Saturday, October 30, 2010

book review: The Reluctant Entertainer by Sandy Coughlin

In The Reluctant Entertainer, a book that grew out of the blog by the same name, Sandy Coughlin encourages women of all ages to extend simple, gracious hospitality. And she does more: she shows them how.

Coughlin begins by naming and exploring excuses many women give for not inviting people into their homes: busyness, can't cook, house not big or fancy enough, don't know how to keep a conversation going etc. She encourages readers to leave these excuses behind in the nine chapters that follow. She covers subjects like how to overcome perfectionism, how to simplify hosting meals and parties, how to create an appealing ambience using the five senses, and how to deepen the level of interaction by asking stimulating questions, encouraging authentic conversations, and looking for ways to show hospitality that go beyond having people over for dinner.

Recipes are interspersed throughout the text with an appendix of more recipes at the back.  As well there is  a section on the pantry — what to stock in it and how to organize it.

The book is a thing of physical beauty — a cross between a coffee table and durable recipe book. It is bound in hardcover, not in plain vanilla under a dustjacket but sporting its own colourful front and back. It is printed on heavy, glossy paper with at last one colour photo illustration per two-page spread. Most of the photos are courtesy Coughlin's husband Paul. Included are some family pictures that cross the generations, giving the book a homey feel.

Coughlin's writing style reminds me of the warm, chatty tone of a blog. Although there were places where I thought the writing could have been more varied (in one section "perfectionism"  and its variants were used repeatedly and close together) and clearer ("Finally she decided to rid herself of those lies that were bogging her down: fanciness; perfection; material stuff like her home, yard and dishes..." p.18 So how exactly are fanciness, perfection etc. lies?), altogether the book was a pleasure to read.

Some things I liked about it:

  • Coughlin's ideas of how to include children in the mix, from ways to accommodate the toddler crowd to strategies for getting older kids to mingle with the adults and make them feel like part of the action.
  • The way the author stresses the importance of genuinely caring for people. This comes out especially in the chapters on making conversation and establishing deep connections, where she talks of showing hospitality in non-dinner-party ways (like delivering meals to sick people, taking old or disabled neighbours shopping, and inviting the people others ignore into one's home). As she says:
"When I think of hospitality, it goes far beyond the standard dinner party. Hospitality happens in our homes, in our churches, and in our neighbourhoods. It's the spark of friendships, of soul-satisfying experiences with others, eventually taking us to deeper connections as we learn how to reach out." p. 103.
  • The  recipes. They look scrumptious and doable. However, the glossy paper means that if you want to jot notes beside them, you'll need to do it in pen.
  • Several usable lists, e.g. The Ten Commandments of Hospitality (p. 27), ideas for types of parties (p. 67), yard sale tips (p. 74-75), and questions to use as conversation starters (p. 94). 
  • Coughlin's experience. Because she has such a hospitable bent herself she knows whereof she speaks and gives useful pointers, pitfalls to avoid, and encouragement when things don't go as planned. She has weathered the storms of food not turning out, hijacked conversations, and awkward silences and, she assures us, so will we.

This book would make a beautiful gift for a new bride. But don't rule it out for the more established hostess. I've been entertaining (sometimes reluctantly too) for almost 30 years and it encouraged and inspired me!

Title: The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman's Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality
Author: Sandy Coughlin
Publisher: Bethany House, Hardcover, 160 pages, August 2010
ISBN-10: 0764207504 
ISBN-13: 978-0764207501


I received this book as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

Article first published as Book Review: The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman's Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality by Sandy Coughlin on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Forest floor


Next Week: CRAFTS (Supplies, Knitting, Crocheting, Woodworking, Pottery, Painting,...)

Monday, October 25, 2010

soup and bread (#132-140 of 1000 gifts)

132. Colors, colors everywhere! Even the most nondescript bushes have come alive.

133.  Ballroom dancing. We're still on the foxtrot — but hubby and I are getting it together. Tonight is our third lesson.

134.  iTunes with albums at the click of a mouse, and even a little credit from a gift card. This week I bought "Level Ground," Brian Doerksen's  September 2010 release, and the beautiful single below. They are totally blessing me!

