Gather Round {June 23rd}

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{I truly wish we could all ‘gather round’ and chat about life, relationships, education, books, and our passions. Please grab a mug of steaming coffee or pour yourself a cup of tea, and get comfortable. I enjoy being a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak, reading about people’s lives, plans, or just what’s generally happening. I’d like to share that occasionally (every, fortnight, or so) here under this title. I’m not sure how it will play out, but I’d like to give it a go. I will post headings so that if you only have a few moments, you can scroll right to what interests you. I love conversations, don’t be shy, please chime in.}

Previous fly on the wall moments:  😉  check out past installments here. 

Domesticity ~ My sister-in-law gave me a delicious baked mac ‘n cheese recipe, which was met with rave reviews. It’s been rainy and cool, after a few scorching days, and I love the sweet, mistiness, so this was a perfect treat for lunch. I think I could serve it for dinner, also, by adding a large salad or other side. My friend gave me some chicken curry seasonings packets that she picked up from an Indian grocery, so I hope to try those soon. Bananas are plentiful around here, so due to the cooler weather, I’ve been able to make banana bread more often. My children are in rapturous delight about that development. I’ve been looking for a cross-over back apron pattern, preferably free, as I feel in the mood to sew up a new apron, and possibly start on gifts. We have the two last birthdays of the eight we have here at Hearth Ridge, so I’ve been thinking about surprises for those.

Education ~  We are finished up with just about everything EXCEPT two Plutarch lessons. We will finish those next week as soon as our Texas family visitors leave to travel onto more family. There are some other things I’d like to do before we begin again in September, so we just do them here and there, throughout the summer holiday. I’d love to take an home education online course sometime, but still trying to figure out how that would work to carve out an hour weekly HERE, due to the noise levels. I am all registered for a Charlotte Mason home education retreat in the fall and I’m highly anticipating that, although I don’t want to wish away the summer breezes too soon.

Writing ~  I’ve been working on a few things for the local journal and I’m working on a poem for a dear heart who asked me to write one for her. I have one or two essays noodling around in my brain for the blog. One poem and piece I still have out on submission and am waiting to here if anything comes from them. I’m thinking on how to breathe a breath of fresh air into this online space and it’s been exciting to think about ideas. What do you like to read here? My fiction characters are chattering away at me, whispering crazy things, and delightfully hanging about, but I haven’t done much with them beyond just talking to them here and there. And that’s ok. Seasons.

Reading ~ I have ever so many lovely titles sitting here, all raising their hands, shouting, “Pick me, pick me!” and so I plug ever onward through my To Be Read Never Ending Pile. It’s so delightfully pudgy and I just could faint from all the wonderful stories and goodness that there is in there. I’ve been revisiting my favorite author EVER, Maud Montgomery, often, and I have some old favorites that I’m just dipping into here and there. For instance, I’m almost through Goudge’s lovely Pilgrim’s Inn for the third ? time. Swoon. I’m excited to keep plugging away at my various choices for the Back to Classics readers group I signed up for…I plan to take Les Miserables on my vacation later this summer and give it a little more TLC. So, I will continue to wade in deeper and deeper, pushing aside the beautiful waves of pages and wonder. Come save me if I start drowning, will you please?

Sillies & Sundries ~  I just loved this podcast about Favourite Romantic Couples in Fiction, a perfect listen, from my favoUrite British podcast ladies, Miranda and Sophie.

Cheerio, lovelies.

~

Monday Ponderings {May 21st}

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“Folklore is a lively fossil that refuses to die.”

~ Charles Potter

 

“A child conversant with the old tales accepts them with an ease born of familiarity, fitting them into his own scheme of things, endowing them with new meaning. That old fossil, those old bones, walk again, and sing and dance and speak with a new tongue. The old stories bridge the centuries.”

~Jane Yolen

Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood

~

 

On Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Wodwo or Wild Man of the Woods by Martin Schongauer 15th century engraving

Wodwo or “Wild Man of the Forest” by Martin Schongauer, 15th Century Engraving

“What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air?”

(beginning of the haunting poem “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes)

     What inspires and moves you? What makes you feel most alive? For me, I find inspiration in all of life, in the little details of the salad my daughter and I are tossing, or even in the way the light shines on our book shelves. I find beauty in my faith, in nature, and mostly, dear literature. My favorite fiction being fairy tales and fantasy. Something about these stories, echoes the faith I have that this world is not my real home. There is something waiting that is better and perfect. Now for clarity, I’m referring to older fairy tales, folktales, and the writings of fantasy giants like J.R.R. Tolkien and his buddy, Mr. Lewis. While fantasy, and all the sub-genres, are more readily available these days, and in some ways a bit more accepted as literature, I’m afraid I haven’t found much that I love and find value in, as I have from the classics. There seems to be a key ingredient missing in most modern fantasy, but what that is, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one main thing. I’ve been thinking about another small funny thing about my love of the fantastical. It has mainly been cultivated in my young adult and not-so-young adult years. That’s right. I’ve grown to love fairy tales and fantasy as an adult.  What may seem like a waste of time and an odd choice for an adult to be reading, has, in reality, been water to the parched soil of my imagination. Recently, I pulled off the shelf one of my most favorite books on family culture and home education, Bequest of Wings: A Family’s Pleasures With Books by Annis Duff. This book was published in 1944, but I find much of it strangely relevant for my life today. While Duff and I differ in our beliefs, I can pull out so many gems of glorious beauty.

In Chapter Fourteen, Mrs. Duff lays out a defense for fairy tales, and I found it fascinating. She is referring to the idea that many look upon the ideas in fairy tales or fantasy with what Anatole France described as, “looking upon the imagination with mistrust.”

Children do not as a rule make this mistake; they are not so rigidly habituated to the distinctions that grown-ups make between what is probable and possible and what is inconceivable and contrary to reason.  They still possess the faculty of imagination that makes room for miracles, perhaps because the marvelous novelty of the world and of living has not yet worn off. The trouble with grown-ups is that they take things too seriously. Where children read fairy tales-and they do read them-just for fun, grown-ups often tend to theorize about ethical, social and cultural values until all the juice is squeezed out.

I just love that last line. “Until all the juice is squeezed out”, indeed. As an adult, working backward through the mystery of fairy tales and fantasy, I’m finding a world in which I can make sense of life. I can untangle just a small fraction of the ugliness of reality in this world and partake of beauty not of this world. It makes sense to some inner sensibility in me as a part of the wonderful creation of God. It’s the stark, brutal, horrible world with its insane pace, unreasonable standards, and true falsity that seems strange to me.

Duff goes on to say the importance of truths about darkness seen at a slant in fairy tale:

It is not a particularly healthy thing for children to read about killing. Killing is not a healthy business. But it goes on just the same, and I think that reading about the matter-of-fact way that people have of disposing of their adversaries in fairy tales has perhaps helped to “condition” my daughter to withstand the shock of hearing and reading about the impassioned massacre that men indulge in nowadays. Children, after all, are a part of this world, and however little we and they like some aspects of it, it will not help to draw the veil over the unpleasant things. I know that with my own daughter there is no danger of developing a calloused point of view. Accepting a situation that you cannot do anything about for the moment is quite a different thing from absolving yourself of responsibility for the future, and it is possible that the knowledge that men from time immemorial have killed each other may be the basis of a practical method of discovering how to stop it. 

Fairy tales teach us about ourselves and others:

My impression is that people in fairy tales behave pretty much as people do in real life. Some live by high principles, some are given over to evil ways; some are kindly in disposition, others practice meanness and persecution. Some go adventuring, some stay at home…And in fairy tales each type, with the action that represents it, is brought to life objectively, emphatically and consistently. Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Let’s read that again, because I love it so much.

Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Duff goes on to talk about how the characters presented in fairy tales often give her daughter something to draw on, saying so-and-so is like a certain character, for good or for evil. This helps us to turn from that which we dislike and see as wrong and turn toward the good, beautiful, and true. Fantasy generally doesn’t tell us wrong from right, but shows us both sides, leaving us to choose, an important part of life.

