Category Archives: Books I’m Reading
When I started blogging nearly eight years ago, I “only” had three children. Along the way, it has always been possible to squeeze out a number of blogs per month, often 3-4 per week! But, starting with baby Jean’s birth in June, these have been been my slowest months ever. Here’s why:
- Time and priorities. I love writing. But, I also love reading. I love keeping up with my friends and family on Facebook. I have other responsibilities, besides homeschooling my children and running my home — I still lead worship weekly at a homegroup, and I essentially have a part-time job as a host and coordinator for a CSA (weekly, local farm-share). I just can’t do everything, sadly. Most days, just doing school, laundry, and making meals about taps me out. I could drop any one of these things and have time for blogging, but I don’t want to. So… it’s just a busy season that precludes blogging. I have very often started drafts and by the time I finish, they’re just no longer relevant or pressing. So, slowly nibbling away at drafts doesn’t seem to work for me, either.
- The current culture of blogging. When I started blogging, most people hadn’t even heard the term “blog”. I wrote with the abandon of one who was pretty certain that no one was reading. In many ways, I was flippant and too-disclosing. I wasn’t careful at all. I could just dash off some thoughts without considering possible repercussion. I’ve become wiser over the years, and have realized that people ARE reading, and therefore, I need to measure my words. In addition, if I want to make a statement about health, science, Scripture, pretty much anything, the only responsible way to do that is to provide supporting links, which is the blogging form of end notes. However, gathering and inserting appropriate links is time-consuming. And THEN, you add Pinterest. If someone wants to post something on Pinterest, you really need a picture. So, I either hunt for a pic online with no copyright protection OR I hunt for a pic to upload and insert from my own. Both of those add snippets of time to an already labor-intensive process.
- My mind is blank. JUST KIDDING. Actually, there are more things than ever that I want to share… Inside my brain, my blog is crazy-active!!
Here, though, are a few small things happening around here:
- We are still slowly remodeling our home and redecorating. Both my husband and I are frugal, and our tastes overlap, but aren’t identical. That’s why the process is slow: if ONE of us didn’t care, we could get things done a lot faster. But, we both care. Here’s a shot (not a great one) of our living room. It’s a mix of new and vintage/Craigslist purchases.
- We finally had to buy our first new piece of baby equipment. Virtually everything on Jean’s body and which she uses here in our home is a hand-me-down, a gift, or purchased second-hand. Oh, wait! I did purchase a jogging stroller for about 1/4 the price of a new one, at a true outlet — a store that handles all the returns and overstock from Costco, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid. It was new in the box… So, I guess that counts as a new purchase. So, purchase #2: a highchair. I can’t wait until it arrives; baby Jean is six months and eating (limited) table food, but up until now, she has just been perched on my lap. That is becoming increasingly messy. I searched on Craigslist for the last month, looking for a chair that had some sort of modern appeal (to at least partially fit in with our updated decor), was well-reviewed, wasn’t too bulky, that both my husband and I like, and wasn’t too expensive. I struck out. So, this highchair is being shipped, as I type this.
- Just last week, I finished my favorite book of the last… year or so. I have a few current authors that I follow; I read everything they write. Those tend to be dependable authors; I like their craft of storytelling. However, they’re not necessarily books that, upon closing, I reflect, “That was so very worthwhile. I am enriched by having read that.” Not that they’re trash; they’re just entertainment, and not necessarily profound. The book I recently finished? Profound. I had read quite a few (nonfiction) essays by Wendell Berry, as well as a number of his poems. But, I hadn’t read any of his fiction. Following the families in a community in rural Kentucky? Sounded campy, à la Mitford (which I’ve never read, so, yes, I’m passing judgement based upon incomplete information). But, my oldest son, a junior, read Fidelity as part of his homeschool curriculum. When he finished, he handed it to me. “That was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I think you’d like it.” Which made me love him all the more… And he was right; I did like it. I plan on reading more in the series, after I get through the next two books on my list (Leaving Everything Most Loved — I like Jacqueline Winspear’s storytelling. However, as her works progress, each book seems more like “Zen Buddhist with an agenda, who is telling a mystery story on the side.” It’s rather annoying. I’m a Christian and I don’t even like it when CHRISTIAN authors try to proselytize via fiction. I like it even less when the author’s beliefs don’t parallel mine. And, An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch. I found Charles Finch, whose stories are set in Victorian England, when I had exhausted the surprisingly large genre of literary mystery serials set in WWI-era England.)
- And… This little sweetie. How I adore her. She is perfect, except she doesn’t like to sleep. Really, she doesn’t like to sleep at all. You can try your suggestions, but I’ve probably tried them all, short of letting her cry long enough to give up and feel abandoned. She is a darling baby, an absolute delight to our whole family. Everyone is smitten, still. She is beautiful and chubby, cheerful and funny, and loves to snuggle. So, so perfect. Except the sleep thing. I’m tired.
A guitar, a crib, a dashboard, and a book club (reflections on a year in a small, weekly home group)
The school year is winding down.
Among other things, that means the small group I’ve attended for the last 9 months or so will come to a close, too*.
A few reflections on “my” group this year:
- As a worship leader, I don’t get to pick my group. Each August, I hear chatter between friends, “Whose group are you thinking about going to this year? What night is it? Whose house is it at? Who is the leader? Wanna go together??” That sort of thing. I don’t get to participate in those conversations. I go where I’m assigned. That’s good news and bad news. If there is someone who goes to a group who is a particular friend of mine, it’s totally by coincidence. I’m often assigned to groups that I wouldn’t have personally chosen, for one reason or another. BUT… that also means that, each year, I get to grow closer to a bunch of people who, even if I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, God has chosen them for me!! He knows what I need, even when I don’t. It seems that, usually, God uses that year’s group to challenge me… God knows that I need stretching and growth in a particular area, and proclaims to me, “Here is your opportunity! And you can’t escape it! Hahahaha!” Yes, I envision God laughing at me like that. He has a funny sense of humor. However, this year, the group I’ve been in has been such… comfort to my heart. Such comfort. It is filled with thoughtful, caring, tender people, whose hearts overflow with love. Usually, during ministry time, toward the end of our time together, I am playing my guitar, covering the environment, praying or singing over the interactions taking place in front of me. In all my past groups, I’d rarely be the recipient of prayer. I’m totally OK with that. But, it has blessed me to tears that virtually every week, someone will come over and lay their hand on my shoulder and quietly speak a prayer of blessing and encouragement over me… I feel un-forgotten.