(Fernando Ortega - "Give Me Jesus")

135.  I found a gold tablecloth among the stuff Mom left behind. I didn't think the colour would go with my red walls, but after Thanksgiving, I tried it and I kind of like it. The kitchen how has a warm, autumny feel to it (plus it puts Mom back in my life in a subtle way...).

136.  These came last week. They're a thank-you from Vogue Patterns Magazine for the use of one of my poems in an upcoming issue. I think I'll need to find a seamstress for the trendy outfits. But the Christmas crafts and aprons are giving me the itch to pull out the old Kenmore.

137. A Wednesday lunch with old friends and new.

138. The Texas Rangers got into the World Series. What do I care, really, except that this fall I decided to follow baseball and they grabbed my imagination (how can they not when, with a payroll of just $55 million, they beat out the Yankees, with their payroll of $206 million).

139. Went shopping on Friday for the Christmas shoeboxes. Totally enjoy doing that, even though I dropped some serious coin (memo for next year: shop ahead during the Back-to-School sales).

 140.  The aroma surrounding me as I type this (Saturday),  of baking focaccia bread topped with Parmesan cheese to go with tonight's  main dish of leftover roasted vegetable soup (pureed carrots, turnips, onions, squash - yum!).  I love making soup and bread!

If you'd like to join me and many others collecting One Thousand Gifts, please do. Some members of this gratefulness community post their gifts on blogs, while others list them in private journals. Instructions on how to join are here

holy experience

Saturday, October 23, 2010

'other food' in best canadian blog finals

As I have mentioned before, I write other blogs. One is a blog of devotions (Other Food: daily devos) based on the daily Bible readings from the Canadian Bible Society.

Some kind reader has nominated it as Best Canadian blog in the "Religion and Philosophy" category. 

Listen, I don't expect it to win... but it would be nice if it got a few votes.

Want to see what Other Food: daily devos is about? It's here.

Want to vote for it? It's in the "Best Religion and Philosophy Blogs 2010 category (third from bottom) on this page.

Thanks to any and all who take the time to do this!

Thursday, October 21, 2010


 Michaud Park in fall


Next Week: MESSY (Children, Rooms, Garage, Yard, Disorganized, Hair,...)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

sixth blogiversary

It's hard to believe, but this blog has been going for six years!  October 19, 2004 when I put up my first post ("Jim Coggins and Murder Mystery") also happened to fall on a Tuesday.

Just for fun, I thought I'd compile a few blogiversary lists:

Five stickiest posts (according to Google Analytics).
1. modern ghost town.
2. book review: The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason
3. communion thoughts
4. book review: Is that really you God?
5. book review: Rees Howells: Intercessor

Five most common types of posts (according to labels)
1. Thursday Challenge  (a weekly photograph on a given theme): 163
2. family: 120
3. book reviews: 118
4. poetry: 83
5. Christmas: 72

Some blog features over the years:
- frivolous friday
- one-minute devotionals
- promptings potpourri
- and my favourites:  British Columbia Travels (right sidebar)

Post with the most comments.

From the time I installed a traffic counter till this morning this blog has logged:
- 103,763 page views
-    80,822 visitors

Thank you to every one of you wonderful readers who has contributed to those numbers!

Monday, October 18, 2010

autumn lingers (#123-131 of 1000 Gifts)

123. Though I've begun wearing my winter jacket on morning walks, the days have been warming up beautifully with the afternoon temperatures most days still in the double digits. Daylight time diminishes by minutes every day, so we all know it's just a matter of time till autumn surrenders to winter. But I'm so loving this lingering of fall.

124. Maybe it's hanging around too long and confusing the plants. Caught these in bloom last week. I know - rhododendrons blooming in mid-October?! Something has its wires crossed!

125. Our washer/dryer combo broke down. And that is a gift because it broke down in a very sane way (a slow drip of water into the machine tub, and a wrecked transmission that has only just begun spewing oil when the machine goes into spin mode). We have a new one bought and scheduled for installation early this week.

126. Plus, we came home from the trip to the appliance store with a new microwave (how does that happen?).

127. This book came last week (Inscribe's 30th anniversary anthology). I feel honoured to have a couple of pieces included with so much excellent prose and poetry by fellow Canadian writers.

