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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin because of a mistake in shelving at the library, believe it or not.  I frequent a couple of libraries, and I always spend far more time in the children’s departments of each library than I do in the adult sections.  One of my libraries has the new juvenile and young adult books displayed face forward on a display close to the circulation desk; this is where I spied The Happiness Project, with its mis-labeled spine.  Its brightly colored cover caught my eye, and I was intrigued by the subtitle:  Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.  I took it home–after all, I needed a mental diversion from the hard work of reading A Tale of Two Cities.  😉  (Does anyone else do this?)  The Happiness Project turned out to be the perfect book for just such a task.

After beginning this book, I learned that it is a project memoir–a book in which the author has undertaken a project and written about his or her experience in accomplishing the project.  This is the first such book I’ve read, but I have to say I like the genre.  I’m a project-oriented person, although often my projects never get off the ground.  Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer-turned-writer, spent a year of her life trying (and succeeding at) improving her overall sense of happiness and contentment.  This was no haphazard experiment, though.  She had very specific goals for each month of the year, and each goal was carefully annotated on her Resolutions Chart.  She based her goals on her extensive reading about happiness.  Her research led her to such disparate authors as Gandhi and Benjamin Franklin, Joan Didion and Victor Frankl.  This is not a dry and dusty tome of research and statistics, though.  Instead, it’s one woman’s attempt to apply sometimes esoteric ideas to her own real life.  It’s mostly about a grand experiment in behavior modifiction, but this one worked.  

Much of this book caused me to contemplate my own life and how just little changes in my own attitude could make a difference in how I “feel.”  It also caused me to step back and look at my blogging, and finally, to declare it an okay thing for me to spend my time on.  I can credit Gretchen for that–one of her monthly resolutions was to “aim higher” in regards to her work, and she started her blog as a part of that.  I feel guilty for the amount of time I spend on my blog (and reading, and thinking about my blog, etc.–admittedly, I do spend too much!), but reading about Gretchen’s experience helped me to realize that although I don’t get paid for blogging (well, unless the tiny little bit that one day I might receieve through my Amazon Associates links counts), I do consider it my work.  I was a reader, and finally, a librarian, before I became a SAH-homeschooling mom, and I enjoy sharing books and ideas.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all.   It makes me happy.  (As a side note, do check out Gretchen’s blog, The Happiness Project.  It contains all sorts of happiness.  And don’t miss this post, especially if you love children’s literature as much as I do.)

I found Gretchen’s voice in the book to be pleasant and friendly–note that I call her “Gretchen” and not “Ms. Rubin.”  I feel like I got to know her through reading this book.  In fact, I felt like she and I might even be friends, if we were to ever meet.  After all, we have something in common.  This is not a Christian inspirational book, however, if you’re looking for a book on happiness from the Christian perspective.  Although Gretchen Rubin is not a Christian (she calls herself a “reverent agnostic”), she did spend a month imitating the life of St. Therese of Lisieux in an attempt to “contemplate the heavens.”  What Gretchen does is choose the approaches to happiness that work for her life (giving proper credit, of course, to those who seemed to have something genuine to say about it) and reject the rest.  I did not find my faith offended by her approach, though.  I just found her approach to be immensely practical.

I liked this book a lot.  I was both entertained and instructed by it, and that’s a rare combination.

Now I just have to decide if I should tell the nice library ladies that the book is mis-labeled.  I think it’s because I actually worked as a librarian (and have the education to go along with it) that I am sometimes hesitant to reveal that information to the folks on the other side of the desks.  I don’t want them to think I’m trying to do their jobs, etc.  I like for them to like me!  🙂  (That’s important if you’re a frequent library user!)  What do you think?  Should I say something or just keep my mouth shut?

The Wren’s Nest::The Joel Chandler Harris Home

This past weekend, we got away to Atlanta for a little mini-vacation.  Our main objective in going there was to visit the Georgia Aquarium for the first time, which we did.  However, in looking for other things to do (on the cheap, at that), Steady Eddie stumbled upon the Wren’s Nest, the home of Joel Chandler Harris, online.  (Bless him, after ten years of marriage, he really speaks my love language!  😉 )  Another one of our objectives in going to Atlanta was to visit that mecca of all things cheap and organizational or decorative, IKEA, which we also did.  However, in order to take advantage of 1:00 storytelling session at the Wren’s Nest on Saturday afternoon, we had to go to IKEA, look around, and make plans for what we would purchase later that afternoon after we returned there after our trip to the Wren’s Nest.  That’s two trips to IKEA in one day, folks, and made by a pregnant lady, her longsuffering husband, and two children under the age of six, at that.  (If you’ve even been there, you know that there is no such thing as a quick, easy trip.)  Now that it’s over, I can say in all honesty that the Wren’s Nest was worth every ache and pain in my legs and back after re-tracing our steps across the very hard concrete IKEA floor to find some things to put the finishing (maybe!  finally!) touches on our school room

