Category Archives: Reading Update

 

At first, I was a bit frustrated with A Love that Multiplies by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar: the beginning is mostly a recap of what has happened on their TV series (which I have seen) with a few–very few–details that had not been mentioned in that outlet.  It was the in-depth look at how the Duggars approach discipline, Bible study, family time, and general encouragement from Michelle that I found most inspiring.  I won’t go into all of the details because most people fall into the I-love-everything-about-the-Duggars camp or I-can’t-stand-the-Duggars-and-don’t-care camp.

Interestingly, the only thing that had every really struck me as “funny” about the Duggars was using actions to memorize Bible verses.  I don’t know why, but I had this proud notion in my head that I was above that…even though I was not memorizing ANY Scripture!  I have since started using that method and we are half way through memorizing the Sermon on the Mount!  So, when I cut myself a little humble pie I got some Bible knowledge to go with it, which is a win in the end.

 

Here were a few inspiring poems Michelle shared in the book:

Continue On!

A woman once fretted over the usefulness of her life. She feared she was wasting her potential being a devoted wife and mother. She wondered if the time and energy she invested in her husband and children would make a difference.

At times she got discouraged because so much of what she did seemed to go unnoticed and unappreciated. “Is it worth it?” she often wondered. “Is there something better that I could be doing with my time?”

It was during one of these moments of questioning that she heard the still small voice of her Heavenly Father speak to her heart. “You are a wife and mother because that is what I have called you to be. Much of what you do is hidden from the public eye. But I notice. Most of what you give is done with out remuneration. But I AM your reward.

“Your husband cannot be the man I have called him to be without your support. Your influence upon him is greater than you think and more powerful than you will ever know. I bless him through your service and honor him through your love. Your children are precious to Me. Even more precious than they are to you. I have entrusted them to your care to raise for Me. What you invest in them is an offering to Me.

“You may never be in the public spotlight. But your obedience shines as a bright light before Me.

“CONTINUE ON.

“Remember you are My servant. Do all to please Me.”

~Roy Lessin~

I cannot remember if it is the one above or below that Michelle wrote she has hanging where she can see it often…I wouldn’t be surprised if it were both!

If I live in a house of spotless beauty with everything in its place, but have not love, I am a housekeeper–not a homemaker.

If I have time for waxing, polishing, and decorative achievements, but have not love, my children learn cleanliness–not godliness.

Love leaves the dust in search of a child’s laugh. Love smiles at the tiny fingerprints on a newly cleaned window. Love wipes away the tears before it wipes up the spilled milk. Love picks up the child before it picks up the toys.

Love is present through the trials. Love reprimands, reproves, and is responsive. Love crawls with the baby, walks with the toddler, runs with the child, then stands aside to let the youth walk into adulthood. Love is the key that opens salvation’s message to a child’s heart.

Before I became a mother I took glory in my house of perfection. Now I glory in God’s perfection of my child. As a mother, there is much I must teach my child, but the greatest of all is love.

But probably the most striking piece to me was one I forgot to mark so cannot quote exactly, but I have certainly internalized it: Jesus charged me to make disciples; he did not charge me to make friends.  Michelle Duggar points out that when we are seeking the approval of others we might compromise ourselves, but if our goal is to share Christ with them, how can we steer wrong?  What a testimony…and so true.  I think it was the most profound statement (for me) in the entire book.

Definitely will have to pick up a copy for reference someday…especially since it has to be back to the library soon!

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

I found The Pioneer Woman blog sometime in college.  As a dairy farmer’s daughter in a big city, I really enjoyed reading about a city girl moving to the country; it helped with the homesickness.  It also helped that Ree was incredibly funny.

I enjoyed the story of how she met her husband, who is known on the site as Marlboro Man (though Ree is quick to point out he doesn’t smoke), which was told in installments.  Over time, other blogs caught my interest and my visit to PW were less frequent.  But when I saw that she had published her love story as a book, I was excited…and then even more pumped when I saw it on the shelf at my local library!