Here she discusses, specifically the fairy tales of Hans Andersen, and I think it’s worth thinking about:

… the great beauty and enduring value of Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales is that they show life as it is, birth at the beginning and death at the end, and a whimsical mixture of laughter and tears in between. I do not understand why it should be thought right or necessary to shield a child from the knowledge that death is the inevitable, the logical, the adventurous end to living…This idea must grow by slow and comfortable degrees, and I know of few things that show the way more simple and sweetly than Hans Anderson’s stories. He does not twist things away from their natural direction in order to bring about a happy ending, and I think that children feel the dignity and tranquility of his rounded episodes. Tragedy, in Andersen’s tales, is never shocking; he is gentle and patient in teaching children that life does not always have a happy face, and his sense of proportion is so delicate that he never overburdens his readers with sadness. The persuasive feeling of quiet confidence and conviction of the rightness of things as they happen flows steadily through Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and I know it is helping out daughter to form her philosophy of acceptance of the naturalness and inevitability of death and sorrow. 

Not all fairy tales and fantasy are created equal, as I touched on earlier, especially, unfortunately, the modern genre. However, even in the classics, my children and I have found stories that were too grim for us. Ironically, some of these were from Grimm’s fairy tales. Some of it might find its origins in myth and folktale that is contrary to our faith. Yet, beauty can be found everywhere. I might argue that true beauty is all from the same Source, no matter the conduit that it comes through. We use discernment, but we also don’t live by fear. All of it, everything we partake of, we hold lightly, snapping up the good, and setting aside what doesn’t resonate with us. As Duff says, the ideas in literature “must grow by slow and comfortable degrees”, and I can’t agree more.

What are you inspired by? Do you enjoy fairy tales and the fantasy genres in literature?

~

Wonderment

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{Trina Schart Hyman – one of our favorite illustrators ~}

Is wonder tangible? I often think of it as having a soft, secretive way about it that steals deeply into my soul, ducking just around corners. It takes a close noticing and reverence to catch it unawares. A small copse of birch trees, the certain way the light filters through the window, embroidery of the edge of a skirt, the cedar smell of newly sharpened pencils, and the sound of waves lapping the sandy shore. There are so many moments of wonder and fodder for the imagination all around, sometimes it feels like my senses will overload, or feel frantic for the missing of anything. Birdsong, the trickle music of water in a brook, the way that trees move in the wind, shadows from clouds, the musty, romantic smell of an old story rising, swirling from the pages of a vintage book, and colorful Shakespeare paper dolls that I’m slowly cutting out for my daughter. Can you feel it? Don’t you want to catch that wonder, chase it through a green field into the wide, blue yonder?  I do, I find I must.  Perfect pine cones in a dish, on display, a golden dandelion bouquet from daughter, and the fresh, born-again smell after the rain. These little things swell inside my heart as small reflections, teeny gifts, combating the darkness of this world, and reminding me of my true home, the piece of the puzzle that is missing.  Scripture and poetry come alive, with deep meaning and bloody love pricks to the heart, when one tucks them away, and takes them outdoors on a walk. Delicious tea, table set, candle flame slant, voices chattering around the table, seed cake shared, and spills mopped up by mustard, floral printed towel. Wandering through wonder, I’m able to rise above life’s daily struggles, because I see the light, or underside of them. We see the rich colors in the pile of laundry, we smell the soap suds from the sink full of dishes, we dance along the relationship intricacies, seeing them in the light of our own holes, and knowing we all are flawed, yet beautiful in our originality. The essence of glorious tulips coming up through black dirt. The ugly births beautiful. Wonder prisms the darkness with light and color. My eyes see it all through a sunrise edged with fog.

Wonderment. I’m following it.

~

Gather Round {April 7th}

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{I truly wish we could all ‘gather round’ and chat about life, relationships, parenting, education, books, and our passions. Please grab a mug of steaming coffee or pour yourself a cup of tea, and get comfortable. I enjoy being a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak, reading about people’s lives, plans, or just what’s generally happening. I’d like to share that occasionally (every, fortnight, or so) here under this title. I’m not sure how it will play out, but I’d like to give it a go. I will post headings so that if you only have a few moments, you can scroll right to what interests you. I love conversations, don’t be shy, please chime in.}

Domesticity ~ We home educate our children and so that means our home is pretty much a mess most of the time, because we are always here.  You should have seen the look on the electric guy’s face today when he saw all the shoes tossed about on our porch. Poor soul was confused about the sheer number, I’m sure. We are in our last and third term of the learning year, and the winter/early spring is particularly a trying time. We have pretty good systems in place, but whew, The Piles (insert scary music). My husband kindly purchased me a red Kitchen Aid mixer (squee!) and it’s been an extremely bad thing. We are baking entirely TOO much. Ha. I have a seed catalog here that I’d love to make a small order from, but my brain is trying to reconcile with the snow outside our window. I’ve been wading through clothing and trying to sort it all out, why does a eight year-old girl need seven jumpers in her drawer?

