Back Here Again

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I flicked on the faucet, filling my coffee pot. There at the bottom of the sink, a common cricket surprised me, a delightful friend to great the wee hours of the morn with. A weariness stole over me, yet I felt good about the fact that it was Friday and we’d made it. A full week of back to (home)school and it was lovely. Yes, of course, a favorite coffee mug was broken, paint got on the kitchen table, laundry did not get done, wrongs to wrangle and mend, and there were a few tears shed (not just by me, either).  But oh, the joy of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry read, intriguing mix of Greek myth, Christianity, and her ironic, heart-wrenching thankfulness for the coming freedom of the American colonies. My unkempt hair falling in my face (I desperately need a hair cut), while talking over philosophy (Ourselves by Charlotte Mason) with my two older boys about our dual selves and one of them comparing it to that cartoonish picture of the devil and angel on our shoulders, lends a sobering blend of joy and holy seriousness to what I get to do as a homeschooling mother. Silence and contemplation over mysterious bits from George MacDonald in his At the Back of North Wind. In our afternoon free time, my 12 yo son and I have been enjoying reading and discussing Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I had planned on a shift into our autumn menu, chili, chicken noodle soup, and roasted veggies with sausage. I’ve had to scramble a bit as the temperatures tricked us by dropping and then sultry sunshine slipping back in. We made due and sometimes soup was sipped to the hum of the air conditioner. This seems to be the year of Wisconsin (and England!) geography trails and deeper digging into science, but with glorious LIVING, breathing books at the helm. The early morning math figuring together, each child rotating to me for help, has worked wonderful this first week, it’s amazing the things we talk about as we fill up with ideas.  We had a long ramble on our beautiful gravel road, the dog gamboling ahead of us, darting in and out of the neighbor’s corn, the butterflies following us. “The butterflies are my friends,” the sweet, sensitive 5 yo tells me. Common Buckeye, Red Admiral, Sulfurs, and Monarch are still swishing lightly through these last dog days of September summer. Can you believe that Monday is the official first day of autumn? My sleep deprivation has reached new heights, a darling, chunky almost 5 month old baby boy smiles at me, making it worth it, but not any less hard. I was able grab a few secret moments to dip into this strangely imaginative book about writing and run away to Italy for a bit in Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April. Paint brushes dipped into watercolors remind me of the Staghorn Sumac tips now, brilliantly red-tipped. A few Christmas gifts have begun to get a jump start, and the oven is being used for more bread and cookies. Our favorite Elevenses snack began again, a giant bowl of popcorn and mugs of hot chocolate (yes, even with the heat! Old habits die hard.), hymns and folk-songs playing. It brings back so many memories of the countless pages read, conversations, and the life lived, learned, deep love planted around this old, hand-me-down table. The seasons ebb and flow, like one of those time-lapse videos, in my head.  It’s so good to be back here again.

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Few things that blessed me this first back to school week:

Each day the world is born anew

For him who takes it rightly…

Rightly? that’s simply!- ’tis to see

Some Substance casts these shadows

which we call Life and History…

Simply? That’s nobly! – ’tis to know

That God may still be met with, –

Nor groweth old, nor doth bestow

These senses fine, this brain aglow,

To grovel and forget with!

 

Lowell, The Cloud of Witness, p. 380

 

Psalm 23 (emphasis mine) NASB

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Monday Ponderings {April 8th}

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My harvest withers. Health, my  means to live –

All things seem rushing straight into the dark.

But the dark still is God. I would not give

The smallest silver-piece to turn the rush

Backward or sideways. Am I not a spark

Of him who is the light? Fair hope doth flush

My east. – Divine success – Oh, hush and hark!

 

George MacDonald

A Diary of an Old Soul

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Why write?

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“Let your white page be ground, my print be seed, 

Growing to golden ears, that faith and hope shall feed.”