True to the writing style on her blog, the book is humorous, touching, and relatable.  Ree’s word choices can be over the top sometimes, but it definitely rings true of her voice.

The book includes not only their courtship, it also tells about their wedding, disaster honeymoon (waaaaaaaaaay too much vomiting to be a fun trip!), almost immediate pregnancy, down-on-our-ranching-luck first year, and the birth of their first baby.  Again, it made me nostalgic for home and country living and gave me the itch to get back to farming with the Professor and Pookie.  But we’ll get there someday.  In the meantime, fun summer reads like this one help take the edge off the wait.

 

What have you read this summer?

The Inspiring Helen Keller

I truly enjoyed Helen Keller’s autobiography…right up to the end.  The last chapter is mostly a list of thank-yous to people who meant a lot to Ms. Keller up to that point in her life (she wrote her story while in or just after college), and included great praise for a bishop to whom Helen, quite young, posed the question, “Why are there so many religions?”  And the bishop replied with the cop-out all-religions-are-the-same and that the main point is to love.  Ms. Keller was quite taken by this notion and held to it.  But it is not true: Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the only Truth, the only means of salvation, and the greatest mark of love there can be.

Phew.  Can you tell that bothered me?  Now, onto the positives…

Helen Keller is fascinating, and she was a tremendously strong-willed child who was able to funnel her energy into learning, playing, and loving once given tools to communicate.  She tells stories that I never would have expected possible for a girl both deaf and blind, like when she and some friends had to scurry down and cling to the underside of a bridge as a train went over top!

I was surprised and pleased at how much Ms. Keller wrote about education, about what works and what doesn’t.  She sounded quite like Charlotte Mason: lots of nature time, lots of stories.  Sounds like a good start to me.

As usual, a few of my favorite bits:

“Those early compositions were mental gymnastics.  I was learning, as all young and inexperienced persons learn, by assimilation and imitation, to put ideas into words.  Everything I found in books that pleased me I retained in my memory…and adapted it.  The young writer…instinctively tries to copy whatever seems most admirable…It is onlyl after years of this sort of practice taht even great men have learned to marshal the legion of words which come thronging through every byway of the mind” (67).  So true: how many little ones come up with stories that look very much like something they’ve just read…unfortunately for Helen, she did so unknowingly, it was published, and the whole thing caused quite the scandal.

An interesting take on college–that it’s not quite what it’s cracked up to be (as many students realize at one point or another):

“But college is not the universal Athens I thought it was.  There one does not meet the great and the wise face to face; one does not even feel their living touch.  There are there, it is true; but they seem mummified.  We must extract them from the crannied wall of learning and dissect and analyze them…Many scholars for get, it seems to me, that our enjoyment of the great works of literature depends more upon the depth of our sympathy than upon our understanding” (88).
Here, here!  I have enjoyed books so much more outside of school than I did in school, and somehow my thoughts are deeper–and more mine–when I’m not worried about some exam.

Beautiful, beautiful language here about returning to the countryside:

“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!” (104)

 

World Domination vs. Ordinary Days

I read–and enjoyed–two contrasting books while vacationing last week.

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau is about how to “set your own rules, live the life you want, and change the world,” touting follow-your-bliss over sticking in a secure-but-boring job and lots of travel.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison, about a woman’s yearning for change from her supremely happy (if a bit confined) suburban existence that led to selling her family’s house and being in a sense homeless for three years (three years of having teenage boys, no less) as they sought a new life in a small country town, slowly building their dream house.

Guillebeau’s enthusiasm is contagious; I dropped the book several times to brain dump book and blog ideas.  However, he comes off a bit haughty and my-way-or-the-highway…or maybe my-way-or-a-boring-and-miserable-life.

And I’ve realized I’ve reached the end of my study in another genre: live-your-dream-by-quitting-your-stifling-job how-to books.  Because here’s the thing…I’m living my dream!  I have a husband, a baby, and a novel I’m in the process of publishing!  I cook and clean (well, I try to motivate myself to clean…), I read books with my daughter and watch her play and grow, I read what I want and get more than enough TV time, and I created a schedule that gives me time to pursue my publishing dreams.  My husband and extended family are entirely supportive.  In other words, I have arrived on the live-your-dream scale!  Hooray!