Education ~ I’m barely hanging on through this last term. It has nothing to do with what we are reading or doing. I love all of that, truly. It’s just the mental weariness of me “on” all the time. All parents, regardless of whether you’re home educating or not, understand this, I think. My INFP-self is rearing its ugly head. Dear Lord, can it be summer, please? Doctor Who, will you please bring the Tardis and who, whoo, eee who me away? Can I decamp and head to a remote cabin alone for an extended holiday? Anyone? However, having done home educating for numerous years, I know that I always feel this way at this time of year, and I always live through it. A couple things we’ve been especially keen on have been, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Abraham Lincoln by Enid LaMonte Meadowcroft, and D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths.  I’ve been thrilled by Amy Carmichael’s poetry, Edward R. Sill’s “Opportunity”, and John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”. Poetry is my jam. I’ve been excitedly looking at resources for The Odyssey and drooling over all the beautiful books on my shelves to choose from for our autumn term.

Writing ~ I found a few lovely looking online places that I’m thinking through ideas for submitting essays or poems. I’m very disorganized and am brainstorming to keep moving forward and growing. I love the creative nonfiction/memoir genre and want to grow as a poet as well. I know next to nothing about structure and the formal bits of poetry and need to just sit down, really study and practice. I’m a nervous and S-L-O-W as molasses fiction writer, but I’d love to have a rough draft done on my current idea by the end of this year. Oh my goodness. That freaks me out. Fiction has meant so much to me over the course of my relatively short life (I’m not THAT old yet, at least I tell myself that, as I pull out gray hairs), so I have a high respect for it and don’t know if I can ever really do it justice. However, I want to try. I write things that bless, encourage, and inspire ME and share them only in the hope that they just might do the same for even one other person.

Reading ~ What are you currently reading that you love? I have so many on my TBR stack, as usual, it’s toppling over. I’m never going to change, though, so I just embrace it, as long as I don’t let it stress me out. The truth is, I don’t have to read any of them, except The Holy Bible and poetry, because those things help me to breathe and not hurt people. At the moment, I’m quite fond of Betty Crocker’s Kitchen Garden with charming illustrations by Tasha Tudor. It is just so peaceful and lovely. As long as I don’t think about weeds, watering, sweaty, back-breaking labor, and my black-ish thumb.

Sillies & Sundries ~ I joined Twitter and am blindly fumbling my away around there like an idiot. I’m not even quite sure how to properly post a blog link on there. It’s been fun and whoa, there is a lot of nasty, mean-spirited rubbish on there. Yikes. I started walking in the middle of March which with all the reading, writing, and Kitchen Aid moments, is a good thing. Then a family wedding hit and the weather turned for the worst. I’m just waiting for the new snow to melt and things to warm up again. Excuses. I love doing the washing up while listening to podcasts. I’ve been listening to a lot of English shows and one Scottish show on writing. They are very fascinating and I wonder if you noticed my cheesy American attempt at using their lovely lilting turns of phrase and speech in this post. I’m such an unabashed Anglophile.

Cheerio, lovelies.

~

Truly and Deeply

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Perspective changes things. I often gaze up into the brilliant sky, eyes squinting against the brightness, a Red-Tail Hawk circling above. What does she see? How does it view my small van driving along? Hand over hand, rough trail scraping my legs, how would the world look from atop one of the many rock cliffs around me? How about at ground level? My farm cats perspective, slinking around wood posts all whiskery, and under muddy vehicles. I get so stuck in my own perceptions and it really is an effort to rise up out of myself, floating over, hovering ghost-like into completely different points of view, different lives, and seeing through someone else’s eyes.

This is one of the things I love about this literature lifestyle my children and I are stumbling along through, trying, grasping, reaching for understanding others in a meaningful way. Entering into the suffering of others. Rejoicing with those who rejoice. The truth is this life is not about you or me. It’s about all of us together. Others. Relationships. The relationships between our faith, the world, its tangible earth sifting between my fingers, and its intangible wisp of ideologies, and those other souls all around us. Stories, books, maps, and languages, music, poetry and so much more give us a teeny slice of someone else’s take on it all. A challenge to just listen to what all these voices are saying and not need to respond except with a simple nod and, “Thank you for sharing.” Basically, the antithesis of our society and social media platforms. I’m learning that listening is very powerful indeed. It’s humbling, it’s hard, and no, we don’t get our opinions out there. But, we gain the invaluable gift of perspective. The sound of a bubbling creek, the deep heart of a friend in need, and the biggest gift of a break from self.

Praying for a heart willing to listen truly and deeply.

~

The Well We Draw From

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I’ve been drowning myself in epic soundtracks this week. The Celtic strains haunt and delight me. They are like the marriage of prayer and song. They are familiar to me, matching a wandering spirit that is always hovering in the background. A slight dissatisfaction deep within. I’m not referring to ingratitude, on the contrary, a thankfulness and truth in the bottom of my soul. I feel born for another world, just here on borrowed time, really. These notes crescendo and filter through our days.  They meld and fit puzzle-piece like into the slowly aching and awakening earth all around me. Not long ago, the senses led our days, a seasonal movement, natural alarm clocks. The rooster, smells of from-scratch-made meals, the animals needing tending, the sounds of farm life awakening. The birds returning, ground slowly thawing, and longer days. Spring is one of rebirth. The following of the agricultural rhythms to life are pretty much a thing of the past. The natural world has it’s own music, one I’m privileged to have close relationship with, by opening my door and stepping out into it. The grand expanse, a small reflection of the life to come.

The poetry we soak in together, books savored, music enjoyed, the sunshine, and blue skies, it is all a five-sense feast of wonder. What of those who live without it, at no fault of their own, especially children? What of those trapped in steel, concrete, and those who never see, hear, or experience one little sip of beauty, nature, or wonder? What of the times I refuse these gifts by “the tyranny of the urgent”, or non-living things of little true importance? The false feeling of doing something important when on Instagram or Twitter.  All we drink from this deep, rich river of living-giving beauty becomes the well we draw from when reality bears down brutally on us. Without these moist depths, our insides shrivel up and die. We also, more importantly, gain an overflow, one that can spill over to those in need with their dry, cracked hearts.

My daughter and I are in a class learning to make 18th century women’s clothing. The learning curve has been steep to stay the least, but again the same strain of music is floating through these moments. A returning to our roots, learning of the American Colonial women, immigrants to this land, what their lives were like. Each stitch, each piece of clothing we make, feels foreign, alien, even. In reality, each piece was important, whether for a small slice of beauty in the woman’s life, or more likely for her heavy work-load. It’s like putting on the skin of someone else, shedding modernism, and becoming part of the land and people who have helped shaped this place in which we live. The hands-on aspect of it also is something of bringing us home, the value in making with one’s own hands. The contemplative posture, the slowness of progress, the appreciation of quality, one of a kind creations, found in this process.

The massive amounts of undergarments, the lovely slate blue floral kerchief tucked into stays, green linen gown and brown petticoat, white cap, and apron all are romanticized in my mind, of course.  There is something about appreciating others, different cultures, and time periods, though. Again, the flutes play, the aching hums along, this beauty quenches that nagging thirst. The ability of this well not to leave us in a static place, in a place dictated by the current stream’s of thought, but one that draws from the whole river of life and time. 

Oh, how I want to stay in this tune of life, waltzing and dancing through it with those around me. Yes, the reality of relationships and life is hard, but if I listen close and keep my toes tapping to this quiet song, this still small Voice, the well will never run dry.

~

 

 

 

 

Monocles, Maps, and Minutia

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Slant snowflakes and slate gray sky, just outside the window. Today was a day of catch-up. I say that everyday around here. Lassoing laundry and slinging sud-soaked dishes was the first order of the day. George Gershwin’s cheery Concerto in F propelled us along. The pellet stove was extra hungry, the smell lingering in the air, not unpleasantly mixing with coffee. The children laugh at me and my Magic Elixir, mmmm, I’m brewing more now.  I must admit, I feel old and worn out with all the questions, hullabaloos, and to-dos. Yet, these beautiful people keep me from rusting, well-oiled am I with six of them. Wonder, amazement, and simplicity are alive and well here, and I have them to thank for that. The last page of a wonderful story was turned today, and how extra bittersweet it was to share it with other kindred spirits. All the dust and crumbs of this life, swirl, crescendo, into a lovely soup-y mix. The snowy boots and little mittens. Sweeping up the spilled sunflower seed, a tromp out to the feeders, a welcome respite. A new poetry book to crack open, the tang of the Emerald Isle air hitting me full salty-spray in the face, Yeats wooing me from afar. Arguing about a sewing project, a daughter recording her dreams on my iPhone, admiring two kerosene lamps from Valentine’s Day past, and not to mention a dirty football on the table, crumpled bits of everything, everywhere. Whispering the fortifying words of Apostle Paul, over and over again, whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Over and over again, I’m astonished that I get to live this life. It’s not romantic at all, in reality. It’s hard work, the same mind-numbing work, over and over again. But looking at it slant, looking at it through a monocle of love, what I see is an amazing journey in miraculous minutia. My back may ache, my right foot has been bothering me, I need a shower, and extra weight hangs around, but here I am. Discussing the American Civil War and Abe Lincoln with a group of interesting and intelligent people. They remind me of differences in the Union and Confederate flag, bring in the battle of Fort Sumter, and chuckle about Davy Crockett. I just sit and soak it all in. I laughed with them as we listen to the Taming of the Shrew, so much to learn through Will, that’s for sure. Good and bad. Heads get bonked, angry tears happen over messes to be cleaned up, and garbage knocked over. Snow ice cream, taco dinner plans, and endless noise. The sibling riots settle and we pour over maps of Africa, searching the web for information on Cameroon’s violence. Our hearts and souls fly upwards and outwards, beyond the walls of our little home, our state, flitting past our U.S. borders, over the ocean, and enter into the wounds and dusty tears of others. Snow is still falling as the evening envelopes us. My green mug is running on empty, my geranium is blooming, and I’m going to light my lamps for dinner.

Another gift unwrapped here and enjoyed. Good night.

~

 

 

Monday Ponderings {January 22nd}

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But in reality, the more there was to do the better. I never ceased contriving fresh improvements, being fully aware of the importance of constant employment as a means of strengthening and maintaining the health of mind and body. This, indeed, with a consciousness of continual progress toward a desirable end, is found to constitute the main element of happiness.

The Swiss Family Robinson

Johann Wyss, p.228-229

{I’ve been thinking on this quote since I read it last week. I think there is an important truth in it, especially, now, how leisure and work balance are out of proportion in our culture or at least the lines are blurred. I think especially in American culture, work and productivity are glorified. I was recently talking to a friend about other cultures possibly having a better balance with knowing when to quit working, being willing maybe to have less, in order to have more time to relax. Just wondering out loud here. It is interesting how Wyss depicts the fun the Robinson family had WHILE working together, yet, they never seem to stop working. How does rest play into life? How do we find value in people outside of what they can “produce”? I realize this is a work of fiction and they are in a survival environment where their daily bread, so to speak, must be eked out by the sweat of their own brow. Just interesting to think on in a modern environment. I think one can have TOO much leisure time, and become internal and focused on one’s self…ahem. I also think it’s a mistake to think life is about working, money, and always striving. I have found some of my family, who are from an agricultural, country life background, with large families, definitely lean toward the latter. Yet, they also seem to value family time, but WORKING together tends to be the majority of it. What do you think?}

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, and More Favorites from my 2017 Reading Year ~

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Reading is a vast ocean of beauty, ugliness, and everything in-between. Ideas swish and swirl, changing the shape of our hearts, giving us compassion and understanding, softening our rocky edges. We are continually filled and emptied as we read. A humility, a refreshment, and a cleansing.

I had a wonderful year of reading, I’m so grateful for the beauty of being at home with my children, all reading together, and the time I’m given to share with many great minds through the pages of books. I tried my best to narrow my list down to those that I really stood out to me and that I’m still thinking about, forgive me for so many. I didn’t include The Holy Bible, books read with my children, Charlotte Mason educational volumes, and so many others, you can look under Year in Books, if you enjoy digging through book lists as much as I do.  I broke it into categories so you can skim to those you might be interested in.

Favorite Book of the Year:

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“Could mere loving be a life’s work?”

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book…how much the “simple” act of loving, of reaching out beyond ourselves has far reaching consequences. A timely and beautiful challenge to me as a wife, mother, and friend. This book moved me to tears and Goudge’s characters mean SO much to me, her sense of place is WONDERFUL…I was transported to this cathedral town. The nature descriptions were vivid and gorgeous. Sigh.

Writing/Author Memoir:

Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children by Susan Cooper  – Although the author and I have very different worldviews, I found this book enchanting, inspiring, and laced with a bit of magic. I know, I know…weird description for a book of essays. However, Cooper did a fantastic job just speaking to that elusive “something” in story that catches us deep in our core and takes us on a figurative journey. Continued here.

Spanning Time: A Diary Keeper Becomes a Writer by Elizabeth Yates – I found this book of Elizabeth Yates diary entries spanning her life absolutely fascinating. I’m still thinking about it, but it covered so much history and just reading from a young girl growing to woman through the early 1900’s in Buffalo,NY, WWI, the delicate and challenging part of being of a wealthy, upper class family, and the privileges yet heavy expectations on her. Continued here.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury –  I’ve read 7 or 8 books on writing or author memoirs this year, instead of writing, imagine that. Ha. Sad truth. This was just about my favorite. Just so beautifully encouraging and so very inspiring. Bradbury is hard to explain, just sort of explosive, I think is my word for him. I have commonplace quotes to think over, and I’m totally in love with his love of words. Long live logophiles.

Memoir:

Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane – This is such a hard book to describe. I loved it! About sense of place, about people who’ve connected with their immediate surroundings and specific far-off places, and the history of place words. Continued here. 

Rising Ground: Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden – I felt like the author and I were on a hike through all of Cornwall and south western part of Great Britain, chatting about the importance of home, of the religious significance of man-made rock formations, and the land, all connecting with the people who lived and died here. Continued here.

A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll (poetry-memoir mix) – I found this delightful poet in an anthology, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been searching out her works and this is a lovely juxtaposition of the life of Saint Francis with Carroll’s modern life. I love the introduction she gives us to St. Francis and I love her jarring, beautiful, simple poetry. Visit her here.

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The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family by Jeanne Marie Laskas – I just loved, loved this! The author’s conversations with herself and stream of consciousness type writing. It was all so real. I could picture myself saying and thinking some of the exact same things. The beginning is a bit slow, but then the beautiful last half as she goes through IVF and adopting from China. Wow. One of my favorite memoirs in a long time. 

O Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare by Niall Williams and Christine Breen  – This was a beautiful memoir of two New Yorkers, of Irish descent, deciding to pull up roots and move to Christine’s family cottage in West Ireland. The language and writing of this memoir was so beautiful and of course, the descriptions of Ireland are enough to swoon over. Continued here. 

Education & Parenting:

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (YA fiction, but falls under this heading for me as it was about dyslexia) – I absolutely loved this book, I cried at times. This follows the life of Ally, a sixth-grader, who has dyslexia, and doesn’t know it. The author clearly shares some of her own life experiences through the thoughts and feelings of this young girl who believes she is stupid. It shares how one person valuing another as a person can change the course of their whole life.

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Charlotte Mason and The Great Recognition edited by Nicole Handfield – I so enjoyed this collection of essays that further helped illuminate and illustrate Charlotte Mason’s Great Recognition. I especially enjoyed the color prints of the fresco and Ruskin’s thoughts on them in such a nice convenient form.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt – Firstly, Hewitt is a beautiful writer. Secondly, even though I’m not an unschooler, I took away a lot of beauty, inspiration, and new ways to think about learning at home with our children. I really enjoyed this memoir!

Fiction:

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute – This beautiful story follows John Howard, a grieving 70 year old man, who escapes to a fishing vacation in France, after the death of his son in the RAF. It’s summer 1940 and he craves quiet, avoiding all the talk of war and death in England. Little does he know what he is headed for! This was a BEAUTIFUL, heart-wrenching tale that blessed the socks off of me. It was written in a plain, straight-forward style, and yet I was right there with Mr.Howard through every step of this extraordinary journey. The love and grace shown by him and others was an example to me of God’s unconditional love. I loved the children in this book and Mr. Howard’s treating them as people. My second favorite book of the year!

A Far Country  by Nevil Shute – Beautiful!  I really enjoy Mr. Shute!

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury – his book follows the story of 12 yo Douglas’ summer vacation in a small town during the late 1920’s. This book is so strangely weird and deeply beautifully, bordering on creepy at times. Bradbury does a wonderful job looking at life through the eyes of this extraordinary boy’s imagination and spin on things. The language and turns of phrase are unforgettable. I believe some of this might be inspired by Bradbury’s own childhood. I’m looking forward to reading more from him.

The Major of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – Wow. Hardy is definitely not cheery reading, but somehow you forgive him because of beauty of his writing. I love the title, it means more than what’s on the surface, of course. Mr. Henchard is a character you find yourself alternating between frustration, dislike and pity. Continued here

Buried Giant by  Kazuo Ishiguro – The beginning was slow, so it took me a bit to get into it. 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. Continued here.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery – I adored this title. (It ended up being my favorite of the trilogy.) Even though I’m an avid L.M. Montgomery fan, this is the first time I’m going through this series. Oh my. This is the second in the series and we continue following Emily as she grows into a young woman and beautiful writer. Continued here.

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Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – English history, legends, sweet romance, mystery, deeply flawed, yet lovely characters, a quiet stone chapel, a lovely working farm, and a gorgeous, idyllic coastal English village make for another charming, beautiful, deeply moving story. Continued here. 

Difficult Books that I’m Glad I Read:

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan – Wow! This book was the longest I read this year. It was crazy, upside down, and inside out, but totally tugged at my heart strings. I came to care about many of the characters living in the Gray House even the hard-to-love ones. Continued here.

Silence by Shusaku Endo – I’m STILL thinking about this title.  I don’t think I totally understood it for some reason. 

 

Children’s Classics I Read to Myself:

Dobry by Monica Shannon – I found this book while dipping into a favorite book of mine on reading with children called Bequest of Wings by Annis Duff. Mrs. Duff was mentioning great children’s books with food in them! I was intrigued and picked this one up as it won the Newberry. I found this book absolutely sweet and interesting about a peasant boy in Bulgaria who lives with his mother and grandfather. Continued here.

The Midnight Folk by John Masefield – I found this title because I wanted to read a children’s classic for myself over Christmas. I was reading reviews on The Box of Delights and found out this was the first one in the series. I’m so glad I did! What an enchanting, magical British children’s story. Continued here.

Alright, regrettably, one has to stop SOMEWHERE. Ha. There are many others I read this year that I thoroughly enjoyed, including many rereads of favorites, but I think these are the ones that I keep thinking about.  If you made it this far through my list, bravo! A couple of goals I have for the new year are to read these 12 books on this list, read more modern books, especially memoir, and work on quality choices and finishing things. How ’bout you? What was your favorite read from 2017 and what do you want to read more of next year?

And if this isn’t enough reading goodness for you, here is a lovely bookish place to visit.

Here’s to a new year of great books!

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Unexpected Christmas Gift

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Some things need a deep soaking, a curing, if you will. Our Amish counter top is in my basement, butcher-block, solid, dusty, maple, I think, or maybe it’s walnut, I’m not totally sure. All this past autumn, it’s been waiting patiently, thirstily, for a deep drink of mineral oil and a soft touch. Every time I’d see it, going about putting groceries away in the chest freezer, washing another load of laundry, the many trips up and down the basement steps, there it was in my peripheral vision. A slight wood smell lingering. In November, I watered the poor, dear dead bit of tree for the first time. It was a surprisingly simple process to draw out the beautiful swirls, richness, and golden-dark amber hue. Every day for a week, a deep rubbing, fingers brushing, seeping, curing, and protecting. Oily finger tips, tree-grain lapping it up, slow care bringing the wood out of its deep sleep. A little bit of tending each day, in between frenzied holiday preparations, the cool, dim basement, and a length of earthiness, a bit of sanctuary. My hands moving, smoothing the dry places with another drop of oil, quiet motion, almost a prayer. I’m now serving the guest it’s drink only once a week, but this process of working slowly with the grain, this beauty of birth, the seeing of the seed in fallow ground sprout, these moments in the mundane, have been my own unexpected Christmas gift. One that I will be reminded of every time I enter my kitchen. True beauty is found in the process, the moments, the counting the rings of life slowly. Soaking in every rich detail.

(I started writing this awhile ago, and my counter top is now installed!)

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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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