Adventures in Beekeeping {#tinyhousebees}

I am officially a beekeeper.

bee gear

This is NOT a path I envisioned taking, even a year and a half ago. It wasn’t that I hated bees or was particularly afraid of them. I just never envisioned being a beekeeper because I didn’t think I had the knowledge, skills, or strength to do so. But after offering a beekeeping class and taking it this year and last through my job (taught by a couple of experienced beekeepers, of course), and helping my Dad keep bees last year, I’m smitten with the little creatures.

I’m not kidding.

Perhaps a little obsessed, I am 100% on the beekeeping bandwagon and ready to pull everyone around me on it as well. But according to most of the things I’ve read and most of the people I talk to, this is just how it goes. Once you’re introduced to bees, you’re in. There’s no escape route. You realize they are fairly calm, mostly peaceful little creatures that are fascinating to watch and provide some sweet (literally) paybacks for being a dutiful steward of the hives.

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This is my first year with my own hives at my house, and I’m dedicated to documenting this year for you, my readers. I hope you’ll see some of the magic of beekeeping, and perhaps lose a little fear you might be harboring.

Because, really? This little fuzzy ladies are pretty adorable.

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The #tinyhousebees have been living at my house for 11 days now, and are established in two hives right outside my bathroom window, in my little yard in town. I’ll describe more about how I set up the hives, why I chose the location, and how I installed the bees in other posts. Keep an eye out, and walk this bee journey with me.

-Jen


Sting count: 0

Expectations {Five Minute Friday}

It’s been a while, friends, since I’ve written with the Five Minute Friday crew. So I’m joining in with the amazing #fmfparty community and writing on a common theme, for just five minutes. Today’s word is: Expect.


Go.

When I hopped on a plane and flew to South Africa for two years, I was told repeatedly by Peace Corps staff not to have expectations. Expectations set volunteers up for frustration, and sometimes failure. So, as much as I could, I tried not to expect anything.

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I failed at that, miserably. 

But in trying to expect nothing, I learned to expect anything. Click To Tweet

And South Africa both exceeded and fell short of my loosely-held expectations, in a myriad of incredible and frustrating ways.

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And then the most unexpected of things happened, and I wound up being medevac’d back home, grasping for a firm hold in a new reality. And the long-practiced, sometimes despised habit of letting loose of expectations took hold. After a few obedient, unplanned, possibly stubborn “yes’s”, I learned to expect everything.

Because when God is leading the way, we can expect everything good, even in the midst of all the bad.

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I’ve learned that having expectations isn’t bad. But we just need to expect in hope, resting in the truth that God’s plan is far better than our expectations.

Stop.

Jen

The Quieting {Review}

I recently had the pleasure of reading The Quieting by Suzanne Woods Fisher, which is a novel set in Stoney Ridge, the fictitious Amish village create by Fisher and written about in several other books. This is the second book in The Bishop’s Family series. The book revolves around David, an Amish minister who must make the difficult decision whether to seek a quieting or not, the Amish method of removing a church leader from leadership, in this instance due to dishonesty and pride.

Abigail, David’s niece, is an inquisitive, unusual Amish young lady who seeks to help her father uncover some genealogical secrets for a client. But when her grandmother takes her from Ohio to Stoney Ridge to visit her uncle David’s family during a difficult time, Abigail’s plans are completely upset.

I’ve read several Amish fiction books, and while I like them and the unique look into a simpler, unusual lifestyle, most of them tend to have similar characters, settings, and plots. The Quieting is a different story, focusing on an aspect of Amish life that I’ve never heard of or read about: a quieting. Furthermore, the characters were strikingly different than many Amish characters I’ve encountered before: complex and surprisingly realistic.

This novel was a joy to read, and I look forward to finding more books from Fisher, as well as reading further books in The Bishop’s Family series. Based on this novel, more great books, characters, and twists and turns are bound to come with future books from Fisher.

I’d recommend The Quieting to anyone who enjoys a good work of fiction, particularly Amish fiction. While there is an element of romance in the novel, it’s not the central story line, so I wouldn’t call it a romantic fiction. If you pick up this book, you’re in for a great read!