~ George MacDonald

 

Why write? Or pursue any other creative endeavor? I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been reading a lovely book called Writing Motherhood: Tapping into Your Creativity as a Mother and a Writer by Lisa Garrigues. The author really is making my brain whirl with ways we can write from our everyday lives. While she specifically is focusing on mothers, I have found so many tidbits, quotes, and little ideas for general writing, especially as I get deeper into the book. As I thought of this question above, at first, I panicked. I felt a huge need to write beautifully about this and automatically felt this need to justify creativity. However, once I calmed down a bit, I realized, in my heart of hearts I knew why I write. So, here’s a small list that I’m thinking on and refining in my heart:

  1. I’m an Image Bearer of my Creator God, who loves me – my creativity is a small glimmer of His beauty and character. Of course, it’s not perfect like Him, but if it can reflect even a minuscule piece of Him, it’s worth it. I offer it back to Him as an act of worship, as something I love-to, have-to, and want-to do.
  2. I write to force myself to slow down and humbly notice the small beauty of life. Ultimately, this helps me cultivate gratitude. I mainly write with paper and ink, initially when working on a project. You have to go slow at that inky speed. It’s been a wonderful practice for me.
  3. I write to prayerfully encourage and inspire others in the same upward, outward direction. I want to bring our physical realities a little higher up till they touch the spiritual realm. Yes, we live here in this fallen world, but we are sojourners on a land not our own. I want to be deeply aware of this, but also realizing if we look closely enough we can find glimpses of our real life beyond piercing through here…

Have you thought through why you write or pursue your creative bent? I’m sure my reasons will shift a bit in different seasons, but this is a start.

~

 

 

Favorite Reads of 2018

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Happy 9th Day of Christmas, friends! Below is the list of books that touched me deeply this year. I separated them in categories, so you can skim to something that may interest you! I found this year that books that challenged or shocked me were some of my favorites. I really found myself gravitating toward books that I had an intense emotional response with or a line or thought or idea that has stuck with me throughout the year, but weren’t necessarily pretty or comfortable reads. I read through the New Testament and Psalms a couple of times and a few other books of the Old Testament and really enjoyed the slow, savoring pace. I’ve only included my favorite favorites, if you know what I mean, because I read so many lovely books including home education titles, writing books, and more.

Favorite Book of the Year:

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it.  I’m not sure why this book so profoundly made an impression on me. I think in some ways it has to do with the fact that I feel SO much compassion for the mother and her girls (not to mention the Congolese) and feel like this is just so preventable. And yet, unfortunately, all to often, some of the elements of this story ring true in organized religion. This fictional story is an achingly beautiful account of The Belgian Congo and a family torn up by Pharisaical religiosity, racism, sexism, and as many other “isms” that Kingslover could think of and fit into this book. This is the first book that made me cry in a long time and I will never forget it. Even though I strongly believe the author made sweeping, prejudiced (ironically, the very thing she eloquently rails about in this book) blanket judgments of things she abhors (or at least seems too based on this novel), there is SO much to appreciate about this and pull away from it. Highly recommend if you can read it with a grain of salt and a willingness to look at yourself, shaking off deeply ingrained things that aren’t right.

Other Hard but Favorites of the Year: 

East of Eden by John Stienbeck (****) – Wow! The writing in this book was amazing and my first Steinbeck. The nature descriptions are wonderful and I enjoyed his rich prose and insightful, detailed observations. It started off very dark and depressing as we are introduced to Cathy, later known as Kate. She is one of most disturbing people I’ve read about in literature in a long time! Towards the end, I feel like I was able to feel a twinge of compassion (maybe) towards her or at least a teeny bit of understanding. As we went along, I started to see some of the “retelling of the Genesis story/Cain and Abel” feeling, as our characters battle the internal good and evil in their lives and with their families. This follows two generations of two families and weaves in and out in a beautiful way as they struggle to survive their parents and as parents, their upbringing, and finding their purpose in life. They battle the question of is our tendency towards good or evil inherited or a choice? The weight of this question is felt heavily in each person’s life.  I felt like I got to know the characters deeply and that many of their questions were universal. I loved Lee, the Cantonese servant, and eventually friend and caretaker to Adam. I loved, loved Samuel, the dreamy, distracted friend of Lee and Adam. I realize this is a crazy, all over the place review, but it’s hard to describe. Beautiful, recommend with caveat that it does have a lot of darkness: prostitution, language, and suicide.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) -I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue and not agree with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

 The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) –  Interesting, dark story about the English Civil War and the wrestling with good and evil in all of our lives. How the love of God and others trumps darkness. Fascinating look at Royalists, Puritans, class divisions, and the Romani peoples. Gardens and herbs are prominent in this book which was beautiful and piqued my interest in it all the more. This took me a LONG time to get into, you have to be very patient with Goudge, but she will reward you many times over, if you hang on.

Books that Built my Faith:

The Wild-Bird Child: A Life of Amy Carmichael by Derick Bingham (*****) –  Amy Carmichael is one of my heroines of the Christian faith, her poetry, writing, and life’s work, encouraging and inspiring me. I really enjoyed this unique look at this Irish missionary.  Mr. Bingham created an unique take on her life, beginning each chapter, with a bit of what was going on in the world at the time. I love the first hand letters, personal stories, and information from diaries that the author had access to while writing this book. I found this much more interesting than A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger (*****) -this was a reread for me, in anticipation of reading Enger’s two other books soon and I gobbled it up in a few days. I loved this so much and was just drawn again in by the rich characters, story, and beautiful spiritual vein and questions posed throughout. Highly recommend!

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (*****) – I absolutely loved this book about a bus ride between Heaven and Hell and the conversations between “Ghosts” and “Beings”. I found it just lovely and amusing that George MacDonald was Mr. Lewis’s Being. The theology and thoughts were thought-provoking, challenging, and absolutely beautiful. I also listened to a few episodes in a series of podcast discussions on this book, which I found interesting.

Poetry:

Mountain Breezes by Amy Carmichael (*****) – This took me all year to read. It is a collection of all of Miss Carmichael’s poetry gathered from throughout her other writings. This is one of my favorite books of the year, as I found her simple, sweet poems of nature observations and the character of God to be so challenging and inspiring to my faith. Some of the poetry is very basic, but you hear her heart through it and some lines are just like arrows to your heart. I highly recommend this book.

Billy Collin’s poetry (****) – I read many collections of his poetry and I don’t know if there was one that was my favorite although The Art of Drowning and Picnic, Lightening  I immensely enjoyed. They are written in engaging, yet simple style, but meaningful and hugely layered. I was astonished at the beauty of some of his close, minute observations of daily life. He renders the littlest bits of our lives in a grand universal way, yet he was so approachable. I can’t wait to read more from him! Here is a TED talk by Mr. Collins that I enjoyed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this humorous, down-to-earth poet.

Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (*****) – I would give this six stars if I could. Just lovely, haunting poetry, exploring the beauty of life, nature, and faith in an approachable, gorgeous, lyrical way. I’m on my third reread of it, it’s not long, it’s so life-giving and wonder-provoking. Carroll is my favorite modern poet and you can visit her here and read some of her words.

On the Lighter Side: 

The Market Square by Miss Read (*****) – Another of my favorite genres is British family-ish type fiction. Miss Read is the master of beautiful settings and lovely characters that you come to love and care about. Sometimes not much happens, but you still keep reading anyway. This title was a bit different from her Thrush Green and Fairacre series in that it was a bit more sad and darker than those. Two friends grow up together and their families are inseparable until a change in the economy forces a wedge. Misunderstandings, class, race, morality, the World Wars, all test the true friendship between these two men as their lives move on. This was slow start for me and it took me awhile to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. So much to think on and consider and I won’t forget this story! I think this might be a series, but I haven’t checked into it yet.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (*****) -This was a reread for me and I loved it more than the first time. Jane lives with her mother and wealthy grandmother in a colorless and harsh environment. She doesn’t know what happened to her father, being led to believe he died. One day,  a letter arrives from him, asking for her to spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island. Little do they know how much this will change all of their lives. This possibly has a too-sweet ending, but I adore the hope and beauty that this story holds, it’s one of my absolute favorites from Maud. I love how happiness is found in the simple act of loving and serving.  This is in fact why I call myself “Amy of Hearth Ridge”. 😉

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (*****) – SLIGHT SPOILER! The daily workings of a telecommunications company may not sound fascinating, but oh wow, they are when you have Willis writing about them. The new craze is a medical implant supposedly to increase your emotional connection to your partner. Briddley, a young employee, is thrilled and astonished by the attention lavished on her by one of her bosses Trent, and now he wants to get this implant with her! The weird tech department guy won’t stop warning her about the dangers of this procedure, and her big crazy Irish family won’t leave her alone.  Continued review here!

