The Minister’s Wife – review

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The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More by Karen Stiller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I first discovered this book when I attended a webinar on writing spiritual memoir hosted by an Ottawa writing group, where the author, Karen Stiller, was the presenter. I was intrigued. Watching a later interview of Karen by Patricia Paddey on YouTube had me downloading a Kindle edition of the book, and I’m so glad I did.

The Minster’s Wife is a beautifully written memoir of Stiller’s spiritual journey, from her introduction to faith in her youth to her current self-admittedly greying years as a still-learning believer and minister’s wife.


I love the humble, self-deprecating tone of Stiller’s faith pilgrimage stories, which are rich in detail and often humorous.

In fourteen chapters organized by topic rather than chronologically, Stiller relates tales of “Identity,” “Doubt,” “Community,” “Envy,” “Forgiveness,” “Holiness,” and more, Stiller gives us glimpses into her pastor’s wife role that is as satisfying and rewarding as it is sometimes frustrating and challenging. Her love for the church, her children, and her husband glows through her candidly confessed imperfections.


I so appreciated Stiller’s lack of bitterness and self-pity, as she described her experiences, both bad and good. Her stories gave me a new appreciation for the role of pastor’s wife. Her style of showing us what happened without over-explaining its significance left room for this reader to mull over the multi-layered learning that happens so often in real life.



The Minister’s Wife is recommended reading for lovers of memoir and for ministers, minister’s wives, and all of us parishioners who love them.




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Everyday Watercolor Flowers – review

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Everyday Watercolor Flowers – A modern guide to painting blooms, leaves and stems by Jenna Rainey © 2019.


One of my favourite art teachers, particularly of watercolor, is Jenna Rainey. A couple of years ago, her book Everyday Watercolor introduced me to the wonderful medium of watercolor (reviewed here). Her newest book Everyday Watercolor Flowers came out in 2019 and my Kindle edition is well used.

The book begins with an extensive introductory section on watercolor basics including materials, colors, color mixing, hue, and value. In this section Rainey also gives a brief explanation of flower anatomy, leaf types and shapes, and demonstrates brush strokes that make those shapes.

The main chapters describe flower painting projects and are organized by flower shapes (star, circle, bell, bowl, trumpet, and combination) with four projects in each.  That’s 24 projects plus a section on combining flowers into wreaths and borders…so lots to paint here. The projects in each category come in two types: loose and realistic (botanical). In the star-shaped chapter, for example, the cherry blossoms and anemone tutorials describe painting these flowers in a loose style (with little or no pencil drawing to guide the painting), while the clematis and orchid are painted more realistically (begin with a pencil drawing and adhere closely to the details of the plant and flower).

Loose Cherry Blossom flowers from the Star-shaped flower chapter.

The book is beautiful! Rainey’s skill with paint and brush shines through each illustration. The instructions are clear, easy to follow, and interspersed with pictures of the project’s steps. Though the text does feel wordy at times (it would be easier to follow if it were in point form), its tone is encouraging and laced with tips and hacks. If you’ve ever visited Rainey’s YouTube channel you’ll recognize her voice, which comes through here in her writing.

I think beginners and intermediate watercolorists would enjoy these projects. If you’re looking for a book that is designed to help you gain skill in analyzing flowers by shape and has projects that are both loose and realistic, Everyday Watercolor Flowers is a great choice.

Some projects from this book that I’ve done: loose Sunflower, realistic Clematis, loose Dahlia, realistic Ranunculus.

15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces – review

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If there was ever a great time to learn about art, this is it. Not only is the internet full of videos and online class possibilities, but books are easier than ever to purchase and use. For art instruction I love Kindle books. On my iPad they have a built-in stand (I don’t have to fight with stubborn pages to keep the book open while I’m using it) and the illustrations can be enlarged with a couple of finger swipes. One book I downloaded some months ago is Anna Koliadych’s 15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces. It is full of simple and fun watercolor projects.