When Steady Eddie first brought the possibility of visiting the Joel Chandler Harris home to my attention, all I had was a vague memory/assumption that Joel Chandler Harris is actually a little politically incorrect.  Uncle Remus, Black dialect, a white author writing stories told by slaves–you know.  My only recollection of an Uncle Remus tale is of having a book-and-record set of “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” when I was a child.  I found an audiobook of More Tales of Uncle Remus at the library, so I naturally added it to our book basket for the trip.  We made it through one of the stories before Louise fell asleep, and I insisted that we listen to four of them before I gave in and let Lulu go back to Josefina.  Even Julius Lester’s superb narration couldn’t capture her attention, most likely because of the heavy dialect.  Steady Eddie and I, though, found it quite entertaining.  (I mainly persevered in our listening because children who have read five of the Uncle Remus tales earn a free t-shirt, so I thought we might as well get in on the act.  Obviously, though, we’ll need to save this little treat  for our next visit.)

First, the storytelling.  It was superb.  We were a little late, but the docent let us into the storytelling room and we joined some half dozen other guests and sat under the spell of Curtis Richardson.  Mr. Richardson was funny and animated and worked hard to get the audience (especially the younger members) involved in the stories.  He emphasized the fact that each storyteller makes the Uncle Remus tales his or her own, so even though we might hear others of the storytellers tell the same story, it wouldn’t really be the same story.  That’s good storytelling.  My favorite was his prequel to “The Three Little Pigs.”  Oh, that and watching Lulu’s face while she watched him. 

Our tour began with some background information on Joel Chandler Harris, presented by our docent, Nannie Thompson.  I’ve been to a lot of museums and enjoyed a lot of historical presentations, but Ms. Thompson everything a docent should be:  knowledgeable, friendly, and obviously passionate about her subject. She painted a very different picture of Joel Chandler Harris:  that of a poor white boy, raised by a single mother, who spent much of his time playing with the children of slaves in their homes on the plantation.  Even after he moved to Atlanta and made it big as the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he was still a very retiring man whom famous figures sought out, but who himself never wanted to be in the spotlight. 

The house itself was amazing, especially considering the fact that Joel Chandler Harris remodeled it from a single-story dwelling to the Victorian showplace you see above while his wife and children were gone north to visit her family.  She came home to an entirely different home.  Wow!  Many of the original furnishings are still in the home, including the rocking chair Harris sat in to do his writing.  (Imagine that!) Ms. Thompson gave such a excellent, detailed tour that I felt like I knew the man and his family when I left.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  As is true in many museums, photography was forbidden in most of the rooms, so I have few pictures to share.  (My dear husband took the ones I do have, even braving a VERY cold day to stand out front of the house and get the shot you see above.)  The best part, though, was hands down the great tour we received.  I could’ve listened to Ms. Thompson all day.  Knowing the controversy which surrounds the author, I was especially interested to hear Ms. Thompson’s tale of how she came to work there.  I won’t share it here, but be sure to ask her about it if you ever visit the Wren’s Nest.


Of course, I couldn’t come away from this place without purchasing something, and what is more appropriate than a book to add to our collection?  I chose a picture book entitled The Classic Tales of Brer Rabbit: From the Collected Stories of Joel Chandler Harris, adapted by David Borgenicht.  I’ll let you know what we think after read it.  🙂  It turns out that the executive director of the Wren’s Nest is none other than Joel Chandler Harris’ great-great-great grandson, so when Ms. Thompson suggested that I have him autograph our book, I jumped at the chance.  I’m not sure how much of our visit, beyond the storytelling, that our girls will actually remember, but I think I’ll always remember it.  If you’re in Atlanta on a Saturday and have some free time, check it out!  The staff of the Wren’s Nest also maintains an active and entertaining (and I’m sure, at times, controversial) blog, if you’re interested.

Top Ten Picks of 2009

Despite the fact that my reading slowed to a trickle at the end of 2009, I managed to read a total of 51 books.  (Why, oh why, didn’t I hurry up and finish just one more book?!?!?  One  a week would be a real record for me, but I guess this is close enough to count, right?)  Add to this number the seventeen or so chapter books I read aloud to my girls (not to mention the countless picture books we shared), and that boosts my total to nearly 70 books. I’m giving myself a hearty pat on the back over this, believe me.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 2009 reading , and that’s really what it’s about for me right now. 

I’m really not very good at picking favorites, but I’m going to try. Looking back at my Best of 2008 list, I’d say I was pretty much on target in terms of picking the books that were most memorable to me, so here goes:

thumb_change-heart-bookThe last half of this year has been fiction-heavy, so I was surprised to look back and realize that I read about sixteen nonfiction titles.  By far the one that stands out the most to me is Change Your Heart, Change Your Life by Dr. Gary Smalley.  I was charmed by Smalley’s informal, funny, touching presentation at a marriage conference Steady Eddie and I attended, and we promptly bought his book after hearing his testimony.  I’m sorry to say that I’ve fallen off the Bible memorization and meditation wagon through my months of holiday preparations and morning sickness, but I’m ready to turn over that proverbial new leaf for 2010 and make it a part of my life again.  I might just re-read this book to get me started.  It’s that good.

9781576831441Another nonfiction book that I found to be inspiring, encouraging, and convicting is Feeding Your Soul:  A Quiet Time Handbook by Jean Fleming.  (Can you tell by these first two choices that I’m in dire need of some discipline in my own spiritual life?  I am.)  I found this book immensely readable and pratical.  My review of this book is short, but really, this book is more about doing than thinking, so maybe that’s appropriate.
sacredparentingSacred Parenting is one of those books that bears re-reading, and it’s definitely one of the best I read in 2009.  However, I feel sort of like the person James describes in this passage concerning this book (and lots of other things):

23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24For he looks at himself and goes away and at once  forgets what he was like.  (James 1:23-24)

I saw so much of myself in Thomas’ book, but I’ve forgotten so much of what he said.  Sigh.  It’s good–anything by Thomas is.  I think I need to re-read this one. 

I suppose it’s appropriate that so many of my most memorable reads last year were “God Reads”–that’s exactly how I feel about A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.  I just can’t believe I’d had to book around for so long and hadn’t read it. 

Fiction-wise, I had a juvenile/young adult heavy year, which is perfectly okay by me.  Of all the adult books I read, though, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Some Wildflower in My Heart get top billing. This year I’d like to break out of my adult fiction rut of reading fiction by primarily one author.


It’s no secret that I love juvenile fiction, and young adult fiction comes in right behind it.  I feel like I’m always playing catch-up when I read about new books on other bloggers’ blogs because I rarely read any book when it’s brand new.  However, I did manage to read a few relatively new titles from these genres which this year which I loved.  The Mysterious  Benedict Society and Volume One of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing are two books I won’t soon forget and two books the sequels of which I really hope to read this year.  I also really enjoyed The Pirate’s Son by Geraldine McCaughrean.  This is the second book by McCaughrean I’ve read, and I look forward to spending more time with this talented and thought-provoking author.

I’m rounding out 2009’s top ten with a classic that I was surprised to enjoy so much, ‘though I don’t know why.  A Girl of the Limberlost is one of those books I’ve always known about, and I’m really glad that 2009 is the year I finally read it.  Old fashioned books really are the best sometimes, aren’t they?

That’s a lot of fine reading. 2009 was a great bookish year, and I’m looking forward to 2010 being the same! I hope to post a few bookish thoughts and plans for this new year in the next day or two, so stay tuned. 🙂

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent

Same Kind of Different As Me is not the kind of book I usually pick up.  I enjoy reading books too much by people whose life’s gift is to write and my reading time is too limited for me to to spend my reading time on a recounting of someone’s life experiences to simply satisfy my curiosity.  (I hope that doesn’t sound too snobbish, but some of you know what I mean, right?)  However, this book came highly recommended to me by Steady Eddie’s aunt and uncle, two of the most dedicated and servant-hearted Christians I know.  My mother and I were at Sam’s Club several months ago, and I off-handedly suggest she buy it to read herself, since it came so highly recommended to me.  🙂  She bought it and promptly offered it to me with the remark that I’d read it before she would.  That’s my mom. Well, a couple of months went by, and I finally picked it up after finishing something (I can’t remember what now) that had required a little bit of diligence for me to finish.  I thought, this will be a quick read, and it won’t require much thought.  I was right with both of  these predictions, but what I didn’t know is that it would take me in emotionally as much as it did.  As Kathleen Kelly’s mom once told one of her customers, “Read it with a box of Kleenex!”  (Bonus points for anyone who knows to which book she was referring.  😉 )

As the cover of this book says, it’s about “a modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together.”  That’s oversimplifying this story AND putting the emphasis in the wrong place, in my opinion.  Simply put, Denver Moore is a black man who spent his childhood and the early part of his adult life as a sharecropper in Louisiana at a time when no one would tell an illiterate black man that times had changed just about everywhere but there.  He was stuck in a system and had no idea that his life could be different, and when he finally escaped, he had no skills to make a life for himself.  He became a criminal, then an ex-convict, and finally, a homeless man. 

