Friday, January 26, 2018

2017 Book and Music Recap

Since my wrap-up post for 2017 was already extremely long, I decided my reading of 2017 and a list of my favorite songs could comprise a second post. To read my year's summary, you can click HERE. Now, on with the post.

I'm generally not a big music-person, but as I've found better and better songs, I've come to look forward to putting on my music and praising the Lord. I generally only listen to Christian contemporary, so that's what all these are. Over the last few months, I've been listening quite often to K-Love, a Christian radio station. I've enjoyed almost every song they've played. The lyrics are absolutely incredible. To mention a few I'd recommend:
"When We Pray" Tauren Wells
"O Lord" Lauren Daigle
"Control" Tenth Avenue North
"Point to You" We Are Messengers
"Lions" Skillet
"Miracle" Unspoken
"Different" Micah Tyler
"Jesus I Believe" Big Daddy Weave
"Miracles" Audio Adrenaline

I've also enjoyed several songs by King and Country, the Newsboys, Jordan Feliz ("The River"), and Hawk Nelson ("Diamonds," "Words," "Drops in the Ocean"). "Courageous" by Casting Crowns is powerful. A Christmas song that really spoke to me this winter was "The Night Before Christmas" by Brandon Heath.

I could list a hundred more, but these will suffice for now. :) I'm eager to discover more great songs this year. I've already found a few!

Now for the best section of my 2017 recap. :) It's been a wonderful year as far as finding some fabulous authors. This marks my third year keeping meticulous track of the books I read. Often, I can tell my mood from each month simply by which books I read. Here are my reading stats:
15,600+ total pages
53 books
1300 average pages/month
294 average pages/book
4.4 average books/month
Best month: March (9 books; 2,633 pages)
Worst month: October (2 books; 749 pages)
Longest book: 486 pages (Exiles, Jaye L. Knight)
Shortest book: 108 pages (Befriending the Beast, Amanda Tero)
Number of rereads: only 3 (When Dreams Come True, Eric and Leslie Ludy; Dare, Tricia Mingerink; Deny, Tricia Mingerink)
Number of authors: 33
Fiction books: 50
Nonfiction books: 3

Here is the complete list of books I read.

January (1,894 pages total)
  1. Red Rock Mysteries: Hollywood Holdup, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (208 pages)
  2. Out From Egypt: Shadow of the Storm, Connilyn Cossette (346 pages)
  3. The Blades of Acktar: Destroy, Tricia Mingerink (165 pages)
  4. Adventures of the Northwoods: The Vanishing Footprints, Lois W. Johnson (156 pages)
  5. Dragons in Our Midst: Tears of a Dragon, Bryan Davis (363 pages)
  6. The Staff and the Sword: A Cast of Stones, Patrick W. Carr (428 pages)
  7. Red Rock Mysteries: Wind Chill, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (228 pages)

February (1,135 pages total)
  1. Land of Shining Water: The Icecutter's Daughter, Tracie Peterson (331 pages)
  2. Chiveis Trilogy: The Gift, Bryan M. Litfin (407 pages)
  3. Ilyon Chronicles: The King's Scrolls, Jaye L. Knight (397 pages)

March (2,633 pages total)
  1. Out of Time: A Time to Die, Nadine Brandes (389 pages)
  2. Circle C Milestones: Courageous Love, Susan K. Marlow (186 pages)
  3. A Seven Wonders Novel: Shadow of Colossus, T. L. Higley (384 pages)
  4. Left to Die, Ivy Rose (116 pages)
  5. Martin Generations: Martin Hospitality, Abigayle Claire (386 pages)
  6. Circle C Adventures: Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home (expanded edition), Susan K. Marlow (195 pages)
  7. Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, John Flanagan (249 pages)
  8. Ranger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge, John Flanagan (262 pages)
  9. Ilyon Chronicles: Samara's Peril, Jaye L. Knight (464 pages)

April (1,283 pages total)
  1. Ranger's Apprentice: The Icebound Land, John Flanagan (266 pages)
  2. Red Rock Mysteries: Hidden Riches, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (249 pages)
  3. Red Rock Mysteries: Dead End, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (235 pages)
  4. The Blades of Acktar: Deliver, Tricia Mingerink (239 pages)
  5. Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia, John Flanagan (294 pages)

May (1,164 pages total + Romeo and Juliet)
  1. Ranger's Apprentice: The Sorcerer of the North, John Flanagan (295 pages)
  2. When Dreams Come True, Eric and Leslie Ludy (265 pages)
  3. Ranger's Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw, John Flanagan (293 pages)
  4. The Omega Trilogy: Unbound, J. B. Simmons (311 pages)
  5. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

June (947 pages total)
  1. Steadfast Love: The Sound of Diamonds, Rachelle Rea (276 pages)
  2. Dandelion Dust, Faith Potts (178 pages)
  3. Outrageous Courage, Kris and Jason Vallotton (154 pages)
  4. Out From Egypt: Wings of the Wind, Connilyn Cossette (339 pages)

July (1,471 pages total)
  1. The Staff and the Sword: The Hero's Lot, Patrick W. Carr (437 pages)
  2. The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers (372 pages)
  3. The Homelanders: The Last Thing I Remember, Andrew Klavan (336 pages)
  4. Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, Richard Paul Evans (326 pages)

August (835 pages total)
  1. Michael Vey: The Rise of the Elgen, Richard Paul Evans (335 pages)
  2. Michael Vey: The Battle of the Ampere, Richard Paul Evans (320 pages)
  3. Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin (180 pages)

September (1,469 pages total)
  1. DragonKeeper Chronicles: DragonKnight, Donita K. Paul (393 pages)
  2. Michael Vey: Hunt for Jade Dragon, Richard Paul Evans (319 pages)
  3. Ilyon Chronicles: Exiles, Jaye L. Knight (486 pages)
  4. Michael Vey: Storm of Lightning, Richard Paul Evans (271 pages)

October (749 pages total)
  1. The Blades of Acktar: Dare, Tricia Mingerink (334 pages)
  2. The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper (415 pages)

November (1,080 pages total)
  1. The Blades of Acktar: Deny, Tricia Mingerink (328 pages)
  2. Michael Vey: Fall of Hades, Richard Paul Evans (328 pages)
  3. Michael Vey: The Final Spark, Richard Paul Evans (316 pages)
  4. Tales of Faith: Befriending the Beast, Amanda Tero (108 pages)

December (949 pages total)
  1. Heroes of Quantico: Against All Odds, Irene Hannon (332 pages)
  2. Alaskan Courage: Submerged, Dani Pettrey (310 pages)
  3. The Beautiful Pretender, Melanie Dickerson (307 pages)

If asked to choose a favorite book from the year, it'd be a difficult decision. The nominees are:

The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers
This is an extremely powerful, and well-written story. Rivers is among my favorite authors, and I'd highly recommend this book to all mature readers.

Dare and Deny, Tricia Mingerink
If you've kept track of my blog and favorite books for any length of time, you'll know that Mingerink is my top favorite author, thus why Dare and Deny absolutely had to make the favorites list.

Exiles, Jaye L. Knight
Book four in the series, Exiles was a fast-paced, thrilling fantasy that kept me turning the pages. Knight is also one of my favorite authors.

When Dreams Come True, Eric and Leslie Ludy
Another reread, the few books I've read by the Ludy couple are very well done and appealing to the intended audience. This particular book is the story of their courtship.

Martin Hospitality, Abigayle Claire
As Claire's debut novel, you can't tell it's her first publication. The story line is deep but written with a tasteful sense of humor. I'm eager for book two.

Dandelion Dust, Faith Potts
Also a debut author, I've been following Faith for several years on her blog. I was thrilled for her book's release, and thoroughly enjoyed the tale. Heart-wrenching as it is, Faith succeeded in making me cry. Excellent characterization and plot.

Submerged, Dani Pettrey
A new author to me, Pettrey's first book in her Alaskan Courage series was thrilling. A suspenseful romance, it was also a story of redemption that kept me flipping pages.

In my winning envelope is a tie between Mingerink's Dare and River's The Atonement Child.

I didn't have too many disappointing reads this year, but there were still a few that didn't quite tickle my fancy. I'd really been looking forward to Nadine Brande's A Time to Die, but the style just wasn't what I'm used to, and I felt the characterization and plot left room for some improvement. I found the ending of Dead End, the fifteenth and final book in the Red Rock Mysteries series by Jenkins and Fabry, to be a personally disappointing close to a wonderful series. And finally, Cooper's Last of the Mohicans was just too difficult for me to read style-wise. I've never been a big fan of the "classics."

On the other hand, my top three favorite series of the year would have to be the Blades of Acktar by Tricia Mingerink, Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight, and Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans. I read all seven books of the Michael Vey series this year and they were fantastic! Although not a Christian series as all the other books I've specifically mentioned so far have been, the series was still clean and greatly entertaining.

In addition to my favorite authors already mentioned above, some authors new to me who are now on my list include Faith Potts, Abigayle Claire, Ivy Rose, Richard Paul Evans, Melanie Dickerson, and Dani Pettrey. Another new author I found enjoyable was John Flanagan.

