Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What We're Reading Wednesday: the beauty of simple family life

1. Right now, my CD player alarm clock plays this every morning:

I also listen to it while I fold laundry. I also bribed persuaded my 7-year-old to help me fold laundry by letting her listen to the fun parts at the beginning before everything gets all "Help, I need a tissue now before I get tears and snot over everything because I'm crying so hard."

There are not many books that can make me do that and still be counted among my very favorites. Wilson Rawls is an absolute master at description, at characterization and believable dialogue, at setting and at boosting Kleenex's annual sales.

But what strikes me most during this read/listen (I have read it at least three times before...maybe more) is the very real and very beautiful family relationships Rawls creates. Billy has what we now see as an old-fashioned respect for his parents and grandfather, a deep love for his three little sisters, excitement and joy to learn that yet another sibling is expected. All this without limiting the tension of the story one iota.

I want so badly to write a book like this one, that I could almost cry just from that.

2. I found this gem at a used book store this past weekend:

It's the only Deep Valley book (Deep Valley, of Betsy-Tacy fame) that I haven't read. I did one of those, "Oh, I'll just crack it open to see how it starts..." only to find myself an hour later 50 pages in and completely caught up in the character's life.

While this one takes the easier tension-creating path of an orphaned main character, family life is still the star of the show. Emily lives with her 80-something grandfather, a veteran of the Civil War, and while she struggles with disappointment at missing out on the fun college experience that her high school classmates take for granted, she doesn't hesitate to choose the simple life of daily meal preparation, housekeeping, and listening to her grandfather's stories over and over--because he needs her, and family members take care of each other. That kind of selflessness and maturity isn't even believed if it crops up in contemporary YA manuscripts. (I'm speaking partly from the experience of a critique partner who had a beautiful manuscript rejected because it ends in a similar selfless decision.)

3. On the picture book side of things:

I had to laugh at certain Goodreads reviews that rate this poorly because "it's too old-fashioned and kids today just won't be interested in that old-timey stuff." Of course, nothing could so highly recommend a book to me. My girls think it's lovely and totally normal, but then they also use phrases like, "Do my ears deceive me?" and "I'm very fond of pumpkins." So maybe I can't judge accurately. (For the record, "pumpkin moonshine" is an old New England term for a jack-o-lantern. It has nothing to do with alcohol made from pumpkins. Sorry to disappoint.)

4. Finally, in the non-fiction corner:

After reading Emily Freeman's A Million Little Ways, I had to read her sister's book, The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful. Speaking of the beauty of simple family life...

This book provides plenty of good advice on decorating your home, but I'd argue that its deeper purpose is to remind us of what home should be in the first place. Some of us have become so caught up in the idea of a perfect house that we're hesitant to let our homes be the havens and sanctuaries and beacons of joy that they're meant to be. I needed the verbal smack on the cheek to remind me that my home can offer guests comfort and happiness and hospitality even if every floor isn't vacuumed--or maybe, in my case, even if every floor isn't even finished. I am so prideful and I have got to. Get. Over. It.

On that happy, honest note....I'll close. What are you reading this week? What are your favorite literary beacons of simple, joyful family life?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Life's an Art

Mid-September provided me with a nice, long “time away from it all” while visiting my big sister in Western New York State. While surrounded by her fourteen acres of gardens and springs and forests, or on walks along the shore of nearby Lake Erie,  I had the chance to press the “reset” button on the lazy habits I’d fallen into: of focusing on everything that had to get done more than what I had in front of me; of ignoring God’s gifts of things like sunsets or stars or the cute way chickens wipe their beaks on the grass because I was too short-sighted to see past that darn stain on my wall that I just couldn’t get off; of thinking again about the submissions and rejections in writing rather than the joy that creating stories gives me.

It’s important to re-establish priorities every so often. I must admit, I was helped along by spending my napping/nursing times there reading Emily Freeman’s A Million Little Ways; Uncovering the Art You Were Made to Live.
A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live

Such a lovely little book--full of the warm enthusiasm and inspiration I expected, but also of a depth of wisdom and common sense that surprised me. To be honest, effusive inspiration-speak only does so much for me. I think all cheerleaders should calmly, rationally point out the facts that back up their wild emotions.

And that’s what Emily Freeman ultimately did. Behind the seemingly carefree cheerleading is a call to accept a deep responsibility: You are God’s art. You are called to reflect Him through yours. And don’t get cocky--if you refuse to try something because you’re afraid to fail, you’re getting too full of yourself and forgetting who’s the real artist behind your work.

I had a minor epiphany while reading. See, this talk of art: making art, living art, reflecting God’s art and being His art--that’s a big part of who I am. If you’ve had a real life conversation with me, you probably know that. It comes up, ahem, occasionally. Like, every day. So I’m going to start discussing it more here on this blog.

Prepare yourself for the “waxing philosophical.” :)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

10 Random Thoughts to Celebrate Tolkien Week

In honor of Tolkien Week, I bring to you some random thoughts on/relating to/mildly inspired by one of my favorite authors and men!

1. My nephew is a hobbit. He's about three feet high (granted, he's also three years old), his birthday is September 22 (just like Bilbo and Frodo), and he's quite comfortable walking barefoot in the woods. The clincher, though, is that he has a hobbit's stomach. Second breakfasts, elevensies, luncheon, tea... he's a fan of them all, down to the midnight snack.