The book begins with a section on watercolor techniques and exercises, and then is divided into chapters that name various categories: “Beautiful Landscapes,” “Dreamy Galaxies,” “Elegant Plants and Foliage,” “Flowers,” “Fruits and Sweets,” “Adorable Animals,” and “Fashion.” There are six to nine projects (paintings) in each chapter so lots of possibilities.

The paintings are explained step-by-step and include a list of materials, swatches of the painting’s colors, how to mix them, and illustrations of the project as it progresses.

The book ends with a list of supplies and a few hacks from the author in chapters titled “Supplies” and “Tips and Advice.”

This is a colorful, fun book. The instructions and illustrations are easy to follow. Though I wouldn’t call my projects “masterpieces” or art I would want to frame, they introduced me to a variety of techniques and subjects. They usually took me longer than 15 minutes because drying time was needed. But they were quick and a wonderful way to squeeze in a bit of art every day, even when I didn’t have much time for it.

Here are some of the projects I completed from Anna’s book.

“Mysterious Forest” and “Autumn in a Circle”  are projects from the “Beautiful Landscapes” chapter. “Leafy Branches with Berries” is from the “Elegant Plants and Foliage” chapter. “Wreath of Flowers” is from the “Flowers” chapter.

Author Anna Koliadych also teaches watercolor online offering courses on her website. She is @dearannart on Instagram and her feed is full of short instructional videos.

The Freedom of Dependency (review)

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Patricia Mussolum’s little book the Freedom of Dependency packs a big punch as it riffs on an apparent contradiction—how dependency on Jesus leads to a life of freedom.

Part testimony, part teaching, part a dare to greater faith and obedience, Mussolum covers a lot of territory. In fourteen brief chapters with intriguing names like “The Sorting Room,” “Friendship or Formality,” and “Getting Dressed,” she delves, in a personal and easy-to-understand way, into deep subjects like a Christian’s relationship to the sin nature (“The Sorting Room”), the place of the Bible in a Christian’s life (“Friendship or Formality”), and spiritual clothing options (“Getting Dressed”), and much more.

For a read that will lift, instruct, encourage, and challenge, The Freedom of Dependency won’t disappoint

Discover Your Hidden Self – review

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Discover Your Hidden Self: Opening the Door to Who You Really Are! by John Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It is for a time when crisis hits that John Murray has penned the helpful volume Discover Your Hidden Self: Opening the Door to Who You Really Are! In it he uncovers problem areas that may hinder us as we face life-altering challenges of health, relationships, and unpredictable turns of events that are inevitable. The goal is to help us gain calmness and serenity whatever comes our way.

In twelve chapters Murray tackles relevant subjects like grappling with suffering and unfairness, harnessing the power of thoughts and attitudes, extending forgiveness, finding significance and contentment, and being neighbourly. Throughout he sprinkles stories of people who have faced these issues and achieved success at overcoming them.

A penultimate chapter on life’s spiritual side lifts the reader from looking for help only within themselves to establishing a relationship with God—the God of the Bible–for wisdom, courage, strength, and support through life’s perplexities. Here’s a favourite quote from this section:

“Someone once said, ‘Adversity introduces a man to himself,’ which has an element of truth to it, but I think it should read, ‘Adversity introduces a man to his faith.’ In our adversity, in the midst of our emotional turmoil, our faith becomes real or it proves non-existent” – page 82 (Kindle edition).

Murray’s insights are wise and his tone is warm, sympathetic, and encouraging.

This book would be a great read for when you’re in the middle of a trial, or before, to be prepared for when that next challenge comes your way

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Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey (review)

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What strange days we’re living in! Here on Canada’s west coast signs of spring are poking out and blooming all over. The coming of spring usually buoys my spirits immensely and this year is no different—and yet it is. For the black Covid-19 cloud looms on the horizon and we’re all living in obeisance by “social distancing” and, if returning from abroad, living in actual isolation. Closeted in our houses, condos, or apartments, we go out only for necessities and short walks, avoiding each other like the plague (which, we fear, anyone can be carrying, unbeknownst to them). It all feels so bizarre and unreal.

