Be Happy, Christian Style

Happy-ChristianIn his wide ranging book The Happy Christian, David Murray offers his spin on the psychology research surrounding happiness.  If you’ve read much in this genre before you’ll recognize the books and studies he cites, and you may have made many of the same applications to your life if you’re a Christian, but Murray’s book is still helpful and worthwhile, especially if you have no intention of reading anything else about happiness.

Many of Murray’s points were good reminders of things I had already read in other sources, but I found several of his points particularly strong:

  • In his exposition of the Psalms Murray describes the biblical model for realistic happiness.  Rather than shoving your feelings and the reality of your circumstances under the rug, the Psalms show that it’s better to accept reality in context, looking to the past for examples of God’s faithfulness in order to generate the solid hope that allows for happiness and contentment.
  • I also liked Murray’s application of Paul’s exhortation to think on whatever things are true in light of our cultural tendency toward criticism and negativity.
  • The section on prejudice and the Church’s call to be radically inclusive was particularly well thought-out and relevant in light of current events.  

While I personally have found some secular books on happiness to be better overall resources thanThe Happy Christian, Murray’s application of happiness research to the Christian life has value and I’d recommend it.


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Summer Reading: Wildwood Series

wildwoodThe kids went on a tear this summer with various series. I couldn’t read them all, but thought this one looked intriguing and I really, really enjoyed it. The Wildwood Chronicles–Wildwood, Under Wildwood
and Wildwood Imperium–follow two kids from Portland who stumble into a hidden civilization right outside the city, which everyone in Portland calls the Impassible Wilderness but which inhabitants of the area call Wildwood.  Written by Colin Meloy, who is also lead singer and songwriter of the band the Decembrists, and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis, who also illustrated the Lemony Snicket books, the series draws from elements of Narnia (talking animals, wicked queen), Middle Earth (trees that get involved in just war), Robin Hood (outlaws who steal from the rich to give to the poor), and other classic tales of adventure and worlds within worlds.  The books are very well written, imaginative, and memorable–full of adventure, quests, and epic battles where good wins out over evil.

under wildwoodIn short, these are great books for summer reading, or for any time.  These are the sorts of books that I’d give for gifts because kids would read them over and over, and because in addition to great writing they also have excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, which really adds to the work.

One thing I particularly loved about the books was the author’s willingness to make them long (over 550 pages for a Middle Grade book is unusual), to use great vocabulary and literary allusions, and to approach complex themes with much greater nuance than usual in a children’s book.  I so appreciate authors who respect kids as able to handle ideas.  Certainly some of these things will go over the heads of lots of readers, but it can’t hurt to plant seeds that either challenge generally accepted orthodoxies or parallel historical developments.

Wildwood ImperiumI’d recommend the Wildwood Chronicles for boys and girls who like fantasy and adventure and who aren’t daunted by slightly longer books.  Topically, they are fine for younger kids who are solid readers, in my opinion, although there are a couple (literally only three to four out of three over 500 page books) of language issues you might want to discuss with younger kids who don’t filter that well yet.

And if your kids get this series, parents you will want to read it too.  Not just because of the compelling storytelling and great writing, but because the books are full of fodder for great conversations with your kids!

If you or your kids read this series, my kids want to know what you liked best and which part of Wildwood you’d want to join.  


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Paring Down and Tidying Up

marie_kondoI’ve read several reviews of Marie Kondo’s best seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Many focus on making fun of the touchy-feely aspects of the book (thanking your belongings for their service, the idea that your complexion might clear up if you tidy your house), but several friends whose opinions I respect and who are not usually given to sillyness got a lot out of the book so I read it in spite of my suspicion that I might be too rational/analytical for it.

I’m glad I did make the time, because getting sidetracked into the opportunities for poking fun would miss the truly helpful and insightful aspects of the volume.  I tend to lean more towards minimalism anyway–I get stressed out by visual clutter of any kind–and so I’m not sure how the book would sit with people who don’t mind clutter or who are pack-rats, but because Kondo’s approach emphasizes understanding why you have things and arranging them to make them easier to keep tidy, I think it might work for a variety of personalities.

