Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading Challenge Update ~ 2015 Conclusion!

2015 Reading Challenge Conclusion @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 
In total, I read 60 books this year!

***ETA: I completely forgot one. How did that happen?! I actually read 61 books, because I also finished La's Orchestra Saves the World in the last two months. It was an impulse read. The cover was so lovely, I couldn't help it. [grin]

I also made some progress on 9 more.

Some long (A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath…), some short (In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, A Long Walk to Water…).

Some difficult (Catch-22, Beloved), some delightful (The Awakening of Miss Prim).

Some deep (Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Pieper, Beauty Will Save the World), some superduper shallow (Highland Fling).

Some quickly (The Law and the Lady), some sloooowly (Hamlet).

Most new to me (A Christmas Carol), a few old favorites (Little Britches, Dominic).

I added so many books to my original list over the course of the year, and there were many books I didn’t even touch. But I read more than I would have if I hadn’t made a list!


It’s so, so difficult to choose favorites because I read some great books this year. But I’ll cringe and do it anyway.

Here’s my top 5 (if you ask me tomorrow, my answer may be different!).

Supper of the Lamb 

The Awakening of Miss Prim

The Boys in the Boat

The Book Thief

A Long Walk to Water

My two favorite book experiences this year:

Reading A Tale of Two Cities aloud to the boys.

Discussing Hamlet month after month with my Schole Sisters.

The two biggest surprises:

The Grapes of Wrath [I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did!]

The Book of the Dun Cow [How does one describe this story?!]

Least Favorites:

The Signature of All Things [Well-written, but disturbing and I wish I hadn’t read it. It was so long, and I wasted so much time.]

Catch-22 [It made me slightly insane and it was waaaaaaay too long, but I’m glad I read it for cultural literacy reasons.]

And a literary link round-up for December:

On Challenging Yourself Next Year [Do it!!]

[My Reading Challenge 2016 list is in the works. I’ll post it soon!]

:: Responses to “12 Reasons You Should Read At Least 12 Books This Year” @ Seasonal Soundings

:: Back to the Classics Challenge @ Books and Chocolate

:: The 2016 Reading Challenge @ Modern Mrs. Darcy

:: 2016 Reading Challenge @ categories, 13 books, 26 books, 52 books, 104 books!

:: 31 Day Winter Read-Aloud Challenge—for your KIDS! @ Amongst Lovely Things

On Books I Didn’t Finish

:: December 7 – John Milton, from “Paradise Lost” [Literary Advent Series] @ Center for Lit [Check out the rest of this wonderful series!]
Here I sense a double ransom:  Christ’s life and mine.  The Son lays down His life to buy me back from the enemy; I trade mine to gain the riches of His life and work.  Emptying my hands, forsaking my own goodness, I receive His – His life for mine; my life for his.  Through this ransom, Milton professes, “Heav’nly love shall outdo Hellish hate.”
:: A Perpetual Feast #1: Talking Homer with Wes Callihan and Andrew Kern! [I’m so excited about this podcast series!! I’ll be finishing The Iliad and reading The Odyssey with Levi next year, and we are going through the Roman Roads Western Culture Greeks DVDs with Wes Callihan—so this is perfect!]

:: The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick @ Smithsonian

On Reading to Live

:: What Happens When Homes Have No Books @ Acculturated
“Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends,” [Ray] Bradbury said. “The things you’re looking for… are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.”
:: Autodidacticism: How You Like Them Apples? by Joshua Gibbs @ CiRCE
This is the strength of autodidacticism; it is a kind of beginners luck enjoyed not with a game, but a book, and not just once, but over and over again. The rules of a book are unknown, undogmatized, and so the book has secrets and mysteries. In the same way it is possible for a dramatist to overact, it is possible for a teacher to overteach a book— to predestine the mysteries the students will solve, to program them to love this character, to predetermine the kinds of questions they are capable of asking. No autodidact will overteach himself a book, though.
:: Why can’t we read anymore? @ San Francisco Chronicle [I struggle, really struggle, with attention issues.]
What was true of my problems reading books — the unavoidable siren call of the digital hit of new information — was true in the rest of my life as well.

Books Finished in November/December:

Hamlet! [I had the last meeting with my Schole Sisters. It took us over a year, but we watched and then read the play, discussing portions at a time using the 5 Common Topics. It was satisfying to end with Testimony, as the play wraps up with Hamlet exhorting Horatio as a witness. It seems “testimony” is a prevalent theme in the play. Whose testimony is reliable? Who is acting? Who is covering up their actions? And Shakespeare seems to build a case for Horatio as a credible witness all through the story.]

The Sign of the Beaver [With Levi and McKinnon for CC Challenge B]

A Christmas Carol [The boys and I listened to Adam Andrews (Center for Lit) read this one aloud and it was spectacular! I can’t believe I hadn’t read it before. Then we went to see a radio-theater-style reading of it at the local high school.]

Supper of the Lamb [Loved, loved, loved.]

Clouds of Witness [Decent mystery by Dorothy Sayers]

The Grapes of Wrath [There’s a reason this one is a classic. Tragic, but so beautifully written.]

[ETA] La's Orchestra Saves the World [Nice story by the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This is a stand-alone novel set in England during WWII.]

Not Finished:

Paradise Lost [I tried, I really did, but I am just. not. smart enough. I need the plain English novel form and a bunch of study notes.]

The Iliad [I’m still working on it. At least it’s easier than Paradise Lost!]

The 2015 Book List Challenge ~ Final List 

[*Added to original list]


Lila: A Novel [I had a more difficult time getting into this novel than Robinson’s previous two novels in the series, but the story was greatly rewarding in the end. What a beautiful picture of grace the author masterfully paints. Marilynne Robinson is at the top of my list. 4 1/2 stars]

Hood [Hood is the first Stephen Lawhead book I’ve read. It is a retelling of the Robin Hood myth. It was well-told and entertaining, but not excellent. I’d like to try another series by Lawhead. 3 1/2 stars]

The Sunday Philosophy Club [This is from the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which I very much enjoyed. Interesting in places, charming in places, and boring in quiet a few places. 3 stars.]

A Girl of The Limberlost (ChocLit Guild) [Sweet, safe, turn of the century romance novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, full of natural history. 3 1/2 stars]

The Brothers K

The Road

Dune [I tried to start it and just couldn’t get going. Maybe I’ll try again later this year.] [I found this article at The Guardian: Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world. I guess it stays on the list…]

The Once and Future King [in progress]

The Chosen [A fascinating look at Jewish culture in 1940s Brooklyn, New York, written by Chaim Potok. I was captivated. 4 1/2 stars]

Beloved [Toni Morrison has given us a tragic and graphic but exquisitely-written narrative that seeps the reader in the culture of slavery. Haunting. 4 1/2 stars]

The Book Thief [The narrator (death) and the writing style were very imaginative, picturesque, and poetic. I appreciated reading a book about WWII that gave a bit of insight into the daily life of average poor German citizens. Several characters were endearing. But Hans—I think I love him. Tough but beautiful ending.  4 1/2 stars]

*Whose Body? [Lord Peter Wimsey debuts in this detective novel by Dorothy Sayers. Slightly reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, but not nearly so silly, Whose Body? is the first of the series. I mostly read this one so that I could work my way up to Clouds of Witness. 4 stars]

Clouds of Witness [Another decent Wimsey mystery from Sayers.]

Catch-22 [This was a tough read for me, and I wished it had been about half as long. I cannot read 400+ pages of satirical nonsense before my head explodes. It gave me more to think about, however, as I was reading Unbroken since both books are about bombardiers during WWII. It is an important modern classic, but not at all enjoyable to read. 3 stars]

Lord of the Flies [Lord of the Flies was not cheerful, by any means, but not quite as grim or at least not as explicit as I was expecting. Important modern classic, not particularly enjoyable. 3 1/2 stars.]

The Great Gatsby [Quintessential Jazz Age and a cultural imperative. 4 1/2 stars.]

Invisible Man

The Return of the Native

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

The Grapes of Wrath [What a masterpiece. I had no expectations of enjoying this novel, but the writing is so magnificent and poetic and human. Yes, the story is heartbreaking in many ways, but also beautiful. 4 1/2 stars.]


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was s.l.o.w. reading for me without much of a plot. It was beautifully written, though, and certainly felt like an authentic childhood and coming of age in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 1900s. Much of it reflected the author’s experience. I really began connecting with the story in chapter 39 (yes, that far in) when the main character, Francie, was discussing her writing with her English teacher. Their conversation (disagreement) about beauty and truth hit the mark. The author clearly saw beauty in her childhood experiences, even in the midst of poverty and hardship, and she wanted readers to experience her life vicariously. “It doesn’t take long to write things of which you know nothing. When you write of actual things, it takes longer, because you have to live them first.” It was honest (but not gritty) and often sad (yet hopeful). I’m thankful for the chance to walk in Francie’s shoes, even if it was a long walk. A classic. 4 1/2 stars]

The Signature of All Things [This is a brilliantly-told narrative, even if it took quite some time for the story to get going. (The beginning is interesting, but the first 13 chapters all seem to have the same pacing.) I have very strong feelings about this one, but it is a bit of a pendulum swing when I consider it. It disturbed me. I think I hated it. But maybe, if I read it again, I’d love it. Oddly, it reminded me in some ways of Till We Have Faces, which I didn’t hate. I don’t even know how to rate this one. 4 1/2 stars for the excellent writing. 2 stars for enjoyment.]

*Godric: A Novel [My feelings about Godric were similar to my feelings about The Signature of All Things, though I was more frustrated than disturbed and Godric wasn’t as long. I think I hated it, but maybe I’d love it if I re-read it so that I could understand it better, see more deeply. I suppose good writing is writing that makes you feel and think, in which case both books are excellent. I don’t know. But I hate hating books. It makes me feel shallow and imperceptive. Am I not intellectual enough to love books that aren’t enjoyable? I think I have to be prepared ahead of time for a tragic or graphic or dark story like I was for Beloved or Till We Have Faces. I also find it fascinating that stories can speak so differently to people. Again, it is true: no two people read the same book. 4 stars for the writing, 2 1/2 for the enjoyment.]