It’s gratifying to see how the online world has stepped up to fill work and recreation gaps. Lately I’ve heard more than once that this is a great time to spend unexpectedly free hours learning something new. My interest in art has familiarized me with that sphere. There, artists are offering all manner of online courses and tutorials, many free.

Another option, if you’d like to try your hand at art, specifically learning to paint with watercolor, is books. One I worked through last year was Jenna Rainey’s Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days.

Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey

This is an excellent book for a beginning painter. Rainey starts with the basics in sections called “Techniques” and “Form, Perspective and Light.” Her explanations of theory are followed, at every step, by projects. These range from making color swatches to completing complex scenes. I worked through the whole book and along the way learned about wet on wet and wet on dry painting, value and tone, light to dark layering, light source, shadow, and much much more.

Bookstores in your area are probably closed but no problem. You can purchase this book online, in fact, have it on your device in minutes as an e-book. I bought it that way and viewed the book’s projects on my iPad as I worked on them.

As a teaser, here are some of the Everyday Watercolor projects I completed. (The ideas and designs are © Jenna Rainey.)

You can also follow Jenna Rainey on Instagram, where she posts painting instruction videos. Can you watch her work and not fall in love with watercolor? I doubt it!

South: The story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Review

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South (Illustrated): The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition by Ernest Shackleton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Recently my preference in books has settled on memoir and biography. In that genre, South a memoir of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Antarctic expedition (first published in 1919) was a real find in my stash of unread Kindle books.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) was an Antarctic explorer who had gone on several expeditions before the one described in this book. He was a third mate in Robert F. Scott’s 1901-1903 Discovery Expedition and led another, the Nimrod Expedition, in 1907-1909. On that trip, he and his mates broke the then-record for getting nearest to the South Pole and climbed Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s most active volcano. On returning to England, he was knighted by King George VII, becoming Sir Ernest Shackleton.

His third expedition, the 1914-1917 one which South details, was ambitious. It involved two ships with a selected crew of 26 men on each. The ship Endurance carried Shackleton and his crew. They hoped to reach Antarctica via the Weddell Sea (approaching Antarctica from the east), and trek overland. Meanwhile the ship Aurora, approaching Antarctica from the South via the Ross Sea, was tasked with carrying and depositing supplies along the route that Shackleton and his men hoped to take.

The expedition’s trouble began when the Endurance became trapped by ice before reaching land. Active ice floes moved, ground, and pressed against the ship. Shackleton and his men, fearing the worst, prepared for the possibility of abandoning their floating home. One fateful day the Endurance was indeed crushed and badly damaged. Shackleton and the crew’s many weeks drifting on the ice was only the beginning of their misadventures.

Shackleton’s telling is rich with journal entries of his own and others. The story of the Aurora and its crew, almost as discouraging, follows the tale of the Endurance crew.

In this day of air travel and sophisticated communication, the isolated, helpless state of Shackleton and his men is almost unimaginable. Their character, stoicism, and resourcefulness, along with Sir Ernest’s inspirational leadership are things I found remarkable in this story.

On this expedition, Shackleton and his men encountered the beauty and brutality of nature. They were often near death and I wondered, did they ever get to a point where they were beyond themselves? Did they ever acknowledge God? Pray?

Several times in the book Shackleton does mention Providence (yes, capitalized). And this bit from the last leg of his journey on South Georgia Island to get help is very interesting:

“When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

— South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (Kindle Location 3220)

South is a riveting tale that will keep you reading long into the night. Highly recommended.

Note:
My Kindle edition of the book had a list of illustrations (mostly photographs) that weren’t included in the book. Should you happen to read such an edition, the illustrations are available and linked here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5199/5199-h/5199-h.htm .

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As the Ink Flows (review)

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As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian WritersAs the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers by Glenda Dekkema

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though books of devotions abound, As the Ink Flows is a unique collection of ninety meditations written by five Canadian writers for writers—and speakers too.

Section divisions (The Craft; Inspiration; Know Yourself; Well-Being; Personalities; and Faithfulness) demonstrate how wide-ranging and thorough this book is.

