November Reads

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Hey, fellow Bibliophiles! There went November. What did you finish reading this past month? I’d love to hear!

I’m Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (***) – This is the fourth in the Flavia de Luce series and we find Flavia at Christmas time putting up with a big surprise from her father. They are in financial trouble and he hires out their historic home to a film company. Flavia, of course, always has something up her sleeve, and this time is no different, as she hatches a plan to trap Santa. After a famous actress is found dead, she is on the case. I found this book a bit  predictable with a heavy dose of cheesiness.

Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom by Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart (*) – This book rubbed me the wrong way. You’ve been warned.  Spoiler alert and long review/rant here if you are interested.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (*****) –  Magic realism fascinates me, but I suspect with this one, I really just love the story of justice for the little boy who’s family is murdered. The quintessential battle between “good” (as good as dead people in a graveyard can be) and “evil”. The creepy, fantastical elements make for just a simply good story to me. I really love the relationship with one of the graveyard characters, Silas and the boy, Nobody Owens. I think there is some metaphor here maybe, deeper things, but I just see it as a good story.

Ourselves by Charlotte M. Mason (*****) – This might actually be my favorite so far (I haven’t finished Formation), of Charlotte Mason’s works. I can’t articulate why yet, still mulling over it, but I absolutely loved it. I especially found Book 2 to be challenging and beautiful!

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle (*****) – I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. Madeleine looks back over life, marriage, parenting, and the creative life while walking through her husband Hugh’s cancer diagnosis. Such a beautiful look at life through the lens of faith. I don’t agree with L’Engle on all elements of faith, but her refreshing outlook on God’s character really blessed me. 

The Lighted Heart by Elizabeth Yates (*****) – Elizabeth Yates is probably best known as the author of Amos Fortune, Free Man, although she has written many other beautiful stories. In this lovely memoir, she walks us through her life with her husband Bill as he is going blind. I just love how she describes this from an outsider, yet close relation to someone struggling and how she tries to understand what he is going through. A beautiful story of how different a life of hardship can be if you choose the path of beauty and don’t shut out others, life, and the world around you. So very challenging and heart-warming.

Take Your Characters to Dinner: Creating the Illusion of Reality in Fiction: A Creative Writing Course by Laurel Yourke (****) – A sweet, online friend mailed this to me as a surprise! I savored it slowly and found this to be a fun way to learn how to write deep fictional characters. This is a book you can go back to over and over and work on small parts of it slowly. Very in-depth, detailed instruction on building believable people in your stories.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (****) – Over Halloween, the Bookstagram community (yes, that’s a thing) on Instagram, were digging into creepy classics, so I decided to try one. This is nothing like what you expect…no teen romances with vampires, or vampires struggling to be good and loving humans. (I haven’t read any modern vampire stories, just FYI) This is deep, creepy tale of good versus evil. Easy to read, engaging setting with gorgeous, haunting descriptions, much of this was written in the form of letters and journal entries between the main characters. I found myself tense and disturbed by the Professor and his friends having to find, track, and “kill” the un-dead, all victims of a centuries old vampire, Count Dracula. They then team up to end his generations of terror. Occasionally, I felt like parts were a bit redundant, like didn’t we just go through this exact situation, but overall, fascinating. Stoker’s use of vampire lore/legends was a bit “cheesy” at times, like garlic being a talisman against vampires etc. (An online friend mentioned that these might have originated WITH Stoker!) Overall, I found this adventurous and interesting.

On Writing: A Memoir of Craft by Stephen King (****) – Other then the excessive swearing and general crassness, I really enjoyed this book and felt like it was inspiring and practical. It wasn’t overly technical, which I appreciate. I’ve never read ANY of Mr. King’s fiction, just doesn’t seem like my cup of tea (he hates clichés, btw. Ha.), but I’m really glad I picked up this title. It makes me feel hopeful, encouraged, and gives me a place to start at with writing.

P.S. I found his attitude towards his wife refreshing and wonderful.

The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier (***) – Beautifully written, informative fictional story based on true people and events during the English Civil War. The immortality and lack of any redemptive characters was disappointing to me. Honor was intriguing, but I could never like her very much. Overall, I felt sad and disappointed at the end. A lot of the situations are probably what it WAS truly like but I was hoping for something a bit more hope-filled in the lives of the characters.

Thoughts Afield: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter by Harold E. Kohn (****) – This took me a very long time to get through because I wanted to read the sections in the corresponding season. These were beautiful short devotionals/essays touching on humanity, faith, and nature. For the most part, I found these just so gorgeous and lovely with bits of stark beauty jumping out. A few were a bit moralistic, but overall, I loved them. I see that Mr. Kohn has a large back list and I can’t wait to read more of his quiet essays and observations.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (*****) – The beginning was slow, so it took me a bit to get into this title. For me, this story asked more questions then it answered about memories, age, time, and love. It was a subtle, surprisingly powerful read for me. I really think I’m probably missing a lot in it’s vague undertones, but I came away with much to think about and ponder. I really appreciated the approachable prose, it’s beautiful, yet simple. Yet the implication of what Ishiguro writes is complex. Can’t wait to read more by this author.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright (***) – Christian fiction title that I’ve been anticipating. A longer review here if you are interested, a bit of a spoiler alert.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (*****) – The middle dragged a bit for me, but the story was wonderful and full of delicious book-lover’s dreams, characters coming alive, real power in reading out loud, writer’s ink bringing life to characters – my oldest and I really enjoyed reading this and talking about it! We are looking forward to the other two in the series.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. I just love those names, don’t you? I finished reading through for the year. However, I’ve started the Gospels again and read Matthew in November also.

Here are a few titles I forgot to include in other month recaps!

School Education by Charlotte M. Mason (*****) – I recently finished rereading this as part of my CM Book Study Group and it is so fantastic. Read here for an overview!

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner (**) – Spoiler Alert! Everything happens too fast (boom – a best friend, boom – a Christian, boom – love at first sight, boom – engaged & married. The End.) The story idea was an intriguing one, but just very little character development.

The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon (***) – A modern retelling of the story of Esther. I loved the setting, detailed and richly woven life with a Bedouin clan. I liked that the romance wasn’t just physical-attraction driven, character was important. However, the romance situation was hard to swallow. Overall, this was a light, interesting read.

Mr. Write (Sundaes for Breakfast #1) by Chelsea Hale (**) – The title (not to mention the cover art) should have clued me in, what can I say? This was very predictable, eye-rolling plot, annoying, inspirational romance.

 

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Monday Ponderings {November 6th}

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IN ANY HOUSE

SAID one whose yoke

Was that of common folk,

Would that I were like Saint Caecilia,

And could invent some goodly instrument

Passing all yet contrived to worship Thee,

And send a love-song singing over land and sea.

 

But when I seem

Almost to touch my dream,

I hear a call, persistent though so small,

The which if I ignore, clamours about my door

And bids me run to meet some human need.

Meanwhile my dream drifts off like down of thistle seed.

 

A sound of gentle stillness stirred and said,

My child, be comforted,

Dear is the offering of melody,

But dearer far, love’s lowliest ministry.

 

Amy Carmichael, Towards Jerusalem, p. 26 (emphasis mine)

~

 

Brain Dump

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My brain is swirling, turning, and murmuring at an even higher rate than usual which is saying something. As a wife, mother, and home educator, my brain is often full, but for some reason, I just can’t get the thing to shut up lately. I need somewhere to dump some of it and the blog is that place today. Bear with me.

  1. I hate cancer. Three local friends are battling it and watching them through it all has a way of making “important” things in my life seem stupid. Yes, I have little irritations and stuff, but I’ve been thinking about perspective and the attitude we have in life makes a HUGE difference. Mulling on this constantly and praying hard for these precious people.
  2. Spring hasn’t quite sprung here in the Upper Midwest, but it’s attempting too. I can’t tell you how excited this makes me as a mom and home educator. The children are outdoors! Hallelujah.
  3. I love writing and would like to publish my writing some day. Don’t you love how romantic that sounds? Do you know how unromantic the reality of this is? It’s extremely hard work. And that’s just the writing. I’m just barely getting my feet wet and it’s been a good, humbling process of growing for me. Also anything, even good things can become all-consuming. Thinking on how to balance my life as a wife, mom, home educator, and woman with my writing has been interesting. Also see Number #1 on this list. What truly matters in life?
  4. Our formal learning year is slowly coming to a close as we are in our third Term. We plan three Terms a year of 12 weeks each. I’ve learned so much this year and am looking forward to learning more and growing with my children. This has been a pretty good year for us, but I have some tweaks and things to research over our summer break. I’m so excited to attend a Charlotte Mason retreat with my oldest daughter this summer.
  5. I’m someone who can easy feel claustrophobic. That’s why I’m married and have six children. It’s been really interesting to attempt to stretch myself and grow in this area. I’ve been struggling with the balance between relationships with God, my family, and others with the time to recharge. Again ,back to that Number #1 on this list. Ahhhh. This pressure is good for me. Sanctification at it’s finest.
  6. We have a long drive to civilization from Hearth Ridge. I’ve been enjoying various podcasts. Do you listen to any favorites? I’m especially enjoying What Should I Read Next? I have a few others to try out soon.
  7. I’m extremely thankful for the surge in the last couple of years of Charlotte Mason community support online and retreats. However, lately, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of opinions, voices, and thoughts out there. I really love those that have finished out this journey in some way and so I’ve kind of pulled back to just focusing on those like Karen and Nancy. This doesn’t mean I don’t love hearing about CM home educating, no not at all, but at some point I have to just walk out the journey in my own home. Stop planning and absorbing and actually walk it out faithfully in small steps daily here. As I go, I can learn more, grow, and tweak it for my family. My prayer is that I be found faithful in this path we have chosen.
  8. I tend to read and eat emotionally when I’m drained. I’m really trying hard not to just pick up junk for my mind and body and it’s very hard to change bad habits. My book stack is HUGE, but I think I’m doing better finding light things to read that aren’t completely formulatic. I’m really looking forward to getting outside more for my long walks.
  9. I’m looking forward to a tentatively planned trip with my husband for our 15th anniversary this fall. I’ll share more as plans are firmed up.
  10. I was looking over my massive stack of journals and just amazed at how blessed I am. I really want to make an effort of intense, soul-deep gratitude and contentment. I need to lay aside my whiny irritations and thank God for His unbelievable faithfulness. Yes, I believe these are choices I make daily. Is my life perfect and carefree? Of course not. But it was never promised to be. However, in everything and through everything, God is WITH me and that I can never express enough gratitude.

~

Dear Friend

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‘Tis the season to be ruminating on love. Human love to me is chiefly tangible.It takes action, showing, doing, serving, and being much more than some little metaphoric chubby guy shooting people with arrows. One of my favorite expressions of love is in the form of old-fashioned letters sent through the post. There is something about a bit of beauty and friendship being shared in this slow, thoughtful way.

In the days of instant updates, tweets, and texts, receiving a handwritten note is priceless. For me, the whole process is a labor of love. Choosing the unique, beautiful cards or paper. “Geeking” out over all the pen choices, which ink flows the smoothest. I’m not even going to get started on decorating the envelopes, the vintage wax seals, and washi tape fever. Choosing the right postage stamps is pure agony. God forbid ones postage stamps not be pretty or unique. 🙂

I can’t tell you how much joy this art form, an almost lost one, can be. It’s a two-fold joy. One in the creating and sending and the other in anticipation and receiving back.  Currently, I have two sweet gals who share a bit of Pennsylvania country life with me. Karen and Rebecca graciously are my friends from afar, real friends, through the pages of a letter. Bonnie from North Carolina and Fleur from New Zealand, letters and hands and lives reaching across the miles. These four women and I sharing bits of art and the beauty of life through a tangible medium.

These letters become a bit like a treasure trove to me, stored, tied up with a bit of twine, or used as a book mark, or hung up, decorating my home. The connection with the past and present is very real in our letters, recalling the women of old, who this was their only way of communicating once or twice a year. Pen pals are in a way, an act of preserving a bit of the past. A bit of my history for future generations to mull over. What would we do without all the writings and letters of the past?

The wait for these written treasures makes them all the more worth while. The small, limited space and the amount of time spent writing and winging across the sky, make us more to the point, more about savoring and sharing little important parts of life. We share a bit deeper and notice the small things longer, dragging out a life time, appreciating singular instances of life over two letter writings. That slow living is very uncommon now and I am so glad to keep cultivating this habit of love and friendship.

~

Foggy Memories

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I read somewhere once that we write so we won’t forget. I recently joined a memoir writing class at a local library and you know, it has me digging deep into the recesses of my foggy memory for life experiences. It’s hard. Scraps of life jump out to me, childhood games of pretend, forcing my sister to eat grass because we were rabbits. An award ceremony, the cold, hard delight of that basketball trophy gripped in my hand. My grandma’s cigarette-smoke filled home, the soap operas, Smurfs, ice cold milk in old jelly jars, and stale cookies out of her raccoon-shaped cookie jar.

I hear bits of my teacher trying to consul me about my lack of brain function over math. I feel the pain after hitting the wall instead of my brother with my pathetic attempt at a punch. Flashes of my high school and college jobs, the chop suey sold and all the apples and ramen noodles consumed by this broke college student.

Little fragments tinkle and crumble through my hand. But I’m forgetting. My mind is blank in some spots. I remember bits of my wedding, the hot, sticky, humid September air. The kiss from the leathery lips of my husband’s grandfather. I remember smiling so much my lips cracked, the frosting up my nose, my new husband’s hand on my satin-clad waist.

I must keep remembering in ink, so the remembering in life will never be forgotten. I must remember my babies births, that moment when they broke free of my womb and I see their precious face, lips, hands, and toes for the first time. It’s slipping away in a jumble of fog, life, hurt, joys and the simmering soup of time.

I don’t want to forget that first car my dad helped me buy, or the beauty, intrigue, and tension of my first love. The summer camp nights, big group of friends gazing at a sky full of stars. The miles I walked on campuses, Professor Grant’s face from English Lit or a sociology class that turned out fascinating. The Ph.D student from China, who I met and became close with, him cooking Chinese for me and I dubbing him Doc, his laugh echoing and head shaking at my lame attempt with his name. I could go on and on.

I must write to remember, keeping my life moments alive. I have these memories that only I can save from slipping away forever.

 

~

Story

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Stories are beautiful. The Bible is the ultimate Story of God’s Love and redemption for mankind. The glorious Psalms full of pain, realness, and praise. The thread of promise woven throughout the Old Testament. The joy, love, and light stirred underneath the persecution and suffering in the New Testament. Have you ever thought about how important story is to our lives? Jesus used story often when sharing truths with the disciples and the crowds that surrounded Him. Nature often tells a story if we quiet ourselves,.pay attention, and listen. The beauty and depth to poetry often astounds me.

I am so blessed and encouraged by the beautiful truths and goodness in countless books, essays, and in this modern day, some blogs, social media. I can’t imagine the days when many couldn’t even learn to read, much less touch a real book.

We’ve been busy here with the beginning of our big extended family holiday celebrations. My mind is overrun with ideas, thoughts, themes, and yes, stories. I yearn to put them down in my journal, or here, or anywhere, but alas sometimes we must set aside what we want to do for the urgency of the immediate. Seasons.

The truth is that relationships are what truly matter this side of heaven. I must continually remind myself of this…it is a weary, thankless job at times.  All the investing, patience, selflessness, and giving that relationships demand. Our relationship with God needs our purposeful attention, space to listen, learn, and converse. It is truly the most important thing we can do with our time. Next comes the people in our life. These relationships are so beautiful and so draining, but every hug, every meal, every listening ear, matters. It does. Don’t let culture or lies tell you it doesn’t. You are part of God’s amazing story and you are writing a beautiful line of it with your life.

Just think of it. Your life is a story. How will that story turn out, what will the next page contain? You hold the ink and quill in your hand. Choose wisely. May I choose wisely.

~

Fun way to make Story apart of everyday life:

We enjoy what I like to call “literary feasting”. One of our most favorite book series is The Chronicles of Narnia. The cookbook is so fun and after we checked it out from the local library, we started making a Narnia Meal.

Narnia Meal

425 degrees

Chopped veggies you have on hand. This is wonderful for using up bits & pieces you have in frig. Chop up summer sausage or kielbasa. Toss it all in your favorite oil, salt & pepper, and spices of your choice (I usually just use garlic salt). Place on large baking sheet and cover lightly with foil. Roast for 1 hour. Serve with fresh bread, rolls, or whatever side you wish! Sometimes we get cider to go with!  Light some candles and imagine yourself in Narnia with Aslan…