2. My first email address, acquired with no little excitement at age 13, was (except with a real server and all). After about two hours of trying every name of my favorite characters and being told they were taken, my mom suggested I channel that obvious obsession into my own, obvious address. The problem was, the movies hadn't been made yet. So none of my friends could actually SPELL Tolkien. Probably some uneducated kid who put the "e" before the "i" got all my mail.

3. Tolkien had a daughter-in-law named Faith. Cool coincidence, huh?

4. Despite proclaiming my fan-status in my email address, I didn't finish reading the LOTR until after the first movie came out. This is because my sweet brother convinced me that Pippin died and I decided I just couldn't go on reading, let alone living, after that.

5. My only nickname besides "Faithy" is "Lady of Rohan." I was so dubbed by this really cute guy I had a crush on as a teenager. I nicknamed him "Steward of Gondor." We were really nerdy that way. I can even hunt up a few Tolkien-related poems we wrote for each other. This, by the Steward himself, was possibly my favorite:

We likes tasty fishes, my precious, we do.
We munch on their boneses, we gnaw and we chew.
We beats on their headses 'till they all be deadses.
Gollum! Fish skins taste just like glue.

With wooing skills of that calibre, of course I had to marry him. How many guys out there write you poetry anymore?

6. On Fairy Stories is one of the most important books on writing that I've ever read. (You can--and must--find it in the collection Tree and Leaf.)

7. I know how to write Futhork--the dwarvish (actually Viking) runes you see in The Hobbit and elsewhere. Many a love letter was penned in that rather unromantic script.

8. I also know a bit of Elvish, and once wrote a poem in it. Alas, I typed it out only to have my computer crash the next day. But it was way too much work to recreate. You'll just have to take my word for it that it was amazing.

9. I'm sure you know that Tolkien was a devout Catholic and influential in his dear friend C. S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity. But he was also a defender of Judaism. A random favorite bit of his writing is a letter he wrote to his German publishers when they asked if he was Aryan. He told them off with all the polite wrath of an English gentleman and etymologist, in a few succinct paragraphs including the line: "But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people." You can read more about the letter here.

10. According to some writing-procrastination tools, the Tolkien character I am most like is Thorin Oakenshield. According to others, I am Gandalf. One pinned me as Galadriel. I must have an old, old soul.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Are you in the mood for an art show?

Mater Gratiae, by Mark Langdale Hough. Oil on canvas.

Welcome to the viewing of the not-so-secret project
that my husband Mark has been working on for the past several months.
This painting, Mater Gratiae, is on display at the Salmagundi Club in New York
as part of the Hudson Valley Art Association's annual juried exhibition.
If you live near New York City, you can go see it in person!
(My apologies for the image quality; it's a little blurry because we need a tripod.
Also, getting the lighting right so it looks as it does in person is muy dificil.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What We’re Reading Wednesday (Except it’s Thursday, because it’s been that kind of a week)

This WWRW comes to you straight from a home in the delightful trenches of the first weeks of homeschooling. If you’re looking for recommendations of fascinating adult non-fiction, look elsewhere...

First up, a book I read for myself: the lovely debut NEST, by Esther Ehrlich. I received an e-galley of this one through netgalley, making it the first book I’ve read entirely on the used Kindle my mom gave me. I’m not really a fan of Kindle-reading, but I did enjoy a lot about the book.
NEST tells the story of Naomi (Chirp), a spirited and spritely young girl who--in short--has to deal with much more than any child should have to deal with. Her mother is diagnosed with a life-altering illness...and it just gets harder from there on out. The juxtaposition of Chirp’s hopefulness and courage against the challenges of her life was incredible. The portrayal of her friendship with a neighborhood boy with problems of his own was insightful and lovely. The writing style was downright impressive. (As a writer, many notes were taken.)
I won’t hesitate to recommend this story to adults or young adults; it’s especially perfect for those of you who love Katherine Paterson. But I would recommend reading it before giving it to an actual middle grade child. It was a little traumatic for me to read as an adult, so I’d use caution when giving it to a sensitive child.

As a family, we’re reading THE SECRET GARDEN, by Frances Hodgson Burnett--in my opinion, one of the best 10 books ever written for children. And I’d put it pretty high on the list. If you’re a writer, analyze the brilliance of Hodgson’s storytelling. She breaks all the rules with so much skill that it’s about a million times better than any rule-following story. I’m also practicing my read-aloud skills on this one, as I attempt to “do all the voices.” If you’ve read The Secret Garden lately, or love it as much as I do, you’ll recall that it’s set in Yorkshire (home of my patron Margaret Clitherow as well as the famed vet James I love it and all). They have a very unique accent in Yorkshire. I cannot render this accent with any level of believability. I pretty much sound like a New Englander who got stuck in Ireland and is trying to talk with her mouth full.

52 DAYS BY CAMEL is being read aloud for Earth Studies, as we learn about deserts. I am totally enraptured by Lawrie Raskin’s description of life in the Sahara, and so are the girls.

To balance things out, here’s a fiction picture book we found and loved: LOUISE, THE ADVENTURES OF A CHICKEN. Of course, we’ve recently become obsessed with chickens (we had our first eggs these past couple weeks!), so we may be biased. Also, we love Kate DiCamillo. But this was so much fun. You have to read it.

Check out what some other great folks are reading this week, here: