Review: Picking Dandelions

Author Sarah Cunningham asked me to review her new book, Picking Dandelions (Zondervan, Feb. 2010), as part of her blog tour. I'll admit that I have to give Sarah my deepest apology because I thought I had given myself enough time to read her book, but somehow life got in the way and I've only just begun her memoir. Today is my tour date and I'm only on part two of the book.

So Sarah, I apologize for not being able to read the entire book by the day I'm supposed to review it. I hate to be one of "those bloggers" because I know that as the manager for the Tyndale Blog Network, I want bloggers to post their reviews for scheduled blog tours on time. How horrible that I can't even manage my own schedule to do that.

From what I've read so far though, I'm enjoying Sarah's writing. This is a memoir of her spiritual journey and I can relate. She sets the beginning of her story in small town Michigan, which reminds me much of the small town of Upland, Indiana where I went to college. We had our single blinking traffic light too and the sole restaurant in the town, Ivanhoe's, which I happen to like. :)Small towns have their charm.

From the back cover copy:

Sarah Cunningham, the daughter of a pastor, is exceedingly familiar with coming to Jesus and being born again. But it took her a while to realize that a real Christian grows from the point of rebirth--that a God-following person is a changing person.

Cunningham admits that her conversion was sandwiched, almost unnoticed, between ordinary childhood moments. In recounting some of these moments, Cunningham candidly explores how she got stuck in her laissez-faire Christianity and shares what she learned along the way. Whether describing life as a child living next to a cemetery, or her grandmother's life as a WWII bride from England, the author's images of growth and renewal, planting and reaping, greenery and weeds remind us that life, even in God's grace, involves challenges and change.

My Thoughts:
Although I haven't really gotten very far in the book, I like how Sarah share about her child-like faith--believing so easily in God, Jesus, miracles, and the power of prayer. I can relate to that in a way because I grew up in a Christian family and always knew about God. It wasn't until later that I realized I needed to allow God to transform me too. It's not enough to just know about Him.

I also liked Sarah's subtle, yet satirical ways of describing things Christians get hung up on--like arguing over what color the shingles should be as part of the new church expansion project. When you see this through a child's eyes, it seems so innocent, and yet you feel the conviction when you realize that what the child perceives is true. Funny how kids often make adults see things the way they really are. I also really like the dandelion metaphor carried throughout at the beginning of each new section. Before part II, I love this last line:

"The seed cannot grow unless it detaches itself from the original plant and braves unfamiliar soil."

How true that those of us who grow up believing in our parents' faith cannot fully grow in our own faith until we separate our faith from that of our parents and go out on our own spiritual journey, learning more about God through the trials and joys of life. When our faith can stand alone (on nothing but Jesus Christ), that is when we know our faith is genuine.

I'm sure I haven't quite gotten to the "meat" of this narrative yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing more of Sarah's perspectives and insights as I continue reading.

Sarah also asked for three book recommendations. Given that I work for Tyndale, these all happen to be Tyndale books (that's mostly what I read), but I hope you'll check these out!

1) Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers (and watch for Her Daughter's Dream in September!)
2) Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
3) Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes

Happy summer reading!

A, B, C's of Sun Protection


I'm a fan of Neutrogena products. I've used their face and body washes, and some makeup, and generally been pleased.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to review Neutrogena UltraSheer Liquid Sunblock, courtesy of Tidal Labs. I jumped at the chance because I was going to Mexico this summer and sunblock was a necessity. I thought that might be a good place to test this stuff out.

The small bottle of sunblock was perfect for travel. I spent my first full day in Mexico on the beach, so I used the Neutrogena UltraSheer Liquid Sunblock on my face. It has an SPF of 30, which makes it a good daily sunblock. I liked how the lotion doesn't feel greasy on your skin and is easy to apply.

It's super important to wear sunblock year-round. I learned in my high school AP Environmental Science class that UV rays are like your A, B, C's. UV-A causes aging, UV-B causes burning, and UV-C causes cancer. I don't really want any of those things (although some of them were not burning), but any protection is better than no protection! I'd like to keep my youthful skin for a while. :)

I didn't really use the sunblock on the rest of my body since I think this is meant more for the face. The applicator doesn't really make it seem like you can use it on your entire body for sun protection (though I have used it since my trip on my arms for when I'm out running). For the rest of my body, I used another Neutrogena sunblock with SPF 100+. Unfortunately, the Mexico sun is so hot that I still got burned (and I probably needed to reapply though).

After a day out in the sun, my cheeks were a little red (as in you could tell I got some sun), but they didn't burn like other parts of my skin did. In general, I think this is a great sunblock for everyday use. It's always important to wear sunblock (even in winter) to help protect against those damaging UV rays that cause aging, burning, and cancer. I'm still using Neutrogena UltraSheer Liquid Sunblock daily on my face as my general morning moisturizer and sunblock.

Would you like to review UltraSheer®, too? Then go here. Or get $2 off your UltraSheer® purchase with this coupon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the product mentioned above for free for review purposes from Tidal Labs. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

I Want to Tri

Yesterday I participated in my second triathlon, my first sprint distance. I can't say I did the full distance by myself though since I did this triathlon as a relay team with my friends Tiffany and Callie. We called ourselves "Triple Latte" since Tiffany works at Starbucks, I love drinking Starbucks, and Callie's husband used to work at Starbucks.

Here we are post-race. A nice and sweaty mess.

Callie first approached Tiffany and me with the idea of doing the Trek Women Triathlon Series race in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Trek does several sprint distance triathlon races like this around the country. None of us were confident about doing the full sprint distance just yet (we've all done the Fleet Feet SuperSprint Triathlon in Chicago and are doing it again this August), but as we talked about our favorite legs of the race, we realized we'd make a great relay team! Plus Callie just had a baby nine months ago and wanted something to help motivate her to work out--this race did just that.

I'm horrible at swimming, but I've been running so I was comfortable with that. Tiffany hates biking, but she's pretty good at swimming, and Callie really likes biking but isn't as great at the run. We estimated that we'd finish the race in about two hours, but yesterday (which also had the most perfect race weather, though still a little hot) we finished in 1:33:42. Everyone finished her leg of the race faster than predicted!

Here's how our timing broke down:
Tiffany's 1/2 mile swim: 16:15
T1: 1:53
Callie's 12 mile bike: 48:35 (14.8 mph pace)
T2: 1:17
My 5k run: 25:42 (8:17 pace)

That was my second fastest 5k time, so I was pretty happy with it. I really pushed myself at the end of the race though. I don't have exact times since I don't have a fancy Garmin watch, but I know I did negative splits. I also felt like I was going to throw up at the end, but I'm fine. The picture on the left is me just starting out the run. I got back to the transition area just as Callie was coming in with the good thing I was there on time!

Our team finished 6th out of 27 in our division and 301 out of 1683 finishers. Not too bad! If only we were one person!

It's always interesting to do triathlons and see all the kinds of people there are out there. Most people were doing the full race as individuals and when I see them--mostly people older than me, some slightly (or more than slightly) overweight, some really physically fit people, people who have survived cancer, etc.--then I think, "If she can do this, then I can do this!" There was an 80-year-old woman doing the full sprint triathlon! We saw an elderly lady (maybe it was that woman, I don't know) before the swim and she even needed help getting into her wetsuit, but she was doing the whole thing too. Kinda made us feel like wimps for only doing part of it. 

It's just really encouraging and motivating to show that if you put your mind to something and train for it, you can do it! It doesn't matter if you have to doggie paddle across the lake, ride really slowly on your bike, or walk the entire still get a finishers' medal at the end because you finished. I usually like to finish anything I start, so I'm all about that--but I also have to remember that it's not always about trying to be the fastest or the best (both of which I would not be in any triathlon), but to just do my best and to finish well.

Callie, Tiffany, and I are also even more excited now about doing the SuperSprint triathlon again, and more motivated to consider doing the full Sprint distance triathlon next year! That has already been one of my goals, and I wasn't planning on doing a sprint until maybe two years from now, but hey--why not? I'm willing to work hard and "tri" it. :)

Here are a few other pictures from our race for your enjoyment:
 Tiffany getting ready for her swim.

We missed seeing Callie on the bike, so this is her after the race.

Me sprinting toward the finish line.

The backs of the awesome team shirts Tiffany made us. People gave us so many comments about them! Then a few times people told us, "You're out of order!" if we weren't walking in swim, bike, run order. haha

What are your motivators? Do you have any long-term goals you may be able to achieve in the near future?


A couple weeks ago, I got back from a family vacation in Mexico, but I haven't had time to actually do this post until now. So let me indulge you for a moment.

My family (parents, siblings, and I) spent a week in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, about an hour and a half south of Cancun. Our resort, the Grand Palladium White Sands, was GORGEOUS, and all-inclusive. We'd never stayed at an all-inclusive place before and I'm telling you, it was worth it. Much more affordable, actually, than when we went to Hawaii five years ago. The Grand Palladium had four different lobbies, so it was almost like four different hotels, but we had access to the amenities in all of them. Here are some shots of our resort:

This was my bed in our villa. Our parents had our own room. I had to share with Melissa and Nathan. Sadly we didn't get towel animals every day.

Here I am by the fountain in the center of our villa. It's open air, which I love about it. It was really humid every day though, so a lot of times the camera would fog up and it would take a while for it to get back to normal.

Below you can see a random shot of the resort as we walked around on the first day.

It was nice not having to carry money around and to enjoy huge meals (we ate WAY too much) and unlimited drinks. We usually tipped our servers a dollar or two because we heard they don't make much, which I believe. All the employees were so friendly and welcoming. I know they work extremely hard and sometimes I felt bad that we're just there lying around on the beach or at the pool when I know there are people out there working so hard so I could enjoy myself while they can barely make a living. It was nice to just relax though. I haven't been able to do that in a long time!

Mexico really is a beautiful country. I was amazed just looking out at the clear, turquoise waters and the white sand. I enjoyed seeing schools of fish (including Dorie from Finding Nemo!) as I snorkled in the Caribbean Sea, various colored crabs, and iguanas. It's hard to believe huge whales and other creatures live in the ocean too. God is just incredible to have created such things!

But I also couldn't help but notice the more run-down parts of town (or maybe these were the "normal" ways of life) as we drove from the airport to our resort. The resorts are perfectly manicured and well-maintained, but I know that's not how true Mexicans live. Reality for them doesn't look like an all-inclusive resort.

It was obvious to me that Mexico as a country is not as wealthy as the United States. All the money seems to go to keep up the touristy parts of the country, but the rest of the towns seem to be left to fend for themselves. We went horseback riding on the beach one day (my request, of course) and one of our guides told us how they pay taxes to the government but all the money just goes into the pockets of the policemen. I know that probably happens in the U.S. and we have great disparity here between the rich and the poor too, but it's just heartbreaking to see the stark contrast. It's quite a paradox.

Whenever I go to a foreign country, I always come home having a place in my heart for the local people (Canada seems to be the exception, but I love Canadians too! It's just too similar to the U.S.). Chicago has many Mexicans living here as well, but when I got back it was strange to have these same Mexican people serving me but speaking English, a foreign tongue. I know they spoke English to me at the resort too, but it just made me realize that these immigrants are here because they want a better life for their families. They're still hard workers. They're just trying to make a living for themselves in a land that promises "the American Dream."

I'm not trying to make a statement about immigration in the U.S.--I'm not well-informed enough about that issue at this point to come to a conclusion about it. However, I feel as though I'm starting to see people (right now the Mexican people in particular) the way God sees them. He loves them deeply and He wants them to know Him personally and to have not just the wine and spirits working in them, but the Holy Spirit moving through them. It's not that I "feel sorry" for the Mexicans and their living conditions, but I am recognizing that we're all broken people in need of Jesus to make our lives full and whole.

Whether we live in a comfortable suburb, on a beach resort, in the bustling city, or in the run-down part of town, we're all in need of Him. I've been praying for the people of Mexico, and I know God holds them close to His heart too.

What are some lessons you've learned from traveling internationally?

Making Connections

In the past few years, I've realized just how important relationships are in life. People are what really matter. This truth is apparent in my job as a publicist as well. I just spent the past three days at the International Christian Retail Show in St. Louis and wrote about my experience and what I've learned on the Tyndale blog.

Read my thoughts here, and feel free to let me know what you think about face-to-face relationships as well!
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