128. Working on the Lavender Project with my friends from Women by Design at church. Thursday night we spent two hours in Cheryl's barn, stripping dried lavender blossoms from stems. We're planning to make sachets to sell in the Christmas craft fairs. It's to raise money for the hospital stay of Ugandan girls whose faces have been mutilated by guerilla captors. Plastic surgeons have volunteered their skills to repair the damage, but each girl's hospital stay costs several thousand dollars (Gulu Project - see photo no. 5).

Lavender - many buckets like this to harvest

It's a dusty and tedious, though fragrant, job.

129. My sonny boy sold his truck!

130. A laptop, making it easy to multitask during baseball playoffs.

131. A beautiful late morning walk in White Rock yesterday, followed by a delish Greek lunch at Cosmos, followed by a nap at home. I love lazy Sundays!

White Rock Beach from Marine Drive

If you'd like to join me and many others collecting One Thousand Gifts, please do. Some post their gifts on blogs, while others list them in private journals. Instructions on how to join are here

holy experience

Friday, October 15, 2010

book review: Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD

Title: Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends
Author: Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD
Publisher: Bethany House

ISBN-10: 0764207318 
ISBN-13: 978-0764207310

These days homosexual activists and a large segment of the evangelical church are on a collision course. Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends seeks to stave off the damage – perhaps even prevent the crash.

From the outset author/researcher/Professor of Psychology Mark A. Yarhouse lets us know that he favors the church’s traditional stance. He is by no means what he calls an “assertive advocate” – someone who is trying to get the church to change its position on homosexuality. But he does advocate for changes.

With clear logical writing he lays the groundwork for his thesis in the first section of chapters (“The Big Picture”). In the two following sections (“Honest Answers to Questions Facing Families” and “Questions for the Church”) he fleshes out the details, making the case for:

1. The evangelical community to start looking at same-sex attracted individuals as “our people” instead of giving them the message: “God hates you; you need to change” (p. 164).

2. Christian parents, pastors, teachers, and counselors to offer same-sex-attracted individuals an alternate to the “gay script” (which basically says, a same-sex attraction tells you who you really are and you need to explore this identity to be fulfilled as a person, p. 49 ). One way of counteracting this script, Yarhouse suggests, is by thinking about the topic in a new way, carefully separating “same-sex attraction” from a “gay identity.”

3. The evangelical community to shift their focus from trying to figure out why people are gay and how to get them to change, and concentrate instead on what is. Yarhouse says:

“…by focusing so much energy and attention on these two issues, the church has actually provided little by way of instruction or guidance or pastoral care to those Christians who are sexual minorities….
“If our only message is that through enough effort and faith they will become heterosexual, we are misleading them. We mislead them by setting the wrong standard for what counts as success.

Heterosexuality is not the measure of success for the Christian sexual minority. What matters is Christlikeness regardless of whether sexual attractions change significantly” (pages 164, 165).

Yarhouse’s hope, in the end, is that individual Christians and the church in general will move from debating issues for which there are no definitive answers and focus instead on issues of identity, sanctification, and stewardship.

I appreciated Yarhouse’s tempered tone and careful consideration of the various points of view within the church and the psychology community. His logical presentation made sense and was easy to follow. His bulleted list of “Take-home Points” at the end of each chapter helped me consolidate what I had just read. He was even able to explain tests and research projects in easy-to-understand language.

From this book I learned that dealing with homosexuality is not as simple as I had always thought. Yarhouse talks about the discovery of same-sex-attractions in different age groups and life situations in three chapters that speak specifically to parents of children and teens, parents of adult children, and adults whose spouses announce a gay identity. This breakdown helped me understand the complexities, challenges, and possible ways of handling the various scenarios (like the mother of a five-year-old, worried her son will be gay because of his interest in feminine things, or a wife, finding her husband’s same-sex pornography on the computer).

This thoughtful and thought-provoking book makes many excellent points. I think evangelical pastors, counselors, and teachers of any denomination will benefit from reading it. Additionally it will be of interest and help to parents, partners, friends, and siblings of same-sex-attracted youth and adults.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review. Article first published as Book review: Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Houseboats at Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria, B.C.


Next Week: GOLDEN (Jewelry, Coins, Sun, Leaves, Fields, Hair,...)

Monday, October 11, 2010

thanksgiving (#116-122 of 1000 gifts)

116. I found thanksgiving decorations! And I will have you know, not a single pumpkin or gourd was killed to make this display. (These life-like fruits are {gulp} made of styrofoam, except for the fabric pumpkin.)