Enter Ron and Deborah Hall.  Actually, enter Deborah Hall.  Deborah was a woman of privilege.  Married to an incredibly wealthy art dealer, she was never fully comfortable in her role as a lady of leisure with vehicles more expensive than most people’s houses.  She also had an insatiable hunger to know God and grow closer to Him.  This desire led her to volunteer at a homeless mission in downtown San Antonio, Texas, and in order to shore up a marriage that had been on the brink of utter destruction, her husband Ron went along for the ride.  To say that when their paths crossed Denver Moore’s that it was a match made in heaven is obvious only in retrospect.  At the time, neither Ron nor Denver thought so, but Deborah always knew there was something special about Denver Moore.

Lots of things happen in this story, not the least of which is that Deborah is diagnosed with and eventually dies of colon cancer.  She is one of the heros (heroines?) in the story, but because of her legacy, Denver becomes the real hero. 

If you want to be inspired, read this story.  If you want to cry, read this story.  If you want to be encouraged to never, ever, ever give up on someone, read this story.  It’s truly beautiful.

I’m officially giving up some of my book snobbery, starting today.  🙂

Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel

I admit it:  I am a parenting book junkie.  Parenting our two little girls is, to borrow a (now) tired old advertising slogan, “the toughest job we’ve ever loved.”   I feel like I’ve read them all, and really, I’ve gleaned something useful out of every one I’ve read. Dare to Discipline?  Check.  I’ve got the idea of consistency down.  Shepherding a Child’s Heart?  Oh, yeah.  This one helped further impress upon me the importance of obedience.   How to Make Children Mind Without Losing Yours?  Steady Eddie and I actually watched the video presentation of this one.  I’ve even read lesser known volumes like Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids! (read my thoughts here) and A Mother’s Heart: A Look at Values, Vision, and Character for the Christian Mother (read my thoughts here), both of which deal more closely with the heart issues of the parent than the behavior of the child. 

To sum it up, we could almost write the book ourselves.  I realize that is a dangerous thing to say when our children are only five and three, but I actually don’t mean to imply that we are perfect in our execution of this parenting job.  In fact, most days I feel like a dismal failure at it, to tell the truth.  What I mean is we have all the requisite knowledge.  Every parent reading this knows that is the easy part.  It’s the ability to think on one’s feet and make quick-but-important decisions that absolutely wears me out.  I’m not a quick thinker. 

However, what I don’t need is more knowledge, and that’s really precisely what Grace Based Parenting doesn’t provide.  The basic premise behind this book is that children need three things:  love, purpose, and hope.  Kimmel profiles no fewer than seven types of parenting he says are rampant in the Christian community, including fear-based parenting, evangelical behavior-modification parenting, and high-control parenting.  (I mention these three because these are the ones I tend to err towards, I think.   Besides, these are the ones I see the most, too.)   He spends this whole 230 page book illuminating a parenting style that attempts to keep an even keel between legalism and permissivism, and he reminds the reader over and over that parenting this way is simply parenting our children the way God parents us.

I read this book with pen in hand, underlining and asterisk-ing as I went.  Of course, I want my parenting of my children to emulate the grace God gives me daily.  I want this more than anything else in the world.  This book captures the spirit of this type of parenting.  I will share a few excerpts that drives home this point:

Grace’s attitude is “Go for it!”  or “I love it!”  Having said this, I know there are times when children need to be told that they can’t have the buffet or they need to keep their shoes on, but it shouldn’t be an arbitrary thing.  It should be times when it’s the only workable option or makes godly sense.  Otherwise, it makes no sense–especially if you are trying to treat your child the way God treats us.  Kids inside homes where nonmoral issues are elevated to a level of big problems don’t get to experience the kind of acceptance that makes a heart feel securely loved.  Instead they live with a barrage of nitpicking criticism, receiving put-d0wns because they are curious, anxious, helpless, carefree, or absent-minded.  (61)

(I started with that one because it hit me right between the eyes.  Ouch.)