Here are a few things that stuck out to me:

  • Disposing of an item does not negate your identity.  This insight was so helpful to me, because I realized I was holding on to stuff that didn’t bring me joy, because I associated those items with past experiences.  Obviously I didn’t get rid of the watercolor we bought on our honeymoon–that sort of momento does bring me joy.  But the shiny gold toga I had in a drawer left over from college parties?  Taking it out of my drawer neither caused my diploma to disintegrate nor made me less of the person who loved theme parties in college (and wishes adults threw them too).
  • “When we delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear of the future.”  In addition to attachment to the past (ahem: gold toga) this insight helped me to process the number of things I was saving just in case.  Did we truly ever scramble through the junk drawer when we needed a spare button or random screw? Not once.  Have I ever sorted through a tangle of old cords and actually found something I needed?  Never.  Do I flip through the manual to an appliance when something isn’t working?  No, I troubleshoot online or call the company. It hit me: I could just let all this stuff go. My kitchen drawers and desk are SO much easier to use as a result, and it actually does have an amazing effect on my clarity of mind.
  • We all have plenty of clothes–you’ll feel better if you only keep the ones you really love and that make you happy to wear and own.  I’m actually fairly ruthless about clothing in general, but when I sorted my closet and dresser drawers with the joy framework in mind, I was able to let go of a lot of things.  Why would I want to wear things that aren’t flattering, are worn out, or are out of style?  I sold some things, donated some, and threw some away.
  • Storing clothes and other items so they can be seen and easily accessed reduces stress.  I was most skeptical of Kondo’s folding claims, but two friends raved about it so I tried it.  Whoa.  I completely emptied one set of drawers and left space in all the others.  EVERY single shirt I own–for all seasons, including camisoles, maternity, and transition to and from maternity–now fits easily into one drawer.
  • You don’t need special organizers–shoe boxes work perfectly.  Using smaller boxes and lids to segment things has made my bathroom cabinet, dresser drawers, kitchen drawers, and storage area so much more efficient and simple to use.  It’s really amazing how a little thing like this can make me feel more peaceful as I get ready in the morning, get someone a new tube of toothpaste, or grab something to wear.

So is it life-changing?  Hyperbolic titles sell books, but often disappoint.  In this case, however–and I can’t believe my NT self is writing this–I really do think the book lived up to it’s title for me.  A lot of people live in my house and we have a lot going on.  There’s a reason why a book titled “Overwhelmed” resonated with me last month.  But paring down and tidying up really has had an impact.  I spend fewer minutes scrambling for a rubber band, searching for a particular shirt, or restacking things in the pantry–and that adds up to a nice little stress reduction.  I imagine that if you aren’t naturally given to tidying up or paring down, the book could have an even greater impact on how you live.

Although there are downsides toThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, overall I found it helpful, thought-provoking, and inspiring and I’d highly recommend it.  If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought!


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School Year Wrap-Up

image5We put in some extra school days this month so that I can plan to take a little time off when the baby arrives this fall.  However, we are taking a few weeks off as a longer summer break because we need one!

This year we studied the 1800s for history, literature, art history, composer study, and geography.  It was so fruitful to do those subjects together as the kids are getting so good at seeing connections between ideas and having meaningful discussions.  We also did science together, studying birds mostly, with a few smaller forays into habitats relevant to things we were reading about in other subjects.  Memory work included poetry, Shakespeare, hymns, passages from the Bible, states and capitals (not very diligently on my part), and some other useful things.

DSC_0382Hannah – 3rd Grade

This year Hannah made huge strides in her ability to do work independently and cheerfully.  She was really fun to teach and I loved the depth and complexity of our conversations about books and issues we studied.