On the flip side of breaking out and conquering the world, Kenison’s book urges the reader to slow down and enjoy everything about life in the here and now because it changes so quickly.  This book reminded me how quickly kids grow and will be gone…it also reminded me how much I love a good memoir.  Maybe I can replace my live-your-dream books with memoirs…

Anyway, here are my favorite takeaways from The Art of Non-Conformity:

“Create a continual metric for your work,” is something that I was doing while drafting my novel but have stopped since hitting my editing phase…I need to figure that out and soon (216).

“You may even need to devote extended periods of time to what I call ‘radical exclusion,’ or shutting out absolutely anything that serves as a distraction from your key priorities…Bill Gates famously did this during his ‘Think Weeks,’ where twice a year he would shut out all distractions and head into a room of reading material for several days at a time.  An aide would bring in grilled cheese sandwiches and diet soda twice a day, and Gates would plot the future of Microsoft’s world domination strategy” (176).  Oh how I wish I could lock myself away and be sent grilled cheese sandwiches and diet soda at my bidding…not likely to happen any time soon in this momma’s life!

I’ll follow up with quotes from Kenison’s book next time; for now, I’m off to catch up on some Netflix and one-on-one time with the Professor after he spent a looooooong week at a microbiology conference.

Schoolgirls

I shot off a post a few weeks ago while in the middle of Schoolgirls by Peggy Orenstein, a book I chose because I so enjoyed Cinderella Ate My Daughter and was curious about the author’s take on life as a junior high girl.

Some of the stories presented were so foreign to me, I didn’t know what to think; the first half of the book, detailing life at a suburban middle school somewhat like my own, was filled with girls so afraid of getting something wrong in class that they never spoke or volunteered answers.  The same girls were pinched, grabbed, and harassed in hallways while school officials simply said that “boys will be boys.”

Then I realized the book was written in 1994.  I was in junior high in 2000 and in a small, Midwestern town.  Maybe we’ve come a long way since then?  Maybe my itty bitty, small town experience was just a different planet compared to the coasties?  I’m not sure which is the case (I’m hoping the former and that schools can really pat themselves on the back for making gender equality better in the classroom), but either way, the book simply didn’t resonate with me.  I felt sorry for the girls, women now of about 30, and the various body image, familial, academic, and social problems they were facing…but I just couldn’t seem to invest myself in the book.

So, I guess I’m walking away from it saying “meh”.  I also think I’m walking away from reading about issues related to public school for a while: the Professor and I decided years ago, before we were even married, that we would be homeschooling our kids.  Now, while Pookie is still in diapers, is the time to be thinking about, researching about, and planning for that chapter in our lives…not arming myself for a fight that isn’t mine.

Buccaneering

I told myself no more library books until I felt “caught up” on the reading I’ve already got going.

But I just can’t help myself.

Really it’s the Professor’s fault: he had to go into lab for a bit on Saturday and the only way to park free downtown is to check something out from the library and have them stamp your parking ticket.  And somewhere in between, a half dozen books followed me home…

When we arrived and Pookie was down for a nap, I dove right into this one:

 

I’ve read other accounts of self-educated folks, people who’ve followed their passions rather than just following the crowd.  James Bach’s story is a bit different in that he lived entirely on his own at age 14 (though mom or dad took care of the motel rent and gave him $25/week for groceries).  He dropped out of school, spent all day making computer programs, and eventually started earning money for doing what he loved.

Fast forward and the guy somehow made it to Apple and is now sought after to give lectures and write articles.

I’ll admit, when I read stories like this, I’m both intrigued and put-off: “Yeah, that worked for him, but it won’t work for everybody,” “Well, why can’t it?  Not everybody has tried,” etc.  I also find these stories aren’t written as well as I would like and include cliches and heavy-handed hubris.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable.  It was fun, fast, and humorous.  It even contained some really great self-learning nuggets:

 

“A buccaneer-scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzled, yoked, or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to wander and find its own voice and place in the world” (9).

Mmm…that sounds good.  And that sounds a lot like what I did during college: sure, I studied my course work and got good grades, but my spare moments were spent devouring books on Christian education, homeschooling, and theories of learning–and I found it far more engaging than my regular classes and prescribed syllabi.

“To learn something valuable, you may have to work at it.  It may be hard work.  For me, it has to be fun, too.  Or else forget it.  The secret to my success is this: I found something that was fun for me, I learned all about it, and now I get paid for fun things I do with my mind” (4).

I love his reply to a teacher who said a lecture he gave was “dangerous,” that students might choose a nonconventional path based on his speech:

“So what if they do?…This is America.  They probably won’t starve.  They probably won’t be eaten by wolves.  If they don’t care about education, they may be forced to work at low-skilled jobs they won’t enjoy, such as fast food or house cleaning.  However bad those fates may sound, they are neither fatal nor permanent.  Or perhaps they will accidentally educate themselves by starting a new business, building things, or doing theatre, music, or sports.  Are you worried they’ll turn to crime?  Then show them more options, not fewer.  They will learn and grow from anything that happens, unless they believe there is no hope.  Your job is not to make them huddle quietly in a corral, but to help them get out there and seek their fortunes.  Show them a way!” (6)

Preach on, brother!  Makes me want to become a schoolteacher.

{Well, someday.  I’m going to focus on schoolin’ my own youngin(s) first}

“Knowledge is part of my education only if it changes me” (8).

“If I make a careful plan at the beginning of my journey, and stick to it, I may miss out on a lot of learning.  The beginning is a terrible time to plan.  it’s the moment of greatest ignorance.  In self-directed education, a lot of the value comes from exploiting opportunities that arise well out to sea, once I’ve seen some things and begun the learning process.

“In buccaneer learning, wandering is a necessity, not a luxury.  To wander effectively I need disposable time.  That means time I can afford to waste.  I’ve found that by giving myself permission to pursue things that might not come to anything valuable, more often than not, I eventually discover something really valuable” (41).

And about why he didn’t do homework:

“I was already busy at home.  I read fantasy novels.  I made technical drawings of imaginary spaceships, stargazed, tramped around the forest that surrounded my home.  I collected rocks and tried my hand at bird taming.  I watched a huge amount of television.  But whether my use of time seemed worthy to someone else hardly mattered.  I believed my time belonged to me.  Compulsory homework was theft of my time” (61).

Bach also goes over the methods he uses when educating himself about a new topic, such as “scouting” by skimming through all sorts of resources (books, Google searches, websites, etc.), experimenting with it, even leaving it alone and forgetting he even studied it for a time.

If you have an afternoon and are curious about self-education, this would be a fun read.

Gates of Gold

I have finished my first American Girl “Girls of Many Lands” novel (the one I mentioned here).

And I truly enjoyed it.

Sure, the prose came off as too didactic at times, but overall the story was engaging and the history it detailed informative.

Gates of Gold follows a young girl, Cecile, as a right-place-right-time events plucks her from peasantry to a position at the court of Versailles.  Cecile cares for one of the courtiers dogs and curries favor with the prince and princess’s small boys.  She acts out of turn according to the rules of court on several occasions, but only because her conscience begs her to do so; the internal dilemma of right vs. protocol shows that Cecile is a thoughtful, well-intentioned girl–an excellent role model for any young girl who might read the book.

Cecile acts out against the court doctors in order to save the life of the princess’s toddler, despite the fact that she could be banished…or even sent to the Bastille.

Overall, a believable, moral heroine; I hope one day Pookie will look up to her and any other girls in this series.

And the historical details were so fun!  The wigs, the dresses, the lavish furnishings–and after the story there were several pages of historical notes and tidbits that I greatly enjoyed.

I think I may even pick up another when I’m next at the library!

