Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spring Break Best Life and Tolkien Tales

Living her best life after the exhaustion of the vet and groomer

We are spring break-ing this week. No travel here (minus a quick overnight trip my husband is on this week). So far we have mostly hung around the house and tackled a few less glamorous projects - deep cleaning the kid bathroom 🤢, a trip to vet/groomer for the pup, and an eye appointment for me. (Embracing my worsening eyes with prescription sunglasses this year - woo-hoo!)

I did finish one book that I've been working my way through this month as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge that I'm doing with a group. The theme of this month was "a book on the backlist of a favorite author." This book by Tolkien came to my attention several months ago when Rachel mentioned it on Instagram. In the last couple years, I finally read through the full LoTR series and have been wanting to turn right back around and read them again. I haven't though I did squeeze in a re-read of The Hobbit around Christmas! Anyway, this is a collection of some of Tolkien's short stories and poems that I had never heard of so it seemed like a great fit for this category.

First off, I did enjoy this book. Tolkien is just a master at story telling and characters and I enjoyed every bit of that in this book. That said, I have decided that I just don't love short stories! It takes a bit to get into the story and figure out the characters and what's going on ... and then the tale wraps up and it's done and we're on to the next group and tale. As someone who loooooves a good, long series, it's no surprise this frustrated me. 🙂 I also went into these stories expecting more LoTR type tales. These weren't with the exception of one poem that went on for a good 30-plus pages about Tom Bombadil (from The Hobbit). There rest were all stand-alone tales and the introduction to the book was well worth reading the explanations behind some of them. Ie., the first story about a little dog that gets lost from his owner is one based on a tale Tolkien told his son when a beloved toy was lost and the adventures that pup went on. The backstory made the tale even more enjoyable.

If you are a Tolkien fan, this would be a fun addition to your library if you like short stories. I did enjoy it, even though I'm still looking forward to that LoTR reread hopefully sometime soon. 🙂

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Lent is not something that I grew up with. I have always gone to your basic expository Bible teaching church - a good thing - but I wasn't exposed to church calendar concepts like Lent and Advent until an adult. Even then, they were fuzzy foreign concepts. The more I have learned about them, the more that I have come to look forward to these seasons, even though I still feel like I am no expert!

In my Bible study that I'm doing with Community Bible study this fall, we are working our way through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Throughout these pages, you see so many times where God is telling his children, the Israelites, to look back and remember what he has done for them. Make a memorial, build a remembrance, tell the stories to their children. Then He tells them to look forward to see what is to come. For His people, wandering in the wilderness until they finished their 40 year debt for their grumbling and lack of trust in Him, he reminded them over and over that a promised land is coming! A land of milk and honey! A land where one day God would lead them in victory over the surrounding pagan armies! But, as it was for the Israelites, it sure is easy to keep my eyes focused on what I'm lacking in the moment, than the bounty that is ahead.

This is mirrored in the New Testament when young believers in churches across the Middle East and Asia are encouraged to look back on their old self and see that it is done away with. Behold, a new thing has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17) But again, it sure is easy for me to get bogged down in my self-pity, my lack, my suffering, etc. Instead of staying in the suffering, look forward to what the Lord has in store - his grace that is sufficient for me, his peace that passes all understanding, his joy that will be my strength, both here and in the new land that he is preparing for us this very moment. (Revelation 21:1)

The past two (+) years have been doozies. Harder than hard. I have grieved over some things and cried and asked God why is he not fixing ___ and making it right! But God is not mine to command (thankfully!) so even though He hasn't "fixed" things, I haven't given up on Him even if the "fixing" needs to be me.

For Lent this year, I decided I needed to just sit with God on this. See what he says about suffering. Look for beauty in the midst of hard seasons. To that end, I'm reading through Job. I did get the She Reads Truth journal so I will have somewhere dedicated to journal and scribble my way through this, but I'll probably be taking it more my speed than theirs. I'm also reading Christine Hoover's book Searching for Spring. I love what she said in chapter 1: "We may not be able to see and comprehend clearly all of what God is doing in the present, but we can always mine the past the future for treasures."

I'll be doing some mining for treasure as I prepare my heart for Easter. Looking back to see what God has done for me, counting those blessings one by one. Looking forward to what is yet to come.

Soli deo gloria.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Reading Round-up - January & February 2019

Settling back into this space on a wet Saturday evening, as one does. Actually most of our weekends have been wet the last month - ridiculously so! Spring is here and early this year by the sight and sound of it. I am ready for the sunshine and warm breezes and all that brings. I am nearing the end of a commitment to direct our homeschool group and with that "freedom" I'm hoping to putter here a bit more. I find I think about this space more than just a bit and miss stringing thoughts together, even if just for myself. :)

On to the bookish bit!

In January, I read six books and uncharacteristically, 4 of them were rereads. There are certain times of the year that I crave a reread - fall especially as school starts back and I don't have the mental energy to tackle something new for myself. I lapse into a reread of a good series - last year it was the Harry Potter series - and feel no guilt about it one bit. This year I participated in Carrie's LM Montgomery reading challenge for the first year in ... a few ... and revisited her Emily series. Thanks to Goodreads, I realized I hadn't read through this series since 2011 and I really enjoyed getting into it again. Definitely a "darker" series than the more popular Anne, it fit my mood and season of life perfectly.

Our read aloud for January was also a reread - Ethan and I started from the beginning of the Narnia series and have a determined purpose to see it through this spring. :) We had read The LWW last summer but it didn't click with him enough to jump into book two, however that has since changed! He is enjoying it so much that we have been reading a bit during our school day and then continuing it at night before bed when we can (instead of our usually school day and separate bedtime read-aloud). No complaints here.

In other January reading, I dabbled in two series mentioned via Sarah (Read Aloud Revival). I'm a sucker for a good junior or YA fantasy series. I read Flyte by Angie Sage, which is the second book in the Septimus Heap series. I think this could be a fun read aloud for Ethan down the road or one to hand off to him in a few years. Adventure and quirky characters galore, but yet not one that I'm dying to fly through myself. I also started the YA Ascendance trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen and read the first book, The False Prince. I will probably finish this series slowly - enjoying it, but no rush to devour it.

In February, Ethan and I finished Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader in our Narnian journey. Onward and upward! I also read several stand-alone books this month. I dearly love a good series, but haven't found a good long one to draw me in right now! I finished:

Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge. I love her books The Little White Horse and The Scent of Water. This one was a little bit more of chore to get through, but I finished it and enjoyed it. Not as much as the others, but it is beautiful writing set in the English landscape which drew me in!

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. I had read Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale which was a haunting folktale set in Russia. I couldn't put it down - I really loved the glimpse into Russian folklore and legend - but yet haven't moved on to the sequel. This book is also a creepy ghost story but set for 10-12 (and up), I'd say. (I'm starting to get the impression she writes more spooky stuff than I am used to). I would be careful what child I handed this too as I hustled to finish it - I really wanted to find out what happened but I also wanted to get to the end of the book! If you like Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener, you would probably like this book!

I also did go ahead and read The Runaway King (book 2 in the Ascendance Trilogy). Not as captivating as the first book, but still a great series so far.

My first non-fiction for the year - Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. I LOVED this book. For someone that has always struggled with measuring up, fitting in, and trying to hard, t this book was a needed reminder to me of who I need to rely on to fill my needs - not a spouse, not my children, not my calendar ... the Lord is the only one that can bring contentment and peace and when I do slow down to ponder and grasp that, the outflow into my life and the life of others is world-changing. Of all I have read in the first two months of the year? This book, hands down, is my first highly recommend of the bunch.

And there's the first two months of the year wrapped up in a nutshell. And now, to curl up under a blanket and maybe get a few pages in this evening!

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Literary Best of 2018

For a sporadic blogger, I've been looking forward to looking back over my reading for 2018 and making this list of favorites! 2018 was a good reading year for me, helped along by many hours sitting on the benches at gymnastics as well as moving my phone to charge across the bedroom instead of using it as my alarm on my nightstand. After last year's post, I had some reading goals for 2018 and I think I improved in the areas that I wanted to. I read more over-all (91, up from 70), more non-fiction (14 versus last year's 8). (You can see the full list in my sidebar here).

One area where we have slipped has been read-alouds - 12 total for the year. That makes me sad, but it's where we are right now. My 15 year-old goes to school outside the home, and my 7th grader doesn't join us for read-aloud most of the time because of her schoolwork. Most of those books have been bedtime ones with Ethan at night and I'm so grateful that he and I still have that time together! He and I are actually participating in the Read-Aloud Revival's 31 day reading challenge in January - we each have to read to each other 10 minutes a day. He needs to build some fluidity in his reading and I need the help getting back into our routine!

All that said, here are some of my favorites from this year, in no particular order!

Come and Eat by Bri McKoy :: This was a surprise read that I ended up LOVING - I had been eyeing the book for a while, and when it was on sale on Kindle for a song, I snatched it up. I went into it thinking it was a cookbook/memoir type story, and while it does have some recipes in it, it's more about cultivating hospitality in your home and what that looked like for her and her husband. I loved it, and it has made me think about those that I want to invite to sit around our table in the coming year.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas :: This book was recommended to me by my 15 year old - her History/Geography teacher handed it off to her and she read it and said I HAD TO READ IT. (Emphasis hers). And then she wanted me to take her to see the movie. :) (Which I did!) This book was super outside my comfort zone but wow, I'm so glad I read it. This was an eye-opening look into the lives of inner city African Americans - something that I will never, ever experience or understand. The book was excellent (warning: there's a fair amount of language), and the movie was just as much so. So glad she pushed me to read this.