- A family in my group this year has gone through something I can’t even imagine. It has rent my heart. For the past three years, they have fostered a baby since he was only a few weeks old. Initially, they thought (due to the proclamations of the mother) that they were blood-related to this baby. They didn’t find out until the baby was two, I believe, that he was actually of no blood relation. However, they have loved and cared for him and cherished him as the son of their heart. This past year, a distant blood relation of the child decided that they wanted the boy. And, in what was a blow to all of us, the courts decided in favor of the distant blood relative, rather than in favor of the parents this baby has had for literally his entire life. The mother approached me a few weeks ago… “When he goes to live with his new family, I’d like you to have his crib for your new baby, if you want it.” That killed me. My heart has been so knit to this family through their struggle to keep their little boy… And the crib is REALLY NICE. Really nice. I’m sure they could sell it on Craigslist and recoup some of the money spent. But, they’d rather I have it. They said they’d be honored. Oh, my Lord. *I* am honored. The day their son went to live with his new, permanent family, about a week and a half ago, they brought the crib to my home. So very, very bittersweet. ~sigh~ But that crib will now be a reminder to me of that little boy who, in my estimation, should still be with the parents who raised him for more than three years. It will be a physical reminder to pray for him, far away now… And to pray for the parents whose hearts have been broken and broken and broken over this.
- On a few occasions, our group takes the opportunity to bring food and ministry to various families in need in our local area. The last time was almost two weeks ago. I was with a group of four others. Usually, we have names and addresses and specific people expecting to receive us. This past time, though, we were just sent out with bags of groceries and instructed to just pray about where to go. The group I was in went to an apartment complex. However, after walking around (up and down stairs) for about 30 minutes, I started having contractions and I could feel my ankles swell rapidly. So, a man in the group and I went back to someone’s car to sit while the others finished. This man had had a stroke five years ago and doesn’t walk well, himself. So, we sat in the car and chatted. I asked him all sorts of questions about his past, his stroke, his recovery, his relationships… I kept asking and he kept talking. It was a lovely evening, with cool breezes wafting through the open windows of the vehicle. I kept thinking, “This is such a treasure.” It’s hard to explain, but I had the thought, “Would I normally have 30 minutes to sit down and chat with a 60-something man? No. Would we ever go out to coffee together? No. But is this so valuable, such a blessing to the both of us?? Yes.” Once again, it was like God saying, “I know what you need, I know what he needs, and I’m going to use this little opportunity that wouldn’t arise any other way to knit your hearts together.” And I just kept thinking, “THIS is what being the Body of Christ is about. THIS IS IT. This is Church life. This is what God does.” He brings us into deeper and more sincere relationship, often with people we would not have chosen for ourselves to be our “buddies” but in the end, it turns out to be JUST what we needed. God is smart like that. 🙂
- Lastly, I have been part of a small book club for… five years I think it has been. Our group started out with eight women, all from “my” church. As time has progressed, about half of us no longer go to the same church, but the group has persisted. However, a couple of women have moved out of state, and one more is heading imminently in that direction, and on Saturday, those who remain had a little discussion: “Whom should we invite to join us?” And I was delighted to suggest a woman who is in my small group. I just know she’ll be a good fit for our small group of diverse, thoughtful women who meet every other month to discuss a book which has (as is our goal) “Good Art + Good Message.” We’ve read a great range of fiction and non-fiction, contemporary works and classics, poetry, memoirs, novels, and more. The thing is this: This particular woman whom I offered as a potential member, up to the other ladies… Well, I NEVER would have known her, if it hadn’t been for small group. We’re of much different ages, we don’t typically relate in the same circles of people… We’re just in different walks of life. But, after going to small group with her on Thursday nights, I know she is insightful, humorous, kind, and thinks deeply. I very, very likely wouldn’t have discovered that, had it not been for small group. And I look forward to getting to know her better through the book club. And it’s good for HER, too. We all want to be known. We all want to be wanted. We all need friendship. We all long to be noticed and appreciated…
So, once again, I find myself thankful for my God, who knows what I need — and even what I want — well before I do. And He is kind enough to set me up to “discover” it for myself. He gives me those things, like gifts… And I am sincerely thankful for His care over me.
*My church has small home groups that meet throughout the school year, and then summers typically see a variety of special classes or Bible studies that last 2-8 weeks
I am 31 weeks pregnant. I had two and a half glorious months, post-morning-sickness, where I felt AMAZING. Now, my large belly has caught up with me, and I am feeling rather crabby and swollen and it’s hard to breathe, and I generally feel uncomfortable. I’m also getting exhausted in a way… well, prior to my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome*. I remember how it felt in the evening, anticipating even ONE outing the following day, and having to fight despondency, because I knew that ONE outing would wipe me out, entirely. That is where I’m at, now.
Until the last few weeks, the worst I could say was that the mass of varicose veins on the back of my right leg was giving me pain. All things considered, being a 39-year-old pregnant woman, I figured that was quite good. I got my stinkin’ expensive “pregnancy support garment” — which is very much like a girdle, or a compression garment. On one hand, it’s a blessing: It allows me to walk around without feeling like my leg is going to fall off; it minimizes the pain and pressure, as well, from vaginal varicosities. However… it is 80% nylon and 20% spandex which, apparently, my skin doesn’t appreciate. If I wear it for too long, I get hives. But if I’m NOT wearing it, I can literally be on my feet for maybe 5-10 minutes at a time.
