Quieter Surroundings


As an early birthday present, my mom took me out for a day trip. By accident we stumbled across a hole-in-the-wall shop called “Vintage Garden.” From the street I could see a teapot in the window, and that was enough to get me inside. We walked through the waist-high picket fence door into a pleasantly crowded world of potted flowers, soaps, bird cages and tea cups.

Vintage GardenDistressed tables, vanities and iron plant stands housed more treasures, and out the back door, a collection of garden decorations added their whimsy to the mix: pastel-colored bicycles; more iron plant stands, rusted over; wooden signs wishing visitors “Happy Trails.”

And the best part? The statues of geese and ducks that poked their beaks out from under tables, into soap dishes, and from behind chairs all over the shop. Now we’re speaking of geese!

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The ambience of the shop contrasted sharply with the streamlined hustle of our tech-entrenched society. It reminded me that in spite of all our advances, humans still hunger for a quieter surrounding, one that fills them with a sense of wonder and whimsy, one that can make them forget all their worries.

Mankind’s quest for peace will never end in a picture-perfect array of knick-knacks, because the atmosphere of serenity that things can create is short-lived at best. It is only when we submit ourselves to the Prince of Peace that we can find lasting rest for our souls. Only then will we be able to appreciate life’s little pleasures rightly: as loving gifts from our Lord.

Cracking the Secret of Boyne Castle


In 1969, Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” television program aired a three-part movie starring Kurt Russell, Glenn Corbett and Patrick Dawson called The Secret of Boyne Castle (UK: Guns in the Heather). Though the film is not commercially available, we were able to get a recording when it played on the Disney channel many years ago. The screenwriting is sometimes cheesy, and certain plot points are laughable, but it has always been one of my favorites. I think it’s because it takes place in Ireland.

Filmed partly on location, Secret of Boyne Castle follows two students, Richard and Sean, who find themselves mixed up with a spy ring from behind the Iron Curtain. Adventurous chase scenes, daring escapes and fast-paced espionage are glued together with charming slices of Irish culture for a story that’s just plain fun.

Of course Boyne Castle is a fictional place created for the movie, but I’ve always been curious where the crew shot the castle scenes. Was it a combination of several places, or even a set at Pinewood Studios? My searches had always yielded nothing, but today I found my answer.

At home with a head cold, I wanted to watch something lighthearted, cheerful, Irish. In went Secret of Boyne Castle. As I followed Richard and Sean’s escapades, I paid closer attention to place names than I had before. Soon I realized that the climax of the film was supposed to take place in Clew Bay, off the coast of Westport in County Mayo. An Internet search brought me to a list of mansions and castles in or near Connacht, a northwest province of the Republic of Ireland.

A long shot maybe, but one that paid off. I clicked on the link to Dunguaire Castle in Galway, and there it was, big as life, the legendary (in my book) Boyne Castle.

Dunguaire Castle (aka Boyne Castle)

As I labeled it on my map, I realized that during my own visit to Ireland, I had driven within the vicinity of the fortress without knowing it. So close …

Now I have another reason to return to Ireland.

And at last I know the secret of Boyne Castle.

Xmas, Music, and Jesus


KOST 103.5 claims to be “the best way to spend the holidays,” playing ’round the clock Christmas music to make us feel good for the season. But in its attempt to capture the spirit of Christmas, the station has evacuated the holiday of everything it truly celebrates: Jesus is essentially absent from the playlist.

I didn’t say completely absent — I’m glad to see on KOST’s playlist that “Joy to the World” still makes the queue once in a while, but for a holiday that commemorates the birth of the Messiah, the discrepancy is sickening.

What do I expect? Our American society tries its hardest to cast out Jesus, and naturally our radio stations follow suit. Biblical Christianity and those who uphold it are sidelined, but it’s no surprise since Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18, 19, ESV). People hate the gospel of Jesus Christ, because deep down inside they know it’s true, and since it’s true, they’re accountable to God for their sin.

But accountability is only the beginning of the story. Yes, we are guilty as charged, but the very God whose law we broke sent His only beloved Son to take the full consequences for our sins instead of us. He became a man in order to die — and He died so we could live forever with Him in heaven.

So keep on singing those old, forgotten Christmas carols — they’re full of good news of salvation for “poor lowly people,” for wretched sinners in need of a Savior. Don’t leave Christ out of Christmas — you do and you reject the only hope you have.



Gung-ho Candy Corn


Anyone who knows me could tell you that yarn crafts are not my thing. I once managed to render a square knitted dishcloth in the shape of a guitar pick, and my early crochet attempts could have held water. But for whatever reason, I decided to knit a hat this month — not with needles like my amazingly talented sister, but with my easy-schmeasy Provo Craft Knifty Knitter round loom set.

I’d picked up a free pattern at Jo-Ann Fabric, and then I waited for coupons to buy the yarn. Nothing says my favorite colors like a candy corn hat, and it looked so simple I figured even I could pull it off.

Simple, however, doesn’t mean Abigail-proof. In my typical gung-ho fashion I managed to go about 14 rows on the wrong size loom because I didn’t trust the pattern’s directions (they were apparently more trustworthy than I thought). After starting over, I tweaked the instructions to add a hatband and miscalculated the new number of rows I needed. Taking out stitches isn’t so bad, but trying to re-hook 40-plus loops back onto a loom without letting the stitches slip is tedious.

Preliminary turbulence behind me, I finished the hat without incident. When the weather cools down, I look forward to wearing it as a tribute to my corny sense of humor and as a reminder that directions are there for a reason.

Photos courtesy of my sister

Dancing With Degas


My last post put me on a Edgar Degas kick and reminded me of a jewelry project I made back in March for the “Springtime in Paris” contest hosted by Michaels craft store.

springtime_in_paris_collageMy project was inspired by Degas’ ballerinas: black ribbon chokers, colorful flowers in their hair and on their tutus. His palette is so vibrant, and I took the liberty of using my own favorite color (orange) as the primary theme.

I didn’t win the contest (the winners are quite something, though — check them out here), but I sure had fun making and designing my entry. The contest motivated me to set the creative fires burning, and it gave me a practical reason to do it (always important, I say).

Here are a few of Degas’ dancers that got my muse going.

“The Star (Dancer on Stage)”

“The Ballet Class”

See more at: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/honey-theyre-playing-our-painting/#sthash.3COlDbtP.dpuf

“Dancer Taking a Bow (The Prima Ballerina)”

Paris has never been my dream vacation spot — I have a feeling the reality is a far cry from the Hollywood-ized, romanticized motif I see in craft stores and home decor. But if someone legit ever gave me a plane ticket and said, “You’re going to Paris,” I’m sure it would set my little heart dancing. I wouldn’t turn it down — I want to go to the Louvre.

To set foot in the heart of idyllic romanticism
To experience the reality for myself,
not through the rosy glass of imagination, but through
my own senses
— the beautiful, the common, the real.
To stand before representatives of the greatest
artwork of the ages,
with air alone
between me and them.

See the colors – the colors! – and hear the strange, fluid voices
rolling into my ears.
I open my wide mouth to
drink it all in.
Whet the wanderlust and call me away
To La Ville Lumiere,
Ah, Paris!
A star of history’s play,
What riches lie in your coffers?
Let me spy on your stores
Feel your pulse
Taste your air.


Inspired Confidence


In the old movie Bathing Beauty (1944) starring Red Skelton and Esther Williams, a eurhythmics instructor tells her dancers to carry themselves with a type of poise that she sums up with a mantra: “I have a secret; I am beautiful; I am beloved.” Although Skelton reduces her grand ideal to slapstick in his typical comic fashion, the motto itself is far from absurd. It captures, with reservations, a truth that really does inspire confidence.

“The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage” by Edgar Degas

In our humanistic society, people see confidence as a valuable trait. For example, many companies promote business practices that ‘empower’ their employees, and schools try to boost kids’ self-esteem, but that kind of confidence is easily shaken when circumstances or conditions change.

The only kind of personal confidence that can hold up under any kind of pressure is one that is based on an unchanging, unfaltering foundation. I don’t know any other foundation that fits these criteria except Jesus Christ Himself. In a saving relationship with Him, my life has poise for these reasons:

I have a secret: That I’m a coheir with Christ to an eternal inheritance that’s guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-14).

I am beautiful: Because God the Father chooses to see Christ’s righteous record where my sinful one used to be (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I am beloved: Because God’s beloved Son has made me one with Him (John 15:9, 10; 17:20-23).

So yes, that funny old mantra speaks truth. It can inspire a degree of temporary self-confidence when taken at face value, but when viewed through the lens of Scripture, it inspires lasting Christ-confidence.

The Reason to Celebrate


Happy Christmas to my readers! Today honors the day about 2000 years ago when the Son of God came to earth as a human being to deliver us from eternal condemnation. Through His sinless life, atoning death, triumphant resurrection, and glorious ascension to heaven, those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are saved from their sins and declared innocent before God the righteous Judge. Reason to celebrate? Oh yeah.

DIY: Friendship Charm Necklaces


 With the recent release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (and my anticipation leading up to it), I’ve been inspired to create pieces of jewelry that in some way reflect characters from the movies. For this project, I went with my sister’s and my favorite characters, Fili and Kili. Since the dwarf brothers demonstrate such strong familial love, it seemed appropriate to celebrate the special bond between me and my sister with Fili- and Kili-themed friendship necklaces.

Of course the design can be tailored to fit any theme that you and your friend share in common. Get creative! I’d love to hear what you all come up with.



  • Wood toothpick
  • Round nose pliers
  • Chain nose pliers
  • Side cutter pliers
  • X-ACTO® knife and cutting mat
  • Computer and printer (if you don’t want to cut up a book)

Step 1 — Choose what text you want to showcase in the bubble charms (I just went to Google Books, took screenshots of some Hobbit pages, and printed them out).

Step 2 — Adhere a bubble cap to the selected text. Press it firmly and rub gently to eliminate air pockets.

Step 3 — Using the X-ACTO® knife and cutting mat, slice around the edge of the bubble cap to free it from the remaining text.

Step 4 — Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other three bubble caps.

Step 5 — With the toothpick, rub a tiny amount of rubber cement onto the back of each bubble cap. Glue the caps to the front and back of the square metal charms.

The following directions are for the Fili necklace, since that’s the one I made first.

Step 6 — Trim the flat heads off a head pin with the side cutter pliers. Bend one end of the wire into a loop with the round nose pliers, leaving it partially open.

– The reason I didn’t use pre-looped head pins was because I wanted to control how large I made my loops.

– If you’ve never made a loop like this before, Blue Moon Beads offers a simple illustrated tutorial here.

Step 7 — Insert the looped end of the head pin into the square metal charm’s connecting ring. Close the wire loop the rest of the way.

Step 8 — Add beads to the head pin in this order: round spacer bead, spacer flower, amber glass bead, spacer flower, round spacer bead.

Step 9 — Bend the remaining wire into a loop like the other end. Trim excess wire.

Step 10 — Repeat steps 6-9 for the key charm. The bead sequence in step 8 will be a little different: spacer flower, wood bead, spacer flower.

Step 11 — Connect the bubble charm, the key charm, and the locket to the chain necklace with jump rings. Done!

Step 12 — Now you’re ready to repeat steps 6-11 for the Kili necklace. In step 8 substitute the blue glass bead for the amber one, and in step 10 use the decorative cylinder spacer instead of the wood bead.

– *Tip: I stacked the two leftover round silver spacer beads inside my decorative cylinder spacer to keep it from sliding around on the wire.

Thanksgiving 2014


Eighty degrees and golden rays of sunshine. I keep thinking, pretty soon the weather will cool down and the holidays will be upon us — then I realize that I live in Southern California and the holiday season is almost halfway gone.  Another year has zipped by, and Thanksgiving will be officially over by the time I get this published.

The day started off well: no electronic beeping at 5:30 in the morning, no shuffling out to the kitchen with puffy eyes to turn on the electric kettle, no need to be anywhere at any particular time. I was going to get my eight hours without unnatural interruption, and 7:45 a.m. found me refreshed and ready to eat breakfast with my mom and sister, Katherine. We chatted over slices of Corner Bakery’s Cinnamon Creme Cake, enjoying the easy pace of the holiday.

As the rest of the house began to stir, we started to prepare for the day’s feast ….

Plenty going on in the kitchen all day — most of which I avoided (unless I was peering through the viewfinder of my camera). Let’s just say that my decorating skills are stronger than my cooking skills (or cooking ambition as the case may be), and I spent most of my time in the dining room setting the table.

Katherine cooking up a storm of potatoes, savory and sweet.

Deciding how to present the napkins is my favorite part of table arranging. Do I want them folded into little elf boots? Rolled inside a stem glass? This year I chose a simple flatware wrap garnished with homey red raffia, artificial leaves, and felt owl clips.

The final product (simple but fun):

 In between cooking and decorating, there’s always time for tea …

 … and goofing off with my big sis

 Living proof that being tied to someone’s apron strings doesn’t work out too well.

 Sister love.

 And the pies are done (check out that braided crust by Katherine)! Now, where’s the whipped cream?

 Our two friends, Sara and Amy, joined us for Thanksgiving and shared their superb family recipe for crescent rolls with us.

 As Sara said, only in California do you set dough outside to rise (it was warmer than in the house).

 Ninety-six of those puppies, and they probably won’t last the weekend.

 The crescent roll masters.

 Katherine tried a new seasoning on our carrots.

And here they are.


And finally, the main attraction!


Well, as I finish writing this, it’s certainly not Thanksgiving anymore (it’s almost 2:00 a.m. Friday morning). But giving thanks doesn’t end at midnight — it’s  something Christ calls us to practice every day, in every moment: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV) and “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, ESV). Whether in trying times or happy times, let us come before the Lord with grateful hearts, knowing that in His Son, Jesus, He has given us everything we need.

Living Like Moths


Of course Annie Dillard is a poet; I can hear it in her prose. She wrote lyrical sentences, making ample use of assonance and consonance as though she intended her essays to be read aloud. “Pale moths seeking mates massed round my head in the clearing, where my light made a ring.” “He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert.” She wrote music without a staff while coaxing the English language into pleasing arrangements of rhythm and sound. “His journal is tracks in clay, a spray of feathers, mouse blood and bone: uncollected, unconnected, loose-leaf, and blown.”

In the three selections of hers that I read (“The Death of a Moth,” “Living Like Weasels,” and “Singing with the Fundamentalists”) she followed one of Strunk and White’s golden rules of writing: “use definite, specific, concrete language.” It’s hard to express how soothing the vision of a university professor’s “long, old ear” is or how satisfying the picture of a weasel that “would have made a good arrowhead.” I guess some people might think I’m funny because of that. Maybe it is funny. But I get so sick of empty abstractions that have gone bald from overuse that I want – I need – something to hold onto. Something fleshy, something pointy. Something sensational.

I want sweat, I want dirt, I want smoky smells and candle wax. I want moth heads spattering in fire; I want virgins facing death on a crackling pyre. All on a stage lit by saffron-yellow lights, with muddy shadows dancing eerily on the curtains.

Dillard supplied my want.

I didn’t know a moth’s death scene could furnish such a sensation. In “The Death of a Moth” Dillard takes a disgusting phenomenon and transforms it into a metaphor of power and brilliance. It truly is a “Transfiguration in a Candle Flame.” She uses radiant, rich vocabulary to describe the scene and create a mood of awe that haunts readers. Golden, flamed, frazzled, tissue paper, moving, circle of light, blue, green, red, fine, foul smoke, glowing, gold, moth-essence, spectacular, burning, soaking, flame, saffron-yellow, immolating, winding flames, light, fire, glowing, fire, hollow saint, flame-faced, light, kindled – notice how she repeats the themes of gold, light, and flame, reminding readers of a pagan ritual, of a holy sacrifice to the gods. Although a scorched insect doesn’t normally conjure up lofty thoughts, Dillard’s moth does because of the author’s skillful wording.

Dillard contrasts her striking moth with the miserable carcasses scattered under the spider’s web behind her toilet. For those creatures she manufactures an ugly mood – drab, mess, corpses, husks, hollow, sipped empty of color, wingless, flake, carcasses, crinkled, clenched, blind, blundering, hazard, mouth on gut, sticky tangle, shines darkly, gleams, smooth, shrunk, gray, webbed to the floor, dust, curled, empty, fragile, brittle fluff, translucent, ragged, drying in knots, stagger, headless, confusion, peeling varnish, jumble, reduced to a nub. Instead of taking her readers to the temple of the gods, she takes them to the Little Shop of Horrors.

In both illustrations, Dillard characterizes two kinds of people: those who live, die, and fade away in insignificance and those who live with strength, make the world take notice, and die in splendor. Dillard does not want to live like the masses do – like bugs behind the toilet. They will be forgotten – “Next week, if the other bodies are any indication, [they’ll] be shrunk and gray, webbed to the floor with dust.” She wants to live with luster.

Dillard’s essay challenges Virginia Woolf’s essay of a similar title: “The Death of the Moth.” A generation earlier, Woolf had also witnessed a moth meet its end, but her response to it differed from Dillard’s. The hay-colored moth on Woolf’s windowsill faded helplessly under the crush of death, but Dillard’s golden moth literally goes out (pardon the cliché) in a blaze of glory. Woolf stressed temporality; Dillard stresses memorability. Woolf’s moth was serene and prostrate; Dillard’s is crackling, blazing, and erect. Dillard saw death differently than Woolf – instead of quietly succumbing to the inevitability of death, Dillard wants to stand out and leave her mark on history, strong to the end.

At the end of “The Death of a Moth,” Dillard says, “Sometimes I think it is pretty funny that I sleep alone.” She must have identified with the moth, a singular beacon shining in the wax. Though alone, she kindled a fire of her own (and still does to this day) by leaving her stories, essays, and poems behind like signal fires for future generations of writers and readers.