Friday, February 27, 2015

3 Favorite Books From February

There is a huge sigh of relief that comes at the end of February for me. My soul shouts:
YES! We made it! The coldest months are behind us and even though there could be a few cold days ahead, they will succumb to the inevitable, delightful Spring. Amen and Amen.

Here are a few of the best books from the frigid month of February.

Wait. First of all, if you haven’t watched a Kid President video, I’m sorry. Stop everything you’re doing and watch this:

I promise, it’s probably the best thing on the YouTubes and Googles combined. I simply adore him and the message. I’ve been intrigued by him from the start, so I had to read The Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome, of course. It’s filled with stories about people who are doing awesome things like helping kids read in poor communities, giving away eyeglasses, and handing out cupcakes to homeless people. It’s impossible to read this book without feeling inspired.

Good News for Weary Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick was another encouraging book - lots of highlighting and YES in the margin. I appreciated her no-nonsense way of taking my attention to the scriptures to find my identity and not Christian culture. Sometimes we see other Christian women and think – Oh, should I be doing that? Or this? Christ’s sacrifice for me makes me righteous. NOTHING. ELSE. I needed that.

You know I love getting good books for my classroom and I found GOLD this month with Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Oh my goodness. This companion book to The Wednesday Wars is nothing short of genius. I loved it because it broke my heart and put it back together again. No biggie.

Other books I read this month: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (middle grade fiction), Home is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson (memoir), The Honest Truth (middle grade fiction)

Your turn! What books have you read lately that I need to know about?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Six Books That Blew My Mind (Part II)

Well, howdy! Welcome to Part II of the six books that blew my mind. This post isn't about books I've just read in the last year, they are the books I've read over my lifetime that I cannot recommend enough to you. Scroll down to see the first three, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, Montana 1948, and The Gift of The Sea. Here are the rest!

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What drew me to this book...

It almost seems cliché to even put this book on the list, but I would feel dishonest if I didn't write about it here. It really is a life-changing book.

In 1996, fresh out of college, I was required to teach this novel. I was embarrassed that I'd never read it before myself. But I cracked it open, and finally realized what all the fuss was about.

This book is not only an excellent story about a girl, her father, and a small town in Alabama. This is a story about what it means to be human and walk on this earth with people who don't happen to look like you or live like you.

The book moved or changed me by...

exposing the deep racism of the our country, especially in the south, in the 1930s and 40s. It made me laugh, cry, get angry, and fall in love with literature all over again. And, miracle of miracles, the movie adaptation is just as excellent as the novel. I think everyone reads this book/watches this movie wanting a Daddy like Atticus, no matter how wonderful your Daddy was. (Oh Gregory Peck! Actor of the ages!)

One quote or section that stands out to me from this book is: (This is the scene in the courtroom that always makes me weep. The verdict has been read and almost everyone has left the courthouse. Everyone except Scout, her father Atticus, and the black people in the balcony.)

Scout (Jean Louise)describes the scene:

"Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus' lonely walk down the aisle. "Miss Jean Louise?" I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Syke's voice was as distant as Judge Taylor's: "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."

5. The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

What drew me to this book?

This is a "Christmas" book for the advent season, but I think a person could read it and enjoy it any time of year. I read Voskamp's first book, One Thousand Gifts, but I was more moved by this book for some reason. I think I appreciated the build-up to the coming of the Savior and the way she opened up my eyes to parts of scripture in a new light.

The book moved or changed me by...

helping me slow down this past advent season and really worship Christ. My December is usually just bonkers: basketball season starts up, the house needs to get "Christmas-y" and I feel the pressure to buy gifts and send out cards, and...oh, you know. A Mama's Nightmare in 3-D.

But this book seriously helped me rise above all that. I wanted a Christmas where Christ really was the center. Could it happen? Yes, but it's a daily battle! It was in the journaling response section after each daily reading that helped center my thoughts on Christ instead of my lengthy to-do list. (I hope that Voskamp's future books have this sort of set-up...)

One quote or section of the book that stands out for me:

You don't need to climb mountains named I Will Perform.
You don't need to climb mountains named I Will Produce.
Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace: The Lord Will Provide.