Renegades / Archenemies by Marissa Meyer :: A few years ago, I stumbled upon Marissa Meyer and her Lunar Chronicles and devoured that series. This is her newest YA series - teens with superpowers, good v. evil (but who is good and who is evil?), clean ... I love these books. Renegades is the first in the series and I've already read Archenemies (book 2) ... book 3 doesn't come out until late 2019!

The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin :: Another from my non-fiction stack from this year - I've read Shannan Martin's blog off and on for some time now, and this book was heart pulling in both good and hard ways. If you aren't familiar with her story (and I won't even try to do it justice), she and her husband left a comfortable lifestyle and beautiful farmhouse to move into the inner city area of Goshen, Indiana, and learned to love the neighbors around them right there in their hardest spots. A call to loving those around us where they are ... not where you want (or think) they should be.

The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers :: One of the read-aloud wins for us this year ... Ethan and I read this series aloud together and it was delightful. I was tipped on to this series by Sarah and she didn't give any spoilers away so I'm not going to either - other than it is allegorical and brilliant and I loved it so so much. Read this series (there's three, but I only could find photos of two), buy it as gifts, etc., etc.

The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie :: Even though it is getting harder and harder to read aloud with my crew I still 1000% (not a typo) believe in the power of connecting with my people through books. This book deserves a spot on your shelves and should be part of baby gifts as friends start their own families.

The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge :: This languished on my shelf for far too long - English characters and countryside and delightful story to boot. I am making a plan to read more Elizabeth Goudge in 2019!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline :: My husband took me to see this movie earlier this year and it was a surprise hit with me. (I don't know why I was surprised - futuristic, young underdog wins, and 80s themes abounded!) Travis bought the audiobook for one of his many, many work trips this summer and since this was the summer of carpooling kids all the time, I started listening to it as well. It should be noted that there is more language than I like in this book and one chapter is extremely mature and could be skipped all together without detracting from the story. That said - this book was outstanding. This is one of those works of fiction that (even though it is not "Christian" material) that continually pointed me back to God because the incredible creativity of its author. I've not read anything else like it and it reminded me of how creates his people with such amazing creativity and ingenuity and what we create is a reflection of his Creation and creativity. I don't know if that makes sense, but it was a book that moved me to praise because of what he allows us to do ... and though I don't think I have it in me to write a Ready, Player, One, he has created me to be creative in His image and am I doing so?

All that to say, this was a GREAT book and an even greater life lesson out of it.

Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson :: I wasn't sure about putting this on my favorites list because it's a book about books, and I read it fairly late in the year. The author is Sarah Clarkson, daughter of my beloved Sally Clarkson, and I enjoyed reading her short essays on her reading history and I really enjoyed the book lists in the book. This book will be referenced many times over the next several months for inspiration for my own reading. While I do love me some juvenile and YA fiction, I'm inspired to also read a bit more for me v. all the reading / prereading I do for my kids. I'm looking at Dickens, Anna Karenina, and other authors to round me out a bit more in 2019.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street / The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Van Glasser. My favorite juvenile series discovery of 2018! If you love the Penderwicks, All of a Kind Family, the children from The Saturdays ... basically any family whose children get into all sorts of adventures (and scrapes) sometimes (and sometimes not) through no fault of their own. :) We've flown through books 1 and 2 here - book 3 can't come fast enough!

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome :: Nestled in this stack is another favorite - one that I read on my own after (again) having it sit on myself for far too long. I loved Swallows and Amazons and see this as becoming a fun read aloud with Ethan down the road. English children, adventures and scrapes (reminds me of the book just above!) and things always working out in the end. This is whole series, but I have managed to hold off on devouring the other 7-8 books or so that I understand are out there!

Lastly (and without a photo) are two books by Jen Wilkin worth mentioning worth your reading. This summer, I worked my way through her study of the first twelve chapters of Genesis, God of Creation. As someone who is pretty familiar with the book of Genesis, I loved her insight and perspective and came away with thoughts that fueled my planning for my home and my CC community for the fall of 2018. God is a God of order, of form and function, and creativity and we are in his image. Speaking of In His Image, that was the title of another book of Jen Wilkin's that was was excellent and worth adding to your stack. She walks through ten characteristics of our God that we are called to imitate (in contrast to her book from last year, None Like Him, where she explored ten attributes of God's that are his and his alone.) I recently heard somewhere that with the plethora of media we have available to us (podcasts, books, social media accounts, etc.) it is so easy to jump around and take little bits of insight from too many people. "Back in the day" you might have just a few authors that you follow, through their written work only, and you would revisit their works and let it settle in more and more with each reading (I think of people that have influenced me like this such as C.S. Lewis and Elisabeth Elliot). This is something that I'm trying to embrace more in the coming years, just because I follow someone on social media doesn't mean I need to buy and read their book - there are very few that I want to mindfully support financially and invest lots of my head and heart knowledge into. Jen Wilkin is just one of a very few current authors that I would call out that makes that cut for me. 

If you made it this far, thank you! What were some of your favorites for 2018? Anything I should add to my list for the coming year? 

And Happy New Year to you and yours. ❤