I went to Illinois this past weekend. I went to my maternal grandmother’s memorial service and visited my paternal grandmother, who is very ill. I traveled with my sister (who lives in the Phoenix area, as well) and my brother (who drove down from Utah to travel with us). It was, all things considered, a wonderful trip, in spite of the sad catalyst for the journey. I could write for a very long time on my thoughts and the events of the four days, but I likely can’t: My experience is so intertwined with others’, for whom I deeply care. Telling my tale would necessitate telling theirs, as well, and I don’t know if they would appreciate me broadcasting their story; it’s not mine to tell.
Still, in spite of late nights, days spent going hither and thither on necessary business, spending my days in the endless company of others (which generally drains me, as an introvert) — whom I needed to see and wanted to see and LOVED to see, cramming a couple of weeks of events into those four days, in spite of unending exhaustion of both body and mind, an aching leg, and the aforementioned hives, it was an exceptionally worthwhile journey.
I love Illinois. The above picture was taken from the back steps of my aunt’s home. I took it, steaming coffee in hand. The sun was shining, it was about 7 a.m., and the temperature was 35°. The view is a corner of a field, which will likely have corn growing in it within a month or so, and a little pond beyond that. In the timber behind the pond is the remain of an old road, likely last used in the early 1800s. It had rained torrentially in Illinois, the day before our arrival, so the ground was saturated and impassably muddy in many places, and I didn’t own the boots which would allow me to go down that lovely road-path.
My husband, though, is considering having our family return to Illinois for our family’s summer trip this year — which would be our first time as a whole family — and I will most certainly meander down that road…
It shouldn’t be odd that, with the absence of The Mom, there are many things, upon my return, that have needed my attention. Life does go on, even when I’m not here at home. Laundry continues to pile up. Children still need attention in their schooling. The dog’s medicine runs out.
Today was much busier than I would have preferred, even if I weren’t pregnant. So far, I have:
- Gone to a grocery store — needed especially for milk and meat for the week. (In related news, I got three gallons of organic milk for $4.99. This was accomplished due to the fact that Shamrock Farms organic milk was 50% off this week, with the final price of $2.49 for a 3-quart container. Two containers were near their “best by” date, and were marked $2.50 off. In other words, FREE. I figured that even if they went bad before we finished drinking them, no harm done; they’re free. I got two other containers, as well. Four containers, three gallons total, $4.99 spent.)
- Done two large loads of laundry — it’s still not folded, yet.
- Overseen school with my three older children. I will admit my first grader, Audrey, did pretty much nothing today, other than some self-directed art and Lego-building.
- I fertilized my mini-garden with fish emulsion and epsom salts — something that should be done every two weeks, but of which I was very overdue.
- I called LG for my washing machine — again. It keeps having issues. I’ve needed to call them for a couple of weeks now, but kept putting it off.
- I ordered Algebra 2 on Teaching Textbooks.
- I had an overdue, hour-long conversation with another homeschooling mom, helping her (I hope) with some issues she’s having with one of her children.
- I went to Trader Joe’s for more groceries.
- I returned some overdue library DVDs. Yes, even with a smart phone, I kept forgetting to renew our family’s DVDs while I was away, resulting in $7 in new fines. 😦
- I went to the pool supply store and got chlorine tabs and shock. Our poor pool… It really needs a new pump. It is under warranty until July, but a repairman has already been out once, and he said that there’s really nothing he can do, under our warranty, until the pump breaks. If it breaks entirely before July, the $400+ cost of replacement will be covered. If it only limps along inefficiently, as it has been doing, we’re out of luck. I must admit that I am tempted to sabotage the pump to “help” it completely break. My husband, though, man of absolute integrity that he is, wouldn’t hear of such a thing. But, it’s in the 90s now, and our pool-cum-pond is unusable.
- I went to pick up more fluconazole for our dog, Tally, who is still recovering from Valley Fever.
- I stopped by a used furniture store and bought a small chest of drawers for the new baby ($25 — it needs to be either painted or lightly sanded and revarnished — I haven’t decided which, yet). I also bought a very solid, medium-sized bookcase for $35. It has a blond finish, and appears to be from the 60s. It is almost cool. Tomorrow, I will clear out the beleaguered particle board book case which is currently holding most of our school books for this year. It keeps collapsing.
- I still need to shower.
- I need to make dinner — which will be the Crockpot refried beans I made last night, reheating a roasted Costco rotisserie chicken, and likely some roasted beets from the CSA I host each Wednesday. Easy peasy.
- I need to pick out the worship set list for tonight’s small group. It is definitely one of those nights where, if I didn’t have to go to small group, I probably wouldn’t. Frankly, I’d rather put up my feet, watch baseball, and read my current book** during the commercials. When I’m actually there at group, I always enjoy it. Always. But, right now, I am tired, and wish I wasn’t compelled to attend by my responsibilities there…
So, that’s it! That has been my day. Too busy for me. Still not over. But, life could be worse, eh? All things considered, life is still good — many things have happened in the last week that are stellar, and on which I cannot comment.
If you’re still reading, thank you. 🙂 Since it has been nearly three weeks since I posted, I felt that this post was overdue, as well… Not my best work, but it will have to do for now.
Blessings to all my readers, those whom I know personally, and those whose acquaintance I’ve only made through this blog… I’ve been feeling particularly thankful for you, lately.
*Virtually all CFS symptoms disappeared when I went onto a gluten-free diet. I do believe that the underlying cause of my chronic fatigue was celiac disease itself.
**In spite of middling reviews (which I have not read — only noticing it has only about 3.5 stars on Amazon), I am still very much enjoying it. Well, I just peeked at some reviews. It appears that those who love Anne Perry’s mysteries, set in 1800s England, are most disappointed. Perhaps that explains why I like the book: I don’t care for Anne Perry. (I did read her four-book series which was set in WWI, but once the series was completed, decided that any more of Perry would be a waste of my time.)
So… My husband and I have always been budget-minded. We came away from our respective childhoods after watching at least some of the adults in our lives be fairly irresponsible with money with a wounded awareness of how that affected us, as children. Both of us, independently, had said, “That won’t be me when I’m an adult.”
