Friday, July 29, 2022

Book Review: Joanie, by Elizabeth Deveau

I always love when I can claim this bias:

I'm friends with this author!

Is there anything more thrilling (and more stressful!)
that being able to review a friend's art?

Gerald and I met Elizabeth Deveau at our first GMA Canada event in Ontario (Gospel Music Association of Canada - the folks who give out the Covenant Awards). Over the years, we've kept in touch, and followed her passionate and prolific music ministry.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth shared that she'd been working on a biography of her mother, Joan. She asked if I could read the book and provide a review.

I jumped at the chance, but yes, there is definitely added stress when you review a friend's work! I've done it a few times over the years. It's both a tremendous honour and responsibility. I know how much time and heart goes into creating art, and I never want to take that effort for granted.

Joanie tells the story of a young girl growing up in troubled times. Joan Crabb and her siblings experience a tumultuous childhood, worthy of any dramatic film script. When Joan is only 6-years-old, the children unexpectedly find themselves living in the orphanage of their home province of Nova Scotia. After several troubled years, they're adopted by a loving couple, only to be ripped away from them years later by the birth-father they barely know.

But Joanie isn't just the story of a troubled childhood.
It's the story of a life redeemed, and the deep love that can grow from a broken heart. 

Joanie is also a love letter. The book is rich with details of Joan's entire life, which must have taken countless hours to collect. As I read, I often imagined Elizabeth sitting with her mother, hearing the stories of her past, and lovingly transcribing them for the ages. 

Reading the comments on the book's Facebook page,
it's clear that Joan had a tremendous impact on her family and her community.
I know this book will be well received, and will celebrate Joan's legacy of love!

You can find out more about Joanie at

www.facebook.com/JoanieBook 


A complimentary e-copy of this book was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Book Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

I'll admit, the title and cover of this book 
completely pulled me in,
but what I found inside was so worth discovering:

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip
by Sara Brunsvold
might be one of the most special books
I'll read this year.  

Aidyn Kelly is a young, ambitious reporter looking for her big break. In her enthusiasm, she steps on some toes and is relegated to the menial assignment of interviewing a dying woman and writing her obituary.

But Mrs. Kip is no ordinary woman. Behind her failing body and witty sarcasm beats the heart of spiritual warrior, carrying a story for the ages. This is a woman who's experienced grief, and learned the power of sacrificial love.

I don't want to reveal too much about this book, because I think it's one that really benefits from its own gentle reveal. Like last year's The Nature of Small Birds, it's a book that's driven by character, story, moments, and relationships.

In sharing Mrs. Kip's fictional story, we also delve into a piece of real history. Again, I love the power of historical fiction to shine light on the hidden and lost stories of our past. Strangely enough, it's a story that is still current today.


I highly recommend The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip!

I think it would be a particularly lovely selection for a book club,
especially one open to faith-based discussions.


And, look at all the neat bonus opportunities that come with this book:


Baker Book House is offering a FREE ONLINE AUTHOR'S NIGHT with Sara this Thursday!

You can sign up here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-author-night-with-sara-brunsvold-tickets-374258125127

UPDATE: The video for this event is now on the Baker Book House Facebook page.


Signing up for Sara's newsletter gets you some free gifts,
and she even has a neat trailer for the book. 

You can find out more at:

www.SaraBrunsvold.com 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Book Review: When The Day Comes, by Gabrielle Meyer

This is going to be a different kind of review for me.
I've got a bit of a hot take on this book, 
and I've genuinely struggled with how to write this.
Okay, here we go...


When The Day Comes by Gabrielle Meyer 
is a fun blend of historical fiction, romance, 
and time travel science fiction.

Libby is a "time crosser." She was born on the same day in two completely separate locations and eras. From birth til her 21st birthday, she exists in both 1774 Colonial Williamsburg and 1914 Gilded Age New York City. When she falls asleep in one life, she wakes up in the other without any time passing. When she reaches 21, she can choose one path for the rest of her life, but choosing one means forfeiting the other path forever. 

There is so much that I love about this book! The story is so creative, and Libby is a wonderful heroine and guide to the novel's unique world. I loved all the characters, settings, and relationships. 

I haven't read much about Colonial Williamsburg, so that was a really fun journey. That said, I know a fair bit about the Gilded Age New York, and that felt both familiar and exciting.

The storyline kept me guessing with some really smart twists, and the ending was beautifully written.


But here's my struggle, and full warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Seriously - if you haven't read the book - STOP NOW!!!

Also, full disclosure, we're about to discuss some difficult trigger topics.

(Whew, dramatic!)

Warnings done. Here we go...


I would love to wholeheartedly recommend this book, save for one important matter. In her Gilded Age life, Libby is forced into an arranged marriage (not uncommon for the era and her status). Libby is raped not once, but twice by her new husband. They have no incidents of consensual intercourse in their marriage. The second rape results in a pregnancy. 

I'm not offended by the subject of marital rape in a novel. What offends me is how it's handled.

In the historical context, marital rape was legal. In the novel, her husband blames his "bad behaviour" on drunkenness, which historically, would also have been accepted as an excuse.

I always want my historical fiction to be in a proper historical context, but here's where I struggled:

First, as her husband writes her "kind" letters, we see Libby second-guessing her own feelings about the rape and her future with this man. At one point, she actually asks "Reggie's letter made me wonder if he would be a good father. Could we find a way to move part the tragic way our marriage started?" Again, she's asking this about her two-time rapist. In other sections, Scripture is used in a disturbing way to justify her choices.