Merry Hall [I loved Down the Garden path by Beverly Nichols, and Merry Hall did not disappoint. It’s like P.G. Wodehouse in the garden. Quite hilarious. The little vignettes are somewhat unconnected, though, and there is no driving narrative, so I didn’t find myself needing to continue reading. 3 1/2 stars]

*Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee [Megan Tietz has already given a phenomenal thoughtful review on Sarah Bessey’s blog. This book is a completely different experience from To Kill a Mockingbird. It feels like a light read, somewhat rambling (though not unpleasantly) with flashbacks to Scout’s growing-up years, until at least two-thirds of the way through. And then a tornado hits for the last fifty pages. My emotions were all over the place and I was worried about how it was going to end. But the conclusion is incredible. Friends, we are all so human. Humility. Grace. Love. Hope. (P.S. I still love Atticus.) Also, this is more of an adult’s book than To Kill a Mockingbird. There is language, but it’s more about the age and transformation/conflict of Scout/Jean Louise. 4 1/2 stars.]

*Gone with the Wind (ChocLit Guild)

*The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel [This is a charming and delightful modern novel. I needed something light after a run of several difficult novels. I liked this one in a way similar to The Rosie Project. Quirky. Modern. Not depressing. Not cheesy. Not squeaky clean, but not gritty. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Little Village School [Charming story. Sort of like Mitford, but centered around a school in England. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Awakening of Miss Prim [Review here. 5 stars for enjoyment.]

*The Book of the Dun Cow [I’m not sure how to categorize this one. It’s a little like Watership Down (one of my all-time favorites) but shorter, more poetic, more romantic, more theological, and more intense. It’s not a child’s animal book. It’s a story about human nature (embodied in animals), leadership, and the epic battle between good and evil. Reading Watership Down, I was surprised to be so moved by the noble actions of rabbits. Who knew chickens could move me in the same way?! 4 1/2 stars.]

*La's Orchestra Saves the World [Nice story by the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This is a stand-alone novel set in England during WWII. 3 1/2 stars.]


Pride and Prejudice (ChocLit Guild) [For years I have adored both the BBC movie version with Colin Firth as well as the newer movie version with Matthew Macfadyen, but I had never read the book! Now I can say that I’ve read it. But, honestly? It was delightful in the same way that the movies are delightful. (grin) Both movies retain so much of the story (particularly the longer BBC movie version) and the original dialogue, that I simply replayed the movies in my mind throughout my reading of the whole book. And then I wanted to watch the movies again. I’m not sure how to separate my love for them, so I’ll rate them together: 5 stars.]

Gulliver's Travels (An abridged re-telling) [I love this retelling and the illustrations are fantastic. A must for cultural literacy. 4 stars]

Moby Dick [I knew I wouldn’t end up reading this one this year (or ever), so I grabbed an excellent graphic novel version. This month a friend shared with me an interesting essay titled Why You Should Read Moby Dick by R.C. Sproul. I still don’t know if I’ll read the unabridged version, but I appreciated having some deep ideas to think about as I read the graphic novel.]

Paradise Lost (ChocLit Guild) [In progress]

The Brothers Karamazov

The Lord of the Rings

Frankenstein [in progress]

The Law and the Lady (Or any book by Wilkie Collins. ChocLit Guild) [Gripping Gothic mystery by the author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins was a contemporary of Dickens and he creates quite the Dickensian character, Miserrimus Dexter, for this novel. My attention was captured from the first chapter and I couldn’t put it down. Entertaining and satisfying. 4 1/2 stars]

Hamlet (CC Moms Book Club) [I also read aloud the retelling of Hamlet by Leon Garfield. The boys loved it.] [Discussing this play over a period of many months made this play so rich and deep for me! 5 stars]

*A Christmas Carol [I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one before. So perfectly Dickens in every way. 5 stars.]


The Iliad [in progress]

The Odyssey

Children’s and YA Novels

The Door in the Wall (CC Challenge A) [A wonderful coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

A Gathering of Days (CC Challenge A) [This was my least favorite of all the Challenge A literature selections. Somewhat boring and forced. I didn’t care for the journal-style writing. 2 1/2 stars]

Crispin: The Cross of Lead (CC Challenge A) [This was my favorite of the Challenge A literature selections. I ended up purchasing the other two books in the trilogy as well as several others by the author. Another great coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

Where the Red Fern Grows (CC Challenge B) [I had avoided this book all my life because I don’t enjoy animal books, much less sad animal books, but maybe I was finally mature enough to appreciate this one. Wonderful. 4 stars]

*A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park [This was an excellent read about a boy from war-torn Sudan. Highly recommended for adults as well as children (though it may be a little much for very young or sensitive children). This will be one of my favorite books this year. 4 1/2 stars.]

*In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord [This is a darling book about a little girl who moves from China to New York in the year 1947. It is a well-written simple chapter book. I would have given it four stars if it hadn’t been for two short events in the book that I did not care for. First (and this is a nit-picky complaint), a bully at school gives her two black eyes while swearing at her, and the words are bleeped out in asterisks. Shirley refuses to tell her parents what happened because she knows the bully would take it out on her. Her resolve not to tattle is rewarded by the bully becoming her friend the next day. Second, Shirley’s next friend tells her that she wants to show her something and swears Shirley to secrecy. The girls sneak into the friend’s dad’s office (he’s a psychiatrist) and the friend shows her a book (presumably a medical book) with pictures of naked people. Shirley pretends enthusiasm, but has no desire to look at the book. The story takes only a couple pages, but it begins with “Only one aspect of her friendship with Emily would have displeased her mother, but she was not likely to find it out, and so Shirley did not trouble herself too much over it.” It was this second event that just didn’t sit well with me, partly because the rest of the book is wonderful for 8-11 year olds. 3 stars.]

*Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library [Put Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together with Chasing Vermeer and Hunger Games (without the grit), add the Dewey Decimal System, board games and puzzles, trivia, and a gazillion book and author references and you get the middle grade adventure Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. I thought it was great fun, and my boys loved it. The prose is very simple and modern, but the novel definitely sends the message that learning and reading can be quite exciting. 3 1/2 stars]

*Dominic [Dominic has to be one of my favorite children's chapter books ever. Philosophical, adventurous, charming, and hilarious for children and adults alike. The high level of vocabulary makes this book a fantastic read-aloud. If I had to use as few words as possible to describe this book, 'joie de vivre' sums it up nicely. "The boar began crying again. Not out of sorrow this time, but out of excruciating joy. 'How can I ever, ever in this world, not to mention the next, and disregardless of unforeseen contingencies, adequately thank you!' he said. 'I can't even begin, let alone work up a proper preamble to a beginning, to tell you how unendurably happy you've made me. But I'll try...'" 5 stars.]

*The Sign of the Beaver (Challenge B) [This was added to Levi’s Challenge B schedule for the end of the semester. I hadn’t read it before and I enjoyed it. Easy, short, survival-themed—perfect for kids who enjoy My Side of the Mountain, Little Britches, and Where the Red Fern Grows. 4 stars]

Junk Food

*Highland Fling [So fun. So easy to read. So not edifying in any way. (grin) 3 stars]

*Paradise Fields [I enjoy this author, but this was probably my least favorite book of hers. 2 stars]

*Undetected  [Tom Clancy meets Grace Livingston Hill. Well-researched and interesting details about sonar. Squeaky-clean and positive Christian romance. Not painfully written. Probably just a tad (ha!) unrealistic and idealistic. If I were willing to be totally honest, I would tell you that this genre is smack-dab in the middle of my comfort zone and the easiest, most enjoyable thing for me to read. But I don’t want to admit that. (wry grin) 3 stars]

*Attachments [Chick lit set in 1999. 3 stars]



Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (ChocLit Guild) [Excellent story. I loved reading about Zamperini’s life and all the non-fiction facts and stories that are woven together to create Unbroken. It is a heartbreaking narrative in (many) places, but ends with such redemption and grace. I felt like the writing was a bit forced in places, as if the author was trying too hard, but otherwise it was fantastic. 4 stars]

*The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (ChocLit Guild) [Outstanding. The author deftly weaves multiple stories into one cohesive whole: the Pacific Northwest, logging, mining, the building of the Hoover Dam, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the history of rowing, the construction of rowing shells, Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the intimate life story of Joe Rantz (and details of the lives of several other men), and the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. 4 1/2 stars.]

*84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff [A charming collection of correspondence between a New York writer and a bookshop in London from 1949-1969. 3 1/2 stars]

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (ChocLit Guild) [in progress]

The Hiding Place (CC Challenge B) [An incredible, moving true story. 4 stars.]

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Faith, Culture, and Education

The Pursuit of God (ChocLit Guild)

Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age (CiRCE Conference)

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education (CiRCE Conference) [in progress]

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

The Soul of Science (CC Parent Practicum)

Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art (CC Parent Practicum)

Honey for a Teen's Heart [Detailed review here. 4 1/2 stars]

Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read [Excellent companion to the classics. I’ve read the introduction and will read the entries for each classic as I finish the classic itself. The entries include information about the author and the historical context as well as issues to explore within each book. Written from a Christian worldview.]

*Just Walk Across the Room (ChocLit Guild)

*The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins (third in trilogy) [Excellent. 4 stars for the trilogy.]

*Teaching from Rest [Short, encouraging, and often profound. 4 stars.]

*Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection [Review at this link. 5 stars] 


*The Bronze Bow (CC Challenge A)

*The Phantom Tollbooth (CC Challenge B)

*Little Britches (CC Challenge B) [A must read for all ages. 5 stars.]

*The Question (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress]

*A Tale of Two Cities (read aloud) [Epic. Redemptive. Incredible. In my top ten all-time favorites. 5 stars.]

*The Catcher in the Rye [in progress]

*Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (audio book/read-aloud)

*Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read aloud)

*Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite Book of 2015 ~ The Supper of the Lamb

A Convivial Feast @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon

It’s a cook book.

It has recipes.

Well, that and a great deal of philosophy, theology, poetry, parenting advice, and laugh-out-loud humor.

I’d say it’s a little C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Frederick Buechner, N.D. Wilson (Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl), and Bill Bryson.

In a cook book—written by an Episcopalian priest who considers himself an amateur chef.

It’s an absolute celebration of the unnecessary goodness of the simple things—playfulness that leads to profound poetry.

A convivial feast.

I think I shall add it to my top ten, even though it is not a novel.

I can say this as an unashamed electric-stove-user and canned-whipped-cream-eater.

So many passages beg to be read aloud (the part on pocket knives, for example) and I gaffawed repeatedly—like when he compared the feel of packaged bread to a leaky concertina and wrote that boxed cereal tastes like old ironing-board covers soaked in milk.

And yet some passages were so beautiful, they made me want to weep.

