurchYear.net defines Candlemas as "The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, traditionally called Candlemas, commemorates the presentation of Christ in the temple, and the ritual purification of the Virgin Mary. The feast falls on February 2nd." 

Basically, Candlemas marks forty days after Christ's birth when Mary went to the Temple to be purified after giving birth to her firstborn. We read about this day in the Second Chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke (verses 22-39) which was one of our Scripture readings yesterday in the English Standard Version (ESV):

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.


Here's a wonderful explanation of the Holy Day of Candlemas from Project Britain: Candlemas Day.

Pope John Paul II gave this wisdom in one of his homilies: 

"Be light and comfort to everyone you meet. Like lighted candles, burn with the love of Christ. Spend yourselves for him, spreading the Gospel of his love everywhere. Through your witness the eyes of many men and women of our time will also be able to see the salvation prepared by God 'in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.'" 

And here is the Collect for The Presentation of Christ in the Temple from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:


ALMIGHTY and ever-living God, we ask that, as your eternal Son was presented in the temple, we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; Who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Luke 2.23-30; Galatians 4.4; Psalm 24.3-4; Revelation 1.6)

So have a wonderful 5th Week After Epiphany as we approach the pre-Lenten season!


Soli Deo Gloria,




Friday, January 6, 2017

A Blessed Epiphany


Updated from the Archives....

Today the Anglican Church, along with other liturgical churches, celebrate Epiphany. For once, Epiphany lands on a Friday, so we'll be celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany at our Friday Morning Prayer and Holy Communion service at Father Acker's home. I usually attend this weekly service which includes prayers for healing and anointing with oil, but this Friday we'll be celebrating Epiphany and thus we may have some additional attendees joining us . . . even though we gathered just last night to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas and the Eve of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany, January 6th, marks the close of the Christmas Season with Twelfth Night (the Twelfth Day of Christmas) on January 5th. Epiphany, then, is a kind of extension of the Christmas season as we remember the events of Matthew 2 in which "wise men from the east" come to Judea, looking for the "infant King of the Jews." Herod asks his advisers about the Messiah, and they tell him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
--Matthew 2:1-12, ESV

The Baptism of Jesus is celebrated a week later, on the Octave (8th day) of Epiphanytide, the day in which Christ was manifested as the Son of God, as related in Matthew 3:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest upon him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
--Matthew 3:13-17, ESV

From the CRI website:
The Season of Epiphany
Dennis Bratcher

In western Christian tradition, January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany. Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. This is an occasion for feasting in some cultures, including the baking of a special King's Cake as part of the festivities of Epiphany. The Season of Christmas begins with the First Sunday of Advent, marked by expectation and anticipation, and concludes with Epiphany, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. The one or two Sundays between Christmas Day and Epiphany are sometimes called Christmastide. For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter. In some western traditions, the last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year. 

As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few. 

The day is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children.


***


Our Collect for Epiphanytide from the Book of Common Prayer 2011, to be prayed throughout the Octave of the Epiphany:

O GOD, by the leading of a star you revealed your only eternal Son to the peoples of the earth; In your mercy grant that we, who know you now by faith, may after this life behold your glory and power face to face; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
***

The lyrics to the most popular Epiphany carol, often sung at Christmas:

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Refrain
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

Refrain

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high.

Refrain

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

Refrain

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia!, Alleluia!,
Rings through the earth and skies.

Refrain


Music and lyrics by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857

Note: Wikipedia tells us, "John Henry Hopkins, Jr. organized the carol in such a way that three male voices would each sing a single verse by himself in order to correspond with the three kings. The first and last verses of the carol are sung together by all three as 'verses of praise,' while the intermediate verses are sung individually with each king describing the gift he was bringing."

***

So as we enter Epiphanytide, the time in which Jesus was made manifest not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles--basically, the fact that He came to save everyone, no matter which gender, race, religion, creed--we welcome Him into our hearts with joy and grateful hearts, "for this is the day which the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118.24).

Rejoicing with you this day,

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas!

A Christmas Card featuring the characters of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, circa 1865

Revised from the Archives . . .

Tonight is Twelfth Night...the last night of Christmastide. B and I will attend the Twelfth Night celebration with the fine people of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity at Father Acker's home. We'll burn greenery (mostly from my Advent swag) as Father Acker prays the Christmas Collects and then prays that the Light of Christ would shine through our lives into the darkness and into others' lives. 

Then we'll gather back in the house to enjoy sherry and trifle and other goodies, celebrating the final night of Christmas.

A past devotional from The High Calling is worth remembering on this day, the Twelfth Day of Christmas:
Jan 5, 2013
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...
by Mark D. Roberts

[P]raise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe. Psalm 150:4
Today is the twelfth and last day of Christmas. For many of us, the notion of Christmas as a twelve-day season is quite foreign…except for the song. Almost all of us are familiar with "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and its collection of unusual gifts, including maids-a-milking, swans-a-swimming, gold rings, French Hens, Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a pear tree. According to the song, on the twelfth and final day of Christmas, the singers "true love" gave "twelve drummers drumming." 
You won't find any drummers in Scripture, at least not in most English translations. But you will find people dancing while playing timbrels (for example, Exodus 15:20). In fact, Psalm 150:4 calls God's people to praise him "with timbrel and dancing," or, as some translations prefer, "with tambourine and dance" (ESV). The Hebrew term behind "timbrel, tambourine" is tof, which was a small percussion instrument held and struck by one's hand. It was, in effect, a small drum.
Psalm 150 exhorts us to praise the Lord with all sorts of musical instruments: trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, strings, pipe, and loud cymbals. The sense of the text is that we are to praise God with everything we have at our disposal. Thus, this is a fitting conclusion for our celebration of Christmas, which began with a great company of angels praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:13-14).
Praise is something we do, not only with our lips and our instruments, but also with our whole lives. You may recall that a few months ago we examined Ephesians 1:12, which says that we exist "for the praise of God's glory." We are alive for the purpose of praising God. But this does not mean we ought to put down our work and hurry to a worship service. On the contrary, we can and should praise God in all we do, including our work. So, if you happen to be a drummer, then by all means drum for God's glory. And if you happen to be a lawyer, then practice law for God's glory. And if you're a teacher, then teach for God's glory. And if you're a contractor, or a mother, or a banker, or a window washer, or…do it all for God's glory. 
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways do you live for God's praise? How might you praise God in your work? Your community? Your family? Your friendships? Your political activity? Your volunteer work? 
PRAYER: Lord, as we come to the end of the Christmas season, we end where we started…with praise. Today, we join the twelve drummers by praising you with all that you have given us. We offer our lives to you, so that we might exist for the praise of your glory. Amen. 

So as we celebrate the Twelfth Day of Christmastide and Twelfth Night tonight, may we worship the Light who shines through the darkness with the gift of salvation for all who believe.

A Joyous Twelfth Night to you and yours,


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My Very, Very Last Book Reviews of 2016

From the BBC North and South miniseries, 2004 (currently available on Netflix)

Here are my final book reviews of 2016. The first two are variations of Elizabeth Gaskell's wonderful Victorian novel, North and South, and the third is a beloved Christian classic. Enjoy!


No Such Thing As Luck: A North and South Variation No Such Thing As Luck: A North and South Variation by Nicole Clarkston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, No Such Thing as Luck follows Margaret Hale after she has left Milton for London and receives an urgent note from her brother, Frederick, who lives in exile in Spain. Their dear friend, Mr. Bell, collapsed at Frederick's home while visiting him, and Frederick encourages Margaret to come to Spain to say her goodbyes to her beloved godfather.

At the same time, facing ruin after the strike at the mill, John Thornton hears of a possible partner for him who can obtain a fresh source of cotton that will make the mill profitable for the future, and he decides to sail to Spain to meet with this possible partner.

At the docks, Margaret, who left a note for her cousin and her family detailing her trip to Spain, plans to put herself under the protection of the captain as women do not usually travel alone on ships. But on the docks, Margaret is rammed and is injured, falling back on the man behind her who happens to be . . . John Thornton, the man she regrets refusing in Milton.

And the story proceeds from there . . . .