Second, it's hard to stomach this thinking within the context of the novel because of Libby's mom. Also a time crosser, she spent the first part of her life living in 1990's America. This shapes her as a parent, and there are many references to Libby being raised with modern, feminist values. Why on earth would she never say to her daughter, "This is wrong. In the future, it'll be illegal, but you can still make different choices now."


I've read several discussions about this book online.
Some people don't seemed phased by the rapes or Libby's reaction.
Others hated the plot choice entirely. 

I guess the good thing is that it's encouraging dialogue about a difficult topic,
and that's the sign of good art.

But because of the way it's handled, I just can't recommend the book.



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Book Review: The Master Craftsman, by Kelli Stuart


Historical fiction, Faberge Eggs, and a treasure hunt?

Sign me up!

With that description, I was so excited to receive my copy of
The Master Craftsman
by Kelli Stuart. 


The Master Craftsman features a smart interweaving of historical and modern timelines that's popular in historical novels right now.

The historical side of our tale bring us to Russia in the early 1900's. Karl Faberge is at the peak of his success, crafting his iconic Faberge Eggs for the Tsar of Russia. 


We meet Alma Pihl. In real life, Alma was first woman to become a "Master Craftsman" in the Faberge studio. She started as an apprentice, graduated to making jewellery, and eventually designed two of the Faberge Eggs. I've included a photo of my favourite design on this page.


Real life Alma Pihl. SOURCE
If you have any interest in the Faberge Eggs at all, you'll want to keep Google close at hand while reading this book! Kelli describes each egg beautifully, but to truly appreciate their exquisite creativity, you'll want to see photos. 

Even though Karl Faberge is at the peak of his success, Russia is changing swiftly. Our timeline takes us through rebellion and political upheaval in the streets of St. Petersburg. In a moment of crisis and desperation, Karl entrusts Alma with his most precious creation - a final, secret Faberge Egg.

Decades later, treasure hunter, Nick Laine has become obsessed with the mysterious egg. As he faces his final days with cancer, he reaches out to his estranged daughter, Ava, to help him find the missing piece of Faberge history.


Alma's "The Mosaic Egg and Surprise" SOURCE
I don't always read other people's reviews before reading my own, but for some reason I did with this one. It was curious reading the other responses. Some people loved the historical storyline, and dismissed the modern one as far-fetched. Others found the historical parts were filled with too much description, but loved the fast-paced treasure hunt.

The two storylines are very different, but to me, those differences are part of the strength of the novel. As a creator myself, I really loved all the details of the eggs, the jewellery, and the studio. The historical chapters felt rich and full. In contrast, the treasure hunt was fast paced, with the right amount of heightened drama and humour.


I really enjoyed The Master Craftsman,
and I can't wait to read more of Kelli's beautiful books!

You can find out more about Kelli and her writing at 
www.KelliStuart.com 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: The Souls of Lost Lake, by Jaime Jo Wright



If you've been looking for your next spooky summer read, I've got it right here!

I was first introduced to the writing of Jaime Jo Wright last year when I reviewed On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor 

I was completely shocked to find out there was such a thing as a Christian Fiction author who loved mysteries, ghost stories, and all things Gothic.

Having a Christian writer compose stories about fear and death might seem antithetical to some people, but you know, as Christians, we have a unique relationship to fear and death. At the end of this review, I've included a screenshot from Jaime Jo's spring newsletter that sums up her approach to writing in a really beautiful way.

Jaime Jo is an exquisite writer and an incredible storyteller,
so I was completely excited to receive a copy of her latest tale: 
The Souls of Lost Lake


Our story spans two time periods, with both set in the Northwoods, surrounding infamous Lost Lake.

Ava Coons is but a child in 1920 when she appears in town, covered in blood. Her recluse family is missing, presumed dead. When we meet Ava as a young woman, she is still haunted by the mysterious ghosts of unsolved murders and missing memories.

Wren Blythe, our modern day heroine, has loved growing up on the campgrounds of the Northwoods. But when a little girl goes missing, past and present collide to stir up campfire stories and rumours. Is a still-vengeful Ava Coons roaming the woods? Where is the missing girl, and why does Wren's name start to appear in creepy places?

The only way to read a campfire ghost story...
Honestly, I couldn't put this down! It's scary enough to be fun, but not so dark as to delve into horror. 

(That said, I'm easily scared, so when I read this at night, I made sure I had a funny story to read right before falling asleep!)

Jaime Jo's writing is truly beautiful, delving into near-poetry at times. Each timeline was distinct, capturing the unique flavour and behaviours of the day. And the characters and storyline were fantastic! I hate being able to see the ending, and this kept me guessing til the final twist.


I highly recommend The Souls of Lost Lake for your summer read!

Jaime Jo has a great newsletter, a fun Facebook community, podcasts,
and lots of great mentoring tools for writers. 

You can find her online at
www.JaimeWrightBooks.com

Screenshot from Jaime Jo's most recent newsletter.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

A Queen, a Priest, and a Ghost Walk Into a Church ... - GUEST POST!

 

Please welcome my dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, as today's guest blogger!

This post is inspired by his Pentecost sermon. You can watch it live HERE.

HAPPY PENTECOST!

Screenshot of Rev. Hollis Hiscock in action...


A Queen, a Priest and a Ghost walk into a church on a Sunday morning ...

 I know you're waiting for the punchline.


Today, the message of the homily is the punchline:

The Queen is Elizabeth …. The Priest is Hollis … the Ghost is Holy.


How are they connected with Pentecost?
 And what is their message to us in the year 2022?

The three go to the front of the church and take turns speaking ...


THE QUEEN

Queen Elizabeth goes to a table, picks up a plate, and shows it to the people sitting in the church. The plate is a souvenir of her coronation which happened on June 2, 1953.