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review. Affiliate links are used in this post.

Strong Women {#putonyourpearls}

When I think about strong women, I think of the women in Kudunkgwane, the South African village I lived in for two years. (Besides the women in my family, of course, who are exceptionally strong!)

There was a group of women who took ownership of my school garden project. They not only show up for workshops: they dug deep into the Kalahari soil to plant a garden, showed up during the school week and holidays to water and tend the garden, and even took new garden methods and created fantastic gardens at their homes.

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A pearl is a healed wound.

These women, called “gogos”, which meant grandmothers, were some of the matriarchs in the village. Families ravaged by HIV/AIDS and a poor economy, they were left to care for their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and possibly other various kids in the village. Often facing the loss of their husbands and children, either due to death or far-off jobs in the city, they were left alone. To care for children that often weren’t their own.

And they rose to the occasion.

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Wear your pearls to remind the world that every woman matters.

Ignoring the brutal beating of the Kalahari sun, the fierce desert winds filled with sand, and the crushing weight of poverty, theses gogos worked hard to make life a little better for the children at the school. While most of them were beyond retirement age, they were strong beyond believe, digging into the hard desert soil with surprising energy.

They were oppressed, having grown up during the unbearable years of Apartheid, denied a decent education, and having watched the decimation of the generation of their children from HIV/AIDS. They had every reason to give in. Give up. Accept that life had been incredibly difficult, and likely wouldn’t change drastically anytime soon.

Yet they showed up. They grabbed spades, shoveled dirt, and planted seeds. Seeds of hope: hope in the form of vegetables to feed hundreds of hungry children. While it was just a drop in the ocean, their small efforts of relieving the sting of poverty and pain of hunger transformed a school. And that impact rippled out to change a village.

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#putonyourpearls

Today I put on my pearls in honor of these women, these impossible strong women, these gogos, who dared to make a difference. They are priceless.

Despite my dislike of selfies, today I’m posting one to remind myself that every woman is priceless, whether it’s a gogo in a Kalahari village, a woman stuck in modern-day slavery, or an uncertain girl in rural Iowa.

You are priceless.

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Today is Global Giving Day, and I’m joining with hundreds of other women to #putonyourpearls in honor of oppressed women around the world. Women who have faced unspeakable tragedies in their lives. Because even though life has treated them harshly, there is always hope.

Check out She is Priceless to learn more, see partnering organizations, or donate for an incredible worthy cause. Or check out Kristen’s post about this day, and see how her life has been impacted by powerful women.

Would you consider donating to one of the organizations on this page? Because when oppressed women are empowered, nothing can stop them. Just like the gogos in my village who wouldn’t let a hard life keep them from changing their small corner of the world.

Because every woman is priceless.

Counted with the Stars {Review}

I recently finished Counted with the Stars by Connilyn Cossette, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I adore historical fiction, but this setting, plot line, and perspective are surprisingly different than most historical fictions. Counted with the Stars is a refreshing take on story many of us have heard numerous times in church while growing up.

Told from the viewpoint of a young Egyptian elite-turned-slave, this novel revolves around Moses, the plagues, and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. Kiya, the main character, learns to deal with her own cultural prejudices as she becomes friends with a fellow slave, Hebrew-born Shira.

While I’ve heard the story of the plagues of Egypt and the exodus of the Hebrews, seeing it “first hand” made me think how miserable and disheartening that period of history must have been for the Egyptians, but also how joyful yet fearful it had to have been for the Hebrews. The novel is full of twists and turns, which kept me guessing to the last pages. Surprising for a story that I already knew the overall ending to!

I would highly recommend this novel, not just to historical fiction lovers, but to anyone who wants a fresh look at what life in Egypt might have been like during the life of Moses. Woven into this story are tiny details of the culture and language of the Hebrews, and as Kiya learned more about God’s chosen people, I found myself learning as well. The end of the book left me pondering a well-known, incredible story for a while.

