Recent Reads

Here are some good books I’ve read recently. First, books I read for myself.

  • Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson, 2018. It’s speculative fiction, and I liked it! It’s about Chinese and American politics, and still I liked it! It’s also about citizens traveling back and forth between the earth and moon, which is a neat concept. And it stars three really great characters, especially when they are together: Ta Shu – an old poet/cloud show host/feng shui expert, Qi Chan – a pregnant Chinese young woman who is a symbol for the billions of Chinese people, Fred – a shy, nerdy American quantum communications expert who has the misfortune to get caught up in a murder on the moon.
  • How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World by Leslie Vernick, 2003. Leslie Vernick is the author who most seems to understand my situation. I like all books by her. This book is interesting because it isn’t like other Christian living books. It’s very Biblical, practical, and encouraging.

Now, books I’ve read aloud to the kids.

  • Blue Balliett books: Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game. Wow. Why haven’t I read these before? They are great. Adventure, art history, art adventure, detective work, passion for art, passion for learning, puzzle-solving, close friendships, parent-child relationships, cool illustrations, pentominoes, a girl who loves to write… these books were made for me. We’re actually in the middle of The Wright 3 now. (It’s about Frank Lloyd Wright, not the Wright Brothers.) We read them out of order. So far, The Calder Game is my favorite. Chasing Vermeer is just a little bit weird because of the references to Charles Fort, who was this (real-life) wacky guy who believed in weird supernatural stuff. But still… any book that inspires me to pull out my book of Vermeer’s paintings… it’s got to be good.
  • Gloria Whelan books: Angel on the Square and A Time to be Silent. Two very different books, but well worth it. We read A Time to be Silent in one day (it was a Sunday, and we had lots of time to read, and yes, my voice was hoarse by the end). Angel on the Square is about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution, and it’s super interesting. A Time to be Silent is about a teenage girl who chooses not to talk, and her preacher-dad takes her along on his mission work in the North Woods (of Wisconsin, maybe?). Good stuff.
  • Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1916. This was a special request by all three children. I believe it is the fourth time I’ve read it aloud. It’s still wonderful.

A few picture books we’ve enjoyed recently.

  • William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by Bruce Coville, 2003. Shakespeare’s sticky situations can be so funny and complicated!
  • Pilgrim Cat by Carol Antoinette Peacock, 2004. Cats and Thanksgiving! Perfect combo.
  • Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco, 2014. I get to practice my Irish lilt:)
  • Because of Thursday by Patricia Polacco, 2016. Cats and food! Another perfect combo.
  • The Water Hole by Graeme Base, 2001. Search for all the hidden animals. We check this one out often.

Need to Write

I’ve been itching to get my fingers on this keyboard since sometime during the night last night. I don’t have any earth-shaking news; I’ve just got to let the flood out.

Homeschool Things

The highlight of the year (at least for me) is The Story of the World: Ancient History. I like the format of short story-like chapters to read to the kids and then comprehension questions to ask afterward. Plus, I often choose a craft or activity or a library book from the workbook to accompany it. I’m also liking our Sassafras Twins Science: Anatomy book. It’s a novel, and I purchased the lapbook kit to go along with it. It’s kind of a lot of busywork, but it’s okay. They are learning brand-new things about the human body that we’ve never learned before. Plus, the story is exciting.

My best idea this year was to purchase Spectrum language arts workbooks. It sure beats trying to teach grammar to them from the Simply Grammar textbook. The kids complain a lot about doing language arts, but that’s because it’s not super easy. They have to actually stretch their brains to understand it!

Spiritual Things

My church has a new pastor! Mr. Freswick preached his first Sunday yesterday. He’s not very logical. At least, not the logic I’m used to. But I like how his sermons take surprising twists, as if he just thought of them while he was standing up there. Check out Isaiah 31:4! The Lord is the lion, and we are His prey. That’s unusual, right? He snatches His people away from the enemy.