This is a stellar first novel by the uber-talented Nicole Clarkston, and her second variation of North and South is just as good. Fans of the book and/or the miniseries will definitely enjoy No Such Thing as Luck.


Northern Rain: A North & South Variation Northern Rain: A North & South Variation by Nicole Clarkston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just as with her first novel, No Such Thing as Luck, Nicole Clarkston captures the style and characters of Elizabeth's Gaskell's beloved novel North and South in her newest variation, Northern Rain.

After her refusal of John Thornton's hand in marriage, Margaret comes across John at his father's grave during a steady rain. They talk a bit, quite awkwardly in fact, and Margaret offers John the protection of her father's umbrella. Thus a friendship of sorts is kindled between them. Mr. Hale, however, is not doing well health-wise after the death of his wife, his mind often wandering, and one afternoon he inadvertently reveals the name of his exiled son, Frederick, to John Thornton during their lessons. John is thrilled to discover that the man with Margaret at the train depot was her brother. But between problems at the mill and the machinations of others who try to befriend both Margaret and John, their reputations are soon on the line. Will their budding romance be able to bloom in the Northern Rain, or will both fail, John in business and Margaret in reputation?

I read most of this book in a single day--Yay, Christmas vacation!! It was absolutely enthralling. Anyone who loves either the North and South book or the miniseries (or both!!) will thoroughly enjoy Nicole Clarkston's Northern Rain.



My Utmost for His Highest My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Christians are to read only one book *ever* on Christian formation, this book is the one to read. The wisdom of Oswald Chambers' famed My Utmost for His Highest is spread out over 365 daily readings. I started this journey on the first day of 2016 and finished it today, the final day.

Written in 1935, the language is a bit archaic, but at the same time, the old-fashioned words and wordings raises this book out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. It's an otherworldly book--there's no other way to describe it.

I've read parts of this book over the years, but never cover-to-cover, on a daily basis throughout the entire year. It's inspiring and convicting at the same time. Oswald pulls no punches, and there were definitely times when I felt a bit bruised. (And more than a bit at times!) But that's a good thing. Oswald rips through any pretensions to complacency, and while it's an uncomfortable journey at times, it's definitely a necessary one.

How else can we put forth our utmost for God's highest?


View all my reviews and here also is the link to my Goodreads Year in Books 2016 (I wish I could download this wonderful infographic of my Year in Books 2016 right into this blog, but it only shares to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Sigh...).

This year (2017), I plan to post a monthly collection of book reviews from Goodreads. I love having the option to save my reviews directly onto my blog as a draft, so I just cut and paste them all into a single post. Easy-peasy. And all of these reviews are also posted on Amazon as well. I think that reviewing books, especially those of fairly new authors, is one way to give back for the enjoyment of reading their work. I am strict with my ratings; my ratings average for 2016 was 4.2 on Goodreads, and my overall Goodreads average is 3.8. So when I give a "5," I truly mean it!

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Last Book Reviews of 2016...Well, Almost.


Okay, here are my final set of book reviews from 2016. I have thirteen books left from my 2016 reviews on Goodreads, but I'm going to try ("try" is the operative word!) to cull them down to my favorites.

I have saved three outstanding books for a final post tomorrow because they are not variations or continuations of Jane Austen's novels. And all three received 5's on my Goodreads and Amazon reviews. Plus, the reviews are longer and more thoughtful than usual, so they deserve their own post.


All Hallow's Eve All Hallow's Eve by Wendi Sotis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice was one of the most intriguing and memorable of the hundreds of variations I've read over the last few years, and the reason is the theme of paranormal/fantasy that weaves its way into the romance of Darcy and Elizabeth. There is a very different plot here than Austen's original, and it goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Elizabeth is the Druidic High Priestess, and Darcy finds that the family sword over the main fireplace at Pemberley is meant for the High Priestess' protection. Thus, he is destined to be the Soul Mate of the High Priestess.

Each All Hallow's Eve, the High Priestess admits the spirits of those passed to eternity a visit with their descendants. But hundreds of years ago, an evil spirit managed to stay behind when the spirits are gathered to return, and its presence may wreak havoc upon earth. And it is up to the High Priestess and her Soul Mate to stop his wicked plans.