As a result, as young adults, each of us were already very mindful of responsible fiscal living, and that only increased after we got married.
However, it took Martin and me what I thought was a REEEEEALLLLLLYYYYYYY long time to get on the same page with how to approach exactly HOW to approach being “fiscally responsible.” His tactic, for a number of years, was, “Don’t buy anything, ever, and save all your money.” That sounds all right, but what about when there are real needs?
I was reminded of that time in our lives this morning, and one major way I got through his tight-fistedness.
Most mornings, I sit down with my six-year-old, Audrey, with my now-ancient copy of The Pregnancy Journal. There are daily entries in this spiral-bound book of what is happening in the mother’s body, how the baby is developing, plus other tidbits about childbirth in other cultures, hints on nutrition, pithy — or touching — quotes about parenting, et al. There are also lines on which the mother can record how her particular pregnancy is progressing: her weight, mood, and other thoughts.
My current pregnancy is only a week different than my first, as far as due-dates go. My oldest, who will turn 16 on June 23, was due on July 4th. This pregnancy, my sixth, is tentatively slated to end on June 27. So, I have found it especially interesting, comparing my thoughts now, as an experienced mother, with my thoughts from sixteen years ago.
This morning I read something particularly poignant: It detailed how I really needed maternity clothes, and Martin wouldn’t release the funds. I now find that almost laughable: He’s a lot more reasonable now; I almost can’t believe that I could have made it to 20-ish weeks in my first pregnancy with ZERO maternity clothes, and him still saying, “No.” Additionally, I’m now a lot better at finding good deals; most of my current maternity wardrobe came, second-hand, from Craigslist. Some items came at no cost via Freecycle. And just a few things, I purchased new. I’m certain that, back then, I had no intention of buying secondhand maternity clothes.
In my journal entry, though, I noted that even if my husband was wrong, I didn’t want to develop any bitterness. I didn’t want to harbor any anger for him. He wasn’t in sin. He wasn’t breaking the law. He was simply unreasonable. I felt it then, and now, looking back, I still think he was unreasonable. Reading that journal entry caused all my old feelings to come flooding back: I remember struggling mightily with feeling hurt and unprovided-for.
However, in the midst of that dilemma, I decided to pray. Really, it was my only option.
I’m 39 and have been a Christian since I was five years old. However, I still tussle with the basic premise of prayer at times. “Why would God listen to me? Why would He move on my behalf? What if I’m praying the wrong way? Or for the wrong thing? I don’t even fully understand why He wants His people to pray. He knows everything, right? He already knows my needs. I don’t know why He works like that. Hmph.” Prayer often seems like a non-action.
Even though I’m not really fond of aging, one thing that I am appreciating is having a history and a longer perspective. I can look back on a current difficulty and say, “Well, I don’t know why God would answer my prayer. But He has, so many times before. I’m just going to pray. I’m just going to exercise some faith that He will listen and that He will move on my behalf.”
And, whaddya know??? Sixteen years ago, God provided. He showed up, and in a BIG way.
My pen from 16 years ago records the names of seven people who had, in a period of three weeks, given me money for maternity clothes, gift cards, gifts of clothing, and loans of maternity clothes, all of them unasked-for. I don’t know what prompted them; but whatever the method of prompting, God was behind it.
There were seven of them*. In three weeks. Immediately after I started praying.
I wrote, “The Father has seriously overwhelmed me.”
Shortly after my firstborn entered my life, I started going to a ladies’ Bible study. It was held at a church so near to my house, I could walk. It was attended by about 200 women weekly, most of whom were in the midst of marriage difficulty.** The lady who led it — a wise and grandmotherly sort — was fond of telling us women that the line we draw is sin: If our husbands are so wrong that they are requiring us to SIN, we don’t comply. However, if it’s just that our husbands are wrong, if it’s just that we don’t agree, if it’s just that they’re unreasonable… The best course of action is to turn it over to God in prayer, and let God be God in our husband’s life, and trust HIM, Almighty God, as the true source of our provision.
Easier said than done.
Well, maybe. It’s not even easy to say! But, I’m glad for the reminder, this morning, of God’s provision. And, I’m glad for the reminder of how far my husband and I have come as a couple.
*Five of those ladies are still in my life, incidentally. 🙂
**I wouldn’t say that my marriage was in difficulty, however, I was — two years into it — still having a tough time adjusting to being married, being other-oriented, thinking in terms of “two become one”, etc. I learned a lot in the 3-4 years I attended.
…It was kind of on accident.
Beyond some classics — Austen, Brontë — I don’t think I’ve purposely read a romance since I was in junior high, 25 years ago.
I rather disagree with the whole premise of romance novels. I tend to think that it’s unhealthy for women to live in the fantasy world of The Perfect Relationship; it sets them up for disappointment with reality.
I feel the same about most chick flicks — “relationship” movies. I see almost none of them, on purpose.
Strangely enough, this was a decision I came to WHILE I was in junior high. A very odd thing was the catalyst for my decision: the movie Romancing the Stone.
In the movie, Kathleen Turner plays a romance novelist who becomes caught up in an adventure. The movie opens with her, alone in her apartment, crying over her typewriter, sipping wine, and talking to her cat. As a 13-year-old or so, this made an impression: “I’ll bet that’s what it’s really like.” It dawned on my pubescent self that the people writing those books and movies weren’t relationship experts — just relationship dreamers. And I swore them off.
Now… I know that a number of friends read romance novels and some of my readers even WRITE them. I’m sorry if my stance is offensive. I’m sure any number of people can come up with good reasons to read romances, and exceptions to my stereotypes. But, I stand firm. I just don’t think romances are a generally healthy read.
So, imagine me: standing eagerly at the library counter, waiting for the librarian to fetch my reserved copy of the latest Charles Todd novel: Charles Todd who reliably writes mystery novels. Picture my surprise when I see that, on the book in her hand, the “R♥MANCE” label is slapped on the spine. I was literally, physically startled.
Charles Todd, how could you do this to me???