I do my daily devotions at night, and I feel like it’s a wonderful way to end a difficult day. My devotion book is called Praying through the Bible for your Kids by Nancy Guthrie. Nancy is so wise and solid. Her words and prayers help me build a Biblical structure in and through my days. It’s supposed to be prayers for my kids, but I also often insert my name and my husband’s name in the blanks. I love the prayers. They are often just exactly what I need to pray.

My husband doesn’t like to have Bible verses flung at him, and I usually don’t, but I really wish I could talk through Proverbs and Psalms with him. I wish we could pray for our kids together. I wish a lot of things that I know can only happen through some miraculous work of God.

Emotional Things

In my last counseling session, I took an anxiety test and scored “Mild Anxiety.” That’s really good! I feel like that’s accurate, too. Certain things still set me off and make me want to hide, but it’s not nearly so much as it used to be.

Creative Things

I’ve been thinking more about my own creative ventures. Homeschooling is a creative outlet in itself, but I think I should be doing more writing or art. That stopped when my marriage problems became worse. I have been doing some Zentangle-inspired art, just for fun. It’s very repetitive and probably good for me. I keep thinking if I do more and more, then I will end up with something beautiful that pleases me. As for writing, this blog and my private marriage blog and my Verblio freelancing job are my main outlets. I wonder sometimes if I’m in one of those gathering times, where I’m learning things that will later be poured into a story or characters. I hope so.

I’m off to my private blog now. My writing itch still isn’t satisfied!

Two Haiku

Midnight frost–
I’d borrow
the scarecrow’s shirt.

— by Basho

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

— by Buson

Reading a book of haiku is different than reading one. You start to realize they are more like a diary than an individual work of art. Some are funny. Some simply notice something. Some record the feeling of the season. Some are about feeling old. I hope you enjoy these two.

East Meets West

This was the title of our Five in a Row lesson yesterday. We began reading the beautiful picture book Grass Sandals by Dawnine Spivak. It is a biography of Basho, the Japanese haiku poet from the 17th century.

The lesson introduced my kids to the differences between Eastern and Western culture. Whereas Western culture promotes adventure, going from one new thing to the next new thing, and a fast paced life, Eastern culture tends toward a slower clock and a gentle attitude with an emphasis on tradition. Western literature may be exciting. Eastern literature may be slow-paced with seemingly nothing happening at all. Certainly, Basho’s haiku poems are gentle and (if I wasn’t so determined to enjoy them) almost pointless.

So where does East meet West? Basho closed his little house, took up his simple possessions, and traveled around Japan. Exploring is a Western thing. He could have stayed home and written lovely, timeless poetry about the things he could see at home. But instead, he went out and became inspired by homey things from far away (the splash of a frog in the water, the blue strings of the sandals a friend gave him).

I am going to try a little Eastern sentimentality here and not make a conclusion. I enjoy the book a great deal, and I took out all the haiku books from the library, and you will be hearing more about haiku, I’m sure.

Be Still My Soul

The sermon tonight was about trusting God, not worrying, and knowing that God cares for me. He works good for me through my afflictions. Leave worrying to the world because I have a Father who is taking care of me, always.

And then we sang the song “Be still my soul.”

There are tons of reasons my soul doesn’t want to be still. And there are just as many reasons it does. The stillness and the wildness push and shove and generally act like my children when they’re stuck inside on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And I am torn up and confused.

Except that the stillness has won already. I know that. And it doesn’t really push and shove. It pervades. It fills. It’s like smoke. (Good smoke. Smoke doesn’t have such a pleasant connotation for me.) But the wildness stirs it up and makes it seem to go away. And then I calm down, and the stillness pervades again.

I keep hearing things like, “I have to do what is good for me.” And I fight against that because it sounds so much like worldly wisdom. But… I need to rethink that. If I do what’s wrong for me, that’s no good either. That’s stirring up the good smoke. I have to get to a place where the good smoke becomes less stirrable. Like a higher altitude or something. Where smoke can gel. Where peace can become a solid instead of something that comes and goes. Probably, it means I need to ask God to strengthen my faith so I can trust Him more.

I’m trying to be more practical here and less metaphorical. I need to pray for stronger faith. I need to keep going to my church because that’s where I’m hearing the Word faithfully preached. I need to keep going to my Christian counselor because she sets me straight when I get confused. I need to play piano when I am anxious at home. I need to write in my blogs because they help me process my thoughts. I need to keep relationships going with encouraging Christian friends because, well, because they are encouraging. I need to be very careful to whom I trust my heart.

There. That was good for me. To say that. I think I will go to bed now.

Names for Spiders

A couple weeks ago I was doing something at the kitchen table and my son comes in looking for a plastic container with a lid which he could punch holes through. I ask suspiciously, “Why?” He says, “It’s for Tom.” At this point I’m thinking caterpillar, but I can see my son is holding back something, so I ask, “What is Tom?” Turns out Tom is a cute spider on the bathroom wall. Reddish-orange. A little hairy. I immediately instruct him to kill Tom rather than put him in a container. So, my son and youngest daughter (who is not squeamish) spend about twenty minutes throwing fly swatters at Tom, who has sought refuge on the bathroom ceiling. Finally, I suggest a broom handle. That does the job. Tom dies.

Tonight, I was picking up some stuff on the family room floor and I come much too close to a big black spider. Immediately, the non-squeamish daughter comes up and says, “We’ll call him Fred.” She and my son spend a lovely few minutes talking to Fred before they smash him to bits. And then my son cups his hands and walks toward me with a big smile on his face. I know that Fred is dead. I know he has nothing in his hands, but I can’t stop screaming and shivering when he pretends to throw something at my head. And then he laughs. And does it all over again. And I order him to take his bath. Now.

Sigh. I’m glad they can kill spiders for me. But I also wish they could be a little more like their sister, and then spiders wouldn’t have names and I would never suspect them of chasing me with a spider in their hands.

Louisa May Alcott Books

My children, especially the middle one, are loving Louisa May Alcott books. We began with Little Women, then Little Men, and now we started Jo’s Boys. I enjoy them too, and it makes me wonder what is so special about them.

First, they are familiar from one of our favorite games: Authors. It’s an old set of cards from before my childhood. LMA is the only female author. I often wonder if there’s an updated version of the game, and if so, who are the authors? And if not, perhaps I ought to make one!

But why else do we like them? If you read any analysis written about them, especially Little Women, you learn how feminist the book is. Do we like them because they contain such strong and unique women? Well, partly yes, I think. But we like Laurie just as much. And Mr. Bhaer. And then the next two books have a lot of strong and unique boys in them. Maybe we like strong and unique characters in general. There are plenty of those.

More than just the characters, I enjoy the series. I enjoy watching the family grow up and expand. Unlike, say, Charlie Brown, who never gets older, these characters actually mature at an appropriate rate. Jo’s Boys begins ten years after Little Men ended. It seems right. I mean, we laugh because Nat has a moustache, and that’s a funny thought, but isn’t that just like real life? Don’t we have the temptation to laugh at young men when they start growing up and growing facial hair?

These books are also comforting. They have their funny moments, their poignant moments, their tragic moments, their long-winded descriptive moments. But it all strikes chords with our life. Plumfield school sounds a lot like our own homeschool. Demi is “the deacon” because he is pious and philosophical, and we love him for that, not despise him. Tommy is a prankster, and we love him for the trouble he gets into because he is still so good-natured, not horrible and dark. So many contemporary books strike off-notes because we don’t live our lives like the people in the book do. LAM’s books are closer to home than The Boxcar Children or James and the Giant Peach (not that those are bad books).

Finally, I like the wisdom that seems to wrap its way into the books. Jo grows older and learns better how to manage boys, and the book shares that wisdom with us. Amy grows prettier and more sophisticated and keeps her passion for art even as she lives out her life as Laurie’s wife and Bess’s mother. The characters grow more character as they age! I love that. I want to do the same. I think I’ve finally hit on the main reason I like the series. I want to be more Amy as I continue to grow and learn. I don’t want to diminish and become a pale version of myself. God wants me to bloom and be the full version of myself. It seems true that the more we learn from life’s experiences and the nature of other people, the fuller we can extend our own arms out to the world.