This book was nearly unputdownable. (Yeah, yeah, it's not a word, but it describes this book's compelling qualities perfectly.) Especially if one enjoys paranormal suspense, this variation of Pride and Prejudice will be a page-turner!

I rarely give "5" scores to books that are not classics, but this variation was simply outstanding. Extraordinary. I was up until 3:00 AM, trying to finish it. It's really, truly, seriously *that* good.


Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet by Marilyn Brant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting modern take on Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is a social worker with a young son who is talked into trying Lady Catherine's Love Match website. Meanwhile, physician William Darcy is also talked into trying the site by a fun-loving Charles Bingley who dangles funding for Darcy's proposed clinic as the carrot.

And thus the clash of two worlds begins, with much deception on both sides, many misunderstandings, and finally . . . acknowledgment that Lady Catherine's Love Match site had indeed set them up for their Perfect Match.

I like modern adaptations of Austen's works well enough, but the 19th century Brit Lit fangirl that I am usually prefers period variations. This was definitely one of the better modern takes; it was definitely entertaining and amusing. Well done, Ms. Brant!!


Mr. Darcy's Letter: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Mr. Darcy's Letter: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth elects to not read Darcy's letter at Hunsford, and thus Elizabeth returns to Longbourn with no idea that Wickham is a cad, placing her family in harm's way. She also still thinks the worst of Mr. Darcy as well. But then circumstances--and Darcy--intervene, and Elizabeth finally understands the truth. But will it be too late?

Abigail Reynolds is one of the best of the many, many writers of Austen variations, continuations, sequels, vagaries, adaptations, or whatever else one wants to call the proliferation of books based on Austen's novels. And this book, read in fleeting moments between the grading of MLA research essays, was a delightful diversion from parenthetical citations and the new Works Cited formatting. I cannot recommend reading her books highly enough.

If anyone were to want to begin reading books based on Austen's novels, Abigail Reynolds is the author with whom to start. The first Austen variations I ever read were written by her and obtained through our county library (via the statewide [California] service called LINK+), and I've been hooked ever since, as my Goodreads "Read" page indicates.


A Merry Christmas Chase A Merry Christmas Chase by Monica Fairview
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(NOT an Austen variation this time!) Cherry, daughter of the village rector, is devoted to the people of her father's parish, many of whom live on the brink of starvation due to the profligate ways of the Earl. But when the Earl dies and a new Lord Carsdale takes his place, Cherry, disguised as a lad, is caught poaching with her bow and arrow. Knowing that she is facing a hanging offense, Cherry knocks out Carsdale with a branch and escapes.

Because Lord Carsdale is determined to find the young poacher, Cherry's father sends her to her aunt's manor house where she is presented to society. But when Lord Carsdale appears at her aunt's manor as a guest for the Christmastide celebrations, Cherry must use all of her ingenuity to avoid his recognizing her as the young poacher, leading him on a very merry chase.

A fun and light read, I quite enjoyed the break that this book provided as I read snippets here and there between grading MLA research essays. A wonderful way to escape reality for an afternoon and/or evening!


This Disconcerting Happiness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation This Disconcerting Happiness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Christina Morland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Elizabeth is informed the very afternoon of the Meryton Assembly that her father is dying of cancer, she has quite the burden to bear, especially knowing that her family must leave Longbourn after her father's death because of the entail on the estate. Mr. Darcy is also struggling with familial problems in that Georgiana has been removed from his care following the debacle at Ramsgate and is extremely unhappy at Rosings Park with Lady Catherine. But being married would give Darcy the legal standing needed to gain back custody of his sister.

After several frank conversations at and following the Meryton Assembly where they meet and talk on the balcony, Elizabeth and Darcy decide to marry, thus providing for the Bennet family after Mr. Bennet's demise and hopefully regaining custody of Georgiana. But when all does not go to plan, Darcy and Elizabeth find themselves happier than they ever thought could result from a marriage of convenience.

A very different variation, focusing as much on Georgiana's growth and decisions as it does on Elizabeth's family as her father's health fails. Nothing seems to go as planned, yet This Disconcerting Happiness gives them both the strength to carry on while grieving with one another.


