Sunday, December 22, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Last Minute Gift Idea

Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent, Y'all!  It has been pouring rain all weekend here in Central Alabama, but we aren't letting the rain damper our Christmas celebrations!  Church was lovely today, and our Middlers group and Flower Guild got busy after the 11:15 service "greening" the church.  I can't wait to see their efforts Christmas Eve!

Today I want to share the perfect last minute gift for the person who loves all things Chritsmas:  The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas by William J. Bennett.

According to Goodreads:  

If you've ever been asked, "Who is Saint Nicholas?"...If you've ever wondered if he is just a commercial invention...If you've ever thought there is no such person...You may be surprised to know the true Saint Nicholas.  You'll never again think of Santa Claus in quite the same way.  An instant classic by one of America's most respected thinkers, The True Saint Nicholas is a book to be shared with family and friends every year to evoke the true spirit of Christmas.

My Review:

I know that Jesus is truly the "Reason for the Season."  Yet Santa Claus has become a Christmas icon whether we like it or not.  He's based on a real saint: The Bishop of Myra who served during the 4th Century.  This lovely book is divided into three sections: 1.  Life of Nicholas  2.  Legends of Nicholas   3.  Legacy of Nicholas.  St. Nicholas' life was fascinating to read about.  He was a strong leader, and he knew how to lead his people and bring them together due to his inner strength and insight.  His story is sure to inspire the true meaning of Christmas to readers of all ages, and I think it would make a very thoughtful gift for everyone on your last minute gift-buying list.

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

~John 3:16-19

Until next time...

Christmas Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  I'm almost finished with Christmas prep except for baking.  How are your Christmas plans coming along?  Do you have any last minute Christmas shopping left to do?  If so, I have a wonderful suggestion for the book lover in your life:  Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

According to Goodreads:

An unforgettable novel about the power of friendship and kindness by the New York Times bestselling author of Pay It Forward.

In the summer of 1969, fourteen-year-old Lucas Painter carries a huge weight on his shoulders. His brother is fighting in Vietnam. His embattled parents are locked in a never-ending war. And his best friend, Connor, is struggling with his own family issues. To find relief from the chaos, Lucas takes long, meandering walks, and one day he veers into the woods.

There he discovers an isolated cabin and two huge dogs. Frightened, he runs. And the dogs run with him. Lucas finds unusual peace in running with the dogs, and eventually he meets their owner, Zoe Dinsmore. Closed off and haunted by a tragic past, Zoe has given up. She doesn’t want to be saved. She wants out. But Lucas doesn’t want her to go, and he sees an opportunity to bring more than one friend back into the light. It’s either the best or worst idea he’s ever had, but Lucas isn’t giving up on Zoe or Connor.

Their unexpected connection might be the saving grace that Zoe thought she’d lost, that Connor needs, and that Lucas has been running toward.

My Review

This is the best book I've read this year, Lovelies.  Let me tell you why I love it so much.  Set in 1969, the story is told from fourteen-year-old Lucas's point of view which is appropriate as this is a coming of age story.  He and his best friend Connor come from two dysfunctional families, and Lucas's brother Roy, a Vietnam veteran, further complicates family dynamics.  Another main character is recluse and 55-year-old Zoe whom Lucas meets (eventually) after a long ramble in the woods.  On that first day, Lucas sees a log cabin with a massive doghouse beside it.  Lucas knows it must contain a massive dog, and he thinks: "Please let the dog be inside the cabin."  But to Lucas's surprise, there are TWO massive dogs rather than one, and they chase Lucas for a long time...until he trips.  Lucas thinks he is done for, but the dogs are having fun.  They enjoy running with Lucas, and this is how Lucas meets Zoe because he loves running with her dogs.

Y'all know how much I love dogs, and this is definitely a sweet story involving a boy and dogs.  Connor always wanted a dog, yet his mother wouldn't allow it.  That is a blessing in disguise because his interactions with Zoe's dogs begin a friendship that facilitates healing for all four main characters.  This story is much more than a coming of age story about a boy and dogs, though.  It is about healing and friendship, helping friends through difficult times.  Lucas tries to encourage both Zoe and Connor.  When he's worried about Zoe, he has Connor to talk to about her, yet he doesn't believe he has anyone to discuss his concerns about Connor with.  It's also about dysfunctional family dynamics, guilt (there's a whole lot of guilt in the book, especially in Zoe's heart), suicide, the importance of human connections, and the redeeming love of friendships.

