Best Books of 2015

It’s that time of year, the time where we read everyone’s ‘best of’ lists for the year. I do enjoy reading the book lists. As I was reading over my list of all of the books that I have read this year, I was surprised that most of the books that garnered my appreciation and wonder were non-fiction. I didn’t think that I had read much non-fiction this year but my list proves me wrong. So in keeping with that, I will produce a non-fiction list as well as a fiction list.

Best Fiction
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. A dark, dreary story but the writing was excellent.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. Again, a dreary story but the writing was so beautiful.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. This book is in keeping with Girl on the Train and Gone Girl but the ending even had me surprised.

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. An enjoyable retelling of Sherlock Holmes

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. After looking at this list, I am convinced that for some reason I am drawn to the dark and depressing tales. This book was jarringly graphic but the words used to describe the kidnap victims inner turmoil were jarring as well.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. An enjoyable children’s book that shows us how children should be taught.

Rain/Reign by Anne Martin. Another children’s book. Rose’s story of how she deals with life as a person of Aspergers struck deep inside of me and of my children as well.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It has been a long time since I have been so deeply moved by a book. There are multiple layers to this story, layers that equally have you pondering it’s ramifications.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fennolara. Another book that shows how education should be.

The Genevieve Lenard series by Estelle Ryan. I know. I’m cheating. But the whole series is good, I can’t just pick one book. I am usually not a fan of book series. I will read the first book but will wait a few months if not longer to move on to the next, but I read the first seven books of this series in a month and a half and am hoping to read the latest book before the end of the year. I loved Dr. Lenard and how she maneuvers the world of art insurance fraud.

Non-Fiction
As You Wish by Cary Elwes. I am long-time enthusiast of The Princess Bride. It was a treat to read about the goings on behind the scenes of the making of this classic movie.

An Experiment in Criticism by C.S.Lewis. In reading this book, I know now which kind of reader I want to be.

The Narnian by Alan Jacobs. Intriguing read, even though it shattered the pedestal on which I had placed C.S.Lewis. I realized that this icon was just a man, a human like myself–sinful but loved and delighted by God.

The Romantic Rationalist edited by John Piper. A series of essays about the various facets of C.S.Lewis and his faith.

How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher. The life lessons that Dreher had learned while leading Dante also helped me to come to terms with some issues in my life.

Secrets of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. Excellent memoir of how a lesbian university professor became a Christian. What struck me the most was the theme that hospitality is the foundation of evangelism.

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines. The writing in this book is word-music. The author is breathtakingly gifted in the art of writing. The writing is what made this book onto my favourites list but I must say that the flowery language sometimes got in the way of what the author was trying to say. I was so intent on the word combinations that were used that I didn’t always pay attention to what was being said.

Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. This was my first time reading Sarah Bessey but she has me hooked. Currently, I am reading her first book, Jesus Feminist. I am a huge fan of Sarah’s now. I totally related to what she was saying in this book. I loved how she sat in her spiritual confusion and stayed there until things started to make sense. She didn’t leave Jesus but, rather, realized that maybe there were different ways to follow him. She cobbled together her own faith, a faith that was her own but was still biblical and rooted in doctrine. I am hoping to write more on this book and what it has done to my own faith.

Music of Silence by David Rast. Since reading ‘Found’ by Micha Boyett last year, I have been enamored by the practices of the monks. This book shows us how the monks pray through the day. My interest has deepened. I love how praying through the hours enables us to be more present and intentional in our days.

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A Monday Prayer

For those of us who feel a bit bruised from a thoughtless word or a careless gesture, may You soften the blow by supplying a soft landing place that is lined with your grace.

May we feel the glory and awe-filling wonder of your presence in our lives. May this presence lessen the blow of life’s harshness.

As we move into this week with all of its demands and deadlines, bring to our minds the important aspects of this week: a small child brought into this world to save us, time to spend with our family– with our family, not for our family.

May we be able to slow down enough to breathe, enjoy.

May you give us the same gift that you gave Mary all those years ago that we may store all of our experiences and feelings into our heart and ponder on them for years to come.

May we take this week to praise and honour you in all that we think, do and say.

In Jesus precious name we pray,
Amen

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The Advent Train Derailed

I have always been a big fan of Advent. Our church never really celebrated it. Now that I think of it, I have never been to a church that recognized Advent. In spite of that, though, I have been drawn to living out Advent with my kids. We put together different practises to make Advent our own. We never seemed to to have an Advent wreath but we always had Advent readings, our countdown to Christmas by opening wrapped Christmas books and taking chocolate out of the Advent boxes and spending time together as a family.

It seems that with every year, we are able to add a little bit more to our take on Advent. I was excited about this year’s Advent. I had actually bought five candles and cranberries to put together our own version of an Advent wreath. We had started an Arnold Yreetide Advent story at the end of November. We started our Christmas baking early this year so that we could make up goodie boxes for our neighbours and those who have had a bumpy year this past year.

Yes, I had it all planned out.

And then it all crashed around me.

At the beginning of December I became the latest recipient of a nasty, horrible, yucky, yucky cold. It has been over two weeks and I still have the monster. Admittedly, it is not as bad as it was in the beginning. I do not have to stay in bed all day but I still do not have the energy to do much and if I breathe too deeply I am plunged deep into the depths of coughing spasms. It is not pretty. My kids look at me warily when I am spluttering about trying to gain control of my hacking coughs. The worst, though, of this whole sickness is not being able to sing. When I open my mouth to sing this disturbing croak wafts in and out. There is no musicality anywhere in that sound. To go even further, not to be able to sing at Christmas hurts this song-souled girl deeply. What is Christmas without singing?

Okay, back to the Advent train.

The cold put a different spin on this year’s Advent. In simple terms, we didn’t have it this year. I didn’t have a voice to read our Advent readings. My head hurt too much to even listen to someone else read them. In my drugged and sinus haze, I lost the candy for the Advent boxes. I misplaced the Advent candles. Oh, who even had the strength to get the candles together to light them?

All my fancy Advent plans laid in ruins at my feet.

But this is what we did do for Advent: we were together. We laid scrunched together in my bed and binge watched (oh! do I dare admit this?) Pretty Little Liars (please do not judge my maternal ability on this alone.) We watched 3 seasons of that ‘watch one episode and you are hooked’ show. We acquired a rhythm to our days: we would watch a few episodes, I would fall asleep and the girls would extricate themselves from the blankets and tiptoe out of the room until I woke up and we would start all over again. Caleb would not lower himself to watch with us but periodically he would watch an episode to find out if A was caught yet or if Allie was alive after all. He was hooked, too, in his boy-man way.

So this is how we celebrated Advent. We didn’t follow through on any of the plans but we spent our time together as a family, enjoying each other’s company. And waiting.

Even so, Lord Jesus, come.

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Changing Things Up

June 2016 will mark the 10th anniversary of my stint as a blog writer. Crazy, isn’t it? This little blog has been swathed in anonymity. I have often wondered why that is. I think it is because I do not think of this blog as my job. I am not willing to push this little piece of my world out into the public domain. I am not willing to do all that is required to make the blog splashy and relevant to this technological age. I do not plaster my posts with pictures, it is mostly a word blog. I do not send out newsletters. I do not have an email list. I don’t do periscope. In essence, I am not a flashy, splashy blogger.

I just write. And think.

I write out my thoughts, my processes when I am attempting to understand things. This blog has helped me a great deal when I have wrestled with Classical Education and what exactly it was and wasn’t.

This little corner of the world has mostly been about homeschooling, with books and faith sprinkled around the edges. But now that my kids are in high school and my home educating years are waning (only 5 more years!) I don’t have that much to talk about homeschool-wise. I think that there will still be some homeschool posts spattered about here and there because that is still my reality. in the future, though, it will not be the core of my writing. I need to branch out in anonymity in other areas.

I have a need to write about things that I have been wrestling with lately. These wrestling sessions have been spiritually based. I am finding myself questioning things in my faith. These questions do not lay outside of my Christianity. My faith in Christ is as strong if not stronger than it has ever been but I am finding that things I was taught when I first became a Christian just might not be biblical. My misunderstandings of certain issues are a result of human error, not God error. I have a strong need to read my way through these questionings and an equally strong need to write about it. I am hoping that in writing about my queries, truth will be discovered.

After 10 years, well, it is time for a change. It will be a slight change but a change nonetheless.

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Perseverance

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. — James 1:12

Many things do not come easy to my kids. These ‘things’ run the gamut over many different subjects: academics, sports, music. You name it and one, if not all, of my children struggle with these areas.

This is not just discouraging for my kids but this mama’s heart is hurt on a steady basis as I watch my kids fight for things that other kids just take for granted. There have been buckets of tears shed over this issue. There have been many ‘Why me?’ questions tossed up to the heavens. Regardless of the musings and questionings, we continue to be challenged with situations that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as difficult.

Today, though, I was given a reason why my kids need to struggle as hard as they do.

Emma has been working hard to obtain her driver’s license. Let me rephrase that, Emma and I have been working hard. We have been working hard for the past five months so that her license would be a reality. There were many, many times, though, when we didn’t think it would ever happen.

We live 40 minutes away from the nearest city. It is a small city, a city which could almost be termed as a big town but to this country bumpkin family we think of it as a city; a city that owns one way streets and unmarked intersections (I never heard of that before until I came to this city,) and little idiosyncrasies that keep a new driver on their toes. In the area that we live, we have options to go to smaller towns to get the licenses for our kids but we go to the small city quite a bit so we thought it would be logical for the kids to take their driver’s test there.

There have been many a time in the past little while where I wondered if we had made the right decision. I won’t disclose the number that it took Emma to pass her driving test but lets just say she didn’t get it on her first try. We spent a great deal of time coming to the city to practise driving. We would leave home at 7 in the morning, get a half hour of driving in and then try to get home by 9:30 so we could get started on school. We did this about 3 or 4 times a week. By the third week, fatigue became my second name. Grumpy was another name that was bandied about in relation to me as well but we will leave it at that.

We would practice for a month, sometimes two months, and then we would head on over to the building that distributes the golden ticket aka the driver’s licenses. Something would happen: a silly mistake, a misunderstanding of right of way, that blasted parallel parking, and we would go home without that piece of paper. Tears would be shed, chocolate would be inhaled by massive amounts and then we would start the process all over again.

Both Emma and I were getting tired of this liturgy.

The small town was looking better and better as the days plodded by.

Today was yet another attempt to get that all-too-important piece of paper. We haven’t been able to get as much practice in because of the onset of winter weather but we decided to throw caution to the wind and try anyway.

I received a phone call an hour and a half after she left home to tell me that she, finally, had in her possession that elusive golden ticket!

The Hallelujah chorus filled my brain as the tears were shed once again but this time they were tears of joy and, yes, relief. Relief that our 7:00 a.m. pilgrimages were over.

The man who tested Emma( Neil is his name; we love Neil!) had tested her the last time as well. He told her that if she had gone to the small town for her licence she would have gotten it on her first time. He told her that he was impressed that she didn’t take the easy way out but kept plugging away at the harder option. He said that she showed great perseverance and that she should be proud of herself.

I then realized that this situation has been a great lesson for Emma to learn, one that will do her well in the future. It was also a lesson for me: yes, things do not come easy for my kids but they do know what it means to keep fighting, to persevere in order to reach their goals.

This also means that I don’t have to make as many trips to town now. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus again.

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A Week Well Lived

My soul was able to breathe deep this week. We had our first major snowfall for the year on Monday night and for people who live out in ‘no-man’s land’ large dollops of snow mean that you have to stay home. Depending on the magnitude of the storm, you could be looking at being forced to stay home for a few days. I love those days.

We could have ventured out two days after this snowfall but my inner-being begged for one extra day and who am I to say ‘no’ to that.

So we lived slow this week.

I loved it. I am a champion for all things slow.

Let me share some of the ‘slow’ things we did this week:

We made gluten free brownies using black beans for the main indgredient (these are crazy delicious! Who knew that black beans had the capability to do this to brownies?)

We read a delightful picture book about Roger Tory Peterson and then proceeded to sketch pictures of birds.

We sketched even more pictures of birds using our field guides as help. Tessa is now on a bird sketching kick. I am loving this!

We have had tea time three afternoons this week. Three times! We used our fancy china, black maple tea, hot chocolate, special snacks and the slowness descended. The only requirement for our time together was to share one thing that was learned during the day. It was fun to hear all that was learned and reassuring to hear that there actually was something learned.

This was a week to breathe slow, to appreciate the simple and live it well.

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A New School Year

We have started our 12th year of home educating our children. 12 years! Just give me a moment as I revel in that number. 12! Wow! Who’d a thunk it?

Okay, I’m back. So we started our new school year this year and I think it is unanimous that this week went very well. There were a few bumps throughout the week but I didn’t get bent out of shape over them, I just went along with the flow. That is key here. In the past, I would have stewed and simmered about the time we were missing on school in dealing with the bumps that were popping up. I took it all in stride and just took it as it came. Yay for me!

I think one of the reasons why I am able to take it all in stride is that two of my kids are, for the most part, independent in their learning. This means that I write out all that each child has to do during the week and then I let them figure out when they are going to do their work. If something pops up in the week like a child has driving practice during school hours, well, that’s okay because they can either do their school work at night or on the weekend. As long as the work is done by Sunday 1:00 then I don’t care when it gets done. This has lifted a lot of pressure and stress off of me.

Another thing that has been a positive for our week is Morning Time. It has changed a bit this year. I have added quite a bit to our morning gathering. Our time together on Monday morning lasted 2 1/2 hours and we still didn’t get to all of what I had planned. I have to think things through a bit for next week but I loved the time that we were together. It was an anchor to our day. I look forward to Morning Time every day when I wake up. It is a calming to my day.

I am enjoying the ideas that are popping up in our readings and discussions. Ideas like justice (from Gulliver’s Travels and Whatever Happened to Justice?) providence (from Robinson Crusoe,) and death (from John Donne’s poem, Holy Sonnet X and another reading but the title escapes me at the present.) It has sparked wonder to see these ideas trickle into the happenings of current events. Discussions have been interesting this week.

I don’t think I have ever been this calm during a first week of school. It is a welcome change!

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