Mr. Darcy's Proposal Mr. Darcy's Proposal by Susan Mason-Milks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow, I've read a lot of variations of Pride and Prejudice which start with an illness or the death of Mr. Bennet. In Mr. Darcy's Proposal, Darcy arrives at the parsonage, ready to propose marriage to Elizabeth, only to find her reading a letter from Jane reporting on her father's grave illness. Saving his proposal for later, Darcy, along with Colonel Fitzwilliam, offer to take her home the very next morning in Darcy's carriage. On their way to Longbourn, Darcy discovers Elizabeth's true feelings for him and wisely decides to work on helping her and building a friendship before he pursues her romantically. So how does Darcy do? Will Elizabeth indeed think better of him once she sees his kindness and compassion in action?

Another delightful Austen variation by one of the authors frequently featured on the website Austen Variations, Mr. Darcy's Proposal is a terrific read, indeed!


Sway Sway by Melanie Stanford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A modern take on Jane Austen's Persuasion, Sway takes us into the life of Ava, the middle sister of three who has returned to Los Angeles after eight years in New York at Juilliard, studying piano. Her former-soap star father and elder socialite sister, Beth, aren't terribly welcoming when she arrives home, but her Aunt Rose does her best to welcome Ava. And Beth's clingy friend Shelby is an immediate concern as she's obviously a star-struck hanger-on. But her father's and sister's overspending on designer clothing forces them to lease their beautiful Hollywood Hills home and "retrench" by moving to the Malibu beach house. Ava is surprised to discover that the people leasing Kellynch are related to her old boyfriend (and former fiance) from high school, Eric Wentworth, who is now a fairly successful rat-pack style singer. After leaving him eight years ago, Ava is now faced with his hatred. And thus the story goes from there....

A very parallel modern updating of Persuasion, Sway is definitely entertaining; it's a compelling read that had me turning pages (or, in the case with my Kindle, tapping pages) quite rapidly.

View all my reviews


Wishing you all a healthy and blessed 2017 and a joyous Ninth Day of Christmas,

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!! Welcome, 2017!


Updated from the Archives....

As we ring in the New Year of 2017, I thought this lovely poem which floated quietly in my e-mail inbox, courtesy of Poets.org, a few years ago which perfectly expresses the New Year's cliché of "out with the old, in with the new." After all, Tennyson wasn't one for cliches, thank goodness!

2016 has been a rough year for many others besides us. We nearly lost our home. Keith had little to no work for much of the year. I was overworked, trying to keep the family afloat with working from home while homeschooling our youngest. Those of us with genetic mutations (E, T, myself, and likely B) had a very rough year, both physically and emotionally. Our household has been far less than peaceful. And then there's the election and the loss of many talented people this year, both the famous and the "ordinary." (Not that anyone is truly ordinary...)

So we pray for a fresh, new year with a fresh, new outlook, mindset, and love for God and others.

So as we return soon from the rush and exhaustion and joy and pain that make up the Holy Days with a selection from one of my favorite Tennyson poems, one which always brings to mind my beloved Brit Lit professor, Dr. Arthur Seamans, who used to quote this poem in an appropriately ringing voice:

From In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (published 1849)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
So as we ring out all that was evil, injurious, sad, wrong, unjust, hurtful, grievous, and sinful in 2016, may we welcome all that is brave, true, right, courageous, beautiful, holy, lovely, sacred, and godly in 2017!!

From the Book of Common Prayer 2011:
For Guidance
O GOD, by you the humble are guided in doing right; Your light illumines the darkness for those who trust in you; In our doubts and uncertainties, give us grace to ask what you would have us do, so that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices; In your light may we see light, and in your straight path may we not stumble; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Sources: Psalm 26.9; 36.9; John 1.5; Jeremiah 17.7)
May God grant us all a healthy and blessed New Year of 2017 as we strive to follow the example of Christ our Lord as we live, serve, and love in His ways.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! And a Happy Eighth Day of Christmastide as well!!

Praying to follow the Light, this year and always,

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