Top 5 favorite book covers:

This year, several books left me thinking and had quite an impact on me. The first was (once again) Francine River's The Atonement Child, which addressed the abortion issue. A similar novel was Martin Hospitality. Then Ivy Rose's story, Left to Die, kept me considering situations missionaries face in foreign countries. A nonfiction book that challenged me was Outrageous Courage about missionary Tracy Evans. I found her incredible story powerful and entirely inspiring. It's a great reminder of God's power in present, day-to-day life.

A giant thank-you to everyone who recommended books for me to read this year, and who gave me books for Christmas or my birthday. (My parents, grandparents, the Martin family, Alex, Samuel—thank you all!) It's because of you that I can keep reading and discovering amazing books and authors! :)

Be sure to pick a few of my favorite books from the year to add to your 2018 TBR list, and check out some of the songs! Have you read any of these? Or listened to these song artists? Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Year in Review: 2017

These last few months have been hectic, as I'm sure you can guess based on my absence from the blogging universe. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping, taking trips, Christmas, school, friends, and my birthday, life has been quite the busy adventure. Am I the only one having trouble believing 2018 is already upon us? Please note, this post has a large amount of photos. :) What's a year recap without pictures?

I know it's already halfway through January, but allow me to recap my year, if for no other reason than for the sake of my own sanity to bring closure to 2017.

One of my favorite Princess Bride quotes. :)

In some ways, 2017 was a far better year than 2016, but in other areas it was just as hard—or harder. There have been some amazing highlights to my year, but also quite a bit of difficulties regarding the health of family members. I've made some fabulous friends, but also lost some other close friendships. I've received good grades in tough classes, but also struggled through certain areas of my schooling. I can think of several words to summarize 2017: challenging, surprising, full of change, but if I had only one word to describe it, I'd say it was a year of growth. Spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I faced several new experiences, some good and some . . . not-so-good.

Growth; Spiritually
I am confident this last year has grown me stronger in my walk with God. I've made many mistakes (thank you, Jesus, for your grace and mercy!), but each time I came out stronger. I found myself placed in situations where I had to make the choice to put God as more of a priority in my life. Throughout the year, God also placed me in circumstances where I could help and give advice to others. This gave me a chance to answer some questions for myself and learn how I can share with others. I've become more firm in my convictions, and closer to more fully trusting God. Each different environment I found myself in was an opportunity to shine more brightly for Christ. Every person I had contact with was a chance for me to act like "God's Billboard". All the situations I faced were ways to test me and my commitments to people and God. Not that I was ever ashamed of what I believe, but now I'm a little more willing to speak up about it and for what I know is right without cowering. As you can probably tell based on the added dimension of seriousness my posts have had, I've been viewing things in a deeper level, and I've found myself eager to share the things God points out to me. I'm still learning how to find and follow God's plans for my life, but through everything I experienced in 2017, I've come to trust God more and be more willing to be His hands and feet.

Growth; Mentally
My sophomore and junior years of high school have been tough. Really, really, difficult. By noon on some days, I can practically feel my mind expanding. :) Don't ever believe that all homeschoolers have it easy. ;) As my family and friends can attest to, I've had a heavy schedule and extremely challenging courses. For the first time, I tried having a double (i.e. college) schedule with a few of my subjects. Last semester I did a full year of Physics and PreCalculus, so that I don't have either science or math this semester and can double up on some other subjects. Some of my favorites of the past year are my Apologetics (defending the Christian faith), Worldviews and World Religions (studying six major worldviews of modern day), and Constitutional Literacy (learning the original intent of the Constitution in relation to where America stands today). All these classes have changed my outlook at the world and the people in it. Now I have a better understanding of why people view things the way they do, and I'm better equipped to talk with them. My other courses have also been readying me for adulthood. While the schedule has been challenging, I've truly enjoyed studying more about the world in which I live.

Growth; Emotionally
Between friends and family having some major health crisis and looking ahead thinking about my future, it's been a pretty emotional year. Unfortunately, it has become far too easy for my emotions to wear me down and lead toward depression. Thanks to my wonderful family, friends, and God, I made it through the year. I'm still drained emotionally, but trying to keep my focus on God rather than everything the world throws at me helps.

Life hasn't been easy, but God has been good. He's blessed me and my family beyond measure. I've found one of the keys that's guided me through 2017 has been a continuous gratitude. Thanking God for all the blessings, big and small. "Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful weather!" "Thanks for amazing friends!" "Thank you that I have food to eat and clean water to drink." "Thanks for allowing me to have another day on this earth!" "Thank you for helping me do well on this test/in my job." There are so many things to be grateful for. " Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above . . ." (James 1:17) Concentrating on the blessings rather than the difficulty has been a key step for me this year.