Please let me share a small sampling of my heavily underlined book. [You might want to pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in.]
“The world…needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.” 
[From the whole chapter devoted to cutting an onion. Yes, you read that right.] “You will note, to begin with, that the onion is a thing, a being, just as you are. Savor that for a moment. The two of you sit here in mutual confrontation. Together with knife, board, table, and chair, you are the constituents of a place in the highest sense of the word. This is a Session, a meeting, a society of things.” 
“Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely.” 
"A man can do worse than be poor. He can miss altogether the sight of the greatness of small things." “[F]or life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never go unsavored.” 
“The girl is bored. Additional goodness cannot help her; inattention has immunized her against even what she has.” 
"Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of cliches. It takes playfulness to make poetry." 
“Red in tooth and claw, we come at last to a fierce and painful city, to the bloody, unobliging reciprocity in which life lives by death, but still insists that death is robbery.” 

"A woman with a cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman. She breaks upon the eye of the beholder as an epiphany of power, as mistress of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with--and in which she defines the trifles. A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers has not seen all that women have to offer. Unsuspected majesties await him." 

"And the mushroom? Ah! It is the proof of creation ex nihilo, the paradigm of the marvelously solid unnecessariness of the world. How anything so nearly nothing could at the same time be so emphatically something--how the Spirit brooding upon the face of the waters could have brought forth this...well, words fail, and mystery reigns." 

“With wine at hand, the good man concerns himself, not with getting drunk, but with drinking in all the natural delectabilities of wine: taste, color, bouquet; its manifold graces; the way it complements food and enhances conversation; and its sovereign power to turn evenings into occasions, to lift eating beyond nourishment to conviviality, and to bring the race, for a few hours at least, to that happy state where men are wise and women beautiful, and even one’s children begin to look promising.” 

[On a whole chapter about thickening the stew:] "Only miracle is plain; it is the ordinary that groans with the unutterable weight of glory." "It is the smallness of the process that hides the wonder." "Each particle of flour, till now so nearly dry, becomes a creature of the sea again, pregnant with the juices of life, waiting for a pentecost of power." "Unfortunately, we live in an age which is too little impressed by the small and too easily intimidated by the great." "Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large." 

[On wooden spoons:] "True enough, they burn easily and become cracked with age; but then, so do we all. It's nice to have a few things around that make no pretense of imperishability." 

"The dish, however, should never be wet and sticky. The grains of rice should salute you individually, not simply glare back at you as a single glutinous mass." 

"Knead is good for your soul. There are few actions you will ever take that have more of the stuff of history in them. A woman with her sleeves rolled up and flour on her hands is one of the most gorgeous stabilities in the world. Don't let your family miss the sight." 
"It should be noted that the rolling of a strudel calls for a certain amount of finesse. Violence, of course, is out; but so are faintheartedness and apologetic flipping. Quiet boldness is perhaps the attitude to strive for." 

[On parenting and getting kids to eat well:] “Give them any goals you like—but don’t hold your breath. When all is said and done, their loves are in their hands, not ours; we went into this business only to go out of business. No matter how sad it makes you feel, everything here remains a game: We have yet to sit down to the really serious Supper of the Lamb. Say Amen, and let them go in peace.” 

"May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men. We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot... Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts--for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem. Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Or Last Home will be home indeed." 

"Homemade soup is no place for narrow dogmatism." 

"Love is as strong as death. Man was made to lead with his chin, he is worth knowing only with his guard down, his head up, and his heart rampant on his sleeve. But second, last and most important, playing it safe is not Divine. We have come to the end. I tell you simply what I believe. Love is the widest, choicest door into the Passion."

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Morning Family @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I love my family.

Adore them.

I am so blessed.

This is my 42nd Christmas. I think there has only been a single year in all that time that one sister was missing on Christmas day (Holly and Casey lived in San Diego when they were first married). Other than that, we’ve spent every Christmas together—my parents, my sisters, and I (along with husbands and kids as they came into our lives). Now there are 17 of us (plus my “adopted” sister, Olive, and her son, Ben, when they are able to be with us). Not only have we been together for 42 years, but we’ve been together in this very room.

Christmas Table @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We’ve had stormy and wet (WET!) weather recently and it was supposed to rain Christmas day, but the sun came out for the afternoon and we were able to go for our traditional after-dinner walk—all 17 of us, since no one wanted to be stuck in the house doing dishes!

Christmas Walk @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Sweden fell asleep in my arms half way through the walk. I planned it just right, since I got to snuggle with a sleeping baby after our walk instead of doing dishes. [grin]
We were realizing that we’ve never been without a child 4 years or younger (more often 2 or younger) at Christmas since Ilex was born almost 20 years ago.

Sweetness @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

It’s a wonderful life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015 ~ From Our Family to Yours!

Merry Christmas @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Yes, we finally snagged some family pictures in between rain storms. Nothing like the last minute…

Have a very merry Christmas, friends!

Christmas Kids @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Friday, December 18, 2015

Food for Thought ~ When You're Drowning

Food for Thought - When You're Drowning @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We’ve received around 10 inches of rain so far this month (our average precipitation for the whole month is 7.5). So, yes, it feels as if we’re drowning some days.

We’re headed into our busiest holiday stretch. And that’s why Lola puked all over me yesterday. Yes, it felt as if I were drowning.


Immanuel, here with us.

In sun or rain. Health or sickness. Joy or heartache. Accomplishments or failed attempts.


