A birthday tea party

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Me: What will you have for your birthday cake this year, Eliza?

Eliza: A purple cake! With purple teacups and purple flowers on them!

Me: So will it be a tea party?

Eliza: No, it will be an EATING PARTY!DSC_0229

Eliza turned three yesterday so we went all out with a party featuring tea AND eating.  :) We had homemade scones, cookies, vegetables, fruit, cucumber sandwiches, and cake. Plus tea with lots of cream and sugar. And purple tulips in a teapot.

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This year has been one of re-examining life and not just saying “these are my priorities” while doing lots of other things too. I am not perfect at this, or even close to it. But when I think about Eliza’s birthday tea, I’m glad I’ve cut things–even neutral or good things–to give me enough margin for just living real life together. I’m reading some good things about this lately–home atmosphere and prioritizing relationships and making room for what’s important and the philosophy of making wise choices. I’m also getting inspiration for living deliberately and authentically from Upstream Field Guide (forget the rest, I literally bought this just for the UFG).DSC_0234Eliza at three is very funny, determined, and conscientious. She dances wildly, loves books, and thinks she can write her name in cursive (sorry, people who collect the attendance sheets at church each week–those are her long lines of scrolly “e”s).

Eliza: Once I was a baby, but now I’m Eliza.

Me: So we can’t call you “Babe-ums” anymore?

Eliza: Mogget [Margaret] is a tiny Babe-ums. I’m a big Babe-ums. Because I’m a big girl. I’m THREE.

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We love you, Eliza!  I hope your third year is full of big smiles and great books and lots and lots of tea parties.

 

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Diastasis Recti: A Whole Body Solution

DRI find the post-partum season a little bewildering this time around.  For one thing, thanks to a major emergency surgery after I delivered Margaret, I have a really ugly scar that bothers me a lot. I suspect that people who have c-sections might not mind their scars, because they are probably smaller and also associated with the birth of the baby. Since Margaret was born before my surgery, I don’t have that mental association. Then an added surprise was when about half of my hair fell out. Apparently that’s common after a traumatic surgery with extensive blood loss, and it might grow back at some point, but meanwhile I can blow dry my hair in LESS than two minutes flat when it used to take at least ten minutes, so that’s the bright side!

But the whole thing about having a couple of surgeries immediately following a birth is that it has made me very tentative about my abs. In earlier pregnancies I at least somewhat got the ab separation back together, but this time, after so much craziness, it has been tougher to know where to start.

All that to say, I was interested to read Katy Bowman’s book on Diastasis Recti, which is the official name for how your abs can separate–often during pregnancy but also for other reasons. Basically, this book is about your core and how it works and how to protect and use it well. I generally find books full of exercises difficult to implement, but this one helped me in that it gave me a better understanding of core function as a whole, and made suggestions for how to alter regular activities to make them more supportive. I won’t say that my stomach is back to normal, and honestly I suspect it never will be, but at least I can move toward more health in that area thanks to Bowman’s book.

Overall health is pretty much my goal for now–I am exercising (30 Day Shred for life!) and trying to eat well, and the scale does not budge, so weight loss can’t be my motivator! It’s amazing to me that six months after going through so much I am even able to exercise, nurse my baby, and handle managing life with five kids. It’s all grace and a constant reminder to thankfulness!

If you’re interested in core health or have had babies, I’d recommend Diastasis Recti. I’ve also found Lose Your Mummy Tummy and Maternal Fitness helpful in the past, and for some reason Jillian’s Six Week Six Pack helped a lot after one of my kids, although I wouldn’t recommend it until you get your core back into pretty good shape post-partum.

And as one final note for those who don’t have DR but are interested in biomechanics generally (and it’s really interesting!), I noticed that Bowman has several other books and might check them out. If you’ve read any, let me know your thoughts!

 

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Some fairy tales for your summer reading list

If you’re starting to compile a summer reading list–either for read-alouds, audio books for car trips, or chapter books to keep your kids racking up points for prizes–you might want to consider some fairy tale-type stories.

Edith Nesbit is one of our favorite authors, and although she doesn’t write strictly fairy tale narratives, she does often weave in magic or fairy tale aspects.  We recently listened to two more of her books on audio–The Enchanted Castle and The Magic World–and were not disappointed.

castleThe Enchanted Castle involves and enchanted castle, naturally, and the adventures of a group of siblings bored on summer holiday plus a friend who is the niece of the housekeeper at the aforementioned castle.  The reader for the audio book was superb, and it’s always delightful to learn new (to us) old-fashioned British slang terms.  We’ve added “look slippy about it!” and “don’t be a GOAT!” to our repertoire thanks to this volume.

 

magicThe Magic World is actually a series of short stories, and it turns out that many of them were inspirational to other famous authors.  You’ll find, for example, a little girl who goes into a wardrobe in a spare room and has adventures. Sound familiar?

Shannon Hale is a modern writer who specializes somewhat in retellings of old and possibly less common fairy tales. Hannah enjoyed reading a number of these and asked me to read two to discuss with her.

princess-academyPrincess Academy  is a well-told tale of mountain girls being trained for potential princess-hood, then working together to bring the best of their village culture to bear in problem solving.  I enjoyed the book–especially the well-written setting–and Hannah and I had a good discussion about whether the ends ever justify the means (the book implies that they do).

 

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Hannah really liked Book of a Thousand Days since she is partial to diaries and this book uses that frame. Neither of us felt it was quite as strong as Princess Academy, but it was still a good story. The setting, somewhere in Asia, was interesting. After reading these two books, Hannah read a few more, but I didn’t decide to keep going.

 

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While not technically a fairy tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is fantasy and thus belongs to this post as much as do Nesbit’s books. Plus, after reading the abovementioned Nesbit tale you might be inspired to look up other wardrobe stories too!  We remembered it had been a while since we read of Narnia, so we got the audio book to listen to in the car. It was quite well done and we all loved listening to the story (again). We might go through the series this summer as our library has the audio books available on Overdrive (by far the cheapest and easiest way to get audio books–ask if your library has it!). That said, we do recommend the actual books as well.  This is one of those series where each child in the family needs his or her own set!

And of course, if you are thinking about your own Summer Reading, or have a teen, the Lunar Chronicles are great reconceptions of fairy tale elements.

 

What’s on your list for this summer?

 

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A Town Like Alice

aliceI keep saying I’m done reading about World War II, but this month one of my book clubs chose A Town Like Alice and although I missed the meeting (I’m turning into That Person Who Always Misses Book Club…) I really enjoyed the book.

The book follows a remarkably resilient girl through an amazing (and based on a true story) survival in World War II Malaya, to her attempt at a post-war life in England, and finally her likewise amazing adulthood as a pioneer of sorts in the Australian bush. The author did a great job with the settings, so that I wished I could visit each of them, especially Australia, cat-eating-spiders notwithstanding.

The only issue I had with the book was a sort of shaky narrator–I wish Shute had settled on a slightly different frame and/or had been more consistent with the point of view. However, the book is still great and I’d recommend it, whether or not you like World War II stories or tales about Australia.

 

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The Island of the World

islandThe Island of the World is like a fantastic book combined with a so-so book, resulting in a four-star book that is about 300 pages too long.

Allow me to explain.

I am not against books that top out over 900 pages, but you have to earn that length. At points, this book is exceptional.  As a piece of historical fiction about the Balkans, and as a lyrically written story of how a boy’s life is irrevocably impacted by the circumstance of his birth in that region in the 1900s. I thought the story was amazing, with exceptional attention to detail that never felt overwhelming.

However.

The book also contains vast passages of didactic conversations that don’t advance the plot, minor characters that don’t really go anywhere, and meandering subplots that don’t serve the story. The book would have been much, much better without those sections.

That said, I really did enjoy The Island of the World, and would recommend it if you don’t mind plodding through or skimming the unnecessary portions. I especially recommend it if you are interested in the Balkans or don’t know much about that part of the world. This book greatly expanded my understanding of that region.

 

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Warriors of the Storm

Warriors of the Storm HB.inddIf you like Bernard Cornwell novels, you will love Warriors of the Storm, because….

…wait for it…

…it’s a Bernard Cornwell novel.

And oh, is there ever a formula for these.

It’s a good formula. But after reading several of the books in the Saxon series, I kind of feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

I’ll keep reading the series because at SOME POINT Uhtred will finally either win or lose at his ultimate goal, but I wish Cornwell would hurry up!

I don’t mean to pan Cornwell overall. He writes excellent battle scenes and I think he does a great job of capturing the somewhat more murky periods of British history.

Do you usually stick with a series, even if it gets a little drawn out or starts to disappoint?

 

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Read-alouds for China, Afghanistan, and Grammar

red scarf girlRed Scarf Girl is a memoir of a young girl growing up under Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China. There are some difficult parts and some profanity, so I’d recommend reading it aloud so you can skip over what you need to, or stop to discuss it with your kids. We had good discussions on how you can know if your government is just or tyrannical, when and why it might be advisable to resist tyranny, and why people don’t speak out or flee when they are persecuted or see others persecuted. Because we study history chronologically, we could also contrast the book with other similar cultural moments. If you’re studying this time period, I think Red Scarf Girl is a good choice, but it might not be one I’d pick up just for fun bedtime reading. If you do pick it up, be aware that you’ll probably want to talk over the themes and issues with your kids–that can be really fruitful, even with younger elementary kids!

breadwinnerSet in Afghanistan just as the Taliban took over, The Breadwinner follows an eleven-year-old girl who must resort to a disguise when her family is devastated by loss. While the subject matter is difficult–Parvana’s father is dragged off to prison, her mother struggles with debilitating depression, the family is in constant danger of starvation or worse–the tone stays hopeful and the setting emphasizes the resilience and humanity of the Afghan people.

