Book Review: Encircled – An Ever Afters Anthology

I received an ARC of Encircled from the publisher. All opinions expressed are completely my own. I received no monetary compensation in exchange for posting a review on my blog. I just like promoting good speculative fiction books! 🙂

I’ve got something of a soft spot for a good fairy tale retelling, particularly if there’s a sci fi twist! The Encircled anthology includes short stories by six talented authors. The two stories with a sci fi spin were what grabbed my attention, but I enjoyed reading all six, and could hardly put the book down!

The Songbird’s Citadel and Beyond the Stars, Past the Moons were both a delightful blend of familiar fairy tale and science fiction fun. Honestly, if either story were continued in a series of novels, I’d be on the pre-order list!

A Heart’s Desire was another favorite. A unique take on Beauty and the Beast, I fell in love with the ending. (It’s a prequel, so in this case, I can read more of the story!) The Last Mrs. Bluebeard was just chilling enough to keep me turning pages without becoming too creepy.

To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Snow White. I am, however, a fan of Edged in Silver! The contemporary fantasy twist was fun, and I’m intrigued by the worldbuilding in such a short tale! The Nutcracker is another story that I was never particularly fond of, but A Spell’s End was wonderful and even though it was late, I had to stay up and finish it to find out how the story ended.

Short stories are a hard format to write in many ways, but all six of the Encircled authors did a lovely job fitting in character development and world building that made their stories shine. The lovely thing about anthologies like this is that you have a chance to try out new genres and authors, and add some more books to your reading list as a result! (Can you ever have too many books in your TBR stack? I don’t think so.)

Fans of fairy tales and speculative fiction alike won’t want to miss the Encircled anthology. The stories are short enough that you can enjoy one on your lunch break. Or, you can spend an evening reading through the whole collection because you can’t put it down! Either way, it’s a lovely collection and is releasing on April 16th!

When the Muse is Awake at 4AM…

Robert Frost is credited with the following quote: “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

I had thought my poetry writing days were firmly behind me. I found myself still awake at 4AM one morning this week, and writing poetry of all things! Initially, I wasn’t going to share it with anyone. There are times when I wish I could compose music because words alone don’t seem to say enough. I’ll never be a musician, so the closest I can get is poetry…

When the things your heart most needs,
Are turned against you —
Love weaponized —
Your heart breaks and finally bleeds.

When you crave the gentle brush of fingertips,
But hands caused hurts —
Love weaponized —
You cringe from the caress of loving lips.

When you desire words that fall like healing rain,
But they became a raging storm —
Love weaponized —
You can’t trust words that don’t inflict pain.

When the ones you should place trust in,
Betrayed in the worst way —
Love weaponized —
It’s harder than you’d think to ever trust again.

When the dearest things turned against you,
Have left you shattered —
Love weaponized —
The shards may cut the one who dares love true.

When all the broken glass is fused together,
And the pieces illuminated —
Love redeemed —
The world’s awash in brilliant color.

Thoughts for Tuesday, March 5th

Outside my windows… the giant pile of snow continues to grow. It has now covered nearly 3/4 of the window by my desk. Considering that the wind blew out one of the windows in this room last week, I’m hoping that no one finds me buried in an avalanche of snow while sitting at my desk.

Inside my house… The closed plastic container we are sprouting sunflower seeds in appears to have mold growing on the top of the soil. Opinions on what to do about it are divided. One thing is certain: our luck with plants has not improved.

Counting 1000 gifts… blue skies despite the cold temps and towering snowbanks.

Prayers of the heart… for loved ones traveling.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… some are studying, and others are playing a slightly modified game of Catan. LEGOs have come out and what looks like some kind of LEGO robot is standing on the board. I don’t know what the explanation is, but I’m sure it’s creative!

From my playlist… Faithfully by Journey because I’m on an 80s kick at the moment.

From my reading list… Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home by Becky Rapinchuk. My pre-order copy arrived today!

From my needlework basket… dishcloths using up the collected mountain of leftover cotton yarn from my Mom’s basket and mine. I probably can’t gift these ones since they use more than one color per dishcloth, but I don’t mind if the ones I use are colorful.

In the learning room… a few challenges last week, but I’ve yet to have a school year that didn’t include a few bumps along the way.

Random ramblings… So, while reading my new book about having a healthy home, I’ve discovered that the cleaners and personal care products that I thought were safe include ingredients that are not. I tried looking up safer alternatives, which is not as easy as you’d think, and then the price tag! Of course, I do realize that natural does not always mean safe. Arsenic, radium, and asbestos are natural, but that doesn’t mean I care to keep them around my house! It’s really, really hard to figure out what is “safe” to eat, clean with, wash your hands with, etc. I think my plan at this point is that when I run out of something, I’m going to see if I can find a better alternative that’s still affordable. (Sorry, I can’t spend $20 on an 8 oz. bottle of shampoo!) It gets a little trickier since I have to deal with skin sensitivity issues in our house, and I very quickly discovered that natural, organic, and all of those other labels doesn’t mean that someone can’t have a dramatic skin reaction after using the product. Anyone else find it exhausting trying to keep up with what’s safe and healthy?

Profound ponderings… “This world will have you believe so many lies about yourself. But the truth of who you are has already been spoken about you by your creator — you are beautiful, you are valuable, and you are loved.” — Sally Clarkson

Caught on film…

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My kids know me well! 😉

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Behind Closed Doors

10 years ago, my mom passed away in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Mom was one of those people who you couldn’t help but love because she had so much love and compassion for others. She had a faith that I can only aspire to. If you needed someone to pray for you, she’s the one you’d ask. Her sense of humor was something else, and her laugh was positively infectious. She was a strong woman, and had a stubborn streak that seems to be rather genetic. Mom was also in an abusive relationship.

I came across a book in this past year: Healing From Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas. I picked it up because it’s one of the rare resources I’ve found written by a Christian that deals with the aftermath of psychological abuse. I had to keep putting the book down and walking away because things the author mentioned were exactly the sort of things I saw play out in my mom’s relationship. I’d feel sick to my stomach and wonder, “How could I not see this for what it was before now?”

I was one of those foolish people who used to say things like, “Why don’t they just leave?” or, “Why don’t they just cut ties with them?” when hearing about someone in an abusive relationship. It’s funny the things that you get used to, the things you can explain away, and the behavior you make excuses for when you’re in the middle of it. The irony is, while I was judging all of those people who insisted on maintaining a relationship with someone who was mistreating them horribly, I couldn’t see the truth of my mom’s relationship, or the abusive one I spent decades in. Actually, it wasn’t until after the abuser cut ties with me a few years back that I started to see things clearly.

When someone asked me, “Why didn’t you, your mom, or your sister say anything?” I struggled to explain. The short answer is: I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with what was going on. When you grow up in a certain environment, you just think it’s normal. But it’s more complicated than that. I was afraid to say anything because I’d been conditioned to be afraid of saying anything. I felt too embarrassed and ashamed to speak up. I believed that it was my fault — that it wasn’t really abuse, and so I felt guilty for being upset and angry about it. I know that all of this sounds crazy from the perspective of normal, healthy relationships, but psychological abuse is insidious. The stuff you end up believing is crazy, and on some level you know it’s crazy, but you can’t shake that deep belief that all of those lies are true.

So why write about any of this? I can’t change what my mom went through. I can’t change what I went through. Why say anything?

First, because I want to tell people that sometimes the person being abused does not fit any of the stereotypes. Sometimes it’s the strong, independent, outgoing person who’s being abused. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and those closed doors are in every neighborhood and demographic. Sometimes the abuser is the person who’s in some sort of church leadership position. The kind of person who fills in when the pastor is on vacation and leads Bible studies. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Appearances can be very deceiving, and abusers can be very good at projecting a good front. The scary part is how good they are at getting the people they are abusing to help them put up a good front. We can’t assume because everything looks OK on the outside, that everything is OK.

Second, because telling our stories is a powerful thing. I’ve heard some truly awful stories, but sometimes those stories had remarkable things that came after all of the awful. Stories where people not only survived the abuse and survived getting out of the relationship, but stories of people who are healthier, stronger, and have a deeper faith than ever. It can take a really, really long time — many years — but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Those stories give me something to hold onto, something to look forward to.

I can’t change Mom’s story or my own and edit out the ugly parts, much as I might wish to. What I can do, is hold tight to my faith just like she did. By the grace of God, I’m going to get to the other side of this, even if it takes years.

Note: If you’re in an abusive relationship, or are dealing with the aftermath of one, please take care of yourself and stay safe. If you need to make arrangements for your own safety, or seek professional help for your mental and physical health, then please do get the help that you need.

Thoughts for Tuesday, February 26th

Outside my windows… There’s actually so much snow that I can’t see out the window by my desk.

Inside my house… the daffodils that I picked up last week are wilting a bit. I’m already feeling anxious for spring to come and the flowers in my yard to bloom again.

Counting 1000 gifts… hot tea because it’s been so cold and windy outside.

Prayers of the heart… for an extra portion of grace this week. I always miss Mom even more than usual this time of year.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… some are studying, and the others are playing a game. Re-organizing the shelf that holds board games and card games made them anxious to play some of their favorites.

From my playlist… “Blessed Assurance”

From my reading list… Placemaker by Christie Purifoy. There will be a review coming, so keep an eye out!

From my needlework basket… I’ve been alternating between working on a teal sweater and a pair of socks, depending on the yarn and needle size I feel like working with.

In the learning room… our 2019-2020 planners arrived! The kids and I love to see the new planner designs, and we’re already looking forward to using them come July.

Random ramblings… Mom would have been 64 today. Sunday will mark 10 years since she passed. So much has changed in the past 10 years — and I can’t say that I’d want to go back to the everything exactly the way it used to be. Not all change is a bad thing, and there have been some good changes. There are a few things I miss, and coffee with my mom is one of them I guess I always will.

Profound ponderings… “There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Caught on film…

Is Routine Maintenance Really Necessary?

Self-care is a trending thing. Just check Instagram. There’s something of a counter to that in the soul-care trend going around in certain Christian circles. In any case, there are widely varying opinions on the whole idea.

I look at it like car maintenance. I’ve gotta change the oil routinely or my engine will eventually be toast. Getting a new set of tires is an expensive must-do, but I’m not going very far on treadless tires. If I don’t replace worn out breaks, I’m not going to be able to stop when I need to. Windshield wipers don’t last forever, and I have to buy new ones from time to time if I want to see well enough to drive safely in bad weather.

It’s not just our cars either. Homes need maintaining. Businesses need tending. Everything in life requires some kind of upkeep, including you.

The Christian response to the self-care craze has been to dub it soul-care and shroud it in spirituality. Part of caring for yourself does include caring for your soul, but we’re not just our soul. To disregard physical and mental health in favor of focusing only on the soul skates a bit too close to Gnosticism for my comfort.

Self care gets something of a bad rap because the stuff that gets tagged on social media tends to be things like manicures, expensive coffee, new clothes, and the like. The reason behind that is because a photo of a multivitamin, or someone having their teeth cleaned isn’t quite as aesthetic! There are definitely days when taking care of myself means getting out the good tea and brewing a cup to get me through a particularly long afternoon. (Sometimes it even includes breaking out the chocolate stash.) Self care is buying and armful of greek yogurt at the grocery store because it’s the only way I can consistently make sure I eat breakfast. It’s keeping a bottle of vitamins on my desk so I don’t forget to take one in the morning. It’s making time to read and learn new things to exercise my mind. It’s journaling my prayers to grow spiritually and keep my mental health in a good place. It’s doing stretches and sitting on a yoga ball to keep my back, joints, and muscles working better. It’s clearing off my desk on Friday so that I don’t forget to do important things. At it’s core, self care is stewarding the body, mind, and soul that you’ve been given to the best of your abilities.