I’m urging you to raise your children the way God raises His.  The primary word that defines how God deals with His children is grace.  Grace does not exclude obedience, respect, boundaries, or discipline, but it does determine the climate in which these important parts of parenting are carried out.  You may be weird and quirky, but God loves you through His grace with all of your weirdness and quirkiness.  You may feel extremely inadequate and fragile in key areas of your life, but God comes alongside you in those very areas of weakness and carries you through with His grace.  You may be frustrated, hurt, and even angry with God, but HIs grace allows you to candidly, confidently, and boldly approach his “throne of grace.”  His grace is there for you when you fail, when you fall, and when you make huge mistakes.  (21)

One thing that I found curious about this book (probably because of my own sensitivity towards the subject, new homeschooling mom that I am) is that Kimmel almost seems to lean more toward the “don’t shelter your kids” camp, and he makes it a point to say that fairly often.  I actually don’t have a problem with that; sheltering, as such, is not the reason we homeschool at all.  However, it gave me a curious feeling to think that perhaps someone whom I consider to have this parenting gig figured out might think that homeschooling is a bad idea.  (He never says this at all, mind you.  In fact, he points out that education is another area in which God gives us grace.  It’s just my super-sensitive, highly introspective mind at work again here.) I do get what he’s saying about it, though.  In fact, I feel it all too keenly.  Why should we completely shelter our children from “worldly influences” when the sin problem is internal, not external?  Maybe the question is not “why should we,” but “how can we?”  Kimmel says it more succinctly that I ever could:

Grace-based families realize that their children will struggle with sin.  They consider it an honor to be used by God to show their children how to find true forgiveness in Christ.  They are not intimidated by the dialogue that brings the discussion of sin into the light.  In fact, they are grateful to be able to come alongside their children with an unconditional love during some of their toughest hours.  (220)

I would rank this book just below Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (my thoughts here) as one of the best, most perspective changing books on parenting I’ve read.  To borrow a phrase from LeVar Burton (HT Carrie 😉 ), “But don’t take my word for it,” check out Jennefer’s thoughts on this heart-changing book, as well.

Hum & Flutter

We had the unique experience on Saturday of attending a hummingbird banding.  A biology professor at a nearby university participates in a study in which hummingbirds are measured, weighed, and banded each year.  Data is collected to determine whether the migrating Ruby Throated Hummingbirds return to the same place each year.  The highlight of the experience was that the girls each got to hold a hummingbird after its data  had been catalogued.  The hummers took off so quickly that I didn’t get a shot of Lulu’s, and I barely got this one of Louise’s:
Louise holding butterfly

After the girls released their birds, the scientists involved took a break, and we wandered over to the cages to watch the professor demonstrate how to catch and hold a hummer:

how to hold a hummingbird
The hostess for this study is the president of our local wildflower society, and her yard and surrounding property show it. She puts a lot of effort into attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to her yard. Every time I visit some place like this, I start dreaming about what we can do in our yard to approximate a city version of such an environment. (Does anyone else suffer with the affliction of “I’m interested in too many different things”?) My favorite shots of the day (aside from some fun ones of the girls around her ponds and in front of her flowers) are of this beautiful butterfly:

 butterfly 1

butterfly 2

butterfly 3

butterfly 4

The zinnias and their visitors were gorgoeus–truly breathtaking! I think this one is a Monarch, at least based upon my quick perusal of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies .  Steady Eddie’s years of undergraduate biology study are coming in handy for me, finally. 

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

This book was on the periphery of my book-detecting radar for a long time, but I’m not too quick to jump on book bandwagons.  I tend to read what I like, holding best sellers list appearancess and glowing reviews in abeyance, at least until one of my favorite (and, admittedly, mostly similar in taste to mine) book bloggers reads it and gives it a thumbs up.  However, I happened upon Joanna Weaver‘s Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World at my favorite used bookstore a little over a week ago, and something about it struck a cord with me, despite the fact that I had seen the title often enough to feel like I’d already read it.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this!) 

I devoured the first several chapters right after I bought it, even making notes in the back of the book, while I sat outside the bookstore at the cafe next door and waited for a friend to arrive for a lunch date.  It just resonated so much with where I was on that particular day–harried and stressed out to the max.  The message that Joanna Weaver delivers is one the Lord has reminded me of (patiently, repeatedly) over the past year, and yet I am having a hard time learning it. 

I wish I had had the time (!!!) just after I finished the book to write these reflections; much has already been lost, I’m afraid.  However, the overall impression that has stayed with me in regards to this book is that God desires for us to have a “Mary heart,” but for most of us it is not something that will automatically happen.  We must be willing to choose the “better part.”  The choosing must be done daily.  We must set aside whatever is more pressing–there will always be something–and spend time with Jesus every single day.  Every day.  It’s imperative. 

I’m not telling you a whole lot about the book, am I?  Well, let’s see. . .  