The Breadwinner is the first book in a series, but Hannah read the second one and from talking to her I think it might be thematically too much for a ten-year-old, so we skipped the other books.  Again, if you use this as a read-aloud you’ll have more insight into whether your kids are ready for it or if it might be too much.

Book-Cover-the-phantom-tollbooth-1342828-311-475And now for some lighter fare! The Phantom Tollbooth is a funny story built around the humor of language. If your kids are familiar with homophones and can appreciate the hilarity of misused turns of phrase, this book will be a hit.  We used it as a read-aloud, but at times I thought it might have been better as a read-alone, because I had to stop and make a note of it when the jokes were based on spelling. Then again, I also reformatted some words as I read (no real reason to interchange the terms “demon” and “monster” in my mind, so we went with monster, etc).

Still, The Phantom Tollbooth was a fun and silly book that we all liked very much. It would be a good one to put on your summer reading list if you haven’t read it already!

Are you starting your summer reading lists yet? If so, what are you planning to read with or to your kids this summer?

 

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Hannah Reads: Marie Antoinette

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From Hannah, our resident ten-year-old:

Personally, I do not keep a diary, but I have always wanted to do that. I’ve tried before, but I couldn’t keep up with it. My days are often the same old routine, so it turns into writing the same thing over and over again. Also, what I do doesn’t seem that interesting to me–can you imagine if I wrote down the step-by-step way I unload the dishwasher? BORING!

However, I do enjoy reading other people’s diaries in books. You can come to understand their feelings, even if they are really a stinker! That happens a lot in books, that someone seems like a stinker, but then you understand their feelings and then you can start to take their side.

For example, lots of people think that Marie Antoinette was mean to her subjects and cared only for pleasure. However, Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles gives a whole different look at her character and personality. The book is fiction, but written as if it was Marie Antoinette’s diary. I think the author did that so readers might change their minds about Marie Antoinette.

I, for one, sympathized with Marie Antoinette from early on in the book. She had almost no friends in her life, and her mother was busy being an empress rather than taking the time to get to know her children. So I felt bad for her because that seems like a dreadful life. She was also forced to marry a French guy she didn’t know!  And he was fat! She was very disappointed when she saw him. If she had gotten to know him first, she might have come to like him in spite of his fatness and the fact that he did not even know how to make a snowball, if you can imagine that!  Personally, I would rather marry someone who knows how to make snowballs even if he is fat, because I would like to have snowball fights be a part of my life! Or, if I live where there is no snow, perhaps sock ball fights!

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles is a fascinating book to read, full of interesting facts about French etiquette, not to mention details about fine dresses. If you like historical fiction, I would recommend it.

Hannah’s questions for kids (and adults):

  • Have you ever wanted to be part of a royal family?
  • Do you keep a diary?
  • Would you let other people read your diary?

 

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The Measure of Success

TheMeasureOfSuccess_CVR-1In The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home, author Carolyn McCulley interacts with secular and biblical arguments and proposed solutions to questions about gender roles and what it means to be a woman and successful.

I thought the author made strong points about life being a series of phases, rather than one brief shot at Doing It All all at once.  She also had good insight into a Christian perspective on ambition and how that can play out in different ways during different seasons of life.

I wouldn’t say that The Measure of Success is a drop-everything-and-read-it-now book. While it’s not ultimately very prescriptive (and that’s part of the point), the book does form an interesting addition to the broader dialog about womanhood. If you’re interested in that conversation, you might find the book worthwhile.

 

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Rest Assured

Rest-Assured-CoverIf you’re coming from a place of extreme busyness and you feel that your online life is out of control, you might find good food for thought in Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls. But if you’ve already thought a lot about this topic and have made good progress in living your priorities, this may not be as rich of a resource.

The author clearly calls out social media use and online time wastage in general, which may be startling for 20-30 somethings. While I thought some of her points came across as biased toward life before ubiquitous internet-enabled devices, she did make a strong case for the fact that thoughtful technology use is now counter-cultural.

Of course, just because something is counter-cultural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. While I personally have cut back substantially on social media and non-work internet use this year, I see that as something I’ve done for my own season of life and out of a need to honestly live my priorities, not a moral imperative others need to follow.

It is interesting to think about how we could develop a coherent theology of technology use, but I think this might be one of those areas where lack of deep thought leads people to take their own methods and try to apply them as universal standards. I think with technology especially there is a lot of grey space where we have to know ourselves and our attitudes and callings and honestly evaluate it for ourselves.  That takes a lot of work, and a checklist would be easier!  I do think this book offers some good points to think about, as long as you can approach them with an eye toward filtering the author’s conclusions through the lens of your own tendencies and personality and situation.

There were a few drawbacks to the book. I had a problem with the tone in several places.  In what seemed like an attempt to be funny the author often put others down in a way that was not actually humorous–it was needlessly mean and catty.  In other places, the author wrote in a way that made suggestions seem like imperatives and it took away from her points.

There is a lot of good material in Rest Assured, so depending on your interest level you might find it worth a read, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite book in this topic area.

 

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