She explains that she wants to take people back to the previous year. In 1952, when she gave her first Christmas message as Queen, she asked people that “whatever your religion may be, (I ask you) to pray for me on that day (her coronation)—to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”

After all the ups and downs in the ensuing 68 years as Queen, in her 2020 Christmas message, she spoke about the festive mood created by Christmas lights - how lights bring hope, and how Jesus Christ is “the light of the world”.

She went on to say that “the teachings of Christ have served as my inner light”, and that we should “let the light of Christmas, the spirit of selflessness, love, and above all hope, guide us in the times ahead”.


PRIEST HOLLIS

After the Queen sits down, the Priest picks up a Bible and shows it to the people.

He says it was given to him on June 13, 1965, when he was ordained to “the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God”. He explains why it looks rather unused: the King James Bible was the only version available for hundreds of years, but after 1965 there was an explosion of Bible translations. Today, portions of the Bible are available in nearly 3,500 languages.

Like the Queen, he wants to take people back to the winter of 1964: "Four of us were preparing to be ordained. We met for 2-3 hours with the Archdeacon, and I was so upset after the meeting that I went back to my room and documented my feelings." 

He shows a letter outlining why he was upset, disillusioned, and wondering if he wanted to be a Priest, after he observed the behaviour and heard the words of the Church authorities. 

After struggling through questions, like “do I preach the Gospel of Jesus or be restricted by the whims of fallible beings?” and “whom do we serve - God or church hierarchy?”, he concluded that “my firm conviction in God kept my hopes for the ordination to the Priesthood alive”.

“I have carried the copy with me ever since and when things were not going well for me in my ministry work, I reread it for guidance. My firm conviction in God kept me going”.

Hollis goes on to share:

In 2004, on my 40th anniversary of ordination, I said in a sermon, “I am still sane and have kept my faith in God”.

On my 50th anniversary, I wrote, “God is still around and promises to meet us - at all times, in all places and under all circumstances”.


HOLY GHOST

When the Priest sits down, the Holy Ghost picks up a red candle, and says:

“I was there at the first Pentecost” (Acts 2:1-21).

The followers of Jesus were a sorry lot. After waiting for 40 days (not really knowing why) they were disillusioned, bored, complaining, and ready to give it all up.

But when God’s mighty wind entered the house, they opened their eyes, and when they felt God’s 'tongues of fire' touching their heads they stood up, and when they were 'filled with the Holy Ghost' they were ready to act … and they did.

First, they told the people nearby about God’s love. 

Then, they spread it across countries and down through the ages. 

One day, God’s spirit touched you and you began to follow God. I was there then and with you ever since, like I was with the Queen and the Priest." 


This brings us to today, a time to renew our faith in God:

 - Light a candle or visualize a lighted candle in your church.

- Feel God’s spirit waking or renewing your faith.

- Feel God’s fire bringing new life and energy to you.

- Feel yourself being filled with God’s spirit.

- Remember the Queen’s words, “Jesus is the light of the world”.

- Remember the Priest’s words, “wherever we go, God is there waiting for us”.

- Remember God’s (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) promise, “I am with you always”.

- Repeat, repeat, repeat...


Happy Pentecost!
May God's light shine brightly in your heart, today and always...


*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     


Want even more Pentecost inspiration?

Please enjoy our first episode of Breaking Light Broadcasting:

Pentecost - A Musical Celebration



Saturday, April 23, 2022

Book Review: "God, Take Action", by Janis Cox

 

There's something so special about combining prayer and worship with visual art. I love attending a worship service where someone paints during the music, or reading a book of prayers with beautiful artwork.


That's why I was so excited when Janis Cox asked me to review her latest book:

"God, Take Action"
- Visual Inspirations for Prayer


In full disclosure, I don't know Janis personally, but we've "met" through InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship. She's an incredibly prolific writer and creator based out of Ontario.


"God, Take Action" was inspired by a 30-day Facebook prayer challenge. On the second to last day of the study, Janis was inspired to pick up her paint brush and add art to her prayer journey. One month later, Janis joined International Justice Mission Canada in a fundraising effort that also involved praying and painting. From this 2-month journey, "God, Take Action" was born.

Along the way, Janis also partnered with The Joy Smith Foundation in fighting human trafficking.
This extraordinary group has endorsed "God, Take Action." 

The format of the book is simple: Each of the 30 entries opens with one of Janis's bright and inspiring paintings. Next, we're given a verse of Scripture, followed by a prayer. Finally, we're given a "prayer focus" for our own private prayer time. The book itself ends with a helpful list of resources.

The prayers could be for anyone who is suffering, but Janis's heart for those who are trafficked and abused comes through in every line. More than once, I was reminded of the classic prayer, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours." In her generosity, Janis asks us to pray for people on all sides of the abuse spectrum, including vulnerable children, fragile families, and women in shelters, without every forgetting the more complex prayers for churches, perpetrators, and those in law enforcement. 

"God, Take Action" has such a heart for the vulnerable in our world! I can see this being a powerful, personal devotional for any season of the year. Likewise, its entries are brief enough that they could be used as the opening prayers in your weekly small group meeting. 

I read this as an e-book, but for those of us who like to make art ourselves, stay tuned:
Janis is also creating a colouring book of the same title!


Please check out all of Janis's beautiful creations at:

www.JanisCox.com

Screenshot from Janis's website.


This book was provided to me in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Book Review: Until Leaves Fall In Paris, by Sarah Sundin


Paris in WWII seems to be an obsession with so many authors!

And it's easy to see why:
one of the most romanticized cities in the world, under siege. 

Art, war, romance, danger -
the dramatic possibilities are endless!