  • Math – Hannah completed Saxon 5/4 and began Saxon 6/5.  She grasped the material well conceptually and also did great at writing out long problem sets, which is the big jump in these levels.
  • Reading – Reading is still Hannah’s favorite subject.  She reads anything and everything, and fast.
  • Language Arts – We did a bunch of different Language Arts programs this year (she’s the guinea pig of the family!) including First Language Lessons 4, Writing With Ease 4, Michael Clay Thompson’s materials, and IEW.  We dropped formal cursive study from her list and I just had her do her copywork and compositions in cursive, which improved greatly this year.  While I can definitely tell that her writing improved in different ways from each program we used, I decided that going forward we will stick to Susan Wise Bauer’s approach to grammar and writing as it fits us best, at least for now.  Creative writing is no problem–her last composition was a story about what would happen if Almanzo from Farmer Boy married Ophelia from Hamlet!  She wrote it in epistolary format because she thought that would be a good way to make a lot of comparisons.  I love her brain!
  • Spelling – Hallelujah we found a spelling program that works for this kid!  While she still spells very intuitively on her own, I have seen a lot of improvement since we switched to All About Spelling.  I pulled her way back into level 2 and she completed both levels 2 and 3, and then moved into level 4.  I think linking the phonics rules to spelling rules clicked with her brain.
  • Foreign Language – We made it part way through Latina Christiana I before morning sickness put a hard stop to Latin for everyone this semester.  I’m not too worried about that.  We also limped around with PowerGlide Spanish (my fault for letting it slide off the schedule too often), and plan to co-op that next year for accountability.

DSC_0385Jack – 2nd Grade

Jack is in a tricky phase where his ability to do work far outstrips his desire to sit around writing a lot of things down.  However, he did make a lot of progress overall in his handwriting and ability to get stuff done when he put his mind to it.  The thing that sticks out to me most about Jack this year is his level of thinking on deep or seemingly unrelated topics.  He has a philosophical bent and cares very deeply about things like injustice.  This can make parenting and teaching him more difficult, but also more rewarding.

  • Math – I kept Jack in Saxon 3 long after I realized it was boring him, because I was afraid to give him the next level, which requires students to write down the problem sets instead of giving it to them workbook style.  But eventually I made the switch and while it is very, very hard for him to write everything down (he can do mental math well, so he’d rather just put the answer) I think the bigger challenge in material might make up for it.  So he’s in the Saxon 5/4 book Hannah finished.
  • Reading – Jack is really into the fantasy genre–Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and the like.  Also adventure stories.  He reads books with girl main characters too in a pinch, but “only if there is a LOT going on, and not just a bunch of dolls.”
  • Language Arts – We used First Language Lessons 3 and Writing With Ease 3, but didn’t have Jack do a lot of formal writing assignments.  He did plenty of creative writing, including movie scripts and fan fiction.  For cursive we moved into just doing copywork in cursive and his penmanship improved dramatically.
  • Spelling – Jack is more of a natural speller and so he finished All About Spelling level 3 and got quite a way into level 4.
  • Foreign Language – We did most of Prima Latina before the aforementioned Latin cessation.  I’m not sure it’s as good of a fit as it was for Hannah.  He loves Spanish and wished we could have done more, but will take it at co-op next year.

DSC_0378Sarah – Kindergarten

Sarah was a real joy to teach this year.  She took off in so many directions and always had such a hard-working and teachable spirit.  At last!  An easy child!  :)  She is very self-motivated and determined to move at warp speed.

  • Math – Sarah breezed through the rest of Saxon 1 and most of Saxon 2 this year.  She has about 20 lessons left, so I plan to layer the new material in with the beginning review sections of Saxon 3 next fall.  Sarah LOVES math and was bound and determined to learn multiplication this year (!) so finally she got to it at the end of Saxon 2 and now likes to multiply by 10s, 5s, and sometimes 2s and 3s.
  • Reading – This was the year Sarah completely took off as an independent reader. She could read before, but always told people she couldn’t since she couldn’t read Shakespeare (her benchmark, not mine!).  Now she’s tearing through chapter books, especially if the type is not too small.  Her most recent favorites were Fantastic Mr. Fox and the rest of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series.
  • Language Arts – At her own insistence, Sarah started learning cursive this year.  Since her printing is neater than that of her older siblings I said sure, go ahead.  She still does her daily copywork in print and writes her own stories, usually fan fiction of whatever she’s reading.  She’s done First Language Lessons 1 for grammar.
  • Spelling – Also a pretty good natural speller, Sarah did All About Spelling levels 1 and 2 this year, and is a couple of lessons in to level 3.
  • Foreign Language – Sarah liked Spanish when we got around to it, and will be in the co-op class next year as well.