:: Failing at Advent @ by Tresta at Sharp Paynes [Love this. LOVE it. I am the mother of good intentions. So many of them.]
"Necessity might be the mother of invention, but I am the mother of good intentions. So many of them." 

"I want my own burning bushes but these are the terms: tell me what I want to hear, show me You’re with me, and let’s do this now because I’m tired of waiting." 

"Immanuel, here with me because of my failures."
:: The Brutally Honest Christmas Card @ D.L. Mayfield [Vulnerablility. Let’s be kind this Christmas season to everyone who crosses our path.]

:: When They Saw the Star @ CiRCE
Aquinas tells us that, “Wonder is…desirderium sciendi, the desire for knowledge, active longing to know.”
:: You Barely Make a Difference and It’s a Good Thing @ Glory to God for All Things [This was a difficult blog post to read and I’m still struggling with it, but I love how Andrew Kern summed it up on FB: "Love your neighbor and let God decide if it will make a difference. When you try to make a difference, you are turning Christ like love into power over others."]
We have no commandment from God to make the world a better place. We have no commandment from God to “make a difference.” Only God makes a difference, and only God knows what “better” would actually mean. As Christians, the proper life is one lived in accordance with the commandments. We should love. We should forgive. We should be generous and kind. We should give thanks to God always and for everything.
:: The Difference Between Art and Entertainment @ Goins, Writer [Excellent article.]
Entertainment makes us feel good. Art, on the other hand, transforms us.
:: Promises That Can't Be Kept: Why education rightly done is a path and not a method by Matt Bianco @ CiRCE
We pursue education because it is right and worthy, not because it guarantees anything.
:: 10 Things Your Homeschool Friend Won’t Tell You (but wishes you knew) @ Lea Ann Garfias
She’s just like you.
:: How Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type Prepares For The Holidays @ Thought Catalog (A funny post to end on…)
[Me] ISFJ – Settles down to watch their favorite holiday specials that they’ve been enjoying every year since childhood.
[Luke] ESFJ – Starts viciously baking and freezing treats two months ahead of time. Nearly explodes with excitement planning their holiday party.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This and That ~ A Christmas Season

Christmas Storybook Land @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I could list all the things we haven’t done (family pictures, Christmas cards, Christmas shopping and wrapping, Christmas tree and decorations… ahem), but instead I’ll list the things we have been enjoying this Christmas season.
  • Russ took the kids to our local Story Book Land. Lola sat on Santa’s lap.
  • We celebrated a belated St. Nicholas Day with our best friends: making and eating marzipan, drinking hot spiced cider, exchanging gifts, putting cloves in oranges, and finding gold coins in our shoes. We spent an hour or two in the afternoon browsing a gigantic display of nativity sets from all over the world.
  • We watched White Christmas together as a family. The kids watched Miracle on 34th Street and The Nutcracker (on DVD).
  • Luke made fudge and caramels. I made raspberry almond thumbprint cookies. We made marzipan a few times.
  • Russ and I attended a Christmas party given by one of his clients.
  • We celebrated Rilla’s 3rd birthday at Yogurt Extreme.
  • We attended a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at a local church (after the boys had all read the book).
  • We’re listening to A Christmas Carol (unabridged) narrated by Adam Andrews while following along in our illustrated version.
  • Levi and Luke and I will be attending (with family and friends) a live radio theater style production of A Christmas Carol this weekend.
  • I have my book club Christmas goodie exchange tomorrow.
  • We’re riding a trolley through town with friends on Friday evening, looking at Christmas lights and singing carols.
  • We stopped by IKEA and purchased a large dresser for the boys’ room, Russ put it together, and I cleaned and organized their room, which desperately (and I do mean desperately) needed it. The room was so charming when we moved in 9 years ago, but it has suffered continual abuse and the boys have grown so much bigger. It is close to impossible to keep it relatively clean and neat, charming is beyond my ability.
  • I’m trying to clean the house enough to be inspired to decorate it. Now that the boys’ room is finished, maybe I’ll work on the house this weekend (though Lola’s room is also on the to-do list).
And that’s about it. We’ll see what this next week brings…

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas for Boys (who want to survive the apocalypse)

Christmas Gifts for Boys @ Mt. Hope Chronicles
If the apocalypse happens, I’m not leaving Luke’s side. In fact, I may not let him out of my sight for the next, oh, rest of my life. Hey, the kid is handy on the most average of days, changing light bulbs, mowing lawns, and performing other sundry tasks.

He just received the book Prepare for Anything Survival Manual and read it cover to cover. It’s astonishingly thorough with a very attractive layout, graphics, photographs, and graphic-novel-style scenarios. In the past 24 hours, he’s shared interesting facts such as the many uses of vodka and added a long list of things to his Amazon wish list. [He may be the only boy with both a candy thermometer and throwing-knives on his wish list.]

I’m not quite ready for the throwing-knives stage and I can’t get him vodka, but I’m so excited about the Ezzzy-Jig paracord bracelet maker. It can be adjusted to various sizes. Now he can make gifts for his brothers and friends. Arts and crafts? Check. I’m including Paracord Outdoor Gear Projects and various colors of paracord and buckles.