I must salute Catherine Ryan Hyde because she does such a wonderful job portraying the struggles of all four characters through Lucas's eyes.  Also, I was so thrilled that Hyde includes the best-written epilogue during the present-day, to catch-up with what has happened to these beloved characters.  Stay is one of those poignantly sweet novels that does not succumb to sentimentality.  The characters will "stay" with me forever.  It would also make a fantastic book club selection, and there are a few wonderful discussion questions included in the back of the book.  If you purchase just one book for your home library published this year, it should be Stay.

Disclosure:  I received a lovely hardcover first edition of Stay from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas All Through the House

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  I wanted to share with you a few of our Christmas decorations.  We decided to keep it very simple this year!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent 2019: How to Plant a Living Centerpiece

Happy Third Sunday of Advent, My Lovelies!   Today I want to share with you an easy way to make a living centerpiece for Christmas.  All it takes is a little watering and misting to keep it fresh throughout the holiday season.  Once it's made, you won't have to worry about purchasing fresh flowers for your centerpiece in your dining room, breakfast room, or kitchen island.  Also, it is much more expensive to buy one of these centerpieces already made, so it's best to learn how to do it and make them yourself with the plants you want to use.

This is the finished product.

This is what you'll need for the project:

1 watertight 14' - 16" container.  I used a willow basket with a plastic liner.

1 4" - 6" flowering plant, like the white cyclamen

5-6 4" ferns.  I used maidenhair and a couple of variegated ones


Optional:  1 small accent plant.  I used a tiny red Poinsettia

This is how you plant the centerpiece:

Use a wadded-up plastic bag to "raise" the flowering plant, placing it in the center of your container.  Keep it in the green nursery pot it came in.

Place the other pots around it.  If they don't all fit, you might need to replace a pot or two with a plastic quart-sized baggie.   If any of your plants are in smaller containers, use the same trick with a wadded-up plastic bag to raise the plant.

Once you have the plants in a pleasing arrangement, fill-in all the blank spots with moss.  I usually purchase a bag of moss from my nursery.

Carefully water the plants and mist the moss very well.  Check your centerpiece every other day for dryness, especially if you use smaller plants.  Mist them daily.  

It's easy to replace individual plants if one looks sad.

These are the plants I used, and the basket is well-lined in plastic.

If you choose a cyclamen, try finding one with several buds on it.

So simple!  Won't you give it a try?

I placed it on a simple plaid runner in our dining room.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

~Matthew 2: 10 - 11

I hope your Advent Season has been filled with joy so far!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Perfect Christmas Present for the Jane Austen Lover

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  How is your Christmas shopping coming along?  If you're stuck about what to purchase the literature lover (especially Jane Austen lover) in your life, I have you covered.  This beautiful coffee table book entitled The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas will thrill your hard to buy for bookworm.

According to Goodreads:

In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen's novels targeted to Britain's working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes. At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen's beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen's early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people.

Packed with nearly 100 full-color photographs of dazzling, sometimes gaudy, sometimes tasteless covers, The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a unique history of these rare and forgotten Austen volumes. Such shoddy editions, Janine Barchas argues, were instrumental in bringing Austen's work and reputation before the general public. Only by examining them can we grasp the chaotic range of Austen's popular reach among working-class readers.

Informed by the author's years of unconventional book hunting, The Lost Books of Jane Austen will surprise even the most ardent Janeite with glimpses of scruffy survivors that challenge the prevailing story of the author's steady and genteel rise. Thoroughly innovative and occasionally irreverent, this book will appeal in equal measure to book historians, Austen fans, and scholars of literary celebrity.

A collection of "pinked" paperback editions from the 1960s are among my favorites included in this book.

My Review:

Janine Barchas, a very unique academic in my opinion, explains in The Lost Books of Jane Austen how she became enthralled in finding, collecting, and discovering stories about Austen's lost volumes or editions.  She admits that this project is not your typical scholarly work as these volumes are never quoted in scholarly circles.  However, as a tenured professor, Barchas has had the academic freedom to pursue her interest in these volumes.  So how did she begin her quest?  It all started with a telephone call from her daughter's sixth grade English teacher.  She was bravely attempting to teach Pride and Prejudice to her class, and she could not figure out why her students believed Fitzwilliam Darcy to be a vampire.  This was 2010, and The Twilight Series was all the rage.  The chosen edition that the school provided for the students had been packaged similarly to the Twilight books.  

The graphic red, white, and black covers of the Twilight Series

HarperTeen gave Austen's classic novel a makeover to appeal to fans of the Twilight Series.