I have always enjoyed mysteries; since I read my first Hardy Boys book, borrowed from my brother, while I was in 2nd grade, I have been hooked. And, for the last couple of years, I have been immersed in the World War I era.
It’s hard to find compelling, literate mysteries, that aren’t trashy — full of sex, bad language, and violence, masquerading as “intrigue”. And when you add my caveat of setting it in WWI, the list is even smaller.
- Yes, I’ve read almost all of Laurie R. King’s books — I’m tired of her. She seems too impressed with her own cleverness, and her books have devolved into farce. I put The Pirate King down, midway through — something I virtually never do! — and swore her off, too.
- And I’ve read all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ works; she’s the queen, the original, and Peter Wimsey is a classic. But, she’s not writing anything new… 😉
- And I’ve read all of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. I like them all right. Winspear, though, liberally injects her books with her personal philosophy, with which I generally disagree. I do like the story lines, though.
- And I’ve read Anne Perry’s World War I four-book series, which starts with No Graves Yet. They were all right only. The first and fourth books were the best. Clean: Yes. Compelling story line: Mostly. Interesting, believable-but-inspiring-yet-flawed characters: Mostly. Literate: No. Perry has written a whole lot of other books; I don’t believe I will read any of them.
- And, I’ve read a bunch of stand-alone novels set in the 1910-1930 era; I prefer series, though.
So, really… the ONLY author of whom I know who fits my extremely niche current interest, plus my long list of requirements: Charles Todd. The author is really a mother-and-son team. They have written the 14-book series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, who suffers from PTSD in the aftermath of his service in the war. I love Inspector Rutledge!! They have also written the newer four-book series featuring World War I nurse, Bess Crawford, all set during the war years. I’ve loved all those books. Their first novel — The Murder Stone — I must admit that I didn’t like. It was an absolute maze of characters for whom I cared nothing, and I put it down after the first 100 pages or so.
Overall, though, I do love the Todds’ work. They’re my favorite current fiction authors. Last spring, two friends and I even traveled to the Prescott Public Library to see the authors!! It was a glorious day trip — the best of company, with two friends who are also fans of the Charles Todd books.
So, having a track record of 18 “loves” and one “dislike”, I always look forward to any new Charles Todd novel! When The Walnut Tree came out, even though it is (kind of) stand-alone, rather than part of the Crawford or Rutledge series, I really anticipated reading it. However, I have done very little reading the last few months; it’s just been an insanely busy season, and when I had time for reading, it was not typically books for pleasure. So, even though the book was published late last fall, I just now got around to reading it.
So, again… imagine my surprise when I saw that offending sticker on the back…
Under partial internal protest, I read it.
And, I liked it!
I had to get past the “this is a romance” thoughts. And I had to get past my internal editor, who was highly annoyed that there are a TON — and I mean hundreds — of incomplete sentences in the book. I finally rationalized that by saying, “Well, the book is in first person, in which Todd generally does not write… and when we think, we often think in incomplete sentences… The protagonist is narrating her thoughts… Oh, well.”
I liked the story line; I found it very compelling. The book was very readable, though “lighter” than I typically prefer. And, I got a kick out of the fact that the protagonist is actually tied to the Bess Crawford series, so there were some character references and interplay that I really enjoyed….
I used to voraciously consume books. Now that I’m a mother of five with responsibilities, I tend to read in a more self-controlled manner, finding ten-to-20-minute snippets of time in which to indulge my reading compulsion: In a doctor’s waiting room, while a little one is in the tub, waiting in the car to pick up a child who is finishing an event, that sort of thing. But, I (perhaps unwisely) stayed up late into the night on Friday and Saturday nights, long after everyone else was in bed, to read… And I finished it on Sunday afternoon, in less than 48 hours. (I typically take 1-3 weeks to complete a book, using my stop-start technique.)
And, when finished, I found myself hoping that The Walnut Tree would be the first in a new series by the Todds.
My midwife (who, by the way, is having her website revamped — the current one is sorely incomplete!) has, unsurprisingly, shelves full of books on birthing and mothering. I noticed one omission, and I think I’m going to purchase it for her for Christmas.
The book has been on my mind a lot, lately. Partly because, yes, I’m pregnant. But partly, as well, because I find the reviews for it on Amazon so indicative of our polarized culture. When we find someone saying something we cannot support, we automatically throw out everything they’ve ever said, put them on our personal equivalent of Santa’s Naughty List, and vilify them.
The book, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, is written, as best as I can surmise, by a practicing Zen Buddhist, Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, MD. The three two-star reviews this book has received generally have this criticism: The book is too far “out there.” The doctor has sections where she describes her personal beliefs and experiences, and I must say that the Dr. Buckley and I have little in common, and many of the things she has chosen to do, I would not. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean the books is useless. It just means that our personal beliefs aren’t aligned.
After reading (not for the first time) the Amazon reviews on this book, I decided to write my own:
I felt the need to chime in my support for this book. I’m a semi-crunchy mother of five — many things I have learned and chosen in my mothering would be highly supported by the attachment parenting camp, and quite a few simply would not. I am also a committed, practicing Christian. I’ve had five, all-natural, unmedicated hospital births, and am planning a home birth for my sixth — not because I’ve had rotten hospital experiences, but rather because I have learned a bit more with each birth and am convinced that the best way to ensure that this, likely my last birth, is absolutely peaceful and perfect is to have my child at home. It is becoming increasingly difficult within hospital culture, even with a fabulous, naturally-minded care provider to have a truly natural hospital birth.
I particularly appreciate Dr. Buckley’s book because she, like myself, is both fully spiritual AND fully science-minded. I respect the fact that Dr. Buckley lays out her spiritually-based opinion and experience and then BACKS IT UP with hard science. There are a solid SIXTY PAGES of end notes. One chapter alone has 294 end notes!! This is, by far, the best-researched birthing book I’ve ever read, and I have read dozens.
In fact, of those dozens of books I’ve read, many start to sound the same after a very short while. Many other books on birthing rely heavily on the same stories, the same research, and similar experiences. This was the first book I’ve read on birthing in a very long time that had NEW, PROFOUND, and RELEVANT information about birthing and mothering. It is a unique and powerful book on many levels.