Add a multi tool and a roll of Gorilla Tape (both great stocking stuffers) to his paracord bracelet and he’ll be ready for anything.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Books for Word Lovers

Books for Word Lovers @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

:: Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet

This delightful history of the alphabet belongs on every child’s book shelf next to The History of Counting (unattractive cover, but wonderful book) and About Time: A First Look at Time and Clocks. Ox, House, Stick details (with gobs of text and helpful, attractive illustrations) the history of our alphabet beginning with picture writing (Chinese, Sumerian, and Egyptian) and the various cultures from which we borrowed our alphabet (Rome, Greece, Phoenicia, Sinai Peninsula, and Egypt). The history of each letter of the English alphabet is then covered in surprising depth for a picture book! Tucked in with the history of each letter are short explanatory notes on topics such as the origin of the name “alphabet,” the order of the alphabet, consonants and vowels, reading left to right, writing materials, and Johannes Gutenberg.)

:: The Word Snoop

A step up from Ox, House, Stick, we have The Word Snoop. This is an illustrated chapter book that will enthrall any language-lover, young or old. Invent your own alphabet, find out why English is so strange, play games, crack codes, solve puzzles, and explore punctuation, anagrams, palindromes, oxymorons, puns, onomatopoeia, euphemisms, cliches, tautology, malapropisms, and so much more. My boys think this book is great fun!

:: The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus

Now that we have words, which one shall we use? The right one!

I can relate to Peter Roget. As a boy he loved books and he loved to write, but he didn’t write stories. He wrote lists! [My favorite assignment in my high school creative writing class was a list of things that made me smile.] Peter wrote lists of Latin words. Inspired by Linnaeus, Peter wrote lists of plants and animals. (Are you listening, CC students?) He saw Napoleon lead his troops through Paris. Peter (shy, though he was) had to give a presentation in front of a crowded room. He managed to speak “concisely, with clarity and conviction!” (Hello, alliteration!)

“In 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus, a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek.” Now everyone can find the right word whenever they need it!

This beautiful picture book is illustrated in a scrapbook style by one of my favorites, Melissa Sweet.

:: Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings

When the right words are put together, what do we have? creativity. poetry. magic.

In this gorgeous picture book, we meet e.e. cummings. E.E., Estlin, said his first poem at the age of three. His mother began writing down his poems.

“As Estlin grew, he drew many pictures from the great circus of his imagination. But even more than drawing elephants, trees, and birds, Estlin LOVED WORDS. What words say and how they sound and look. He loved the way them hum, buzz, pop, and swish.”


A grown-up word-lover on your list? Try this one:

:: Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences

I can’t help it. Diagramming sentences is a blast. It’s a combination of word puzzle, language, logic, and art. What could be better? This book is an entertaining romp through the English language via the history of sentence diagramming and a wide variety of sentences (Groucho Marx, Lewis Carroll, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, Hemmingway, James Fenimore Cooper, Twain, Updike, Fitzgerald, and more).

“I do believe that clarity in speech and precision and consistency in writing will never cease to be important. Language exists so that we can communicate with each other, and surely it continues to be true that…we communicate better when we speak and write clearly, and that when we communicate better, we understand each other, and that when we understand each other, life in general is greatly improved.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Imperfect @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

My sister messaged me Tuesday morning:

“The difference between [one’s] ideal (imagination) and reality is sometimes shocking.”


I asked her what prompted that observation at this particular moment in time.

She sent me a picture of her Advent time with her young daughter. The baby was screaming, and her 2 year old covered a whole page (and part of the room) with glue, cut the other paper into tiny scraps, and sang “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad” while my sister tried to read Isaiah. The sink was full of dirty dishes and her daughter was wearing the only jammies she will consent to wear: random pink velour leggings and a blue oversized FOX racing t-shirt with the previous night’s candy cane in her matted hair.

I told her she needed to blog. The event would become a hilarious, endearing moment to which others can relate and upon which she can look back with rose-colored glasses and forget exactly how she felt at the time.

But some things aren’t funny, no matter how you tell the story. Some things are someone else’s story to tell (or not). And some things are too private to share.

And even if you can write a funny story, sleep-deprivation (and utter exhaustion), an extremely needy infant, sicknesses, defiant toddler, and all the other worries heaped on one’s plate are no joke when you are present, in that very moment.

I was in that season just a few short years ago, and well I remember. It was so little like I had imagined. So little like my ideal.

And this season that I’m in now? Still so little like I had imagined, so little like my ideal.

Our children are human. We are human. And life is just plain difficult so much of the time.

Friends, this time of the year, it’s a time when our expectations and imagination can be so wildly different from the reality. We have our own expectations according to our personal desires (a clean house, a beautifully decorated clean house, charming crafts, heart-warming Christmas events, handmade gifts, peaceful and obedient children) that may not match the desires or expectations of those around us. We also have our perceived cultural expectations as we see the glimpses and details that others seem to pull off effortlessly.

I can tell you that we had a delightful morning symposium yesterday morning. We sang Adeste, Fideles with the Lingua Angelica CD and Songbook, we read our Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader, we listened to Adam Andrew’s first installment of A Christmas Carol while following along in our lovely illustrated edition, and we began to memorize a Christmas poem by George MacDonald. And then we listened to classical Christmas music for the rest of the day.

What you don’t know is that we did no other school work the whole day. That was it.

What you can’t hear is the blow up I had with one of my sons. It was ugly. I was ugly.