Until Leaves Fall In Paris opens in the rehearsal room for the Paris Opera Ballet - yes, the same one made famous by both the paintings of Degas and the novel and musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

On the cusp of the Nazi invasion of Paris, American ballerina Lucie Girard leaves the stage to buy and run her favourite bookstore, thus allowing her Jewish friends to escape Paris. 

American car manufacturer and recent widower, Paul Aubrey, wants to escape Paris, too, but the US Army convinces him to stay in business and feed them information about his German customers.

Each, in their own way, starts to find their path in the Resistance.

War is a time for secrets, so when Paul and Lucie meet, they don't know what to make of each other. But there's a connection they can't resist. And that's where our story starts to unfold...


As I mentioned off the top, there's a lot of competition for Paris-in-WWII books these days! Until Leaves Fall In Paris is a completely lovely book. Where it falls on the spectrum of similar novels will depend on your personal literary preferences. It's not as dangerous as some of the other books I've read about this era, but that might make it the perfect book for you!

Some of Sarah's writing is truly beautiful, and I especially found myself loving and underlining the passages about the dark and light green leaves (trust me, you'll know that part when you get to it!)

My favourite scenes involved the comings and goings at the bookstore. As I was reading it, something felt very familiar. Then, I read Sarah's wonderful note at the end of the book, where she recognizes the "real life" characters in the novel.

Lucie and the bookstore are inspired by real-life bookstore owner, Sylvia Beach and the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. Sylvia is a "character" in Ernest Hemingway's beautiful Parisian memoir: A Moveable Feast! I love it when books I've read overlap!

Until Leaves Falls In Paris also comes with a set of Discussion Questions, as well as a preview chapter of Sarah's upcoming novel.


Sarah's website has lots of great info about WWII,
including a special collection of blogposts when you sign up for her mailing list.

www.SarahSundin.com


Screenshot from Sarah's website


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Book Review: Shaped by the Waves, by Christina Suzann Nelson


Is anyone else a sucker for books set by the sea?


As a girl who grew up by the ocean,
I was captured by the title of Shaped by the Waves,
and hooked from the first chapter.


Cassie is a young single mom, struggling to complete her doctorate, raise her energetic little girl, Lark, and, quite frankly, find a way to leave her broken past. She left her small seaside town in Oregon for a fresh start in California, but a single phone changes everything. Shasta, the aunt who raised her, is facing a desperate health crisis, and Cassie realizes it's time to go home and face her past.


Cassie arrives home and begins to care for Shasta, but before long, a mysterious package arrives. It's filled with anonymously written pages telling the story of a woman's life, marriage, and child. But who sent it? And what does this have to do with Cassie?

When I first started Shaped by the Waves, I assumed it would be a straightforward telling of "There's no place like home", but the anonymously written confession really takes this story in a whole new direction. I found myself completely sucked in by the woman's story, the mystery of who sent it, and how it all tied into the main storyline.

There's so much to love about this book! The characters and setting are all beautifully fleshed out, with relationships that are both realistic and inspirational. The issue of faith is treated with a delicate hand - present, but never preachy. 

Oh, it's so clear that Christina Suzann Nelson looooves coffee! One of the central settings is the family cafe. The descriptions of making, smelling, and tasting cappuccinos and lattes sent me downstairs to my own machine more than once! And let me tell you, if I ever discover Christina actually hates coffee, I'll be even more impressed with her writing skills! 


With summer coming up, Shaped by the Waves 
will be a great addition to your seaside reading list!

You can learn more about Christina's books, blog, and social media at

www.ChristinaSuzannNelson.com 



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Book Review: Sheltering Mercy, by Ryan Whitaker Smith & Dan Wilt


It's rare for me to review a book before I've finished reading it,
but this is not a book to be rushed.

Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired By The Psalms
is something special, something unique.


I met Dan Wilt many years ago when he taught worship leading workshops at Break Forth in Edmonton. I was impressed by his leadership skills, but also by his true heart for ministry.

Sheltering Mercy is a collection of "prayerful responses" to the psalms. 

They're prayers that read like poetry.
Poetry that feel like psalms.


It's a bit hard to describe the experience of this book. It starts with the physical presentation - a solid hardcover book with a classic, tactile cover. Open the pages to discover gracefully laid out text, interspersed with woodcut-style images. 

Each of the 75 prayers was inspired by one of the first 75 psalms. They're numbered, and also have Scripture references, but don't expect new translations of each psalm. These are like improvisations, starting from a key verse, and branching out into new words, new cries, new praises. The writing is lyrical, with gorgeous turns of phrase and poetic images.

I've taken to reading a prayer a day, before I begin my own writing practice. I know some readers who are using it as their Lenten devotional. Others are reading the psalm from the Bible, followed by the prayer from the book. One reader said that, inspired by the artwork, she's using her pencil crayons to doodle, colour, and journal as she reads. 

However you enjoy Sheltering Mercy, it will be a blessing to your devotional life!


This beautiful video gives you the prayer inspired by Psalm 1, 
read by Dan Wilt, with music by Michael W. Smith. 
Enjoy...


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Guest Post: Getting UltraReal by Martha Tartanic

Welcome to a very special Goal Setting Fridays!!!

Today, I'm excited to introduce you to 
my dear friend


Be sure to read her fabulous bio at the end of this post,
and I also invite you to check out the
Book Review I wrote of her first book
- The Living Diet -
HERE.

Please welcome Martha,
and enjoy her inspiring post!


GETTING ULTRAREAL

By Martha Tatarnic



I am not naturally athletic.  I’m the kid who was picked last for every sports team in gym class growing up.  One of the happiest days of my high school career was when I graduated Grade 9 gym and never had to struggle through another class being graded on various forms of hand-eye coordination, running, jumping and throwing.


Nobody has been more surprised than I to find myself as a runner in my adult life.  Running has now been a consistent part of my life for the better part of two decades, and I have embraced long distance running in the last ten years.  In 2021, I trained for and ran my first marathon.  I enjoyed it so much that I’m training for another one now.  


Running is stress relief, it is prayer. 
It is the space I need in order to be able to reflect, rather than just react,
to the circumstances of my life.  
When I make room for running,
I seem to have room for all of the other family, church, work,
community commitments that I also have on my plate.


I know all of these things about running.  I know why I do it and why I love it.  And still, every time that I go out, putting foot to pavement, I can feel my mind rebel against the exercise.  Sometimes, when I am pushing myself to be faster or to run longer, my body starts to rebel too.  But mostly - and this sounds somewhat counter-intuitive - running is a mind game.  

Training for a marathon involves a regimented schedule for slowly building up my weekly mileage, as well as inching my long-run mileage closer and closer to the 42km mark needed to complete a marathon.  Each day that I head out to tackle my planned mileage, I have to fight the monkey on my shoulder nattering in my ear about the cramping I am sure I can feel in my side, the impossibility of the miles stretching out in front of me, the labour of breathing that already threatens to derail my plans, and the sure and certain feeling that I have to pee, even though I went just before leaving the house.  I worry that it’s too hot or too cold or too windy or too slippery; I don’t believe that I can complete the assignment in front of me.


Ultrarealism* is a powerful technique from the realm of endurance sports,
and it has been a game changer for me - as a runner, and also as a person. 

It is the practice of seeing, accepting, and embracing the actual circumstances in which you find yourself.
It is about responding to the moment in front of you rather than the moment you worry might be coming
or which circumstances you wished were different. 

When people talk about positive thinking, I instantly lose interest.
Ultrarealism, however, isn’t about training the mind
to squeeze reality through the frames of any sort of rose coloured glasses.
It’s about getting real. 


It is easy as a runner to expend large amounts of energy and anxiety worrying about what might happen or wishing that things could be different from what they are when you have twenty, thirty or forty kilometers stretch in front of you. If we instead train our minds to focus on what is actually happening and how we really feel, then a new sort of freedom opens up. 


I might get freaked out about how my breathing is uneven. I might feel despair about the spitting rain outside and how slowly the first kilometer seems to have gone when I still have twenty-nine to go. But while these things about breathing and rain and mileage might be true, I can choose to note that my leg muscles feel strong, the rain is refreshing, and I have the great privilege of being able to run. I am not just not dying; I am not just safe and okay. I am running and it feels good. 


“I’m doing it!” my friend Sarah uses as her power statement. It’s an ultrareal power statement. It’s not the power of positive thinking. It’s a statement of fact. For all of the worry or uncertainty or reluctance that we might feel about putting on our shoes and tackling some mileage, here we actually can find ourselves - out running. We are out here. And we are doing this.


The benefits of ultrarealism don’t just apply to running.  

Instant gratification is easy to come by, but a lot of what makes life worth living requires a measure of patience and openness to stick it out past beginnings that aren’t comfortable or fun.  Whether you want to learn a new skill, take on a creative project, meet your professional goals, improve as an athlete, or even just increase your capacity for prayer, the practice of getting ultrareal can provide perspective that can allow you to overcome the challenges of your own mind convincing you that you can’t do a certain thing.


Ultrarealism is like the famous serenity prayer: 

God grant me the courage to change the things that I can,
the serenity to accept the things I can’t,
and the wisdom to know the difference. 


There is much about the circumstances of a run - not to mention the circumstances of my life, and all of the other challenges that I take on - that I can’t change or control, and within all that isn’t shaped and dictated by me is the choice to keep one foot going in front of the other. 

Somewhere in the letting go and the choosing anyway is a wild and surprising joy.



MARTHA TATARNIC - Author. Priest. Runner.

Martha’s second book - Why Gather? The Hope and Promise of the Church - will be published this June. She has also authored The Living Diet:  A Christian Journey to Joyful Eating, an exploration of our relationship with food and our body through a Christian perspective. She is the lead priest of a thriving downtown Anglican church in St. Catharines Ontario, St. George’s. She writes a regular blog for the Anglican Church of Canada, which can be found at medium.com/@mtatarnic  Details on writing, speaking engagements and her author’s journey can be found at https://MarthaTatarnic.ca


* Matt Fitzgerald coins this term “ultrarealism” in his book, The Comeback Quotient, 2020, as a mental fitness technique which he applies particularly to endurance sports. I (Martha) adapt his definition slightly in applying it to my life.





Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, by Erin Bartels



I love this book and you should buy it!!!

There you go - that's my whole review in a nutshell.

Erin Bartels is quickly becoming one of my
I've-read-everything-she's-written authors.

To prove my longterm love,
here's my 2019 review for We Hope For Better Things.

And here's my 2021 review for All That We Carried.

Seriously - thank goodness she's so prolific!

Also, I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but come on! That cover?? That title??? I was hooked before page 1...


The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water gives us a most intriguing opening. Our narrator, Kendra, isn't speaking to us. She's speaking to "you." Who is this "you" and why is she sharing this story with him or her? Already, lured in ...

Kendra spend her summers growing up around Hidden Lake, an idyllic childhood world of water, forest, and freedom. She had those incredibly close friendships that form from late night campfires and woodland adventures. But something happened on the lake with one of those friends. As an adult, Kendra transformed her trauma into a best-selling novel. But there is one dissenting voice: an anonymous letter from "A Very Disappointed Reader" questions Kendra's version of the truth. Her second novel is due, and she has incurable writers block. Her solution? Return to the lake and confront her past.