I found this book to be surprisingly well written, even funny at times.  I say surprisingly because some devotional books are cookie cutter-ish to me.  This one has personality–I feel like I’ve gotten to know Joanna Weaver a bit through her writing.  This book is also cram-jammed full of information.  The author covers every appearance of Mary (Magdalene) in the New Testament as far as I know.  She does a great job of showing the change in Mary, as well as how Mary was different from Martha (and, to Martha’s defense, how she also changed).  The most surprising part of the book for me was the contrast she drew between Mary and Judas.  In my 30+ years of church attendance, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone bring this out the way she does.  Weaver also includes lots of “sidebar” information–extra information in boxes that relates to the text but isn’t a part of it.  I usually find this distracting, even annoying at times.   However, these addendum are good.  I found myself reading these boxes, even underlining the information in them, instead of skipping them like I often do.

I’ve toyed with the idea of not even publishing this “review” because it’s so. . .nothing.  However, I’m publishing it, if for no other reason than to remind myself that this is a book worth revisiting.  It’s really that good.  I know I’ll need reminding again in the future.

Roar! by Heather Kopp with David Kopp

chronicles-of-narniaSteady Eddie and I have been to three different homeschooling conferences in three different states this summer.  Crazy, huh?  Hands down the best part of any curriculum fair is the used book sale!  🙂  (You knew there was more to this than just a plug for homeschooling conferences, didn’t you?)  Even if I weren’t a homeschooling parent, I would love to attend the conferences just for a chance to buy great used books for a fraction of their original prices!  I picked up Roar!:  A Christian Family Guide to the Chronicles of Narnia by Heather Kopp and David Kopp at one of the conference’s used book sales for a mere $3.00, and it was $3.00 well spent.

Roar! is not really a book meant to be read from cover to cover.  Instead, it is best enjoyed in small snippets.  It is divided into five sections:

  •   Section one introduces the concept of the book itself and gives a short biography of C.S. Lewis.  My favorite parts of this section, though, are the “You Know You’re a Narniac Quiz” and “The Narniac’s Creed.”  (I can’t resist sharing just one. . . “You know you’re a Narniac when. . . someone says Lucy, you think Edmund or Susan, not Charlie or Snoopy.”  🙂 ) 
  • Section two is the longest section at roughly 250 pages.  The simplest way to explain this section is to say that it gives an overview of each one of the chronicles.  However, this doesn’t do Roar! justice at all; it is far, far more than a simple Cliff’s Notes version of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Each two page chapter summary actually contains several different section.  For example, there is a section entitled “Grown-up  Thoughts” which includes broader spiritual implications found within the books, related Bible verses, and all sorts of literary observations.  Also included is a glossary of terms for each chapter which defines words that aren’t much used in America today.  There are quizzes, historical notes, quotations, and fantastic illustrations.  This is a Narnia treasure trove!
  • Part three contains a Narniac Final Exam and a Narniac Final Exam for Little Ones.   This is serious fun, folks, and far more thought provoking than most tests I’ve ever given.  My favorite part in this section is the riddles.  Here’s one to test your knowledge of Narnia:

Who. . .

_could be a good friend to Winnie-the-Pooh?

_would make a terrible weather man (Rainy and cloudy again?!)?

_could help you see the worst in a bad situation?

_might turn into a prince if you kissed him?

(Hint:  He’s my favorite character!)

  • Part four is entitled “Leading the Way into Narnia,” and it contains all the stuff we English nerds like.  😉  Actually, it’s subititled “Help and Inspiration for Parents,” and it contains ten articles about various Narnia-related topics.  Some of the articles include “What C.S. Lewis Really Believed” and “The Meaning of Magic in Narnia” by Marcus Brotherton; “The Literary Bloke” by J.I. Packer; and “Mercy!  How the Wine Doth Flow in Narnia!” by Laurie Winslow Sargent and David Kopp.  Any imaginative story worth its salt is bound to stir up some sort of controversy, and this section is designed to help parents navigate the often murky waters of good literature. 
  • Part five is where all the miscellaenous leftovers are found:  chronologies, a more complete glossary, character and place identification, etc. 

This is one fun book for the Narnia lover.  I haven’t written much about the illustrations yet because they are secondary to the content of this great resource, but they really add to the very energetic feel of this book.  (Be sure to notice the cover above to see what I mean.)  Martin French really conveyed a love of Narnia through his colorful artwork.  You can see more of his art here on his website.

There are lots of Narnia resources out there now, especially with the Disney’s updating of the movies.  I haven’t seen them all, but I do think that Roar! manages to be a resource that can be used by the whole family, adults and children alike.  This one gets a “highly recommended” from me!