Find this book, and read it. You won’t regret it! Travel with Kiya from her privileged life to her sudden station as a slave, and watch as her eyes open to a whole different world as she befriends Shira and her family. Cossette has written an incredibly piece of fiction that rings with seeds of Biblical truths, and it’s well worth your time to read.


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review. This post includes affiliate links.

Wholeness of Community {Five Minute Friday}

It’s Five Minute Friday time, when I gather with other writers from all corners of the globe as we write together, for just five minutes, on a common prompt. When we put away the inner editor and just let the words flow. Our gracious hostess, Kate, has all the details on her blog, as well as the link up so YOU can join in!

Today’s prompt is: Whole.


 

I didn’t realize what I had left behind. What was missing. Nor what stood to be gained.

When I left the church of my youth, I believed I could live a faith-filled life without community. You know, keep reading the Bible, praying, etc. And for too long, this was the reality of my spiritual life. An ember burning, but not shining forth. I didn’t see how community fit into the whole picture.

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And then I came back to community, slowly. Timid and wounded, I tiptoed into the church and fell head-first into community. To a whole, Christ-loving, vibrate community. And the wounded places found healing.

And I found a whole new aspect to my faith: what it means to have community amplify your faith.

When your whole world turns to turmoil, what it means to have friends that will show up, no matter what.

Ones who will talk down the dusty roads of a foreign country, willing to have their whole worldview shattered to see as Jesus saw.

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Friends who reach out every day, just to see if life’s going well. And when it’s not, they show up.

I discovered a whole new world, a Jesus-loving community ready to walk with me through life. And this has challenged and grown my faith in unexpected ways. Now I can’t imagine life without the wholeness of community. Because you simply don’t understand how vital it is until you experience it.

And then your whole world changes.

-Jen


Full disclosure, this probably took more than five minutes to write because I had a hyperactive terrier jumping on me, my couch, and my computer the whole time.

 

A Treasure Concealed {Review}


I recently finished A Treasure Concealed by Tracie Peterson, which is the first book in a series set in the 1890s in the Montana Territory. I have always been a fan of Peterson, who is a fantastic author, and this book is no exception. Not only was the plot line compelling and the characters well-developed, but it sets the stage for what is likely to be a great series.

Typical of a historic romance, this novel centers around a young woman named Emily, who lives in the Montana Territory and has always grown up in the undesirable reality of mining areas. And as is common in historic romances, a young man, Caeden, enters the scene. However, as the novel plays out, there are surprising twists and unexpected events sprinkled throughout. Just enough to leave the reader guessing.

I found this book to be a delightful read, though once I started, I wanted to read it all in one setting. Such is the mark of a great book! Peterson worked hard to develop strong, complex characters, which made the novel rich and engaging. Furthermore, her love of research and creating a detailed setting made me feel as if I were in the Montana Territory at the turn of the 20th century.

I would recommend this book to any lover of historical romances. In fact, I would even risk encouraging them to read future installments of this novel, as I’m sure they will all be as fantastic as A Treasure Concealed. If you’re looking for a book with a strong, independent female lead that will keep you wondering what happens next, check out A Treasure Concealed and be prepared for a delightful read!


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review.

Returning Again

It’s hard. The words come haltingly, and I find myself preferring to flee, rather than press on. To shut my computer and return to my morning routine, leaving words unwritten, yet floating around my head.

It’s been a quiet season, friends. A long one. And while in a sense it would be easier to leave this space be, the words build up. And so I sit, aching to let free to words, yet struggling to do so.

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I’m rusty, can you tell?

Yet, writers gonna write.

There’s so many things I’ve been meaning to write about, and yet haven’t. The tiny house transformation. The joys of my church community. The quiet solitude of winter, and the brilliant renewal of spring. Cambodia! But I’m unused to digging deep and filtering through the words. I’ve forgotten how, yet at the same time yearning to write again.

And so, here I am. Shifting through the words, memories, and emotions. Trying to figure out what come next, yet at the same time trying to stem the flow of words, which threaten to spill out uncontrolled.

Maybe none of this makes sense. To my writer people it will, I suspect. But all you need to know is that I’m back. And as these words eek out of my brain, through my fingers, and onto the keyboard, a sense of familiarity returns. Amid the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafting through early morning air in the tiny house, I find myself returning to familiar ground.