Devotions are short. A quoted scripture verse, two to five paragraphs on the day’s theme, followed by a one-line prayer completes on one page. Each is followed by a “Let the Ink Flow” page which consists of a thought or idea on which to reflect and a writing prompt. Space on these pages makes writing directly in the book possible (if it’s a hard copy).

I found these devotions by turn encouraging, probing, affirming, illuminating, and challenging. What a useful guide for worship, gratitude, prayer, meditation, and future direction for writers or speakers at any point in their career, from “should I give this a try?” to “been there, done that.” Highly recommended for Christian speakers and writers of any genre.

I received this book as a gift (ebook edition) from the publisher in exchange for a review.

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The Way of Letting Go (review)

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The Way of Letting Go: One Woman's Walk toward ForgivenessThe Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk toward Forgiveness by Wilma Derksen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The abduction of their 13-year-old daughter in November off 1984 shunted Winnipeg residents Cliff and Wilma Derksen onto an unfamiliar and horror-strewn track. The discovery of her body seven months later, bound and frozen, provided closure on one level. She had been murdered. She was never coming home. But that day opened a Pandora’s box of feelings, reactions, learnings, and conclusions about how to deal with the unthinkable crime of the murder of their child. Early on, the Derksens declared their decision to forgive.

In The Way of Letting Go, published in 2017, 32 years after the crime, Wilma Derksen describes what forgiveness has entailed for her. Drawing inspiration from “the Nazarene” and the Sermon on the Mount she tells (in chapters titled, for example: “Letting Go of the Happy Ending,” “Letting Go of Fear,” “Letting Go of my Ego” etc.) incidents that triggered realizations of what she was hanging onto and needed to release. She also analyzes the spiritual and practical implications of these relinquishments.

The triggering incidents she tells help us to put together the Derksen’s story in a puzzle piece way. We also get glimpses of what it was like to be in the spotlight of the victim and involved with the police and justice system of Canada.

The Way of Letting Go not only tells a riveting story but also challenges us to consider (when we’ve been wronged) the difficult, complicated, repetitious (“Seventy times seven”) response of forgiveness. Highly recommended.

This book is part of my own Kindle collection.

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Psalms Alive! (review)

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Psalms Alive!Psalms Alive! by David Kitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Psalms Alive! author, pastor, and dramatist David Kitz takes us on a journey through thirteen selected psalms. In the Preface Kitz explains why he wrote the book:

“For the past number of years I have been bringing the Psalms to life for audiences through the medium of live drama. Here now in book form, from a dramatist’s perspective I provide a glimpse into the prayers and praise of the psalmists” 18.

Each of the book’s 26 chapters begins with the quoted scripture passage under discussion. This is followed by Kitz expanding on it in a variety of ways that include personal stories, explanations of biblical customs and settings, devotional inspiration, and challenges to apply the scripture’s advice to life. Each chapter ends with a “Bringing Life to the Psalms” section consisting of three to four discussion and personal application questions.

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Bible art journal on Psalm 19:14 using a quote from Psalms Alive! (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

Kitz’s writing is lively, picturesque, and wise. He expands liberally on the ideas presented in the Bible passage. He doesn’t leaves us in the theoretical clouds though, but makes sure his conclusions connect to everyday living. My book is full of underlined sections. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

From the Preface: “When we handle the Word of God, we are handling life. When we take hold of the Word of God, it takes hold of us” – 17.

From a chapter on Psalm 19: “Your heavenly Father does not need a stethoscope to check on the condition of your heart; he needs only to listen to the words coming out of your mouth” – 43.

From a chapter on Psalm 103: “Relationship is always the wellspring of all revelation. It is while we are in God’s presence that we discover the mind of Christ” – 149.

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Bible art journal detail (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

I used this book, along with others in an online creative Bible study and found much inspiration in it for Bible art journaling. It has deepened and broadened my appreciation of the psalms discussed. It would make an excellent textbook (along with the Bible, of course) for men’s or women’s Bible studies.

I received this book as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review and participating in the study.

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