In case you missed it yesterday, I’m blogging my way through Narnia this week in honor of Carrie‘s Chronicles of Narnia Challenge which ends on Friday. (Go here to read my first Narnia Week post.)   Be sure to visit Hope Is the Word frequently because I’m hosting on an awesome giveaway as a part of my Narnia Week, and you can “earn” one entry in the giveaway simply by leaving a comment on this post and every post which features Carrie’s Narnia Challenge button.  Tell me something about Narnia–do you have a favorite Narnia resource you’d like to share with me?  Who’s your favorite character?  (By the way, mine’s Puddleglum, in case you couldn’t figure out the riddle.)  Just say something in the comments.  🙂 

Oh, and I plan to have the next sneak peek of the giveaway I”m doing up around noon CST today!  (You can see the first sneak peek at the bottom of this post.)

 

A Mother’s Heart by Jean Fleming

Although I’ve already discussed some of what has been on my mind and heart that led me to read this book, I want to come back and express my thoughts on the book as a whole, especially since I know that many of my readers are at a similar place in life as I am and might find this book refreshing to their spirits. 

As I was finishing A Mother’s Heart, this word picture from the book of Proverbs came to mind: 

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. 

Jean Fleming‘s encouragement in this book has been just that for me:  words “fitly spoken” into my life at just the right time.  Nothing that she says in this book is new or different or groundbreaking; instead, the value of her message is in the fact that it is time-tested.  Motherhood is tough; no one would deny it, at least no one who knows anything at all about it.  Fleming’s gentle words in this book helped me to see the meaning under all the work:  that what I’m doing here really does matter, and I’m the best person to do it.  Yes, someone else could do it, but to believe that someone else should do it or would do it better is to believe a lie. 

I think the best way for me to respond to this book is to simply share some excerpts that really spoke to me–the ones that “hit me right between the eyes”:

I must constantly remind myself that though the visible, tangible world is so insistent and clamorous in its demands, I must not let it badger me into spending my life unwisely.  The result of living by God’s value system isn’t immediately apparent like clean windows or a newly papered wall.  But years from now, by God’s grace, my time with God and my children will produce results brighter than sparkling windows.  I must take the long view.  I must choose to do those things which will give satisfaction as I view my life as a whole, rather than measure satisfaction at the end of each day.  (50)

Well, you already know how I feel about clean windows.  (Sorry!  I couldn’t resist.  🙂  )

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Almost every Christian parent wants to have their children honor God as they mature.  But we may expect the product without being willing to involve ourselves in the process.  Do we value our children enough to pay the price?  (56)

I really need to remember this one, especially when I am disciplining one of the girls over a repeated infraction.  Yes, it gets tiresome and difficult, but it actually does mean something.

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Lila Trotman, widow of the founder of The Navigators, once said to my husband, “Roger, always remember that God is your only circumstance.”  God towers above our circumstances.  He wants to use the difficult aspects of our lives for our good.  “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28)

Whether the difficult cirumstances we face are from God’s hand or because of our own poor choices, He is able to produce from them something positive and glorifying to Himself.

The apostle Paul had problems–physical illness, beatings, imprisonments, stonings, hunger, and more (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  But whatever the circumstance, Paul strove to know Christ and to make Him known.

God did not allow these circumstances in order to frustrate Paul’s desire to experience Christ more fully, or to stifle the progres of the gospel.  Instead, God intended them to form boundaries for Paul’s life.  Paul did not kick down these boundaries so that he might get on with the job as he saw it.  Rather, he accepted the boundaries and worked within them.  He sang and praised God from a gloomy prison, used appearances abefore questioning officials to testify of his faith in Christ, gathered firewood and encouraged others after a shipwreck, and worked with his hands making tents amid a busy missionary schedule.

God has set boundaries around your life, too.  Your children form part of the boundaries.  But remember, God brings the circumstances to better define your life, not to restrict it.  (179-80)

Thinking about these “boundaries” put in place by God made me think of this excellent book.  Reading these paragraphs also made me realize something about my life:  I am willingly making the choice to be what I am, a mother who works full-time in my home.  But sometimes I feel affronted by the idea that my life should be more–that I shouldn’t be content with what I’ve chosen.  It seems like everyone, from Christian psychologists to the media to the girls I went to high school with, offer the refrain that we should be careful not to “lose ourselves” in motherhood.  I like how Fleming paints the picture–that God has put these boundaries in our lives; they’re there of His choosing.  Why shouldn’t I be content in this role?