This story about Barchas's daughter's class spurred her into action researching generations of unique Austen editions.  And as much as I loved seeing the variety of covers and artwork, the vignettes is what I love most about this book.  Scattered throughout the book are vignettes about specific books and their owners.  Many owners inscribed their names, dates, and addresses in them, and Barchas used her mad research skills to find out about the lives of the books' owners.  Uncannily, many of their lives mirrored characters in the books, which I found fascinating.  I loved reading the stories about ordinary people, their Austen read, characters that they most certainly would have related to, and what became of them.  Their stories make this book so worthwhile.  My favorite vignette is Vignette IV: Charlotte & a Real Castle.  Charlotte Mills owned a Northanger Abbey-Persuasion volume, and one must wonder after she reads about an old castle in Northanger Abbey as a young girl if she ever dreamt of living in a real Irish castle later in life.  Another fun fact about Charlotte's book is what a collector does to "preserve" it.  There are seven vignettes in the book, and I wish there were more.  I would love for Janine Barchas to research and write another book similar to this one featuring a different author.

I highly recommend this book for your home library or coffee table.  It is beautiful, and enthralling.


I received this beautiful book from the Johns Hopkins University Press via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent 2019: Super Easy 2-Ingredient Pumpkin Bread

Happy Second Sunday of Advent, My Lovelies!  I want to thank you for your kind thoughts, prayers, cards, comments, and emails during this sad season for our family.  My grandmother's funeral was Friday, and it was lovely.

With so many things going on, I need easy this holiday season.  So you'll notice a very simple, easy theme to my Advent posts.  Today, I want to share with you a ridiculously easy recipe for Pumpkin Bread I saw on Tasty.  If you don't have the Tasty app, I highly recommend it!

This is all you need for the Pumpkin Bread;  14 ounces pureed pumpkin and Spice Cake cake mix.  The vanilla icing is optional, but Shelley and my niece Molly requested it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a loaf pan.

Mix together pumpkin and cake mix.

Spread mixture into loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes.

NOTE:  Tasty recommends cooling bread completely.  We couldn't wait!  We iced it when it was slightly warm.

The texture is lovely, and the bread is very moist!

Isaiah 11:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Peaceful Kingdom

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Return of the Remnant of Israel and Judah

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Monday, December 2, 2019

Mary Margaret Lollar

My mother, left, and my grandmother, right
Christmas, 2012

My beautiful grandmother Margaret Lollar (I called her Big Mama) went home to heaven yesterday.  I've never been able to imagine a world without her in it.

She was 99 years old.

Big Mama will be greatly missed.  She was a part of the Greatest Generation: She was an amazing woman.  But I am comforted in knowing that my number one advocate is in God's presence.  

Please keep my mom in your prayers as she lost her only brother in August.  Also, Shelley has taken it particularly hard, and she has final exams this week.

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Sunday, December 1, 2019

First Sunday of Advent 2019: Easy Paperwhites

Happy December, My Lovelies!  Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this year I will feature easy activities each Sunday during the Advent Season.  I need easy this year as Shanley Belle's wedding is scheduled early in 2020.  I want to apologize for posting this late, but the Tales of the Traveling Tote post went live early this morning.

Today's easy craft is planting paperwhites.  Y'all, I admit I'd never done this before!  Our church hosted a class for planting your own paperwhites and making your own advent wreath, so I decided to try my hand at planting paperwhites. 

During the Season of Advent, we are joyfully and hopefully waiting for the birth of Jesus.  But waiting is hard!  Planting paperwhite bulbs when Advent begins is a visual lesson of new birth.  They should bloom in 4-5 weeks during the Christmas season.

This is what you'll need for the project:

paper white bulb(s)
gravel (I used one cup per cube)
small glass container(s) (I used 3.4" square glass vases)


Fill the bottom of your vessel with around one inch of gravel.  Place the bulbs in the gravel so they are relatively stable.  Place the remaining gravel around the bulbs to stabilize them even more, but do not cover them.  Fill container with water until it reaches the bottom of the bulb. Add water daily as needed (to the bottom of the bulb).

I placed the bulbs on our breakfast room table because it's the sunniest spot in our home.  They will bloom more quickly in a sunny spot.

You can barely see the waterline.

"You also must be patient.  Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near."
James 5:8

If you don't have time to get the supplies, Terrain has beautiful paperwhites in a variety of containers, like the ones planted in a metal urn, above.  

2 In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Until next time...

Christmas blessings!
Ricki Jill