DSC_0386Eliza – resident toddler

Eliza just turned two and gets to sit in on everyone else’s lessons and enjoys picture books.  Although I realize this is unusual for homeschooling with a toddler in the mix, Eliza is not really that disruptive to our school day.  Usually she just listens in to whatever we’re doing, or colors or plays quietly nearby.  

She’s still the baby, but not for long!


Baby Girl – joining the team in late fall!

Doubtless we will have to revamp everything from scratch when New Baby Girl (pictured waving at you in this ultrasound shot) arrives, but we’re looking forward to it!



Although it’s definitely frustrating at times (this is another area where I try to keep the big picture perspective rather than drowning in the periodic bad days), homeschooling worked out well for us this year.  We covered a lot of ground and saw a lot of progress on all fronts.

And now for a few weeks of summer break!  Hooray!


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Second Quarter in Books, 2015

You can flip back through the reviews of the 28 books I read in the second quarter this year (or peruse the 17 longer kids chapter books we read aloud) if you missed any, but here are my superlatives for April-June 2015 with links to the original reviews:

Best Fiction

It was a tie between The Buried Giant and All The Light We Cannot See.  Both are remarkably well crafted, surprisingly structured, and engagingly told.  It takes true talent to write literary fiction that is so engaging it could be read on the beach.  These two books fit that rare bill.

Best Parenting/Relationships

Nurture by Nature began changing the way we parent overnight. The book is incredibly insightful and the application of Myers-Briggs personality typing to children helps parents relate to children with more grace and individual focus.  A must-read for any parent, teacher, childcare provider, or anyone interested in personality types.

Most Thought Provoking

I might not have called it at the time, but I have not yet stopped thinking about Overwhelmed.  From identifying our cultural assumptions and contrasting them with how balance works in other countries to its realistic and encouraging tone for those of us who don’t always have everything all together but want to live full lives anyway, this book will get you thinking and may be helpful as you look for solutions to your own unique situation.

Most Practical and Potentially Life Changing

If you’ve ever tried to establish habits or resolutions and failed, or if you’re so dismissive of habits that you never even begin, Better Than Before is for you.  And even if you are a veritable ninja of habit establishment, you still need to read it.  You’ll understand yourself better, be better able to accomplish things by working with your tendencies rather than against them, and even understand other people better.  It’s a pretty great book, and could make a huge difference in your life. 

What was the best book you read this quarter?

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June 2015 Read Alouds

We read a great group of books this month in our longer read-aloud category! If you have independent readers at home, or are looking for family read-alouds, these would be great to add to your summer reading list!

pooh cornerAfter starting another round of Pooh stories last month, naturally we had to continue with The House at Pooh Corner.  Predictably, I cried at the last page.  The kids were incredulous, but that’s because they aren’t old enough to see how poignant it is when Christopher Robin asks Pooh not to forget him, ever, even when he’s 100.  Also they are not marinating in pregnancy hormones.  But anyway, the second volume is quite as clever and lovely as the first, and again the incredible illustrations make it even more wonderful.  A perpetual favorite!

21BalloonsCover-640x990The Twenty-One Balloons turned out to be a really great adventure story about a man’s attempt to spend a year in a hot air balloon only to wind up on a (fictional version of) the island of Krakatoa shortly before the volcano erupted.  We thought the world building was really imaginative, and enjoyed thinking about an entire hidden community living off of the profit of diamonds lying about for the grabbing and eating a different cuisine every day due to their “restaurant government.”  The book was particularly well suited to reading aloud, with chapters of manageable length, good illustrations, and good cadence.

May-BHannah and I don’t know how we feel about verse novels. On one hand, we do like poetry, and conveying details in a smaller space can be beautiful and powerful. On the other hand, verse novels are attempting to be two things at once and I don’t think it always works. May B. has a great concept–a young girl on the Kansas prairie who struggles with dyslexia is not doing well at school and her parents decide to send her out to work for a young couple in a sod house 15 miles from home.  When the couple disappears, May is left alone to fend for herself, and she triumphs over adversity.  Hannah says she wishes that the book had more words.  I have to agree.  On one hand, the sparseness of the short lines of free verse reflect the hard prairie life, but on the other hand, that choice renders the story very short and made me wonder what could have happened had it been more deeply developed.

blue birdsWe also read Caroline Starr Rose’s second book, Blue Birds.  Unlike May B., I couldn’t think of any reason that the book was written as a verse novel.  It’s about the lost colony of Roanoke, so nothing about the setting really requires the short line free verse style.  Unless the author hoped to make a point about the lack of information available about what really happened to the settlement?  Again, both Hannah and I were left wondering what might have been if the book had been a fully developed novel.  I heard an interview with the author that really impressed me, and I am impressed with her story concepts, but I have to confess that I think verse novels are kind of gimmicky and we probably won’t try any more.  Still, it was kind of fun to try something new, and there are so few words that you can easily read either book in a very, very short time.  I will continue to follow the author in hopes that she isn’t pigeonholed into verse novels for her whole career–her concepts, characters, and imagery are strong so I hope she writes a prose novel someday!

CHITTY_Cover-resizeChitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car is a bonus book in our library’s summer reading program, so we decided to give it a go.  Boy, are we glad we did!  This book is a really, really fantastic read-aloud.  The story is superb, the characters are funny and well developed, and even the illustrations are great.  We couldn’t limit ourselves to one chapter at a time so we read this book in record speed and are glad to know that there are two sequels written by the same author.  If you need a fun, lighthearted read-aloud for this summer that will appeal to boys and girls of multiple ages, we recommend Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Charlie_and_the_Chocolate_Factory_40_yearsCharlie and the Chocolate Factory is another true delight to read aloud.  It’s funny, the characters are memorable, and the story moves right along.  We got a 40th anniversary edition which was larger sized with colored pages and full color illustrations by Quentin Blake.  Worth it.  We all really enjoyed this book and moved right into the sequel after we were done.  Although I think this book shines as a read aloud, I can also see it working well for a reluctant reader, because it’s quite compelling and hard to put down.

chopin2We have loved Opal Wheeler’s biographies of great composers. Geared for children, the books highlight interesting stories from the composers’ childhoods, include musical scores, and have excellent black and white drawings.  Over summer term (yes, we are in school until July 3 here–banking days so we can take maternity leave this fall!) we are learning about Chopin and the kids were excited that Wheeler wrote TWO books about him. Frederic Chopin: Son of Poland, Early Years was a big hit as a read-aloud and the kids now want to name our new baby Frederic–edging out previous favorites “Agamemmnon” and “Little Caesar.”  :)  Anyway, the book is a treasure.  If you ever see Wheeler’s series in a used book store, nab it.  Or add it to your Amazon list.  They are keepers.

What was your family’s favorite read-aloud this month?


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Bookmarking Balance

overwhelmedAfter I read Overwhelmed, I realized that a lot of the ways I work on balance are derived from lessons I’ve read about and internalized from books.  My experience is not (at all) normative–when it comes to reading about other people’s balance it’s a good idea to remember that we all have different callings, temperaments, and circumstances.  And yet, sometimes it’s helpful to see what other people do, if only to be able to smugly assert that you’d never be caught dead doing such a thing!

Zoom out.

168 hoursReading 168 Hours helped me think of time from a big picture perspective.  Any given day might be really, really rough.  But when I think of my time in terms of weeks, months, school terms, trimesters, or years, I am freed up to see balance.  My work tends to ebb and surge–sometimes I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines, other times I’m coasting.  Sometimes school is going fabulously, and sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.  But because I zoom out, when work is nuts I can pull back on other things knowing there is plenty of time to catch up later and when school is not working I can calmly assess issues without throwing in the towel (tempting though that sometimes is).  Zooming out frees me to see things cyclically, which allows me to get more done over time than if I only did things I could commit to daily.

Batch process.

tiger motherI think God gave me five children because He knew that otherwise I’d be a Tiger Mom.  I’ll admit that I take some things really seriously, but I let a lot of modern parenting requirements slide.  I don’t hover over my kids while they play outside or sit next to them while they practice piano.  The only extracurriculars we do are things they can all do at once and that meet a family priority (for a needed skill or long-term value).  So the oldest three take piano lessons at the same place one afternoon a week.  This summer they are all in swimming lessons at the same time.  During the school year we do a homeschool co-op that offers electives so they can try different things but we only have to drive to one spot. This helps us do things we value (reading aloud before bed, having relaxed evenings, doing meaningful work) and avoid things we don’t like (living in the car, eating on the run, overscheduling).