I inhaled this book! Erin's writing style is so incredibly beautiful. Her deep love for the lake setting puts us straight into the sensual beauty of sunsets and morning mist.

She has a gift for creating compelling, fully realized characters, and the plot folds and flows in a way that keeps us fully engaged in both the present day story and the perfectly utilized flashbacks.

There were two themes that I thought Erin handled particularly beautifully:

First: Fiction vs Truth. Where is the truth in fiction? How do we discover ourselves, others, and the world through story? I don't want to say to much about this to avoid spoilers, but as a writer and an avid reader, this theme was truly powerful and served the story brilliantly.

Second: trigger warning: abuse and assault. There are difficult themes in this book, not often handled in Christian fiction. Erin has a powerful way of sharing the reality of the story, without ever exploiting or sensationalizing. 


I opened this post with my 2-line review, but honestly,
 I feel I could write a proper essay on how much I love
The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water!
 I truly can't recommend this book enough! 

Erin's site is full of all kinds of wonderful treasures like blogposts, photography, and podcasts.
You can check it all out here:

ErinBartels.com



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Goal Setting Fridays - The Inefficiency of Worry


Welcome to Goal Setting Fridays!

Don’t forget to check out last week’s post:

Resource Round-Up




Being a Planner also, often, naturally leads to another Truth:

I’m a Worrier.


I wish I wasn’t. My husband isn’t, and there are times when I envy him. When stressful times come, he has a faith and peace that I just have trouble harnessing. And let’s be completely honest: not just in “stressful times”. As a Worrier, I also have the unique gift of creating stressful times for not-yet-happened times.

For years, I’ve tried to strategize worry out of my life, with varying and inconsistent results. I’ve read essays and articles from various thought-leaders on how to eradicate worry from my mind. I’ve read all the Bible verses that speak to letting go of worry and trusting in God.

In theory, I get it. I really do. But in reality, WOW, it’s just so hard to simply stop worrying!

After all, my worry shows that the problem is important. My worry gives the situation weight and prominence in my thinking. It helps me prepare for difficult situations.

Doesn’t it? That what it feels like in the moment.


But am I really a better Planner, am I truly more prepared, because I worried?

Or, is there a way I could do the planning without the worrying?

Could less worry actually make me a better Planner?


Last week, my morning devotional contained this verse from Luke 12:


Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?


I’ve read these words a hundred times, but for whatever reason, last week, this verse hit me in a brand new way.


There have been so many reasons to worry lately:


The war in Ukraine.
The end of Covid support for self-employed artists.
The end of mask mandates and restrictions, while Covid rises again in China.
Trying to find our pathway back to live performances in a whole new world.
The general worries of family and health and life in general.
Did I mention Ukraine?

We’re also in a unique time of transition: after two whole years of pivoting and trying to find creative ways to maintain our ministry, we’re now swamped with work! We’re making a swift transition from struggling-to-create-work into working overtime, and it’s hard!

On the flip side, the lockdowns taught us the value of incorporating Gentle Time in our lives - time for reading, walking, exploring our neighbourhood, and just having quiet time together. Now that the world is returning to “normal”, I steadfastly refuse to jump back into the rat race and abandon our Gentle Time.

The key to avoiding complete burnout will be Efficiency. 

I'll need every hour I can get, and I'll need to use them well.


So when I read this:


Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?


The lightbulb clicked on:


Worry is a threat to my Efficiency.


Worrying isn’t going to help me do the things I want to do.


Worry won’t give me more hours - it’ll eat up my time.

Worry won’t give me more ideas - it will cloud my mind.

Worry won’t give me more freedom - it’ll make me operate from a place of fear.


Worry is a threat to my Efficiency.


Simply “giving up” worry never made sense to me, but for whatever reason, it all clicked this week.

I’ve now found a hardcore, practical reason to eradicate worry from my life.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve stopped worrying altogether. If anything, my problems and concerns have only grown over the past week.


But when worry comes, I have a solid reason to ask it to leave.


“Not now worry - I just don’t have time for you. 
I have bigger, better things to do, and they need my hours more than you do.”


So far, it’s working. I’ll let you know how it goes from here…


Are you a Worrier?

How do you reduce worry in your life?  






Thursday, March 10, 2022

"Hear Me Roar" - A special post for International Women's Day

It's Birthday Week in our house! 

First Dad, then Gerald - we've had SO. MUCH. CAKE!!!

(not that I'm complaining...)

Because of all the celebrating, I'm taking a break from Goal Setting Fridays today to share a very special link:

In celebration of International Women's Day,
The Anglican Journal (Canada's largest Christian newspaper)
posted a special article by my Dad!

“Hear me roar”: In celebration of the ordination of women
By Rev. Hollis Hiscock

I highly encourage you to read this wonderful and inspiring article!

You can read it HERE.






Thursday, March 03, 2022

Goal Setting Fridays - Resource Round-Up!

 

Welcome to Goal Setting Fridays!

Why Fridays? 
So you can ruminate over the weekend & get a fresh start on Monday!

Please subscribe to receive all new posts!


Don’t forget to check out last week’s post:

5 Ways to Up Your Goals



Every once in a while here on Goal Setting Fridays,
I’m going to share some of my favourite Goal Setting Resources with you.


Today, I have a list of five people who bring me lots of inspiration!
They come from different backgrounds and industries, each approaching productivity from a very different perspective. Some are high creatives and others are amazing business people. All of them, in their own ways, bridge the gap between those two worlds with imagination and energy.