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To live by faith is to live with tensions, with blurred lines and with an uncomfortable lack of definition, because God wants us to look to Him for wisdom, strength, and direction as we parent our children and live our lives.  (194)

Ah, that’s it, isn’t it? The answer to my questions of “Does the tension ever get easier?” and “How does one come to a place of true contentment with what she has chosen?”  It’s all about commiting my way to God and walking in faith.  What else can I do

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Well, that’s not much of a review, is it?  I’m still thinking about all of this stuff–mulling it over in my brain.  The Lord has been speaking to me lately about my “job” through my perceptive and loving mother-in-law and my pastor’s recent sermons, as well as this book, and I feel fairly certain that all of this will yield yet another blog post in the next few weeks.  Stay tuned.  🙂

Reflections in Progress::A Mother’s Heart by Jean Fleming

I picked up A Mother’s Heart: A Look at Values, Vision, and Character for the Christian Mother for my daily quiet time reading after finishing this book .  I’ve fallen into the habit of beginning my quiet time with some sort of devotional reading to quiet my heart and spirit before I go any further with Bible study, prayer, or further reading.  I procured A Mother’s Heart through Paperback Swap after reading Fleming‘s Feeding Your Soul (my thoughts here).  I knew her to be a quiet, contemplative, encouraging sort of writer, which is just what I need. 

Lately, as Lulu nears the age of school attendance (‘though not yet mandatory school attendance age, certainly past the age at which most children in our acquaintance have attended some sort of institutional school), I have begun wondering exactly what it is I am doing–what I am building my life upon.  Well, not that, really–I know I am building my life upon Christ; rather, what it is I am spending my life for.  I love being with my children every day.  Do I love it every minute?  No, of course not.  Who does?  But is there anything in the world I’d rather be doing?  I can answer a resounding no to this question.  Living on one income in a two income world, especially when my return to work would almost double our household income, is hard.  Don’t get me wrong–we are not in need.  Sometimes, though, I have to admit that I am in want.  It is made even more difficult by the fact that we have no close friends who are doing this.  I am hoping that once we begin attending our homeschool group in the fall that we will make some friends who are living out similar choices, but until then, I’m just really having to figure this one out on my own with the Lord’s help.

I think about this giving up of myself on so many different levels, and all of these levels are felt/experienced with all of my heart.  For example, I WANT to do this–to be this vital part of my children’s education.  In fact, sometimes I think this want drives me above all others.  Equally, though, is the want for the elusive “better life” for my girls.  (I’m ashamed to type this, even as I do.  What on earth could possibly truly make their lives better?!?!)  This “better life,” which I would even have a hard time honestly defining, requires a two-income lifestyle, I’m sure.  (I’ll leave you to wrestle with the logic of that one.)  When I leave the materialism out of it entirely, I think that I am more likely to become the person I am meant to be if I am able to have a quiet life at home.  I need lots of “margin” (as I’ve heard it called–from a book which I’ve not read and can’t remember the title of at the moment) in my life.  I desire to live a meditative, prayerful life.  I’m not sure I could do that as a working mother.  (Disclaimer:  This is not a slam on working mothers or any implication that they are prayerless, etc.  It is just my own rambling thoughts.)  My life is most likely to approximate that goal if I have time to accomplish it (and more discipline, of course). 

I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with my opening paragraph about A Mother’s Heart.  I’ve read just over half of the book, and while there’s nothing earth-shattering about it, at least Fleming has reminded me that although what I’m doing earns no paycheck, it does have huge spiritual implications.  Chapter seven, entitled “Going Beyond ‘God Bless Charlie,'” resonated very deeply with me this morning.  In this chapter, Fleming obviously focuses on the importance and power of prayer in our children’s lives, and not prayers they pray themselves–prayers we pray for them.  She states,

It is impossible to begin too soon, or to pray too much for our children.

I feel like I”ve barely scratched the surface.  I’m always in a hurry to go on to the next thing–blogging (I admit, it’s high on my list), laundry, cleaning, reading, cooking, whatever.  I know this is a season in my life that will soon be over, but I need God to partner with me in this mothering thing now as much as I ever will.  When, oh when, will I ever learn this lesson?  Fleming quotes S.D. Gordon’s Quiet Talks on Prayer:

The great people on earth are the people who pray.  I do not mean those who talk about prayer; nor those who say they believe in prayer; nor yet those who can explain about prayer; but I mean those people who take time and pray.  They have not time.  It must be taken from something else.  This something else is important–very important, and pressing, but still less important and pressing than prayer.

Ouch.  This all seems to be so intertwined to me–my inability to finally put to rest my desire for a “better life,”  the equally strong desire to live a life of sincere piety, and the realization that I can’t have it all.  I really just need to come to a place of peace about where I am going in life.  I’m wondering, especially for those of you who have been at this gig for a while (i.e. homeschooling and/or homemaking), does this tension ever get easier?  How does one come to a place of true contentment with what she has chosen?

This type of confessional post is highly unusual for me, but it’s what’s going on in my mind while reading A Mother’s Heart.  I don’t like to wear my heart on my sleeve blog, but thank you for listening.  🙂