The Anatole Trilogy by Nancy Willard (*****) – These three short fantasy adventure stories follow a young boy and were just wonderful. I was looking for a middle grade read and happen to have book #2 of this series on my shelf. I quickly got the other two and thoroughly enjoyed them, the last being my favorite. I love Willard’s ability to keep things grounded in the reality of a young child’s mind, yet make completely absurd and fantastical things and happenings seem everyday and normal. I loved this little escape and the quests Anatole found himself on with the help of many magical creatures and new friends. You can tell Willard understands young children, which I love so much.

 

 

{For major bookish browsing, check out my Year in Books category!}

Otherwise, you can just go to my past years favorite lists! 🙂 I can’t believe I’ve made these lists for three years now already. Time flies when you’re reading.

Favorites from 2017

Favorites from 2016

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Monday Ponderings {November 5th}

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If any strain of my “broken music” make a child’s eyes flash, or his mother’s grow for a moment dim, my labour will not have been in vain. 

~ George MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination”

{This quote came to my attention via the lovely Instagram account _bryana_joy and I found it very intriguing. I searched around for it online and found the complete essay. I highly recommend it for writers, artists, any creatives, but also for mothers as it gives an interesting perspective of childlike wonder and an inside-out view of children. Just asking ourselves the question of what is already inherently inside our child (who is made in the image of God), just waiting, faithfully sowing, and spreading beauty that kindles that spark of wonder. We are not molding them from the outside-in and that is such a huge relief. This essay is not a super easy read, and I’m still reflecting on it, and think it’s worth reading.}

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June Reads

Happy July, Readers! I’m catching up after being on holiday, so things are a little behind, but that’s ok. Here is what I finished up reading in June ~

1492117  Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason (*****) – It’s hard to review these as a whole, because each section is jammed packed with interesting and wise tidbits about educating children, parenting, and frankly, I learn a lot to meditate on about all of life. It takes me a LONG time to read these, unless I’m reading with a group. This volume of Miss Mason’s is unique, in that it gives chapters that serve as examples with problems one might face in different situations or children. I highly recommend. Be forewarned, once you finish, you may want to turn right back around and read it again, because there is SO much goodness in here.

35489103   The Landscapes of Annie of Green Gables by Catherine Reid (*****) – Gorgeous book of photos, quotes, and brief history on L.M. Montgomery and the island she loved so much. I highly recommend for an Anne of Green Gables or Montgomery fan!

35505416  Across the Blue by Carrie Turansky (***) – I won this on a blog, which was so nice, because I didn’t even know I was entered! Ha. In the end, I’d give this a 2.5-3 stars as the topic was interesting, a fictional story based around the first man to fly over the English Channel. I loved the different angles, including a mystery. The breaking societal norms for a upper class woman feels like it is been written about over and over, and the romance was predictable.

The Night Circus The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (****) – 3.5 – This was beautifully written, crazy, and unique. I loved the dark, yet twinkly feel to this book. I mostly felt sorrow for how badly Celia was treated by her father and Marco also by his adoptive guardian. It showed clearly that abuse can manifest itself in many different ways, through outright violence and anger or manipulation and careful, calculated control. (More of my review here if you are interested!) 

20170404 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1) The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (****) – This fantasy/sci-fi classic has been on my list for awhile and I was so enchanted by Discworld and the amazing characters that Pratchett created. Not sure if I will go on to read all the Discworld, as I think there are 40 or more of them! I’m tempted to try book two. If you want a crazy unique, light story, check this one out!

Serve It Forth Serve It Forth by MFK Fisher (****) – I’ve been wanting to read Fisher since I’ve enjoyed Julia Child’s and Peter Mayle’s foodie memoirs. This did not disappoint! Just random chatting about the history of food, stories about meals she shared, and delicious food descriptions. I will be reading more from her!

The Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2) The Dark is Rising (Book 2 in The Dark Is Rising Sequence) by Susan Cooper (****) I love Middle Grade and Young Adult Classics and this is a fantasy classic that is underappreciated I think. This is a reread and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. I recently reread the first one, Over Sea, Under Stone, and am planning on slowly continuing through this series. If you enjoy English myths, fantastical battles between good and evil, and children on daring adventures, you will LOVE these. If you are giving these to children, I would say they are on the darker end of fantasy. Just FYI.

Smoky-House Smoky-House by Elizabeth Goudge (***) – Ahh! I love your stories so much, Elizabeth dear. This one was a sweet children’s story about a widower and his five children, and a mystery surrounding their inn, the Smoky-House. This one was sweet mixed with strange about Free Traders on an English coast. It was not my favorite of all Goudge’s, but I loved the three animals and how they were major characters of the story, and we were able to hear their conversations.