Do you enjoy children’s/YA series?  I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Abomination & Barbie Dolls

Sherri Early of Semicolon wrote recently on her blog about the need for light and darkness in novels, particularly as this pertains to Christian literature: how dark is “too dark”?  Can Christian books make mention of occult things, sinful things, dark things while still edifying?

While I love Amish/plain living romances, sometimes I feel like something more…meaty, if you will, but I haven’t had much luck finding Christian fiction that isn’t clunky, one-dimensional, or underdeveloped (my budget has me strapped to the library, so that may be part of my problem).

So I approached Abomination by Colleen Coble with some trepidation; I haven’t read a thriller in quite some time and never one labeled as Christian.  I worried I might have found a clunker.

I was wrong.

Abomination opens with a woman who has been attacked and stabbed but cannot remember how it happened, where she is, who she is, or why the little girl in the back seat calls her mama.  From other characters’ POVs, we learn that the amnesia-ridden woman is being hunted by a serial killer, plus her worried ex-husband (who happens to be the police officer investigating the serial killer).

Twists and turns abound, and I gasped when I learned who the killer was…not who I was expecting, which is always a nice surprise.

{There were a few unfortunate bits, mostly editing: the main character’s true identity is given away too soon because of a typo, sentences that don’t work, wonky speech patterns, repetitive word choice…but that might be the OCD editor in me.}

The balance of light and dark was quite good; perfect, actually for a dreamer like me.  When I was younger, I got so wrapped up in The Face on the Milk Carton that I worried I might have been stolen from my real parents, even though I look just like my mother, I talk just like my mother, I act just like my mother, and I probably even chew gum just like my mother.  So, I have a history of allowing the story to take me in too much.

But that didn’t happen this time around; I had a moment in the dark of my home where I thought of Gideon, the serial killer in Abomination, but then my thoughts turned to Christ.  It was like he said, “Hey, that’s just a story…aren’t I bigger than a story?”  And He is.

So maybe I’ve grown up or maybe Colleen Coble hit the right balance of dark and light; I’ll let you read it and decide.

Also, I devoured a book a few weeks ago called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.  I wish I had it in front of me so that I could talk about it better, but if you have a young daughter, it’s worth the read.  It’s also worth asking the questions the book raises, like how does princess play affect our daughters?  Is Snow White really a good role model if her single greatest quality is her looks–I mean, what else does the girl do?

Orenstein looks at girlhood critically with all sorts of facts and statistics, but she also approaches the subject from a mom’s perspective, thinking of and writing about her own little girl.  At times the book is terrifying, as I don’t want to think of Pookie being marketed to constantly with pink or pressured to look “hot” when she reaches third grade or spend her teen years confused by the world’s message that she should looking desirable is good but feeling desire is bad.

The book is secular, so Orenstein and I disagreed on certain things (sex before marriage as an example), but it was a fascinating look into the marketing machine and the new world of girl in today’s society.  Again, a must-read for parents of young girls.

Well, could those titles have been any more different?!

I also found myself relating to a lot of Orenstein’s theses, thinking, “That’s exactly what happened to me…that’s how I felt/thought/acted.”

Simplicity Parenting

Subtitle: “Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids”

And that sounded good to me.  As I read, I realized that I already knew (and planned to do) a lot of these things, but the affirmation was terrific.  Our society presses for–as the author says–“More! Faster! Earlier!” it is difficult to fight the tide and choose less.  Less scheduling, less events, less stress, less hovering.

If you’re looking for affirmation that you, too, can jump from the bandwagon of hyperparenting and overscheduling, I highly recommend this book…though the prose is choppy and commas are waaaaaaay overused, which slowed me down and annoyed me, so beware of that.  Still, the content is worth a bit of struggle.

