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Wisdom From the Sea

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“The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life or contemplative life or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically; how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift From the Sea

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Books about Books

I love books. Anyone who knows me for more than two hours will know this too. When I find a good one, which is about every third day, I love sharing it with anyone who will listen. Turns out, there’s a market for this – books about books. And, it turns out I really like these.

So, without further ramblings about my devotion to the written word, I’m going to share four titles that are presently on my shelf. If you have any other suggestions in this arena that you’d like to pass along, I have one more fifteen dollar plastic card from Barnes and Noble that is just waiting for this sort of transaction.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

100 Best Books for Children

This is my most recently acquired title of this sort and has fast become my favorite in the kid department. Author Anita Silvey certainly has the publishing credentials to be taken seriously within this genre. Still, even more impressive to me is her clear passion for literature that inspires and ignites a child’s imagination – from their earliest years forward. The grouping is organized by age (from two to twelve) with a one to two page essay for each title; here Silvey shares interesting background information as well as substantial context and storyline details.

If you happen to be goal oriented, this resource is also one you could literally move through until seeing it to completion. Likewise, if you are just not sure where to turn with your elementary or junior high child when you head to the library or bookstore, this would be an invaluable guide.

Honey for a Child’s Heart

I was given this title as a gift when Hannah was born from a woman who’d spent her entire career teaching elementary school. The first one hundred pages are devoted to casting a vision in both inspirational and practical terms as to how you can help foster a love of literature in your children. For me, this was certainly foundational as I started down the road of parenting and I still find myself referring to it often with new eyes depending on my present vantage point.

The back half (another 100 pages or so) provides you with lists (again by age) starting at 0 and working all the way through to 12. The descriptions for each title are concise but also give you enough of a picture to know whether or not it would be something you’d like to pursue. This resource and I have spent many late evenings together at the computer as I’ve poured over it in order to reserve titles from our local library online.

Books Children Love

I’ve spent the least amount of time with this final resource. Still, the moments I have glanced through it have left me impressed and wanting for more. In its introduction, author Elizabeth Wilson sums up her purpose and intention quite well. “It is a book that was written with love: love for children with their wonderful questing minds, their lives of yet-undreamed, unshaped possibilities; love for language, for ideas, for imagination, for knowledge, for all that is a part of the inexhaustible richness of the world of books; and, above all, with a love for God, and for all He has made and done and given – truth, beauty, love, infinite diversity – for He called it very good.”

 

A BOOK FOR THE ADULT READERS IN THE ROOM

Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture

I first came across this one on Donald Miller’s blog. He began featuring essays from this resource and I was immediately taken – both by the words themselves and the titles they were calling upon. This list is more diverse than one might imagine (ranging from The Rule of Benedict to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies) and frankly will keep me busy for several years I’m sure.

Each book is introduced through a short essay penned by an impressive collection of authors. These provide both background and insights that may even lead readers to revisit old friends. Most recently I’ve been inspired to take a second look at Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird since the last time I mistakenly assumed that the yellow and black version told me everything I needed to know. The authors behind these essays tend toward dry humor and wit which is fine by me. In all, a great guide to move you through familiar and new titles with fresh and engaging commentary along the way.

 

 

A Season

A couple of weeks ago, author Bill Roorbach caused me to sit up a bit straighter and create a plan for how I would add consistency and strides toward my goal of writing on a more consistent basis. He reminded me that writers read – something I know and practice. In exercise two he told me to select a collection of difficult books and go about consuming them in a timely manner.

I went about selecting my titles (you can see my list below). I began with Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa and thoroughly enjoyed the first thirty pages. I enjoyed them so much that I flipped to the back of the book in order to learn a bit more about the man behind the prose (I was a Social Science major for those scratching your head in wonderment at my lack of familiarity with the details of Hemingway’s life). Turns out, he killed himself. You probably already knew this. Well, I didn’t and somehow his tragic end cast an entirely different hue on the pages I’d just ingested. No longer was I enjoying my nightstand discipline.  

Add to this grey cloud, two sick girls and Christmas days away. My self-imposed syllabus of sorts was all but forgotten. At first, I felt bad about this – as though I’d somehow failed. Yet with perspective and a Barnes and Noble gift card from my mother-in-law I began to see this experience with different eyes.

I’ve been a mother for over eight years now (if you count pregnancy, which I definitely do). On the one hand, I would like to think that I’ve embraced this role and live well within it. Still, it is in moments like my self-imposed reading list I come to understand even more that I continue to hold on to desires and ambitions that are difficult to fit into my present season. Being a mom is hard work – it requires more than I ever imagined and leaves little time for reprieve and personal development.

This is a sticking point for me if I’m really honest about it. In my most candid moments, I long to develop my writing, my culinary skills and my fitness regime. Instead, most days involve more American Girl books than Hemingway, more grilled cheese than frittatas and more toddler chasing that serene yoga poses. Part of me would love to travel and hike to places beyond the county line and without having to pack rice puffs and raisins wherever I go. I really like the idea of  a carpet without spots, a car without sand and a social life that included an occassional lunch out. At times I look longingly at women in their slacks with laptops gracing the bar at Peets while I schlep my kids to the counter and pray that nothing breaks at the hands of  the littlest while procuring my once a month Soy Cafe au Lait to go.

When Roorbach provided me a structured and disciplined plan for writing I jumped at the chance, until I remembered that I don’t live in a bubble. For me, writing is that thing that makes me feel most like myself – more than parenting, more than most things. Yet I was quickly reminded that my present capacity and my commitment to my girls and Phil limit what else I can take on. That’s hard to admit, but in my case it is true.