Here are 5 of my favourite people who write about Goal Setting and Productivity:


Michael Hyatt 

Michael is the go-to guy for learning about Goal Setting. I’ve read his book - Your Best Year Ever - at least 3 times, and I know I’ll read it again. He has lots of resources on his site, including a fantastic podcast.


Steven Pressfield 

The War of Art and Do The Work are in regular rotation on my Kindle. I usually read at least one of them each year. They focus on overcoming Resistance - that impersonal, immovable, limiting force that rears its ugly head any time we set out to do something amazing with our lives.


SARK 

Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy is an author, artist, entrepreneur, and mentor. Don’t let the fun name, playful drawings, and bright colours fool you. SARK is a sharp business woman who’s turned her signature take on the world into a unique empire. I have no doubt I’ll end up writing a blogpost about the transformative power of her “micro-movements.”


Julia Cameron 

The Artist’s Way has saved more than one creative soul over the years, mine included. Julia is a creativity teacher for all levels and expressions. I can’t recommend her teachings and methods enough!


Seth Godin 

Seth is known for writing short blog posts featuring big ideas. Or maybe, more specifically, bite-sized ideas with big impact. If you’re looking for some fresh perspective on productivity, his blog is a great place to start. Be sure to check out the “Free Content” section, as well. 



Who are some of your favourite Goal Setting experts?

Please share their names and links in the Comments below… 









Thursday, February 24, 2022

Goal Setting Fridays - 5 Ways to Up Your Goals


Welcome to Goal Setting Fridays!

Why Fridays?
So you can ruminate over the weekend & get a fresh start on Monday!

Please subscribe to receive all new posts!


Don’t forget to check out last week’s post:

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Saved My Reading Life




Last week, I shared a recent journey in my reading life, 
and how the S.M.A.R.T. acronym helped me achieve my goal.


To remind ourselves, a S.M.A.R.T. goal is:

Specific
Measurable
Accountable 
Realistic 
Time-sensitive


By using the S.M.A.R.T. pattern, I was able to increase my reading from almost no books a year to 24 books a year!

I completed this goal in 2018 and again in 2019, but then the pandemic hit, and everything changed!

Reading was one of the things that truly saved me in 2020. I couldn’t bear to read non-fiction, but I devoured books about historical heroines, quirky friends, and faraway adventures.


In 2020, I had set a goal of reading 24 books. 
By New Year’s Eve, I’d read 42!
(You can find my 2020 reading list HERE.)

2021 came, and I thought, “Well, that was fun, but it certainly isn't repeatable. This year will be sooooo different!”

(Ah, the naiveté of January, 2021…)

“24 is obviously too low; 42 is too high. I’ll split the difference and read 36 this year.”

By August, I’d smashed that goal completely! 
It had become abundantly clear: 
It was time to up my goal!


Upping your goals isn’t about creating something new. 

Instead, it’s about adding to a goal-already-in-progress.
It’s stretching a goal to give yourself an even greater challenge,
and potentially, an even greater success!


Realizing you’ve outgrown an older goal is a really exciting moment! 

Not only have you succeeded in your original goal, but you’ve grown to the point that you now need a new challenge.


How do you know when it’s time to up a goal?

It’s no longer a challenge.

It’s become too easy for you to achieve.

You’re achieving the goal much sooner than planned.

You realize you underestimated your abilities.

You’re getting bored!


I had definitely reached that point with my reading goal. It was glaringly obvious that 24 books had become too easy to achieve. Plus, I’d re-fallen in love with reading! I craved moving stories and inspired writing. 24 books just wasn’t enough to satisfy me anymore. 

Remember, upping your goals isn’t just about doing more for the sake of doing more.
It's about realizing growth, and rewarding it with an even greater challenge.

As our S.M.A.R.T. acronym tells us, we still want to be Realistic.
If you have to up your goal, that means you've discovered a whole new level of what’s Realistic!
You’ve raised the barre! You’ve stretched and grown your own Circle of Influence.
How awesome is that?

Here are 5 ways you can up your existing goals:


HIGHER TOTAL

Sometimes, it’s as easy as increasing the numbers:

Want to lose 5 pounds? Try losing 6.
Want to run 10 km? Try running 15.
Want to write 100 pages? Try writing 200.


FASTER TIME

Because your goal is Time-sensitive, you’ve set a timeline for your achievement. Maybe you need to shorten that timeline.

Are you trying to accomplish your goal in 6 months? Maybe you can do it in 5? Or even 4?

Again, keep it Realistic. The point is to challenge yourself, not give yourself burnout.


LONGER TIME

Maybe your goal isn’t about achieving something quickly, but about building a longterm habit. Rather than shortening your timeline, maybe you need to extend it.

If your goal is to walk 20 minutes a day for a month, what about making it two months?

Or maybe that’s not the time you want to increase. Maybe, instead, you increase your walk from 20 minutes to 25 minutes?

Either way, play with time to see if you can stretch and grow your habit goal.


GREATER COMPLEXITY

If a project is coming together easier and faster than anticipated, how can I add to it to make it more dynamic and complex?

For example, let’s say my goal is to organize a community concert for local bands. Things start coming together really quickly and easily. What can I add to this project that’s still Realistic, but also works towards my goal? 

Maybe I can set up tables for local vendors? Or have the art school create a pop-up gallery? Or add face-painting and a kids stage for our younger audience? 

Each of these ideas adds to the complexity of the original idea: “organize a community concert.”


INVOLVE MORE PEOPLE

Many goals are solitary pursuits, but sometimes our goals are based in community.
(Community in this sense could mean your family, your workplace, your church, or any situation that involves a group of people coming together for a common purpose.) 