And now, I’ll let some of my favorite bits speak for themselves (starting with one I shared in my last post) :

“Books offer such delight and satisfaction to children, conjuring magical worlds and bringing the wonder of our own right into their hands.  How could it be possible to have ‘too many’ of such good things?
It is a bit easier to imagine the ‘too much of a good thing’ principle with books when our children have entered the ‘series’ section of the library or bookstore.  A child is racing through ‘Number 23 of the Magic Tree House Series!’ in a rush to pull ahead of their friend is not reading so much as consuming  When a desire for the next thing is at the heart of an experience, we’re involved in an addiction, not a connection” (87, emphasis mine).

“That’s it!  Enrichment.  As parents, we’ve discovered fertilizer.  And we’re applying it by the ton to childhood” (138).  This comes after a description of a girl doing handstands, playing a blade of grass like a kazoo, daydreaming about the ice cream truck…moments and hours and lazy days that kids need rather than constant “enrichment” through classes, clubs, and sports.  These things can be good, but when they push out the unstructured joy of childhood, they can be damaging: “Too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to motivate and direct themselves” (138).

“After all, as a society we parents have signed on to be our children’s lifelong ‘entertainment committees.’  We’re unpaid performers, that’s for sure, but performers nonetheless.  And we take it seriously.  As such, we’re accustomed to seeing our children’s boredom as a personal failure.  A break in the festivities…and we are liable to jump up and dance.  No wonder we’re exhausted” (143).

“Physicians are accustomed to being ‘on call,’ but now we all are: twenty-four hours a day…So when our cellphone rings just as we’re trying to squeeze onto the off-ramp…physiologically we go from moderate to a hyperarousal state quite quickly.  And we have a hard time returning to a calm state.  Sorry to say, this is a symptom of high stress.  We could all use more ‘moments of Sabbath’ built into our lives” (147, emphasis mine).

“When we allow this ‘on-demand’ mentality to color our children’s perspectives and schedules, then they lose the gift of anticipation…Do you remember yearning for summer?  Literally counting down the days?  When you back off the treadmill loop of planned activities, you make room for pauses, you make time for anticipation and reflection” (149).

“We often bathe our children in words.  By keeping a running commentary on everything they do, we mean to assure them that we’re noticing. Yet the more we’re talking, the less we are really noticing” (185, emphasis mine).

“In a noisy world, quiet attentiveness speaks louder than words, and it gives a child more space for their own thoughts and feelings to develop” (187).

“When you act to limit what you don’t want for your family, you clarify what you really do need, what is important to you.  Your values clarify.  Simplification is a path of self-definition for the family” (215, bold emphasis mine).

Our Christian faith defines our core values (worship of Christ, loving our neighbors, etc.), but we choose smaller things as a family.  After reading this book, I plan to simplify Pookie’s toys a bit further (at least taking some out of rotation for a while), be more consistent with our daily routines, try to give her more independent play time (though as we’re weaning she’s rather clingy), and keep the TV off while she’s awake.

Here’s a question: Have you wanted to simplify in your home?  Have you taken any steps to do so?  I’d love to hear about it!

Emulation and “Taste Cultures”

I picked up a book from the library today, Not Buying It: My Year without Spending by Judith Levine.  I think that pretty much explains the premise.

Anyway, in my reading this afternoon, I was struck by how differently we choose to spend our money: the author compares herself dropping money into the hat at a library reading to neighbors who buy snowmobiles and guns. In her eyes, the way she spends her money is superior…because she thinks her likes are superior.

That’s probably not earth-shattering, but I had never approached it quite like that, and then she explains further that we spend the way we spend to emulate those who care about what we care about.  A child wants a certain lunchbox because everyone else has it; I want to have a garden, can my own food, etc. because people (specifically bloggers) who I admire do the same.  We emulate what we see in others in hopes of getting what we think they have.

I like the way she puts it here:

“I’m not keeping up with the Joneses who drive the big trucks, but the Joneses who grow organic carrots and drive beaters like ours…In our little sub-culture, not consuming gives Paul and me cachet.  Soon our Joneses may be keeping up, or down, with us” (35).

I think she states it more eloquently than I have, so I’m sorry if I have been confusing.

In the end, it brings me to the interesting question: just who are my Joneses?