Instead of being a how-to on birthing, it’s more of a “why” book. Why choose one practice over another? Why are ultrasounds possibly harmful? Why are narcotics during birth so potentially harmful, both in the short-term and long-term health of mother and baby? Why is the use of Pitocin so destructive to the natural hormonal processes of birth? Dr. Buckley doesn’t just tell readers what to do, she tells us, very clearly, why one choice is helpful (even necessary!) and why another choice is likely harmful. In addition to that, she gives personal anecdotes about her own experiences with birthing and mothering that further support her empirical research, and show a mother how those scientific facts can play out in a very spiritually profound way.
It’s pretty clear that the author is a practicing Zen Buddhist. I’m not. However, I find that my discoveries have matched the doctor’s experience: The radical experience of a natural birth is the perfect marriage of mind/body/science WITH our spiritual/deep/intangible side. I found it pretty easy to make the shift, mentally, when the author talks about the soul of her child flying down from the stars into me visualizing, instead, the soul of my child being lovingly created by God my Father, and being deposited into the growing life of my baby, in utero. And so on. If the “language” of Dr. Buckley’s spiritual voice doesn’t fit with your own, feel free to substitute your own beliefs in the places where yours doesn’t match up with hers!
There is no ONE perfect book on any topic. Like any book, you chew the meat, and throw out the bones. If there is a story in the book that doesn’t click with you, it doesn’t negate the hundreds — or even thousands — of other bits of useful, profound information. It’s the mark of a strong mind that can consider something, hold it in one’s thoughts, sift it, and then say, “That particular part is not for me,” without throwing out the rest of the book or giving it only two stars. So, if that’s what you need to do when reading this book, please do so, but still PLEASE READ THE BOOK.
So, to sum up, my stance is that you don’t have to be completely aligned with Dr. Buckley’s spiritual beliefs, birthing practices, or mothering practices in order to benefit mightily from this unique and powerful book.
If that sounds intriguing, consider purchasing this excellent book for either yourself, a mother-to-be, or your favorite doula or midwife!!
I keep waiting for life to return to normal.
I used to think that “a rut” was the worst thing that could happen to one’s life.
I now have turned 180° — or at least 160° or so — and have discovered that there is a reason it is called “Domestic Bliss.” That is because when home life is wonderful, it REALLY IS wonderful. Philosophers can devise witty sayings about how boring healthy families are, but when it comes down to it, if you have one, it really is lovely.
This past spring and summer was perhaps my most wonderful ever in my 39 years. Well, I was 38, back then. Everything was just right. Parenting was going great. I thought my husband was fabulous. I had the garden of my dreams. I had enough “spare” time to sneak in novel about once every 2-3 weeks, which, in my experience and for my personality is just right; more reading than that means I’m not getting enough done in my home and family; less reading than that means I’m stretched too thinly and stressed out. We had just sold our house for more than we thought possible and had found the exact right place — right size house, right size lot, right location — for an amazing price. I had lost about 20 pounds and was feeling great, and down to the same size I was before I had my first child, 15 years prior. Other family relationships and friendships were sailing along at a beautiful clip. Friends even purchased tickets for our family’s first-ever Disneyland trip. Can you get much better than that?
I don’t think I’m a pessimist — truly — but I am enough of a realist to realize, even in the midst of all this amazingness, that it would probably not last forever. It was one of those seasons where my prayer was, “God, please don’t let me forget this lovely season, especially if You’re gearing me up for hard times.”
And hard times have, indeed, come. But, not exactly in the way that I had envisioned.
The good news is that I still think my husband is fabulous. I have, in fact, grown in love and appreciation for him in the last couple of months.
By early October, my mother was sick, in the hospital, and appeared near death.
We were also in the throes of a remodel — a MAJOR remodel of about 40% of our “new” home — which I envisioned would take us about five weeks.
We also had a serious issue surface with one of our children… Really serious, the sort of thing where it is just a deep, hard ache in a mother’s heart.
Then our dog got sick, a resurgence of Valley Fever.
Then my computer broke (I’m typing on my husband’s laptop), on which my children do about 1/3 of their schooling.
And… other things compounded my various challenges — like a dear friend (whose two sons are the best friends of two of my sons) moving out of state. And a few other dear, long-time friends feeling led by God to become involved in various other ministries — leading them OUT of “my” church. This put a hole in my heart, as well as made things logistically difficult, as I am now the lone worship leader for the 6-12 year-olds at church; no one with whom to share that responsibility…
AND THEN, I found out I was pregnant with our sixth child. And while that has been a huge joy — theoretically — I feel like crap, 24/7, and that just makes everything… extra-challenging.
And my mother did die, on October 18th. That was hard. It still is, especially when my four-year-old, Fiala, pipes up at lunch, scowl ensconced firmly on her face, “I don’t want Grandma to live with Jesus any more. I want her to be here.”
We are still remodeling, nearing our 11th week of that massive project. The good news is that I have a working kitchen. I still don’t have a back splash, there is still some touch-up to do, I still don’t have a working sink in our powder room, and the legs of our built-in breakfast table (envision a bar, only larger and more rectangular) still need to be trimmed and stained. AND, as I was dreaming — again — of the massive yard sale I’d have to enable the purchase of new furniture, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my Furniture Money would probably have to become Pay the Midwife Money. Maybe that’s stupid, but it was one of those reality checks that made me groan, “Aw, man…”
My child with the “issue” is now in counseling, and though we’ve just begun, I think that will be really helpful. Sometimes, it helps a child to hear truth from a different, non-parent source. My husband and I are fighting — and winning, I think — not to feel like Giant Failures in Parenting. Still, it’s been a blow to my confidence as a mother to have to call in the experts…
Our dog is still ill, but at least she hasn’t died. The vet said that he rarely sees dogs with her blood titer level, because, “Usually a dog doesn’t get to that level; they die before then.” But, she’s on antifungals. Sweet pup. We’re not out of the woods, and it was hard to admit to my husband that I didn’t ask the vet to call in a three months’ supply of meds, which we could have done, and which is less expensive than buying it month-to-month, because I’m still not sure she’ll make it three months… We’ll see.