If that’s a key component of your goal, how can you increase the involvement of other people?

For example, let’s say my goal is to create a community garden. I need six volunteers to get the garden started.

That first summer, I quickly reach my goal of six volunteers. Excellent! 

So, how can I up this goal?

Maybe, I can get more volunteers, so we can build a bigger garden?

Maybe, I decide to make it a multi-generational garden. How can I find some young people to partner with the seniors?

Maybe, I’d like to have more cultural diversity. Maybe I can start advertising for volunteers in local cultural centres?

Maybe, I want to make the garden accessible for volunteers in wheelchairs. Is there a local builder who can understand the special requirements of physically challenged gardeners? 


All of these are great ways to up your goals!


For my growing reading goal, the answer was clear: Higher Total.

I had made the 2021 goal of 36 books, because I was afraid of overcommitting myself. 

But when I reached 36 in August, I realized I was way past the point of no return. I looked at my pace, and realized I could, with a little focus and planning, read 50 books that year.

50 books! I never would have been brave enough to set that goal in 2018, 2019, or even 2020.

But I’d outgrown my initial attempts. It was time to up my goal.


I committed to finishing 50 books in 2021. 
By New Year’s Eve, I’d read 55 books!

For 2022, I’ve made a solid goal of reading 50 books this year! 


My goal fits the S.M.A.R.T. profile perfectly. It’ll take some planning to achieve, but I’m so excited about all the gorgeous books I’ll get to read this year!!

And who knows, maybe in another year or two, this goal might need to be upped again?


Take a close look at your goals this week:

Are there any that are becoming too easy?

Any that leave you bored?


What are some ways you can up your goals?





Thursday, February 17, 2022

Goal Setting Fridays - S.M.A.R.T. Goals Saved My Reading Life

 

Welcome to Goal Setting Fridays!

Why Fridays? 
So you can ruminate over the weekend & get a fresh start on Monday!

Please subscribe to receive all new posts!


Don’t forget to check out last week’s post:

Eat the “Snow” Elephant




In 2017, I made a horrifying personal discovery:

I’d stopped reading.

Not completely, of course, but by any literary standard, I’d shut the book.
(Insert groan for bad pun here…)


At the end of that year, I couldn’t remember how many books I’d read. Four? Maybe five? I doubted I could count them on one hand.

My degree is a Double Major in Theatre with a Minor in English. That’s a lot of heady, literary pages. And I didn’t stop there. For years, I devoured books by the shelfful. When Gerald and I got married, our biggest debate was where to put all the books in our new home.

But then we moved 7 times in 9 years. Boxes of books became harder and harder to lug around the country. Many times, we just didn’t unpack them, or we put them in storage for months on end. We took on new jobs and challenges. Our schedule was filled with new creativity and adventures. 

Somewhere along the way, I found other ways to fill my time. 

My reading life had been sidelined.


So, in 2018, I set an ambitious goal for myself:


Read 24 books in a year.


This wasn’t just about choosing a random number of books to read. I truly wanted to reset and reenergize my reading life.

This felt like a huge leap. I knew it would require a shift in my time and my mindset. I wanted reading to be important again. 

Because of everything that was at stake, I really wanted to succeed, so I created a S.M.A.R.T. Goal.


If you’re not familiar with this acronym, it stands for:


Specific

Measurable

Accountable 

Realistic 

Time-sensitive


Depending on where you search, there are some variations on the words, but the intentions are always the same.


Here’s why my simple goal - Read 24 books in a year - was a perfect S.M.A.R.T. Goal:


SPECIFIC
Read 24 books. Not articles, or blogposts, or stories. Read books. 24 of them, please.

MEASURABLE
Read 24 books. It’s a concrete number, easy to measure.

ACCOUNTABLE
I told Gerald and my parents what I was doing. I knew achieving my goal would require a bit of a lifestyle change as I learned to dedicate more time to reading. I wanted their support and understanding.

REALISTIC
24 books a year, or 2 books a month, sounded like something I could possibly make work. If I’d aimed for 100 books that first year, it would have been completely unreasonable. Chances are, I would have fallen far short of that number, and would have given up on the goal entirely. I knew that 24 books would require some focus and planning, and that it would push my limits, but ultimately, it felt doable.

TIME-SENSITIVE
24 books in a year, or 2 books a month. This gives me a clearly defined schedule of how to achieve my goal. If I could keep that average pace of 2 books a month, I would stand a great chance of success. 


My progress ebbed and flowed throughout the year. Some months, I could only manage one long book, so the next month, I would choose 3 shorter books to keep myself on schedule. I kept a list of all the titles I read so that I could celebrate my monthly success and not lose track of where I was in the 24. Gerald was very supportive any time I claimed a Sunday afternoon as “book time.”

December was busy, as it often is for musicians, so by the end of the month, I was coming up short. I had to read two books in the final week of 2018. I wrapped up a novel on the 30th, but there was no time to squeeze in the final book. 

Finally, Dad suggested I read “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” A cheeky suggestion, but as he pointed out, it’s a well-studied seasonal classic, and yes, technically, it’s a book!


On the day before New Year’s Eve,
I celebrated the completion of my 24 Books of 2018!


As I stated earlier, the main point of this goal wasn’t simply to read 24 books.
It was a means to a greater end. 

The true goal was to reset and reenergize my reading life,
and I’m thrilled to say, it worked!


I set another goal of 24 books in 2019 and 2020, but as we all know,
everything changed in 2020... 

But that’s another story!
Stay tuned for Chapter 2, next week…

(And I promise, an end to the booky puns!)


Look at the goals you’ve created for 2022.
Are they S.M.A.R.T. Goals?


What can you do to make them
Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive?