Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?

 

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A quick, inexpensive resource for updating your home

homeIt’s that time of year again. Those of us who grew up moving around start to get the itch.  Isn’t it about time we started over? What if we moved to Austin? Or Oslo? Or Edinburgh?

If, like me, a move is not in the cards for you, or if you are otherwise in need of some amping up for your environs, I’d recommend Lovable Livable Home.

Written by the same couple that wrote Young House Love (link is to my review), Lovable Livable Home is likewise filled with doable projects that could help you transform your space simply but well. Depending on your skill level, you could find quick and easy projects or ideas for ways to integrate some professional help.

I liked how the book was not dependent on one style or set of Unbreakable Rules, but could be inspirational for people with different tastes and types of homes.  I also appreciated how the Petersiks are up front about the work involved, lest you start ripping out walls and appliances without regard for what you’re getting into.

I like to think about problem areas and come up with solutions, and this book delivers that. For example, the door leading from our garage into an awkward little space where the washer and dryer and shoes and coats and mops and whatnot live causes me trouble. I hate it when people come in to the house that way, tromping up bare, half-made stairs, through a scratched up grey door, and right past all of the unmentionables hanging to dry. I haven’t yet devised a solution to the unmentionables issue, but Lovable Livable Home does have a GREAT section on sprucing up garage doors.  I think I may add parts of it to my summer list.

If you like the idea of small budget projects with big impact, I’d recommend Lovable Livable Home.  It’s $27.50 at list price, but for some reason it’s marked down to $6.38 at the time of this writing.  You could also see if your library has it, which is what I always recommend first, especially if your library allows unlimited renewals!

Do you have any home improvement projects on tap for this summer?

 

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On Purpose and Flourishing – a course and a few books

I like to think about things like goals and living on purpose, and I try (more or less desperately) to live a life of flourishing regardless of circumstances. The events of the past year have made me more deliberate in this regard, but also much less hubristic about the whole thing. Of course, since this is me, I keep learning!

UpstreamFieldGuide-464x600Being someone who generally learns better from books than from audio, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tsh Oxenrider’s (author of Notes From a Blue Bike) course Upstream Field Guide. I had looked at the course several times because I liked the premise of uncovering and living into your life’s purpose even if you’re swimming upstream of the regular culture, but I was always uncertain because of price. It’s a lot of content–eight segments with Tsh, and a couple of additional interview pieces per session, plus a workbook–but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to pay for it and kept wishing Tsh would just write a book on the topic.

So when it came up in a bundle at 1/2 to 1/3 the regular price, I decided to pull the trigger and YES, it was absolutely worth the price of the bundle (the rest of the bundle is e-books you can take or leave, but will probably mostly leave–I looked at it as being totally the price of Upstream Field Guide).

The course takes you through a lot of exercises designed to get at your purpose. I found many of them similar to Make It Happen, except MIH (and PowerSheets) are more geared toward purpose and goals on a year by year schedule, whereas Upstream Field Guide is geared toward life purpose apart from individual roles (mom, teacher, writer, etc) and goals.

You might be skeptical, especially if you’re already a fairly introspective person. I was really, really surprised at how the exercises and insights from the course revealed a handful of things that came up again and again and translated to a purpose statement. I’ve read a lot about purpose statements but have never before done one because it always seemed forced or too based on current life stage–or maybe I was just never ready for it or pushed to the edge enough for it.  Upstream Field Guide was different, and very helpful for me. Articulating a purpose has helped me to think through prioritizing in a different and more consistent way.

Spelling out your purpose then helps you to set better goals, and Tsh walks through goal setting in the course too–again with a similar framework to Lara Casey’s though not in the same detail, I still recommend Casey’s goal setting process as the best I’ve found–and how to evaluate where you are in life compared to where you want to be.

Depending on when you read this, you might be able to get the Upstream Field Guide course for the bundle price–the bundle is available June 1 and 2, 2016. If you’ve looked at the course but have been on the fence, this is a good time to snag it.

own your lifeIf you’ve been reading here for a while you might remember that I have already reviewed Sally Clarkson’s Own Your Life. Ahem. Remember what I said at the beginning of the post about hubris? That. When I last read Own Your Life, I was about to enter a very difficult and intense year, with challenges on just about every life front. I had no idea of course, and so at that point I thought ok, sure, but Sally Clarkson is not Type A enough for me!  Let’s take over the world with our strong and mighty selves and be great at all the things!  Well. This time around, having been more than a little humbled, I was deeply impacted by the book.

As it turns out, it wasn’t so much my ENTJ personality that didn’t connect before, but rather my I’ve-got-this attitude. Own Your Life is full of good messages for anyone–to take responsibility for your life and make choices toward your ideals–but it really resonates when you’re looking for encouragement to do the hard work of really leaning into and owning the story you’re in.  Reading this book at the same time I was going through Upstream Field Guide was helpful in a big picture, heart and soul sort of way. This time around I recommend Own Your Life heartily!

living forwardHaving read Michael Hyatt’s blog and listened to his podcast intermittently, I was interested to read his latest book, Living Forward, which is about putting together a life plan. To be honest, I was hoping for more. If you’ve never read anything on goal setting or life planning, you might find the book helpful, but since I read a lot in the genre, I was sort of underwhelmed.  Most of the book seemed derived from other sources, like Getting Things Done (link is my review of GTD), or very similar to other goal setting tips you can get from Hyatt’s blog or other similar sources.  If anything, I’d recommend this as a library book.

If you’ve ever put together a personal purpose statement, how did it work? Did it help you? Did it stick?

 

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Mother Tongue

mother tongueIn Mother Tongue, Christine Gilbert recounts her family’s adventures while immersing themselves in three very different cultures. At first this may sound like one of those myriad “I spent a year doing thus-and-such and lo, I am changed” books, but in fact Gilbert’s memoir is thoughtful, interesting, and inspiring.

While her idea was kicked off with some research indicating being bilingual staves off dementia for an additional five years–her grandfather, who spoke Finnish and English, had recently died of Alzheimer’s and Gilbert was grateful for the last years of his life–over the course of the book you see how Gilbert and her husband are not just approaching their lives as maximizing brains-on-a-stick. Rather, they are carving out a global culture for their family.

Gilbert is not uniformly successful in her attempt to learn two level 5 languages plus Spanish and some Thai in a couple of years. Her son learns some of the languages and then seems to drop them. Geopolitical events and a new baby necessitate changes to plans. But along the way, she and her husband really lean into the family they are becoming. I was touched by how sacrificially her husband loves and cares for Gilbert, how well they work together, and how fiercely Gilbert loves her children. More than the gift of multiple mother tongues, Gilbert winds up giving her children a family culture that is admirable and inspiring.

Along the way, I learned quite a few interesting things about learning languages that will be helpful to me as I dabble and as I consider languages for my children. Reading the book really made me wish I could pick everyone up and move abroad for a while!  Having lived all over the US and in Asia and Europe growing up, it bothers me that my kids are parked in one location. But reading Mother Tongue reminded me that even though our jobs are not as mobile as the author’s and her husband’s, we can still work towards building a family culture that is more global and adventurous.

I enjoyed Mother Tongue and would recommend it to anyone interested in languages, family travel, or memoirs in general.

Have you learned a language while living abroad? Do you think it was easier or stuck better than learning it at home?

 

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Read-alouds about Egypt

Because education is a life and we aren’t bound by grade-levels around here, we wrapped up our study of the history, literature, and geography of the 1900s (Tapestry Year 4) just before Easter, and then jumped right back into the ancient world (Tapestry Year 1) after spring break. This is the first time we are cycling back through the year plans, and it has been really interesting to use the material with a 10 1/2, almost 9, and 7 1/2 year old (last time they were 6, 5, and 3). I’m glad we decided to start in right away because it has given me a chance to experiment with how much work load Hannah can handle. We are now using the Dialectic, Upper Grammar, and Lower Grammar reading lists and assignments, not so much by reading level as by how much they can handle in terms of writing.

Anyway, Tapestry geeking out aside, we chose three read-alouds on Egypt, reviewed below. We read a lot of non-fiction and shorter fiction together too, and the kids also read several other longer books independently, but these are the ones I can speak for as longer read-alouds.

golden gobletOur favorite was The Golden Goblet. I knew we’d like this one since it is by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and we were not disappointed.  I think all three big kids read it on their own, and we also listened to it in audio book form. It’s a great story, with lots of adventure and themes about kids being brave and doing the right thing  no matter what.

We highly recommend this one for boys, girls, and as a read-aloud or audio book.

 

bubastesThe Cat of Bubastes is a solid story, but we chose to listen to an audio version that was less than stellar. The narrator chose some really difficult-to-love accents for different characters, and we could not restrain ourselves from making fun of them at times.  Still, the fact that we kept listening anyway probably speaks well for the story itself! Next time we will read this one independently or I’ll read it aloud.

As a cool aside, we realized that part of this book forms one of the settings in a favorite book of ours, The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit!  If you’ve read that one (and if not, you should!) see if your kids notice the scene.

maia of thebesMaia of Thebes is decent historical fiction set during the reign of Hatshepsut. It has a lot of good setting information, although we wound up discussing the fact that the author implies that lying is ok as long as it’s for a good cause.  Things like this are why I think it’s a good idea to read and discuss books with the kids!

Jack said to tell you that he didn’t mind it as a read-aloud but he doesn’t think boys would enjoy it too much as an independent read.

 

What is your favorite book about Egypt?

 

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May Hodge-Podge

the-best-yes-bookIn The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst writes about how we can be better decision makers. Breaking past the usual “don’t let the good be the enemy of the best” one-liners, Terkeurst explores the relationships between wisdom, discernment, and prudence and how we can apply them in our own modern lives.

While I wouldn’t say that there was a lot of brand new information in the book, it was certainly a refreshingly different way of framing the topics of time management, prioritization, and purpose. I’d recommend it as food for thought.

a walk in the woodsA Walk in the Woods made me want to go hiking. At least during the day.  Bryson’s descriptions of all day hikes sounded wonderful, but sleeping in freezing, wet, rodent-infested lean-tos…not my cup of tea.

In any case, the book is Bryson’s memoir of sort-of-kind-of-not-really hiking the Appalachian Trail. He and his friend put in a lot of time, then gave up, did some random stabs at day hikes, and another semi-serious hike at the end, during which they also gave up.  This being Bill Bryson there were some funny parts, some super interesting parts, and some annoyingly whingey parts. Overall I don’t regret reading it, but might not recommend it unless you just love hiking memoirs.

edge of lostThe Edge of Lost was fine, as predictable novels go. You have an Irish kid (with a…wait for it…alcoholic uncle!), an Italian family (with a son who…wait for it…gets tangled up with the Mafia!), and it all wraps up seamlessly at the end.  The author all but skated past the really interesting facet of her premise–the civilian families who lived on Alcatraz–which was too bad.  If you don’t mind plot points you can see a mile away and too-easy solutions, you might enjoy this novel.  Otherwise, you could really skip it.

 

Have you read any great books lately? Or any we should skip? 

 

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Devotional books for kids

gods namesI’m always looking around for good books to use for Biblestudy with the kids. God’s Names by Sally Michael (it was recommended in Tapestry of Grace) turned out to be an excellent choice for my elementary aged kids.

The book devotes one section to each of 26 different names of God. The lesson includes Scripture passages (written out in the text, but it also works to ask the kids to find the passages and read them from their own Bibles) that use that name to describe God, explanations of why that name was important in context, and application of how we can think about God and respond to Him based on our new understanding of who He is.

I really liked this approach. In the course of learning the names of God, kids (and adults!) develop a more complete understanding of God’s character–who He is and what He values. It was easy to make strong applications, and the lessons also built on each other, referencing names we had already learned about, so the way that different things work together was simpler to understand.

God’s Names worked well to do together with my group of kids, but you could also use it as an individual study if you have a kid who is ready for an independent approach.  I’d recommend it.

salvationI expected to love Starr Meade’s God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation–after all, we really enjoy her daily study based on the catechism (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds) and continue to use that each morning.

The information in the book is good, but I think the layout didn’t click with our family. Each day gives a passage to read from Galatians, and then has a short, loosely related story or series of thoughts based on one of the themes from the passage.  There are also application questions at the end. I think there were a couple of reasons why this set-up didn’t work for us. First, it didn’t seem like we were studying the passage–I was hoping for more explanation that shed light on the verses, or a structure that helped the kids learn about salvation in general–and the little readings were ok but not fantastic.  I guess overall the book seemed like something we were just reading to get through it, rather than really learning from. It could have been a case of the right book at the wrong time, or just a style preference.  We do still recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, though!

What devotional books have you tried and liked with your family?

 

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Yet another take on Richard III

Should you find yourself in the mood for more speculation about Richard III and the princes in the tower (if The Princes in the Tower, A Dangerous Inheritance, Elizabeth of York, and The Sunne in Splendor–to say nothing of Shakespeare–weren’t enough for you), and particularly if you enjoy mystery stories, you might like Josephine Tey’s much lauded book The Daughter of Time.

I enjoyed the book, although for those who have read Alison Weir on the subject you might find the facts presented too simplistically. Tey’s account paints the whole confusing jumble of the Wars of the Roses-Richard III-Bosworth Field-Plantagenets to Tudors progression as if it was really quite cut-and-dried, in spite of centuries of speculation.

In fact, one of Tey’s main themes is the idea that our common understanding of history is often wrong. She cites several examples, including an impassioned declaration that the Scottish Covenanters were in fact terrorists, and much worse than the IRA. That took me somewhat aback as it runs quite counter to what I’ve heard on the subject. Perhaps it really is an example of mistaken understanding of history, but given that I couldn’t entirely come over to Tey’s side for Richard III, I’d much rather see what historians have to say. (To that end, if you have recommendations for good–readable, available–Scottish history, I’d love to hear them!)

All in all, The Daughter of Time is quite readable and enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of the time period and open to reading different perspectives on history.

What do you think of Richard III? Is he guilty of murdering the princes or just massively maligned? 

 

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Raising Grateful Kids

Raising-Grateful-KidsRaising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World contains lots of helpful advice about how to accomplish the task named in the title, but I also found wisdom on several seemingly unrelated topics that the author skillfully tied to her main premise.

Kristen Welch does a good job of diagnosing the problem of ungratefulness and establishing some of the cultural circumstances that foster it in kids. Some of her solutions are what you would expect–don’t spoil kids, give them boundaries, expand their perspective, teach them to be thankful for the pancakes–while others were surprisingly and helpfully different.

  • “Compassionate parents raise their children to be prepared for an uncertain future.” Welch writes about not assuming that our children will be in a better financial situation than we are, but this idea extends to making sure your kids can choose a vocation or location regardless of whether it can sustain their habits of consumption.
  • Kids need to be taught how to use social media carefully. Since platforms change all the time, it’s better to establish general guidelines to help kids be wise online, especially since the online world tends to present unrealistic pictures and foster discontent.
  • “The most important thing we can teach our kids is self-control.” Welch does a fantastic job of outlining why the habit of self-control is foundational for so many aspects of gratefulness. This section gave me a lot to think about.

Although most people would probably say that gratitude is important, actually living in gratefulness is countercultural in ways you may not have thought about before. If you’re interested in raising kids who are characterized by gratitude rather than entitlement, I’d recommend Raising Grateful Kids as a strong resource.

 

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Smarter Faster Better

smatter faster better-500x500Smarter Faster Better looks at productivity and how really effective people actually achieve more. The author looks beyond the busy churn to identify powerful habits for being effective, regardless of your sphere of life.

Duhigg makes an important distinction between looking productive and actually being productive.  He writes:

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self marketing.

And there’s so much of modern online life in a nutshell, hm?

So we have to be sure that we aren’t using our To Do list as “mood repair” but rather that we are doing the right things in the first place.

How do we do this? Duhigg identifies several important habits for being truly productive:

  • Paying attention. Duhigg suggests managing your focus and attention by narrating your life as you go. Can he have been reading Charlotte Mason, or is that just a coincidence? 🙂
  • Self-motivation. People who realize that they have agency and can make choices are more effective than people who let life happen to them.
  • Wisely allocating energy. Effectiveness isn’t about doing something with every second of every day. It’s about doing the right things at the right time with the right energy.
  • Performing scenario analysis. In my pre-kids job, I did a lot of this sort of exercise: given what we know, what might happen in the future? Considering a worst case, best case, and middle ground possibility helps people make better choices and be more mindful of subtle changes to the status quo. Rather than making the false binary choices that our brains naturally like (you can have this OR this), envisioning alternate outcomes allows you to see situations more clearly.

I thought this book was helpful and a good reminder, although it used examples and conclusions that I have–for the most part–read elsewhere. It’s good to read information from different angles. So I’d recommend Smarter Faster Better if you like the habits/goals/life purpose genre, although I wouldn’t say it was life-changing on its own.

If you read the book–or if you have thoughts on productivity outside Duhigg’s examples–I’d be interested to know which habits you think characterize truly effective people?

 

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