My computer is still broken, which is making me feel like a bad homeschooling mom, because my kids haven’t done math nor typed anything in about a month. Grant and Wesley also read from the encyclopedia on my computer…
The Sunday before I had the spate of friends become displaced from my life, in early August, the presence of God fell on me very powerfully during worship, and I felt God calling me to serve Him, and Him alone, for His sake — not for what I get out of my relationship with Him or out of my Christianity; not simply because I was following my pastor (though I have a wonderful pastor — two of them, actually — absolutely amazing men of God who are excellent teachers and amazing leaders…) I just felt Him calling me to Himself, no matter who does what, and when, nor what goes on around me.
I have really been clinging to that, and thankful to Him for preparing me.
I’m 11 weeks pregnant, and I still need to actually TALK WITH and MEET WITH my midwife, rather than exchanging phone messages. I don’t know why, but I think I’m kind of dragging my feet about that. It’s just one more thing that will go on the plate… Know what I mean?
I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of complaining.
And I keep reminding myself how LOADS of people — billions of them — have it worse than I do. In many ways, things really aren’t bad at all! They’re just challenging, and I don’t enjoy being challenged. I really don’t.
So! That’s where I’m at.
Thanks for reading. I wish I had something clever with which to tidily wrap up this post, but my stomach hurts too much to think of what that might be. I think I’ll go make myself a piece of toast.
My two long-time readers may perhaps remember a sort-of series I did, sparked by a young man named Jerry, an ex-Amish cowboy for whom my youngest son fell hard. Our family met Jerry in the heart of western Colorado, at the Circle K Ranch, which is blessed with one of the most gorgeous settings known to mankind, along the lush and bird-filled banks of the Dolores River. Jerry is the oldest of eight children and was 17 when we met him; I’m sure he likely had a younger brother Wesley’s age, at home in Wisconsin. He gladly gave Wesley time and attention, playing Uno (which Jerry pronounced “You-no”) with Wesley’s made-up rules, and giving Wes a spot on the couch next to him, watching rodeo events on TV during the rainy afternoons.
Wesley is now almost eleven years old, and is still very careful about sharing relationship with anyone; it takes a special person to really capture his admiration.
The fact that Jerry hadn’t received anything past an eighth grade education also weighed in my heart, prompting a number of thoughts on the subject of the value of education, and… non-traditional ways of approaching life that might be, in the end, much more balanced and healthy. (One of my first blogs ever was on the subject, here, on July 14, 2006. I continued the thought about a week later… I’m kind of embarrassed about my writing style, but the thoughts remain relevant.)
Six years later, those topics are still very close to my heart: Living close to nature, pursuing a life that’s a good fit for one’s personality, the value of education… and even Jerry himself meanders through my memories quite frequently. In 2006, very shortly after I met Jerry, I read a book called Last Child in the Woods. And guess what? I’m re-reading that right now.
Yesterday, on Facebook, my cousin posted a link to a gorgeous black & white photo essay published in an English newspaper. It reminded me, yet again, of Jerry.
I decided, on a long shot, to e-mail the good folk at Circle K, to see if they ever hear from Jerry.
To my delight, I received this quick response:
Yes, I remember your family and the fact that your son was praying for Jerry. :-) He is working for a horse trainer in Grand Junction Co. We hear from him every now and then. He loves the work he is doing. If I speak to him, I'll let him know that you were asking about him.
Wesley is already making plans to visit Grand Junction.
We don’t even know Jerry’s last name!
But, I won’t discourage Wesley’s hopes.
And I’m almost giddy that Jerry is still a cowboy.
I really don’t have writer’s block. I’ve written countless posts in my head! They’re just not happening in real life.
So… small updates:
Garden: It’s beautiful and flourishing, and it feels fabulous to eat my own hand-raised, organic veggies. It is truly decreasing my need to buy vegetables from the store. It has taken a while — more than a year — to really get GOING and productive. And, I still have lots and lots and lots to learn… it’s one of those areas of learning where you can never know ALL there is to know. Ever. Interestingly, though, I don’t mind that. Normally, I get a little cowed by problems with unending possible solutions; I like things that I can wrap my head around. However, I find that gardening is enjoyable even when I will never know everything there is to know. My most recent discovery: When the planting schedule says that you shouldn’t plant your green beans until March 15, February 20-something really IS too early, and your seeds really WILL rot in the ground when planted too soon. Bummer. A triumph, though: My hubby is taking my gardening seriously. I tend to get interested in things, and hit them hard for a few weeks or a few months, spend too much money on them, then my interest and devotion fizzles, which amounts to a lot of time and money wasted. So, he wasn’t robustly supportive of my garden plans, initially. Now, he TOTALLY is, probably because I’ve been faithful, instead of just excited. 🙂 And he can see the benefit. Last garden note: You MUST grow these carrots. I scrub them and we eat them unpeeled. They are gorgeous and tasty.
- Fiala’s health: I wish I could say that she is 100% better, but I can’t. She does continue to improve, and it is absolutely clear that her major struggle IS with a candida infection. However, it is taking longer to clear than I had hoped. And, she is not self-regulating. She is happy to “steal” a banana or a jar of honey, or even pull a carrot from the garden, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Then, the yeast in her system feeds on that sugar, and we have a setback that takes a week or two from which to recover. So, it’s kind of like three steps forward, two-and-a-half steps back. She still has head-to-toe “eczema” — which really isn’t eczema — and it’s worse in some places than in others. But, she has no open, oozy wounds, and over all, her skin, disposition, and general health has improved by, oh, about 40%. She is on oral and topical Nystatin, plus probiotics, colloidal silver, and grapefruit seed extract (in capsules). Plus a no-sugar diet, minus the 1/3 cup or so daily of blueberries — her lone joy in food. Actually, it’s funny, because now that we’re aware that SUGAR in food is her main problem, I’ve been letting her sample various sugar- and starch-free foods, and she just doesn’t like most of them. So, her diet is still very, very simple, very limited.
