Tag Archives: what if we

Amy’s Favorite Things (Take that, Oprah!)

13 Dec

By Amy Sondova Every year, Oprah Winfrey features a few of her favorite things on her daytime talk show (“Oprah’s Favorite Things“) and then adorns the audience with each and every one of her favorite things.  Well, I’m not Oprah, and therefore, cannot give all Backseat Writer’s readers samples of everything that I adore.  But I can tell you where to get ‘em.   Without further adieu, I bring you “Amy’s Favorite Things,” which I hope will help you as you finish shopping foryour favorite people this holiday season (and beyond.   These are timeless suggestions).

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

*Etsy.com—Have you visited this site?  It’s a entire craft show right on your computer screen with everything from Scrabble tile pendants to handcrafted shoes!  There are a plethora of cool things for guys and gals alike.  Don’t believe me, guys?  Check out some of the screen printed messenger bags and t-shirts.  There’s something for everyone, and unique is the bottom line.

*Music—Every year almost everyone on my Christmas list can expect to get a CD or two.  This year there are a few artists who are hot on my list—debut artist Josh Wilson and music veteran Bebo Norman.  Besides being two of the nicest and most open guys I’ve ever interviewed, they’re also great singer/songwriters who released albums this year.  Bebo Norman’s self-titled release, Josh Wilson’s Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup, and Jon Foreman’s Limbs and Branches are must-haves!  But perhaps you’re looking for something a little rockier, then look no further than Seabird’s ‘Til We See the Shore or This Beautiful Republic’s sophomore album, Perceptions.   If you want to support indie artists, then get lost in the vocals of Tara Leigh Cobble’s Playing Favorites or Justin McRoberts’ latest project, Deconstruction.  And here are a few more recommendations: Narrow Stairs – Death Cab For Cutie; What If We – Brandon Heath; The Nashville EP and the Bee Sides – Relient K;  Opposite Way – Leeland;  With Arrows, With Poise – The Myriad;  anything by Caedmon’s Call, Fernando Ortega, Phil Keaggy.

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

*Sock Monkeys & socks—Is it just me or are you always running out of socks, too?  Whether getting lost in the wash, stolen by a shih tzu who shall remain nameless (Maddy!), or developing ginormous holes, pairs of socks seem to lose their mate after a month or two.  Therefore, I wear a lot of mismatched socks–argyle, plaid, and all patterns funky are worn together and I become a candidate for “What Not to Wear”.  Besides becoming a fashion mishap, there are are only things to do with those single socks.  You could make sock

monkeys, of course! You don’t even have to limit yourself to monkeys, there are patterns for all kinds of creatures online (sock monster, sock owl).  Then you can sell your creations at etsy.com.  Or you could just buy a conventional sock monkey at sockmonkey.com.

*Digital Cameras—The first time I got my hands on a digital camera, I took pictures of everything in sight, and I haven’t stopped.  My first pictures weren’t that great; then again, my camera wasn’t that great.  Yet I treasure the images of my grandmother’s last Christmas with our family.  Buy yourself a camera to capture the moments that truly matter, and then buy one for someone else.  Check around for the best prices and give yourself a gift that goes far beyond an electronic device.  I highly recommend Canon cameras, but if you want to go a little cheaper, Olympus makes great cameras as well.

*Anything handcrafted by you—Maybe you’re not into making sock monkeys, but there are tons of other projects in which to immerse yourself.  Try your hand at crocheting or knitting (you can even use a knitting loom like the Knifty Knitter) and make everyone scarves, hats, and SOCKS!  (See what a valuable gift socks can be?)  You could paint a thoughtful picture or make a collage.  If you’re not crafty, melt chocolate wafers and dip some pretzels; chocolate-covered pretzels make great gifts!  If all else fails, just make your dad an ashtray like you did in kindergarten—he’ll still think it’s cute (hopefully!)

Psych - Season 2

Psych - Season 2

*Amazon.com—Free shipping on orders over $25 and books, music, and DVD’s galore.  Every year Amazon is adding to its inventory.  I check back every day to see what’s on sale so I can nab Psych Seasons 1 & 2, Bones Seasons 1-3, books like The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, the chick-lit novels of my fave fictionista, Christa Banister and those aforementioned CD’s at discounted prices.

*Ebay.com—Whatever you can’t find on Amazon.com, you can find on Ebay.  There are literally millions of treasures on this site from low, low prices on video games to truly bizarre items like vintage hand towels.  But whatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it on Ebay.  You can also find a bunch of stuff you weren’t looking for, too.

*Michael’s, A.C. Moore, Joann’s—Craft stores are slashing their prices, and signing up for their e-mail newsletters allows customers to get even more coupons (especially if you don’t get them in your local newspaper).  Remember that camera I told you to buy?  You can get beautiful frames for those pics on sale at any of these stores for 40-50% off during the holiday season.  Plus, custom framing is 60% off (I say buy a frame and do-it-yourself!)  Not only that, but you can find deals on Christmas décor, craft kits for the kids, and nice gifts like candle holders and scented candles for your co-workers.  Even if you aren’t crafty, craft stores are a great place to shop for gifts.

Even though Black Friday has come and gone, you can still save money and give great presents to your loved ones…and those people you don’t really like that you still have to buy for.  We know Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but if you’re like me, you sure do like to get them (hey, I’m being honest here).  Plus, great presents show cleverness and creativity that has little to do with price and everything to do with thoughtfulness.  Our mere trinkets can never compare to the gift of God’s Son wrapped in humanity, so as we give to one another let us remember the greatest gift that mankind was ever given.

Click here to see all my my favorite things!

Brandon Heath :: Social Activist

18 Aug

By Amy Sondova Fresh from Ireland and getting ready to play at a convention in Orlando, Brandon Heath caught up with me on his way to a sound check. “I actually called you 10 minutes late on my schedule,” he sheepishly admits. Such is the busy life of a musician on the precipice of releasing his latest project, What If We (Reunion). Despite his hectic life, Brandon was eager to chat about his sophomore album and social justice.

Since our last interview (read Brandon Heath :: Missional Musician), Brandon moved from Nashville to Houston, accepting the position of worship leader at The Loft. “They just invited me to come. I felt like God was calling me to do it.” He then adds, “It seems very atypical. It just doesn’t seem like the traditional route to go when you’re trying to launch a career, but for some reason, it made sense.” Then again, Brandon’s never been a traditional musician.

He began his career writing songs for artists such as Bebo Norman and Matt Wertz. Recording an album of his own wasn’t on Brandon’s radar. When producer and friend Dan Muckala heard Brandon perform the Dove Award nominated song “Our God Reigns” the first time, he urged Brandon to record his first album, Don’t Get Comfortable. This project launched Brandon into the spotlight with several Dove Award nominations and the prestigious honor of winning “New Artist of the Year.”

Building on the successes of “Don’t Get Comfortable,” Brandon continues to do things that challenge him musically, as evidenced by the album’s first single, “Give Me Your Eyes.” Written after people-watching in an airport, the song is fused with a slight hip-hop sound, a definite departure from Brandon’s easy folk vocals. When asked if fans were jolted by the new sound, Brandon laughs replying, “I knew people would be a little surprised. If you listen to it two or three times, it’s like, OK, I can see Brandon doing this. I had to think about myself doing it actually. I thought, can I do this? Then the more I thought about it, I was like, yeah, I can do this.” Musing a moment, like he often does during the interview, Brandon adds, “It’s good to take risks.”

Risk seems to be a way of life for Brandon, who has traveled to India with his friend and mentor, Bob Goff of Restore International, and to Uganda with Blood:Water Mission. He is also joining Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Charlie Peacock this fall for the Art*Music*Justice Tour. Talking about our mutual love of Derek Webb’s music, I ask Brandon why people should check out the tour. He quips, “Besides the fact that Derek Webb’s on it, Sandra McCracken, his wife, is on it, too. That’s the other reason you should go.”

After a moment of banter, Brandon explains why he chose to tour with some of his songwriting heroes this fall. “This tour fits me so perfectly. It’s about issues that really are a burden for me to pray for and to ask other people to think about—human trafficking and figuring out how to handle the problem of human slavery in the world. It should not still exist.”

He passionately continues, “It exists because of corrupt governments, poverty, and greed. How do we figure out how to make it go away? I’m ready to see justice happen and to see people healed. This is my way of contributing to the education and hopefully, the actions of others.”

Before hitting the road in September, Brandon will once again travel with Bob Goff to Uganda. Having already visited, Brandon is eager to return. He will be spending time learning about those who reside in huge Internally Displaced Person (IDP, formerly refugee) camps. “They’re supposed to be temporary, but they’re not,” shares Brandon. “The people are literally living on top of one another.” The trip involves investigating ways the government of Uganda and others can help IDP’s move into villages and sustain a living outside of the camps.

Not only does Brandon want to inspire others with social justice through his travels, but he wants to offer hope through songwriting. While traveling, touring, and leading worship, Brandon keeps writing songs. Besides the new hip-hip groove on “What If We,” the album uses rougher guitar sounds and gruffer vocals, inspired by Brandon’s recent Western movie viewing, which is evidenced by his biographical song, “Wait and See”. To achieve this acoustic, Brandon shares, “Little known fact: all of my vocals were recorded in a bathroom—in the bathroom at my producer’s studio.” It’s this sort of innovation that make Muckala one of Nashville’s most sought-after producers. Really.

Besides dishing on bathroom vocals, Brandon also discusses the benefits of international marriage. “If you marry someone from another country, you get dual citizenship… but that’s probably not a good reason to get married.”

The single 30 year-old musician admits that being unmarried can make his travels lonely at times. “There are days when I’m really content doing what I’m doing because I know I’m in a season where God’s got me on the road. Honestly, if I was married, I would want to be home; I wouldn’t want to be gone.”

Using his more signature sound, Brandon conveys his thoughts about solitude in “When I’m Alone.” Yet there are days when he feels the sting of being a bachelor. “On the other hand, you want to share your life with somebody. The other day I had a guy who’s 25 pat me on the back and say, ‘You’ll understand someday.’ It made my skin crawl.”

Just because he’s not married, doesn’t mean that Brandon isn’t a romantic, at least when it comes to writing songs. What If We features a few love songs, including the heart-wrenching, “London.” Brandon explains, “I wrote it with Chad Cates, but it’s really about his experience in London, missing his fiancée.” Then there’s “Listen Up,” a song in which a man comes to the realization that he didn’t hear his beloved’s heart when she was talking about her troubles. “To me, it’s like we [men] end up talking too much. The truth is, we don’t know what to say so we say dumb things that get us in trouble,” says Brandon, explaining the mystery of why men make insensitive remarks to distraught women.

A huge Jars of Clay fan, Brandon was excited to co-write “Sore Eyes” with the band. “They play all the instruments and background vocals; I’m just doing lead vocals.” The song was written about a sassy girl who seemed to be down all the time. “I don’t think she was really sad, but she thought that kind of demeanor worked for her.”

Slightly darker is “Sunrise,” a song inspired by the movie, No Country For Old Men. Brandon even wanted the lyrics and sound to mimic the movie. “The song is about people who stay awake all night and wonder, ‘How long until I die?’ It’s really about fear and being afraid. Sometimes the dark is the scariest time, but light give us a little hope because we can see the situation for what it is.”

It’s this light that Brandon hopes to shine on social justice, fueled by ministry and music as conduits for change. Not just social change, but personal change—both topics on which he is particularly loquacious. Like all good things, our dialogue came to an end, with Brandon rushing off to do a sound check with his band—at least 10 minutes behind schedule.

Print copy of interview.

Beauty Divine, Twice Daily

23 Jul

When the sky is clear or even partly cloudy, humans have the opportunity to witness one of nature’s greatest wonders–the rising of the sun in the east and the place of its setting in the west. While I’m not usually awake early enough to catch too many sunrises, each evening I stare in awe at the western sky as colors appear lightly, dramatically darken, and then disappear giving way to the night sky, which dances with stars and planets and the moon. It’s breathtaking beauty that blows my mind almost every day.

Sometimes I think I take too many pictures of sunsets. I take at least one a week, but I can’t help it. When I see something that beautiful, I want to capture it and share it with everyone else. I want to shout, “Look at the beauty the Lord has created in this fallen world. How can you not believe? The very heavens are screaming of His presence.” Still I imagine there are tired fathers driving on home, broken woman waiting at red lights, and kids to enraptured with their Nintendo DS’s to who rarely pay the sky much mind. Occasionally, everyone takes time out of his or her busy life and sucks in a deep breath at the beauty of the evening (or morning) sky. It happens every day in every city, state, country, and continent, whether we see it or not. The sun rises and it sets.

Thunderstorms rolled into area around 5 PM bring down harsh, rolling rains. The storms subsided for a bit and the clouds parts, giving way to a stormy sunset. So I grabbed my camera and took pictures as I smelled the damp summer earth and yelled at Maddy the shih tzu to stop trying to eat dirt out of the flower pots (weird dog). Here’s one of my favorites…

May beauty divine capture your eye. Oh, I stole the phrase “beauty divine” from a Brandon Heath song. I believe also likes sunsets/sunrises since he wrote a song about them on his first album (“Red Sky”) and on his new album (“Sunrise”). Plus, there’s a dramatic sunset on the cover of his CD jacket for What If We. Therefore, I believe it is completely appropriate to use Mr. Heath’s phrase. Besides, we’re old pals; he wouldn’t mind anyhow.

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