This is a place I need to be, here in this writing space.

Welcome back, dear readers. I’ve missed you too.

-Jen

You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide {Review}

I was invited to be a part of the launch team for Holley Gerth‘s “You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide“, which means I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading through the guide prior to its release. And let me tell you: It’s a great guide designed for women’s groups or personal study.

I lead a women’s group at my church, which is why I was interested in reading through the LifeGrowth Guide as part of the launch team. And goodness, I definitely think it’s worth getting for anyone who works with women in such a setting. And honestly? It would even be a great tool for personal study and discovery.

Paired with Holley’s “You’re Already Amazing” book, the LifeGrowth Guide digs deeper into the text of the book, exploring the talents, strengths, desires, and fears that all women have and how they manifest in each of us. She writes about identifying our strengths and talents, pulling out the truth of who God created us to be. She goes on to help us explore how those strength and talents can be used, both in the church and out of the church.

What I love about the LifeGrowth Guide is that Holley’s message is wrapped up with a huge dose of encouragement. Her words can’t help but lift you up as you read, as if you were having coffee with a good friend. Her writing style is familiar and friendly, inviting you into her journey with Jesus and you explore your own. And sprinkled throughout the guide are gorgeous graphic art, just waiting to be printed out and hung up.

Source: Holley Gerth

Source: Holley Gerth

I recommend both the LifeGrowth Guide (with the accompanying DVD materials) and the book “You’re Already Amazing” to anyone looking for a great topic for their women’s group. I’m already considering the possibility of using it as the topic for my growth group at church, and I’m thrilled that Holley has developed this guide to help women journey through “You’re Already Amazing” at a deeper level.

-Jen


 

I received a complimentary copy of this guide in exchange for my honest review as part of Holley Gerth’s “You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide” Launch Team. Affiliate links were used in this post.

I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See {Review}

I don’t think I can adequately explain how much I love Stephanie Rishe’s I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See, but I will try my hardest to convey that point in this review.

Short version: I LOVED this book. Go buy it for any single woman you know, or for yourself. Trust me!

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Source: Amazon

Long version: It’s been a very long time since I’ve so thoroughly agreed with almost every single word in a book, but I Was Blind (Dating) is one of those books. When I wasn’t saying silent (or not so silent) “amens”, I was rolling in laughter. Rische has the incredible skill of combining comedy and gut-wrenching truth into her writing. For entertainment value alone, I would recommend this book to any woman.

Do you hear me on that? Any woman, marital status aside. Because it’s a hilarious book.

But it’s so much more than a funny, feel-good, disastrous-dating-stories book. Rische doesn’t offer a method to get a man. She doesn’t point to a tried-and-true equation of doing certain things to land the perfect husband. I’ve read those books, and perhaps you have too, and they’ve only left me feeling defeated. Rische instead deals with the heart of the matter, digging deep into topics many of us may hide from, but in reality need to find the courage to address.

And while, yes, there are some great dating disaster stories in the book, Rische shares her long journey of dating from a point of complete vulnerability, sharing the depths of her heart. And this book is encouraging beyond belief. Because relationships aren’t a set of instructions to follow, or equations to figure out. They happen in a messy world with messy people who often do silly things.

Rische shares her struggles with remaining single longer than she ever imagined, and how she struggled to deal with expectations and questions from friends, family, and strangers. As a 27 year old, I get it. While I’m in happily in a dating relationship now, I haven’t always been, and I totally get where she’s coming from, and who she’s writing to. Because she’s writing to me, a year ago, and I wish I had this book back then.

I highly encourage you to purchase I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See. Maybe you’re single, or not-yet-married. Maybe you’ve been married ten years but your best friend is wondering what she’s doing wrong. Maybe you know a few single ladies in your church who need some affirmation that they are beautiful, wonderful, fantastic ladies who are cherished by an amazing God. But I firmly believe we all know someone who needs this book, so grab your copy today!

Trust me, it’s incredible!

-Jen


 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Tyndale, in exchange for my honest review.