What you can’t see is how disgusting my whole house is. Every room. I cannot manage to keep a single small area clean and beautiful for more than 5 minutes at a time (and certainly not more than one small area at a time, and only the 5 minutes after I clean it).

Yesterday, I told my children that I wanted to spend some time cleaning up so that we could enjoy the atmosphere. I cleaned off our little kitchen table (the only decent-sized flat surface in the house other than my bed) and moved on to another spot. The next time I glanced at my kitchen table it was covered, edge to edge, with construction paper, scissors, glue, tape, ribbon, and assorted other items. My son wanted to make Christmas ornaments and paper chains with Lola.

Today, I was just trying to survive lunch time in the disaster (see above picture), and my son wanted to make caramels. Caramels. Candy thermometer and all. [They were incredible, by the way.]


I have friends who are hurting—emotionally, physically, financially, relationally, or all of the above.

I could share my own litany of faults, weaknesses, fears, shortcomings, sins.


I don’t have a lovely quote for you that will make it all better.

I’m not going to give you a brilliant piece of advice, a piece of rose-colored glasses advice.

But I will offer solidarity. Empathy. Grace for those of us (all of us) who don’t have it all under control.

Even if we have our house decorated (I don’t), or have our shopping completed (I don’t), or revel in wrapping and crafting (I don’t), or never leave the house in yoga pants (I do), or always speak kindly and gently to our children (ahem), or vacuum ourselves out the front door (hahahaha!), we still don’t have it all together. We are such imperfect people with imperfect lives.


So I just want to tell you that I see you. And it’s okay if you don’t have it all together. You are loved.

Let’s be gentle with each other, full of grace, full of kindness this Christmas season and always.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Word

The Word @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Let’s consider this the third installment of my Language Love series that I haven’t yet finished.]

[Windhover Farm, if you’re reading this I just want to thank you for introducing me to Frederick Buechner. I know I didn’t care for Godric on the first reading, but I ended up purchasing this book of daily meditations from his writing and I adore it. Have you noticed that I’ve been quoting him often lately?]

I have been reading Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner for the past several months, and I’ve greatly enjoyed “hearing” Buechner’s voice on wide and varied topics. Each day’s entry is an excerpt from one of Buechner’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, but mostly non-fiction. This particular excerpt from Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who struck me and I want to share it with you. It is one of the longer entries (I’ve even slightly abridged it here); most are a page or less.

John was a poet, and he knew about words. He knew that all men and all women are mysteries known only to themselves until they speak a word that opens up the mystery. He knew that the words people speak have their life in them just as surely as they have their breath in them. He knew that the words people speak have dynamite in them and that a word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. He knew that words break silence and that the word that is spoken is the word that is heard and may even be answered. And at the beginning of his gospel he wrote a poem about the Word that God spoke.

When God speaks, things happen because the words of God aren’t just as good as his deeds, they are his deeds. When God speaks his word, John says, creation happens, and when God speaks to his creation, what comes out is not ancient Hebrew or the King James Version or a sentiment suitable for framing in a pastor’s study. On the contrary. “The word became flesh,” John says (1:14), and that means that when God wanted to say what God is all about and what man is all about and what life is all about, it wasn’t a sound that emerged but a man. Jesus was his name. He was dynamite. He was the Word of God.

As this might lead you to expect, the Gospel of John is as different from the other three as night from day. Matthew quotes Scripture, Mark lists miracles, Luke reels off parables, and each has his own special axe to grind too, but the one thing they all did in common was to say something also about the thirty-odd years Jesus lived on this earth, the kinds of things he did and said and what he got for his pains as well as what the world got for his pains too. John, on the other hand, clearly has something else in mind, and if you didn’t happen to know, you’d hardly guess that his Jesus and the Jesus of the other three gospels are the same man.

John says nothing about when or where or how he was born. He says nothing about how the baptist baptized him. There’s no account of the temptation in John, or the transfiguration, nothing about how he told people to eat bread and drink wine in his memory once in a while, or how he sweated blood in the garden the night they arrested him… Jesus doesn’t tell even a single parable in John. So what then, according to John, does Jesus do?

He speaks words. He speaks poems that sound much like John’s poems, and the poems are about himself. Even when he works his miracles, you feel he’s thinking less about the human needs of the people he’s working them for than about something else he’s got to say about who he is and what he’s there to get done. When he feeds a big, hungry crowd on hardly enough to fill a grocery bag, for instance, he says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (6:35). When he raises his old friend Lazarus from the dead, he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (11:25-26). “I am the door,” he says, “and if any one enters by me, he will be saved” (10:1). “I am the good shepherd” (10:14), “the light of the world” (8:12)…

You miss the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, and Luke of course—the one who got mad and tired and took naps in boats. You miss the Jesus who healed people because he felt sorry for them and made jokes about camels squeezing through the eyes of needles… Majestic, mystical, aloof almost, the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel walks three feet off the ground, you feel, and you can’t help wishing that once in a while he’d come down to earth.

But that’s just the point, of course—John’s point. It’s not the Jesus people knew on earth that he’s mainly talking about…

He is Jesus as the Word that breaks the heart and sets the feet to dancing and stirs tigers in the blood. He is the Jesus John loved not just because he’d healed the sick and fed the hungry but because he’d saved the world. Jesus as the mot juste of God.


[The very next day’s entry is a total of one sentence: “A Glutton is one who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.”]