- My own health: I have improved SO GREATLY on a low-carb, sugar-free diet. Not only have I lost about 15 lbs, but instead of getting neck-to-thighs hives every single night, that lasts for HOURS and to be relieved only by a double-dose of Benedryl, I’ll get a patch here, a patch there, about twice a week, and it lasts for 20-30 minutes or so. So, I’m not 100% healed, either, but I’m getting close.
- Books: I should really do a whole post on “Books I’m Trying to Read.” I normally only read one book at a time, but I’m partway through about six books right now, none of which I want to put down, and for none of which I actually have TIME to read right now. The only one I’ve actually finished has been The Confession by Charles Todd (see next bullet point). And that took me nearly two weeks of whittling away… The others have taken — are taking, actually — much longer.
- Road trip! Two friends and I drove to Prescott a couple of weeks ago. It was a treasure of an afternoon — such a pleasant drive of wonderful conversation, lunch together, then a really awesome two-hour meet-the-author presentation by Charles Todd, which is actually a mother-and-son team. They were both present, and were such engaging speakers. It was interesting from all angles: as a writer, as someone interested in WWI (the setting for all their books), as a semi-Anglophile, as a fan… I’ve read all of their books, save one. My friends and I had lunch was at The Raven Cafe. I had researched which places had a gluten-free menu, and when we got to Prescott, my friend Kathy said, “After lunch, I hope we have time for the best cup of coffee in Prescott. It’s at The Raven.” The Raven was already on my short list of g.f. lunch spots!! It has such wonderful ambiance, and it stocks GLUTEN FREE BREAD. With my low-carbiness, I haven’t had bread in a couple of months. But, I broke with that for an amazing turkey melt sandwich with avocado, muenster cheese, and other good things, with a side of amazing sweet potato fries with garlic aioli. I was in heaven. The whole afternoon, I was in heaven. It was perfect. Kathy kept saying, “Is this really real? Is this really happening? Am I really in Prescott with two of my dear friends???” Now, I think I need to come up with more reasons to take little drives and spend a good chunk of a day with my friends. The whole experience is still glowing in my heart, two weeks later.
- Jobby-things: I know a while back I said I wasn’t going to make any writing-related work, but I had already told my author-friend Marietta I’d give her most recent book my once-over. So, I’ve been working on that. I also co-taught a small workshop on prophetic singing, which was a complete and total joy. I was absolutely shocked when I was handed a check for payment. It was a little disturbing, actually. I had to ask my pastor what he thought I should do with the money, and he said, “Keep it. You’ve invested hours of your time and commitment learning about this, making the teaching notes, investing in the prophetic and singing. Keep it and enjoy the fruits of your labor.” So, I am. Haven’t cashed it yet, though.
- Homeschooling: Still having… issues keeping my 14yo focused and not overwhelmed. What he feels he can do, and what he actually can do are miles apart. He, without fail, produces well-thought-out, excellent work and I am spending lots of time encouraging him and spurring him on. I think much of his internal conflict comes down to him longing for the “good old days” when he had less responsibility and his school day wasn’t quite as long — even though his entire day, including “homework” is at a maximum of six hours, and he often has days like yesterday, when he was done in four. This past week, I had to take away both his iPod and his library books until he was caught up… I really don’t like restricting his freedoms and pleasures; I feel like he should be mature enough to self-regulate and that I shouldn’t have to do that. I guess I still do, though.
- More homeschooling: I am sharing my Sonlight Core 3 (American History, Part I — recently renamed Core D) with a friend for her children, and I’m a few weeks ahead of her. For some reason, I’m really motivated to stay ahead, and for that reason, we’re getting more done, and faster, than ever! I guess I still have some latent competitiveness…
Still more homeschooling: We’ve almost wrapped up our (fairly slow) travels through the fabulous DK’s Children’s Book of Art. I have been pondering where to go next, with art. Then, after church on Sunday, a friend pulled me over with an almost conspiratorial whisper, “Hey, I’m helping my mom pare down the things in her home. Are you interested in any books?” She opened her trunk to reveal a nice, heavy box of assorted books — from a nice hardcover copy of Kipling’s Captains Courageous to a set of Time-Life books on the States, very similar to a set my own mother owns…. Also included was an intriguing book called Signs and Symbols in Christian Art by George Ferguson. It was first published in 1959; my hardcover copy appears to have been printed in England in 1967, though I am delighted to discover that the book is still in print! I may have to get an additional book of color reprints of Renaissance paintings, though… Most of this book is in black and white. However, I have long been intrigued with the idea of art as… teacher and entertainer, especially in the days before there was widespread literacy. Here’s what Ferguson has to say about strawberries: “The strawberry is the symbol of perfect righteousness, or the emblem of the righteous man whose fruits are good works. When shown with other fruits and flowers, it represents the good works of the righteous or the fruits of the spirit. It is in line with this meaning that the Virgin is sometimes shown clad in a dress decorated with clusters of strawberries. The strawberry is occasionally shown accompanied by violets to suggest that the truly spiritual are always humble.” My plan is to read a little excerpt like that, then set my boys to hunting for an example. I’m slow to notice and understand symbolism and allegory, etc., so I’m looking forward to reading this book!
- Even more homeschooling: I had also wanted an additional devotional book for my children — especially my 10 and 12-year-old sons. Right now, we are using Sonlight’s book on American Indian Prayer Guide, as well as using GRN’s monthly prayer guide for its missionaries (we get a monthly newsletter mailed to us, but the link has the same info). But, I wanted something a little more in-depth, engaging, and focused on character. Voila! Out of the same box from my friend’s mom came Courageous Christians: Devotional Stories for Family Reading by Joyce Vollmer Brown. PERFECT. It has sixty stories of well-known and little-known Christians who acted boldly to make a difference for the cause of Christ. So awesome to have our needs met, in such an unexpected way, and even before I really prayed about it! I guess God knew these were the books for us…