How many times have you heard of someone who neglected their own health until it deteriorated to the point where they have no choice but to make changes? It absolutely happens. I’ve landed myself in the ER because I didn’t pay enough attention to my health. I know of women who’ve done the same thing and ended up with something far worse than an inconvenient ER visit. There’s nothing holy or spiritual about neglecting ourselves to the point of harm.

Instead of denouncing self-care as inherently selfish, or trying to spiritualize it by calling it soul-care, maybe we can focus on modeling a healthy level of taking care of ourselves for our kids. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our daughters never had to feel guilty about doing the things they need to do to stay healthy in every way?

Thoughts for Tuesday, February 5th

Outside my windows… it was crazy-warm today at over 50 degrees! We had to keep reminding ourselves that this does not mean that winter is even close to over.

Inside my house… I gave in an used bleach to clean my dishwasher. I’ve tried every dishwasher cleaner out there, and every DIY trick suggested by Google. No amount of citric acid, vinegar, or baking soda cleans my dishwasher, but bleach works every time. Much as I dislike bleach, it’s the only think that works for that application.

Counting 1000 gifts… the opportunity to write.

Prayers of the heart… thankful for safety when traveling.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… Munchkin made spaghetti for dinner, which has become sort of her specialty. Her brothers all approve, and I’m thankful to have extra help when it comes to making meals!

From my playlist… Chlorine by Twenty-One Pilots. Yeah, I have pretty weird, eclectic music tastes.

From my reading list… Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner.

From my needlework basket… I’m working on a couple of sweater projects. One is for me, and one may be for someone else…

In the learning room… Little Guy has been practicing reading to me from one of his Frog and Toad books. I remember reading them when I was his age. Camo borrowed my copy of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel a few nights ago. Yes, it’s absolutely my book, and I bought it long before I had kids because it’s still my favorite kids book of all time. I love Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne!

Random ramblings… Are you telling me that with all of the short story ideas I have percolating, that none of them feature a hero that saves the day? How did this happen, and how fast can I come up with an idea and write it up for submission?

Profound ponderings… “I’ve been tested like the ends of a weathered flag that’s by the sea.” — From Chlorine by Twenty-One Pilots

Caught on film…

Book Review: 30 Days to Understanding the Bible

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

30 Days to Understanding the Bible by Max Anders caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, I liked the idea of brushing up some of the basics that I’ve learned over the years in a way that put the bits and pieces together into a well-ordered overview. Second, I thought this could be a great resource to use with some of my older kids in their studies.

30 Days to Understanding the Bible is part book, and part workbook. I’m not typically one who writes in books very often, but this is one book where you really should do the exercises and the self test at the end of each chapter. Because of this, if you’re using the book as part of a group study or homeschool class, you’ll ideally need a separate book for every participant. (I preferred FriXion pens for the exercises because they are erasable and didn’t bleed through the pages.)

The chapters are short, and you really can go through them in about 15 minutes on your own. If you’re going through the chapter as part of a group though, there’s easily enough material to discuss in a chapter to make a longer session though! In addition to the 30 chapters, there is a section with extra information, teaching helps, and several bonus chapters. (The one comparing the four gospels is interesting!)

Starting out with a list of the books of the Bible and what genres they can be grouped into, 30 Days to Understanding the Bible truly does start with basics and build from there. Even though I’d memorized the books of the Bible and knew the key events and people of the different time periods, I appreciated seeing those things brought together in this manner. I’m also glad that he included geography as part of the book. It’s never been my strongest suit, and going through it in this book finally gave me a better grasp of exactly where things happened.

Whether you’re completely unfamiliar with the basics of the Bible, or you’ve been in Sunday School all of your life, 30 Days to Understanding the Bible is worth going through. I definitely plan to add it to our curriculum plan for homeschooling!

Thoughts for Tuesday, January 15th

Outside my windows… it’s crazy-cold, but that means that the night sky has been spectacular these past few nights.

Inside my house… I’ve started sifting through books and packing some to give away. I know, that sounds crazy for someone who adores books as much as I do! But, there are some books that I enjoyed, or helped me at one time, but I don’t need them any longer. I’d rather pass them along to someone who would read them than let them sit on my shelves never to be picked up again.

Counting 1000 gifts… sunshine on the snow. It may be bitterly cold, but it’s still a pretty view.

Prayers of the heart… for upcoming work stuff and good decisions.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… There’s a mix of art projects and trying out a new game that Grandma sent home for them to borrow for a bit!

From my playlist… The main theme to “The Right Stuff” is my track of choice right now because even if you’re just writing a blog post, you still need an epic soundtrack.

From my reading list… Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher. I just finished it and I don’t think I’ve ever highlighted so much of a book in my life. I may have just finished reading it, but I’m reading through it again because it was that good.

From my needlework basket… socks for me, because I only knit for myself at the beginning of the year!

In the learning room… Getting back into our post-holiday routine has been good, and challenging, but maybe more challenging for me than for the kiddos!

Random ramblings… I have some baggage, and I’ve said more than once that Aaron (my IT Staff!) is practically a saint for all he’s put up with and for helping me unpack so much of that baggage. In spite of everything, I have a family I adore, and a home that’s a place where I feel safe. I don’t think think I realize how much of a treasure that is nearly as often as I should.

Profound ponderings… “And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.” — J.R.R. Tolkien (Still think this is the most romantic line I’ve ever read, about my favorite literary couple ever.)

Caught on film…

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Mr. Q learning the secret family bisquit recipe!

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Thoughts for Tuesday, January 8th

Outside my windows… it’s been snowing again today. It’s dark but still snowing, so I don’t know how much has accumulated so far.

Inside my house… my waterbed sprung a leak today. It’s not as bad as it sounds. No sudden tidal wave or anything like that. Just enough work to be a bit of a frustration. At least Amazon offers one day shipping options.

Counting 1000 gifts… online ordering and overnight shipping!

Prayers of the heart… for folks going through tough times, and for my own still-sore back.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… they are working on some perler bead projects. They’ve all been such a huge help while my back is healing, and I’m so thankful for their good attitudes towards helping out!

From my playlist… I’m not listening to music at the moment. Can you believe that?!

From my reading list… I have been listening to an audiobook after the kiddos go to bed though. The Magic Art of Tidying Up. I listened to it first a few years back and go through part of my paring down when life happened. With the kids help, I’ve gone through my clothes, and my IT staff’s and pared those down a bit, though neither of us had a huge amount of clothes to begin with. Some of the stuff in the book is a bit out there, but it is the book that made me finally understand that Mom wouldn’t want me to hold onto stuff that was hers that I didn’t like or use just because it was hers. That was a tremendous shift in how I was thinking about the things I kept!

From my needlework basket… switching off between socks, a sweater, and a shawl. All of them are things I’m knitting for myself. After all of the gift knitting during the last part of the year, I usually start off the new year working on projects that I can wear.

In the learning room… It was back to school last week, and the kids did really well getting back into the groove. It’s sort of nice to be back to a regular routine.

Random ramblings… There’s a cool app for my tablet called ISS HD Live. I’m mesmerized by the live video of Earth as seen from the ISS, and always sad when I check the app and there’s no live stream up at the moment. It’s so beautiful and peaceful to watch. Maybe sometimes we just need a bit of distance from the up close of our daily lives to realize just how good God’s creation is.

Profound ponderings… “There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Caught on film…

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Mr. Q learning the secret family bisquit recipe!

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