6. The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart

What drew me to this book?

I'm so excited to tell you about this author. I have enjoyed her previous novels like Far From Here and Sleeping In Eden, but this book (which hasn't even been released yet!) is by far my favorite. I have a friend who is reading it right now, but I'll try to remember as much of it as possible for you.

I had connected with the author, Nicole Baart on Twitter and she'd been so kind as to send some goodies to my classroom for my students who love her books. I won this book through Twitter when Nicole was giving away advanced copies.

I completely DEVOURED it.

There are several layers and stories going on at once, and it kept me guessing until the very end. It's the saga of best friends who lost touch with one another and reunite through a series of tragedies. I especially loved the vivid descriptions; I feel like I've been "in" this book, if that makes sense.

This book moved or changed me by:

I want to be clear that this isn't "Christian fiction" -- I'm not even sure I know what that genre really means. The story doesn't end with a neat, clean finish. Life is messy. Relationships are complicated. Faith can be hard to hold onto. I do know that Nicole loves the Lord, and writes through that lens. But she's not afraid of hard topics such as sex trafficking or abuse or doubt. 

She writes bravely, which translates into a glimmering diamond of a novel.

I'm sorry; I don't have a quote to share because I don't have the book at the moment.
Look for it in late April!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Six Books That Blew My Mind (Part I)

There is no denying it: I am a zealous book lover.

I'm not sure when my love for reading turned the corner from "simple enjoyment" to "slightly obsessed." I'll think about it and save that for another post.

Today, I simply want to share THE six books that made my head explode. I had to choose from all the books I've ever read, so this was a challenge; but when I narrowed it down to the books I actually had in my possession, it made it easier.

These were the ones I held close to my chest after finishing and thought, "Wow. THAT is why we read. THAT is the beauty of the written word."

And then I immediately wanted everyone else I knew in the whole wide world to read it, too.

This post got pretty lengthy, so I've decided to break it up into two parts -- three books per post.

(Hold down the arrow buttons to see various covers)

1. The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison

What drew me to this book?

This is the memoir of a mother of boys, just like me. Her writing makes me feel like I'm sitting down with a good friend, encouraging me in my life as a mother.

This book moved me or changed me by...

helping me see the beauty of a simple day and to make the most of the time when my children are home.

One quote or section that stands out to me from this book is:

"I want to live with a sense of abundance in the here and now, knowing that what we have is exactly enough. Instead of wishing that my sons cold be somehow other than they are, I want to remind myself to see, everyday, what is already good in each of them and to love that."

(Isn't that GORGEOUS?)

2. Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

This book moved or changed me by...

The elegant, simple beauty of well-written story. This is a compact, rather short novel filled with treasure. It's the story of a 12-year old boy coming of age one summer. I was completely mesmerized by the writing and the narrator.

One quote or section that stand out to me from this book is:

"The harshness of the land and the flattening effect of wind and endless sky probably accounted for the relative tranquility of Mercer County. Life was simply too hard, and so much of your attention and energy went into keeping not only yourself but also your family, your crops, and your cattle alive, that nothing was left over for raising hell or making trouble."

One thing the author does that makes this book so compelling is...

The author chooses words so perfectly. It feels as if there is nothing "extra" in the story and every sentence is exactly as it should be.

3. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

What drew me to this book...

I had seen this book recommended over and over again, and when I read it, I realized why. Lindbergh reminds women of the importance of solitude and inner quiet. She steals away to an island where she writes, walks the beach, collects shells, and ruminates what it means to be wife, mother, woman.

This book moved or changed me by...awakening my desire to truly quiet my spirit DAILY.

One quote or section that stands out to me is...there are so many! It's hard to choose, but here's one:

"Mechanically, we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think, unwittingly lost. In other times, women had in their lives forces which centered them whether or not they realized it; sources which nourished them whether or not they consciously went to these springs. Their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone. Many of their duties were conducive to a quiet contemplative drawing together of the self."

What about you? What books are blowing your mind these days?

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Where I'm From

This week, I started a month-long writing course called "Discover the Power of Your Voice" by Allison Vesterfelt, the author of Packing Light.

I found out about this class on Twitter, and just couldn't shake the feeling that I should go for it. Immediately I heard opposition. You know what I'm talking about? That inner bully that gets all up in your face?

I had to mentally karate chop the voices yelling,
"You don't have time for that!"
"You'll only feel more guilty and overwhelmed!"
"You aren't good enough!"

(I'm not the only one who hears these voices, right? RIGHT??)

After the in-my-head karate session, I signed up, paid the fee, and prayed I would follow through well with this. I've got a nasty habit of jumping in with excitement, but getting distracted or discouraged in the middle and not finishing well.

So, let's at least start off on a good foot and get this first assignment onto the old blog, shall we? I suppose the grand test will be if you see the LAST assignment, and not just the first.

The first assignment is a poem called "Where I'm From." After some brainstorming about my childhood, here is the poem that came to the surface. The beauty of this exercise is that it truly helps you remember who you are and what brought you to today.

As Allison writes in the workbook, "...I find as we begin to think consciously about these experiences, messages, and images, we gain insight into who we are becoming as a writer and what we want to say." Agreed!

 I'm from Ivory Soap, swinging kitchen doors,
Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'm from big bowls of popcorn in front of the TV
 a black cat sneaking around your feet
I'm from singing around a piano, harmonies rising like the sun
 big laughter that can't be contained
tickling, poking, and picking
until you can't take it anymore
but you hope it never stops
I'm from Del and Marge and Harold and Vernita
Blessed Assurance and Just As I Am
I'm from
Remember who you are
 Good Lord willing
 Turn off the light 
Call me when you get there
I'm from big Sunday dinners and pork chops on the grill
Peanut butter toast and cheap chocolate ice cream
I'm from the middle of nowhere
and the middle of everywhere that matters
the places where love and joy take root
and grow into something so strong


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Disturb Us, Lord (Sir Francis Drake - 1577)

A prayer for the new year...

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Charlie Brown Speed

If it's almost Christmas time, you can bet we have Charlie Brown Christmas music playing at some point in our house. A certain family member has even been known to panic if we start to decorate the tree without this soundtrack running in the background.

I think it's the simple sweetness of this movie and this music that gets me every time. It makes me want to stop and drink hot chocolate while staring at the twinkling tree, instead of running through a drive-thru and rushing to one more basketball game, which is what usually happens.

This year, I can't change the schedule or change the fast food meals, but I can change my attitude. I can take time each day to look my children in the eye and tell them I love them. I can stop snapping my fingers at them and speak with grace.

I can refuse to do every. single. thing. on my Christmas to-do list.

I want Charlie Brown speed, but if I can't have that, I can at least keep my heart warm and tender to all things Advent. That's the Christmas I want.

How about you? What helps you "slow down" during December?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Make-up and Mirrors

In the latest issue of WORLD magazine (Nov 15 2014), Andree Seu Peterson writes about vanity and the heart's condition in her essay, "The New Photos."

Like many magazines, WORLD includes photos of the writers with their work. In this particular issue, it was time to update after five years of the same photo. Peterson laments this fact:

 "What's bothering me is that my last picture in WORLD was pretty nice because it happened to be a good day when the photographer came. My hair was uncharacteristically thick and I had not lost my right incisor yet, and the blue shirt made me look as if I had azure eyes instead of dishwater color."

I can relate to Peterson. Aging is something that sneaks up on a person like a common house cat. You know the cat is in the room, but you are still surprised when you feel him weave his way between your feet or purr behind your chair.

You knew this was coming, but still.

Every year as a teacher, I get the same mug shot as all the students. It's slightly agonizing. There is no make-up or special mirror to change what the camera records. This is who I am. This is reality. Will I obsess over the details and cringe at the inevitable signs of aging? Or will I embrace my moment in this journey - my age and all the experiences I've had - and "laugh at the days to come?" (Proverbs 31, oh yeah!)

I want to laugh.

I want to look at that mirror and smile at the woman I've become, no matter how many lines she has on her face.

And as for my photo on this blog? You'll have to decide if it's really me or not...