I also set aside chunks of time for work and school.  We have a fabulous babysitter/nanny for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She has a teaching background so on the morning she’s here she supervises the kids’ independent work assignments (math, handwriting, copywork, sometimes grammar or Latin or a composition).  According to the experts, most knowledge workers only put in 4 hours a day of real work.  So when we have the babysitter or it’s naptime, I maximize it and put in a full work day–not always completely successfully, but I try.  With those 10 babysitting hours plus daily quiet time (only the baby naps but everyone else has to read or play quietly) and some Saturday work time, I can carry a full-time workload without keeping a chair warm every day from 9 to 5.

Because I am working one morning a week, we batch a week’s worth of school subjects (other than the previously mentioned independent assignments) into the other four days. We cover the same amount of material, and no one seems to notice that I bumped their work up 25% on the other four days.

Sort the rocks.

eat that frogYou’ve heard the story about how you can get more into a container if you start by putting in the biggest rocks, then fill in with smaller and smaller rocks, then sand, then water.  I think I first read about this in Eat That Frog.  Everyone tells this story because it’s so incredibly helpful to sort your rocks.  I keep a loosely defined hierarchy of tasks for all of my roles so I can do the most high impact items first.  If I have a chunk of work time, I tackle big projects rather than churning around on little stuff like email.  If I find a small window of free time I read, because I keep books strewn everywhere.  This helps me use time more effectively and take advantage of windows of opportunity, however long or short they may be.

Know the why.

BetterThanBeforeJacketHC-e1413545062477-197x300As a questioner (see Better Than Before), I find that I really only follow through with things when I have identified WHY I’m doing them.  Consider housework.  I truly think that people sleep better in clean sheets, but I have found out from personal experience that you do not get kicked out of the human race for not changing sheets on a weekly basis.  Changing sheets on five beds is not a quick job and as previously mentioned I do not retain a domestic staff.  So I change sheets every other week or so, enlist the kids to help, and that works for us.  On the other hand, I get stressed out by visual clutter.  So I make it a point to keep our main living areas picked up and swept every day, even though I don’t mop the floor very often and absolutely never vacuum my ceilings or wash windows.  I keep a clear view of my why for work tasks, for each subject we do in our homeschool, and for every activity I sign up for.  It helps immensely in prioritization, and if I can’t articulate a why, chances are I’m not the person for the job anyway.

Prioritize restoration.

fringeFrom a logistical standpoint, there is a lot going on in a homeschooling family of soon-to-be seven where both parents work, even though we don’t do a ton of sports and lessons.  Any one of my roles (mom, teacher, worker) would be enough to lead to periodic burn-out, and the combination requires some finesse.  That’s why I have to spend my Fringe Hours on something restorative.  For me, that means I try to get regular exercise, I read a lot, and I try to make time to hang out with friends when I can.  I rarely get 15 minutes to myself and think, “Self, we should scrub the shower with a toothbrush.”  I love a clean shower as much as the next person, but it doesn’t feed my mind and soul like a great conversation or a good book.  When I’m restored mentally and physically, I’m better able to find balance.

We all do life differently, but I’d love to hear what works for you!  What books or resources have particularly helped you define the balance you’re shooting for?

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Lady of the English

Lady-of-The-EnglishIn Lady of the English, Elizabeth Chadwick writes about Matilda–daughter of Henry I and mother of Henry II–and her stepmother Adeliza.  These two women were fascinating characters, especially in a medieval setting, and the result was a solid historical novel, albeit with some historical romance vibes that I could have done without.

Still, the romance novel stuff was minimal (especially compared to most of that genre, which is really tiresome) and you can easily skip over those scenes if you don’t care for superflous detail.  If only authors would skip them too.  But anyway.

The book was also far, far better than When Christ and His Saints Slept, the novel I previously read on the same characters.  Although Lady of the English is also long, coming in at 505 pages, the plotting and pacing are much tighter and more focused.

One thing I love about historical novels is the end note sections where authors explain different choices they made or where they altered the historical record.  Chadwick does that as well, but concludes with a weird aside about how she used Akashic Records (the idea that everything that has ever happened or been said is somehow imprinted on…something…and accessible…somehow–it’s kind of occultic from what I can tell) to figure out the name of one character’s horse and how Matilda felt about tents.  Um, sorry, what?  Even if I could take you seriously for conducting seances to plumb the secrets of history, once you’ve plugged in to the mysterious Record, all you’re asking for is the names of horses and attitudes toward tents?  Mmmkay, whatever.  I wouldn’t say that the Akashic stuff negatively impacted the book, it just puzzled me.

If you’re interested in British history or like historical novels, you’d probably enjoy Lady of the English, but as I’m not really a fan of historical romances and her other work seems to veer further in that direction, I don’t think I’ll take up more of Chadwick’s books unless one of her fans convinces me otherwise!


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The Art of Slow Writing

the-art-of-slow-writing-bookThe Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity thoughtfully combines relevant information on life management with inspiration for creative callings.

This is not a how-to book in the sense of structuring plots and assigning writing exercises, but it is a call to work slowly, meditatively, and deeply to create work of lasting value and higher impact.  It is also not a time management book in the vein of establishing schedules in 15 minute increments and checking things off of a to do list, but it is a reminder of how to shape your life to make space for your priorities, especially if one of your priorities is in a creative field that can’t easily fit into established patterns of productivity.

I found this book encouraging on many levels, both as someone who enjoys writing books and someone who reads a lot in the productivity genre.  DeSalvo’s applications of one to the other were helpful and inspiring, clearly the result of careful thought not just recycling the same old ideas.  If you like either genre, but especially if you like both, I’d recommend you read The Art of Slow Writing for insight and inspiration.


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Being Realistic About Balance

I recently read an article entitled “Women with Big Jobs and Big Families: Balancing Really Isn’t That Hard.”  Part of me wants to cheer that such a headline is possible.  It’s great that some women have big families after attaining a level of professional seniority and compensation (or maybe after marrying men who are highly paid) so they can afford a full-time staff to handle details and logistics.  But part of me wants to call foul.  Most of us are looking for balance without the financial wherewithal to say it “really isn’t that hard.”

I get that articles like this are about encouraging young women to lean in and work for a position that makes balance easier before having kids.  But for those of us in the trenches, balance absolutely really IS “that hard.”  For most of us–including women I know with “big jobs” and those with passions that don’t come with as large a paycheck–figuring out how to mesh our parenting priorities with our other callings takes significant time and thought.

Balance is often on my mind–I’m reading about it, evaluating it, troubleshooting it, tweaking it, or trying to maintain it.  It’s never simple, but it’s a worthy pursuit because I don’t think balance is ultimately about making more money or having a prestigious job or making your kids your idol or any of those extremes.  Whether you work full-time, are home full-time or something in between, a balanced life is one in which you are confidently living your priorities.  A reader pointed out recently that it can be helpful to see how balance works for other women, even if they don’t have it all figured out.  So in that spirit, and with the caveat that my circumstances (and priorities) fluctuate wildly in this season of life, here is the balance I’m working with now.

Work/Writing – I am self-employed as a corporate writer and marketing consultant.  Sometimes I have a lot of projects at once, sometimes not.  I do this work between 10-30 hours a week, but I think my sweet spot is 20–more than that and I get frazzled, less and I get nervous about bills.  

We have an excellent babysitter for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She handles the kids amazingly and gamely supervises their independent schoolwork.  I try to schedule client meetings and calls for those hours.  Sometimes a friend watches the kids if my meetings don’t line up with babysitting hours.  The rest of my work fits in to daily afternoon quiet time (only the baby naps, everyone else reads or plays quietly) or on Saturdays.  I am not very productive at night, so while I sometimes do mindless work stuff like admin or emailing after the kids go to bed, I prefer to unwind then and get to bed early so I can be fresh for the next day.  

I also spend some time every week on personal writing like blogging and fiction.  I don’t get paid for that, but I love to write and I figure that writing for fun makes me better at the writing I do for pay.  

School – According to time diaries I’ve kept at various times, I devote 20-30 hours per week to homeschooling.  That includes planning and prep, as well as direct teaching time.  At this point, having homeschooled in one way or another for six years, I have a lot of things figured out so I save time by not reinventing the wheel, but I do pay attention to phases and individual needs and am always tweaking things to improve them.  My primary goals are that my kids would love truth and beauty, be lifelong learners, and get an education tailored to their unique needs and levels, so I try to approach individual subjects from that perspective, rather than being locked in to other benchmarks.  Homeschooling is challenging, but for me it is very, very rewarding.

Mind/Body/Soul Care – Most days I get up between 5:30 and 6, throw on exercise clothes, and have my morning Biblestudy and prayer time while cooking and eating my breakfast eggs and having a cup of coffee.  Then I exercise in the basement (right now I am alternating Jillian Michaels workouts, modified somewhat to accommodate pregnancy).  By the time I’m done, the kids are usually up and starting breakfast.  If I’m lucky, I can finish my workout and start my shower before they get up, but if not the bigger ones are old enough to poor milk, cook eggs, serve baked oatmeal, or whatever.  Although one child did recently set a fire in the microwave so I may need to revisit rules about unsupervised cooking!

I keep my mind sharp by reading all sorts of things, and keep books all over the house and car so that wherever I am, if I have a few moments to spare I can read.  I’m not sure how much actual time this comes to in a given day–it varies–but I average about two books per week so I guess I’m getting adequate reading time!

I tend to go to bed early most nights, but I have a lot of insomnia issues, so adequate sleep is an issue.  Since it’s been a lifelong problem for me and I don’t make it worse by staying up too late, I just do my best.  I try to rest on Sundays, at least by taking a break from paying work and trying to avoid housework where possible.

Relationships – I like my husband.  I enjoy spending time with him.  We can’t afford regular date nights, and we’re always looking for ways to carve out more time together.  But we do try!  Although I spend a lot of time with the kids as a group, I also try to make time for one-on-one outings.  They take turns going to do errands with me, going out to Starbucks, etc, and Josh does that too.  So each kid gets at least one special date with me and one special date with Josh every month.  It’s often more, but it’s good to have an achievable minimum.  I’d like to have more friend time, but I find that the best I can really do is one or two outings or playdates per month, and I try to make one or two book club meetings.  I’d love to be in a position to really do the whole “community” thing with friends, but in our area I haven’t figured out how to make that happen.

Housework/Errands – I need things to be tidy or I get stressed out, so we pick up twice a day (kids have assigned jobs like sweeping, dusting, straightening, wiping the table, etc) but I don’t do a lot of deep cleaning.  The kids are learning to clean bathrooms, and I help them out.  Josh is really good at cleaning, being more detail-oriented than I am, so he cleans our bathroom every now and then.  He also does the yard work.  I do the cooking and Josh washes the dishes most nights.  I do the laundry and ironing and change the sheets.  We trade off for things like mopping and taking out the trash.  I usually do the weekly grocery/library run and other assorted errands with one of the kids (which makes it more like a fun outing and less of a chore), although sometimes I take all the kids to Costco (and almost always regret it) or if there is only a Costco list, Josh will do it because he is a ninja and getting in and out of there fast.  While I think we would both prefer to have a weekly cleaning service and someone else to mow the lawn, right now that’s not in the budget so we make do, and I think we do a passable job of sharing household responsibilities.  

Other – This is a pretty full list, so we don’t usually sign up for other activities.  We go to church weekly and both of us serve on the worship team and in the nursery.  We go to other church events as they come up and do random things like go to concerts or strawberry picking or visit a museum once a month or so, but we tend not to do a lot of evening events, especially not regularly scheduled ones.  The oldest three kids have piano one afternoon a week at the same place, and this summer they are in swimming lessons at the same time once or twice a week.  During the school year the kids take three electives each at our co-op, which meets one afternoon per week.  We don’t have any interest in living in the car or missing our evening family time, so that’s about it for now.

I’d love to hear about how you make time for your various callings and interests.  How do you balance?  If you have an epiphany to share or a link to a related post, let us know in the comments!

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