Now, for the lighthearted part of my 2017 journey.

~Blog Stats~
Total Blog Posts: 172 (including this post)
Number of 2017 Posts: 28
Most Popular Posts of 2017:
 Personal Post Favorites From 2017:
I'm up to 49 Google followers and 52 email subscribers. (Some of those are overlaps.) Nine email subscribers were added in 2017.
My blog has now had almost 33,600 pageviews over its history. Almost 20,000 of those are from the United States, but apparently I have nearly 9,000 views from Russia. There's also a substantial amount from France and Canada.
I only changed my blog layout twice.

~Writing Stats~
As seems to always be the case, I didn't do nearly as much writing this year as I'd hoped. But considering all my other varied experiences, I'm okay with that.
Words on Arkinland Chronicles (formerly Dragon Chronicles): 14,700+
Words on other projects: 13,000+
Grand Total: Almost 30K

~Reading Stats~
I'll wait on this and am planning a separate post for just my reading in 2017. Stay tuned!

Here are a few of my new experiences in 2017 with no particular order.
I spent an afternoon whitewater rafting on the Kern River! I've dreamed of river rafting for years, so to finally be able to was thrilling.
Early in the year, I got my amateur radio technician license! Having the option to use the radio for communication has been extremely freeing for my family.

I learned to play both the board games of Catan and Risk. Since playing them for the first time, they've become among my favorite games. (I'm currently the Catan champion in the family.)

In March, I had the excitement of watching myself on a big screen in Bakersfield for the Christian Youth Film Society's annual film festival. For those of you who recall from November 2016 when I participated in the film camp, the short film I acted in was entered into the Film Festival. It was extremely fun to hear the crowd laughing at all the humorous scenes. :)

Beginning of December, I volunteered at a Christmas party for foster children where I worked at a cookie decorating table.

My sister and I rode our horses over to a neighbor's property for the first time and were able to work in an arena.

I filmed a funny short movie (mostly) on my own, for a homeschool project on Newton's Laws of Motion.
A still from the film: a fig newton bar being chased by a star destroyer.
My sister and I performed a scene from the Princess Bride for the Life Camp talent show. (It was our first act together in the talent show.)

I acted in front of a green screen.

Flying a drone for the first time was exhilarating!

In June, my family and I returned to Lone Pine for vacation and worked on a lavender farm for a few days. My sister and I also were able to help with the horses on the farm. This was the first time in months I'd had a chance to relax and read, both of which I did in some unusual places (like up in a tree over a river).
Reading in the middle of a high mountain meadow.

I finally was able to travel to the beach with a group of friends as part of high school Life Camp. We had a wonderful time, and even had "chapel" on the beach.
I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. (It's a virtual writer's camp.)

During the solar eclipse, I watched it from the 70% zone.

This was my first full year as the church librarian. (That's still the best job out there when you love reading!)

I finally drove my dad's tractor for the first time as part of filming another family movie. :)

While on a trip to Hume Lake for my sister's birthday, we helped the staff build the set in the chapel for their summer camps. The castle design was extremely intricate!

I went on the ocean for a whale watching expedition!

~Other Highlights~
Counseling for the second time at Camp Good News for a week of the summer was a marvelous experience. My group of girls tested me but were all so sweet, and I loved being there to pour into their lives and teach them about Christ for a week.

Last winter was a record for rainfall with a total of 42"! Gratefully, the rain came over a long enough time period where we didn't have mudslides from the fire a few months previous.

My family and grandparents took our tenth annual family picture at a coffee shop in Carmel, CA. We're so blessed to have had those ten years of good health and great memories.
Over the course of the year, my family and I took trips to Pacific Grove and Monterey, Los Angeles, Kernville, Lone Pine, Shaver Lake (where we went skiing again!), Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.
Skiing at Shaver Lake

Relaxing by the Kern River

Taking pictures of the Kern River

I had a doctor dig around in my finger because I accidentally stuck a pencil in it. Long story. Don't worry, I won't post pictures of that. :)

We filmed another short family movie over the summer and fall. It's best described as an Indiana Jones parody with lots of fossils included. :) We consider this to be the height of our production quality thus far, by expanding our limits to working with a green screen, "blowing things up" for the sake of the film (don't worry, not really), and creating a "behind the scenes."

This was our "explosion"

Even the horses got in the film!
My family and I started a hunt for all 50 license plates. So far we have 42.

I actually dressed up for my church's Light the Night festival. I didn't think I was going to but then I decided, "why not?" My outfit was technically Cleopatra, though I'd rather not be associated with her. Instead, I'm just saying that I was an Egyptian queen. :)

My family's Christmas picture this year expanded to include our horses, Dream and Baylie.

~Favorite Pictures I Took~
I've posted a few of these at some point during the year, but they're still my favorites. Enjoy!

Monterey Bay. Everyone says this could be a postcard photo.
I really like this one. :)
Ocean sunsets are among my favorite pictures to take.
This was on the whale watching trip.
This is probably my favorite from the whole year.

~Bible Verses and Quotes~
A Bible verse I often referred to during 2017 was my current "theme verse", 1 Timothy 4:12. "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."

One of my favorite quotes I heard last year is: "Life isn't how many breaths you take, but it's the moments that take your breath away."

With that, I'll wrap up my 2017 recap. I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into my year! May 2018 be a blessed year for every one of you! Thank you for reading. :)

Note: All images used in this post are not to be duplicated or used in any format without express permission by the photographer.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking Into Psalms: Psalm 1

I can't believe how long it's been since I posted! Allow me to offer my most sincere apologies, and send out a hearty "thank you" to all you faithful who stick around. I wish you a very late Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! :)

This morning, in reading over Psalm 1, which I've read and studied more times than I can count, something new jumped out at me. That's one of my favorite things about the Bible; God always reveals new things to us, even in passages we know by heart. If you read nothing else from this post, please make sure you read the key points in bold below. Throughout the post, all Bible verse references are links to the verse/passage, where you can read them yourself. Don't trust my interpretation; read the texts and do it yourself! The text of Psalm 1 is as follows in the ESV.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

My interpretation of verses one and two is: "God will bless those who avoid wrongdoing and keep their minds focused on God and His Word at all times—in all circumstances." [NOTE: meditate in the Bible means simply to focus on God, His Word, and things pure as commanded in Philippians 4:8. New Spirituality (aka New Age) has stolen the word from Biblical context and given it a poor connotation, but in a Biblical sense it is not the same type of "meditation" as New Spiritualists promote.] Lately, I've been attempting to meditate more on God, His promises, and His Word, like verse two instructs. Thus I found myself rereading Psalm 1 today as I've been doing the past few days. How do we meditate on God's law? Read the Bible, reread passages, pray about it, and ask God to reveal new things to you. He will.

The following verse is what stood out to me this morning. Isn't the metaphor beautiful? Who wouldn't want to be like a strong, thriving tree provided with everything it needs? Who brings glory to God and prospers? But how do we achieve this? Look back at verse two for the key. We must meditate on God's Word. Now that we have that knowledge, let's look at the third line of verse 3: "that yields its fruit in its season" This is the part where I found some new insight which inspired me to write this post.

Key Point 1: I looked over the passage, half reading, half reciting from memory, and almost instantly, "in its season" jumped off the page at me. Oftentimes as Christians, we look around but fail to recognize any fruit of our faithfulness to God. First, make sure you are being "righteous" as we learn in verses one and two. If you realize you are obeying the commands in the first verses, then take a look at "in its season." We aren't always privileged to witness the fruit of our labors. When we are, it isn't usually right away. God decides the "season" for each person to yield their fruit. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) It might be the next day, the next month, or not even in our lifetime. But Psalm 1 promises there will be fruit for those who fulfill the part of the righteous man depicted in the passage. Galatians 6:9 affirms this: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

Key Point 2: My second revelation came from my new Study Bible's commentary. (Thanks, Dad and Mom!) Also from the third line of verse three, my commentary pointed out, "As a tree bears fruit not for itself but for others, so also, when the faithful person prospers, he brings benefit to others." As I considered this, I realized its truth. A tree doesn't eat its own fruit! Instead, others are blessed by it. This is the purpose of being a righteous man, to bring glory to God through our works. (See the post I wrote on bringing glory to God: God's Billboard.)

Moving on to verses four and five. In the end of time when Jesus returns or we die and meet our maker, God will segregate the wicked from the righteous. He, and He alone, knows who are the righteous, and who are not. No one can fool God. He will divide the goats from the sheep, the sinners from the saved, the wicked from the righteous. To the unrighteous, no matter how they plead and grovel, He will speak the dreaded words: "I never knew you; depart from me." (Matthew 7:22-23) For the righteous, however, he will welcome them with open arms into His kingdom, as His children come home.

Finally, verse six ends the Psalm on a happier note for the righteous. God looks with pleasure and joy upon the way of the righteous. He rewards them, if not here on earth, then in heaven.

I'm praying that some of this may have blessed you as it did me. Have a marvelous weekend, friends!