At the end of a long day of straddling the world of a toddler and that of a seven year-old there’s little left for striving on the word front. When Hemingway’s fate came to light that evening, I quickly realized that this heavy plight was more than I cared to pursue as I drifted off to sleep – even if that meant forgoing the worthwhile end of taking on difficult books. And here’s where the gift card comes into play.

With twenty-five plastic dollars in hand, I went about finding books that soothed my soul rather than restricted or upset it. I released myself of the self-imposed limitations that had no place in this season and replaced them with the freedom to meander. And there, in this wandering I have to believe that creativity and groundedness will coexist.

So far, this path has led me to Wendell Berry’s work, Jayber Crow as well as some other titles that you’ll find in my margin. I’ve found the aforementioned to be pleasant bedtime reading, insightful and most importantly not draining me of the energy I need to reserve for the things that matter most. It’s a season. I know it is. How I long to face each moment of it with authenticity, acceptance, inspiration and hope.  

Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.  – Jayber Crow

Happy Half

So the littlest is officially 1 1/2 years old today! Half birthdays are always (well, almost always) remembered in our household. This tradition dates back to my own childhood; it was my mom’s brilliant strategy for providing a half-way mark when I started asking her about when my next birthday would be…the day after my birthday. Anyway, little is actually done to celebrate these mini-milestones. It’s more the recognition than anything else. Who doesn’t like to be remembered for just being alive at least twice a year?

So, Hailey Elizabeth, in honor of your presence on this planet I am jotting down a few words to mark this day. In so many ways, you remind me of myself. You’re a bit on the small side, but far from fragile. You’re funny amongst your tribe yet might strike the rest of the world as the pensive type. You crack yourself up – which in turns make the rest of us laugh too. You are fascinated by your sister and are pretty positive that you can do anything that she can.

You’re undyingly devoted to your binks. You’ve already declared a few favorites in the realm of soft friends and you’ve got your animal noises down pat; I’d expect nothing less out of a Stone girl. You love music and are fully versed in how to request that a song be repeated again, and again … and again.

You love the ocean, but you love being warm even more. You’re particular in your palette, which has humbled me completely. You long to explore every inch of off-limit territory while simultaneously find yourself feeling near desperate to be held by me most of the time. You thrive in nature and all that she offers; you sometimes like to eat it too. You love the blender, the bath and The Runaway Bunny.  

You are a gift – one that requires a whole lot of energy to keep up with. Your timing was impeccable for arriving on the scene and in so doing changed the landscape of our family forever. We love you littlest one.  

 

Advent

Advent. It is a season of anticipation and also exhaustion. In our home, we’ve had sweet moments around the table talking about peace and joy. These same moments have also included the toddler flinging food, baaing like a sheep and raising up out of her high chair declaring herself all done

Responding in part to my hate for clutter, an adventurous toddler and a large dose of personal conviction, our Christmas decor has been dramatically scaled back. It’s felt simple and right for us … until I took the girls on an evening walk and watched the seven-year old’s wide eyes take in the beautiful lights of the neighborhood with wonder … and I wonder … does her heart carry a bit of remorse deep down inside for her only marginally festive abode.

We’ve tried to keep the girl’s gifts to a minimum – treasures we hope they will love and that will take them to the places that only childhood can. We’ve attended a tree lighting, opened doors on our wooden Advent calender, read Scripture, created a Christmas library, decorated our gingerbread house, received Christmas cards, curled up with beautifully illustrated books, listened to Handel’s Messiah (the littlest loves this), celebrated when Grammie came to town, ate cookies, danced to the Nutcracker in our living room, caught colds, rested, recovered, visited a gingerbread house display, baked sweet bread, popped popcorn and warmed apple cider, caught more colds and still we wait.

We have one more week of school. I’m hoping to surprise big H with a trip to Reagan’s library next Thursday. They have trees decorated for each decade, something I know she would love. She’s supposed to sing a special part in church this Sunday. We’ve started the zinc routine once more. Today her throat is sore and I’ve declared it a pajama day.  She’s read, memorized state capitals, stared out the window and later listened to me finish out a book about George Mueller while braiding my hair.        

The rain is falling. The toddler is napping. The husband is working away at the business we both hope will thrive. The essence of this season is alive in our parts – an imperfect and often interrupted version, of course. I know it is. It sometimes feels muffled beneath life’s daily circumstances. Yet I have to believe it is here.

What blessed truths rest within those five small candles – that joy and happiness are not synonymous, that peace is not snuffed out by the craziness of this world and that the hope we’re talking about here moves well beyond the dreams of this world. He is coming. He came and He is coming back. What more could we ever ask for or imagine?

 

Writers Read

As I continue to acclimate to teaching Hannah from home, I’ve grown increasingly restless to write. While it seems counterintuitive, I can’t seem to shake it. And so, I’ve found my way back to a book that I hope will bring some form to the latter of these equally compelling ends. Here’s what author Bill Roorbach has to say on page 20.

“Sunday night, pick a difficult or important or intriguing book from whatever source and assign it to yourself (sternly, if necessary) for the seven days ahead. And see to it the jobs gets done.”

Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature

Drawing from the most accessible of places (my own bookshelf) here’s my December/January reading list:

Green Hills of Africa – Hemmingway

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Three – Annie Dillard

In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing -Christopher Noel

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

A Single Sentence

 

“Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

-Kim John Payne, M.ED. Simplicity Parenting

I read this a few weeks back. Then I tried living it; I most often get derailed on the necessary component, although I’ve been known to botch all three in a single day.