117. Lovely stained glass windows in the Fort Langley St. George's Anglican Church, open to Cranberry Festival visitors to spend a few minutes surrounded by the quiet ambiance of glass and wood in a sanctuary full of history.

118. Obese pumpkins, also seen at the Cranberry Festival. These always make me smile.

119. A sis who brings flowers when she comes for dinner.

120. Being able to share yesterday's turkey and fixings with family.

121. Fruit for dessert, now that I've sworn off sweets for the next while.

122. This prayer:

If you'd like to join me and many others collecting One Thousand Gifts, please do. Some post their gifts on blogs, while others list them in private journals. Instructions on how to join are here

holy experience

Saturday, October 09, 2010

celebrating the lowly cranberry

Today we went to the Cranberry Festival in Fort Langley.

We started out with breakfast at Beatnik's. Hubby ordered a hearty omelette,  but I got into the spirit of the day with cranberry sourdough French toast — very yummy! 

Then it was on to ogle all things cranberry, and they were legion... from candles to candy, and vinegar to honey.

The Ocean Spray company was selling cranberries  by the bagful for $1.00 a pound.  Needless to say, we loaded up, coming home with a cranberry scone for lunch and 8 lbs. of berries -- which should help us survive the winter.

I'm sure you can guess what I did this afternoon ... made cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Sauce

2 cups cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup water

Put all ingredients into a cooking pot.
Place over heat and bring to boil. 
Cook till the berries soften and pop.
When cooked to desired mushiness, let the sauce cool, then bottle and store in refrigerator.
Serve with turkey.

(Use leftover cranberry sauce for lots of things -- like stirring into plain yogurt. Add fresh banana slices for a great dessert.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

cd review: Walking With the Wise

Sovereign Grace Kids' newest CD (released in June 2010) is all about wisdom. Walking with the Wise contains thirteen new songs done in the typical lively and interesting Sovereign Grace Kids' style that children ages 6-10 years will love.

Each song is based on passage or passages from Proverbs (the references are given under the titles of the songs in the liner notes, along with the lyrics). Songs are on topics of friendship, speech, deception, laziness, cheerfulness, listening to parents, and more. Of course the odd bit of humour (like the narrator trying to get some action from Lazy Bones in the song "Lazy Bones") adds to the appeal.

As on other projects, these tunes are ear-friendly to adults, and kids. The arrangements encompass a variety of styles from rock ("Wisdom"), to country-rock ballad ("Make Me Wise"), to pop ("Where it all Begins") and include sections with interesting blues ("Nuggets of Gold"), bluegrass ("To Tell the Truth"), and big band elements ("A Cheerful Heart"). The instrument list on the liner notes attests to the musical variety: drums, percussion, bass, a variety of guitars, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, trombone, accordion, even Gameboy sounds.

These songs are  also singable. A children's choir (usually in unison) backs a more mature solo voice on most cuts, so the pitch isn't overly high nor the sound shrill. Arrangements are easy to follow, making the CD a good one for singalongs. The enhanced CD contains accompaniment tracks (mp3 format) as well as guitar and lead sheets (as pdfs).

This CD would make a great addition to any home or children's ministry collection. The variety of topics and their relevance to kids' lives would make it a good companion to whatever Sunday School or school curriculum you're using. The lively contemporary style of the songs will have kids and their adults listening to this CD over and over — a wonderful way to make wisdom a part of mental and spiritual DNA.

Sample and buy the album here.
The album is also available on iTunes.
(Check out the free download of "Lazy Bones"!)


I received Walking With the Wise from Sovereign Grace Music for the purpose of writing a review.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Mural in a local coffee shop

Next Week: PEACEFUL (Relaxing, Harmonious, Friendly, Serene, Mild Weather, Calm Water,...)

Monday, October 04, 2010

autumn can never outstay her welcome (#103-115 of 1000 gifts)

My list of 1000 gifts continues. This week's edition:

103. Summery fall weather in the week just past with day after day of warm sunshine. (I totally forgive you, Spring, for taking so long to come. Your sister Autumn has made up for your malingering by staying on and on. Autumn, please hang around as long as you can!).

104. Nature's macrame

(double-click on any photo to enlarge)

105. The taste of new carrots.

106. Podcasts. I've been listening to the talks from the Desiring God Conference last weekend in Minneapolis. If you have time for just one, listen to Francis Chan on the topic: "Think Hard, Stay Humble: The Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride" (audio version, about 1 hr. 8 min.)

107. Automatic laundry, with my washer and dryer on the bedroom floor; love the no-stairs thing.

108. My hanging planter which, now that it's October, has decided to give it up for me in the fuchsia department.

109. Hubby's sciatic back is getting better (he's getting old and creaky).

110. Naps (because I'm getting old and sleepy).

111. Tea with a dear, dear friend who looks fabulous despite her "C" diagnosis.

112. Chestnuts. They have a grain and look like polished wood!

113. B.C. Lions won on Saturday night — in the last seconds no less. (I'm not an avid fan, but someone in the house is, so our home is a happier place when they win.)

114. Thanksgiving weekend — coming up!!

115. This morning, a tiny wonder of creation. (Yes, that is a Canadian penny.)

If you'd like to join me and many others collecting One Thousand Gifts, please do. Some post their gifts on blogs, while others list them in private journals. Instructions on how to join are here

holy experience

Friday, October 01, 2010

book review: Flight to Heaven: A Pilot's True Story by Captain Dale Black

Title: Flight to Heaven
Author: Captain Dale Black, with Ken Gire
Publisher: Bethany House, May 2010 
ISBN-10: 0764207946 
ISBN-13: 978-0764207945

The title and book blurb attracted me to this true story by Captain Dale Black. In it he tells of the airplane accident that almost took his life at age 19.

At first his memory of the accident and its aftermath were almost nonexistent. But as his battered body healed, so did his head and brain. With that healing, recall of the terrifying moments just before impact were soon joined by the memory of an out-of-body experience.

Though he had no actual recall of that experience until much later, when he woke from a three-day coma, he did know he was changed in a deep way. This is how he tells it:

"The nurse looked at me, studying the reactions in my good eye. "Hello, Dale," she said. "How do you feel? Can you hear me?"

This is hard to explain, but I felt an immediate and overwhelming love for this woman. It wasn't romantic. Nothing like that. It was deeper than that, purer. I wanted to talk with her, to thank her for helping me, but I couldn't. Most of all, I wanted to encourage her by telling her just how much God loved her...

That's how I was seeing this nurse. I had never met her, didn't even know her name. It was not a human love, I was sure of that. It was God's love. I felt as if I were a vessel through which His love was flowing. Does she know Jesus?..." p. 38

What sets Black's heavenly encounter story apart from many others is the fact that he decided (after telling his grandfather and on his grandfather's advice) to never speak of it until he felt sure God wanted him to.  Thus he lived for years telling no one, not even his wife, what he had seen.

However, when he did finally know that the time was right to go public, his wife of almost forty years was not that shocked. In many ways it explained why he was the way he was.  She says in a chapter near the end of the book:

"Dale's values and priorities completely changed after the airplane crash... He is sensitive toward and strongly drawn to relationships where there is unity and love at the core.... He studies the Bible from his heart rather than his head and knows it intimately.... He has a quest to understand order in science, but only to understand more about God. He is fascinated with light and the properties of light as well as space and astronomy....Without question Dale has been profoundly and permanently affected by his visit to heaven." p. 184.

Black begins the book with a tense incident from his adult life but then goes back in time and tells the story chronologically. I was struck by this young man's determination to achieve his dream, and his faith that he would recover physically in all the ways necessary for him to become a pilot.  A few black and white photos anchor the narrative in time and give faces to the characters.

Black's account of heaven is uncannily similar to biblical accounts. The way his encounter with the divine impacted his life even before he could recall it and continues to exert its influence, testifies to its authenticity.

I found the book  a quick and compelling read. Black says in the introduction that it took years to write and went through many drafts and edits. Perhaps that's why it slips down so effortlessly — because it's been combed and re-combed until every tangle and snag has been smoothed out.

Black's story made me aware of how much I live in a world of superficialities, and wonder how I would change if I experienced what Black did. I took from it not only the sense that Dale Black is an incredible man but that God is good, faithful, loving, and about His business. In Black's case that involved a preview of eternity. I'm so glad he felt at liberty to tell us about it.

Article first published as Book Review: Flight to Heaven: A Pilot's True Story by Captain Dale Black with Ken Gire on Blogcritics.

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