Discovering the Character of God Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) – I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

Five on a Treasure Island (Famous Five, #1) Five on a Treasure Island (The Famous Five Series, Book 1) by Enid Blyton (*****) – I’ve been wanting to read this series and I really enjoyed this lovely story of three cousins who meet and stay the summer with their cousin and her dog. Full of adventures and lovely English sentiments, I can’t wait to read more and share them with my children, also.

The Divide (The Alliance #2) The Divide by Jolina Petersheim (****) – This was the sequel to The Alliance which I read last month and I enjoyed the conclusion to the story of a Mennonite community struggle for survival in a dystopian society. This one was a little darker and had a sad undertone to it, but overall I was enthralled and it raised a lot of questions on how far you would be willing to go when defending your love ones and battling starvation. Not a light read, but interesting!

Stillmeadow Seasons (Stillmeadow Series, #3) Stillmeadow Seasons by Gladys Taber (*****) – I finished my current Taber read, as I always have a little bit of her memoirs going. She is so lovely, simple, and hearkens back to the days of living off the land, following the seasons, and the beauty and value that can be found in homemaking. I don’t think I have any new Stillmeadow books to work on, so I might need to search around online for one. *ahem* 😉 I do have one about her father and one about her later years, living in Cape Cod.

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1) Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (*****) –  Don’t judge this one by it’s ugly cover! Another high fantasy classic that I just learned about. This was a wonderfully, full, richly constructed world and characters. I can’t wait to read the others in the series. This is written in older, beautiful language, feels like a mystery, adventure, within the confines of feudalism, and the intrigues of the court and common people.

Holy Bible: King James Version The Holy Bible (*****) – Isaiah and some of Psalms.

 

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Monday Ponderings {June 18th, Happy Birthday to me!}

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Our love is like a little pool; Thy love is like the sea…

~ beautiful line from an Amy Carmichael poem “Surprising Love”, p. 18, Mountain Breezes

Love is at the heart of every right way, and essential forgiveness at the heart of every true treatment of the sinner. 

~ George MacDonald, p. 307, Discovering the Character of God

Face to Face

O Love Divine, if we can see

In our beloved so dear a grace,

When Love unveils, what will it be

To see Thee face to face?

~Amy Carmichael

{The photo is from a lovely B&B my husband and I stayed at last weekend. We snuck away for a short break and it was so nice. Meditating on these today…how is your week shaping up? I’m a grand 38 today. I feel like I’m straddling the young and old fence. Ha. Three cheers for birthdays! Happy Monday from all of us here at Hearth Ridge Farm.}

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Monday Ponderings {June 4th}

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The Holy Midnight

Ah, holy midnight of the soul,

When stars alone are high;

When winds are resting at their goal,

And sea-waves only sigh!

 

Ambition faints from out the will;

Asleep sad longing lies;

All hope of good, all fear of ill,

All need of action dies;

 

Because God is, and claims the life

He kindled in thy brain;

And thou in him, rapt far from strife,

Diest and liv’st again.

 

~ George MacDonald

~

 

George MacDonald

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Better Things 

Better to smell the violet

Than sip the glowing wine;

Better to hearken to a brook

Then watch a diamond shine.

 

Better to have a loving friend

Than ten admiring foes;

Better a daisy’s earthy root

Than a gorgeous, dying rose.

 

Better to love in loneliness

Than bask in love all day;

Better the fountain in the heart

Than the fountain by the way.

 

Better be fed by mother’s hand

Than eat alone at will;

Better to trust in God, than say,

My goods my storehouse fill.

 

Better to be a little wise

Than in knowledge to abound;

Better to teach a child than toil

To fill pefection’s round.

 

Better to sit at some man’s feet

Than thrill a listening state;

Better suspect that thou art proud

Than be sure that thou art great.

 

Better to walk the realm unseen

Than watch the hour’s event;

Better the Well done, faithful slave!

Than the air with shoutings rent.

 

Better to have a quiet grief

Than many turbulent joys;

Better to miss they manhood’s aim

Than sacrifice the boy’s.

 

Better a death when work is done

Than earth’s most favoured birth;

Better a child in God’s great house

Than the king of all the earth.

 

George MacDonald

Discovering the Character of God,  p.192

 

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