The Bookmarked Life #4

The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

“Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles.” –Greg McKeown in Essentialism

I’m filing this under things that are easy to agree with, but harder to implement.

…Furnishing my mind

For some reason, my children believe that finding the bay leaf in the dinner is a stroke of luck.  The fortunate bay leaf finder must, naturally, make a wish.  You should see the joy on the face of the kid who snags the leaf.

It’s the little things in life, right?

…Learning about

I never took a class on poetry analysis, so I’ve always wondered if I was missing something.  I was!  Part of Hannah’s language arts this year (more on that soon, we are ADORING a new curriculum) involves close study of poetry, and I’m learning a ton.  To supplement, I also checked out a book for adults called How to Read a Poem and Fall In Love With Poetry and am finding out more about how to appreciate poetry more deeply.  Language is such a fascinating thing.

…Living the Good Life

I love sitting on the couch and reading to the kids as they are piled up trying to be sure they can see.  It is one of my most favorite things about life. Eliza is into everything, so we are firmly in the old how-to-keep-baby-from-ripping-books phase.  Yes, that post link is from 2010, back when I was so knowledgeable about motherhood.  :)

…Teaching

 

We started our school year!  A third grader, second grader, Kindergartener, and one active baby–so far it is working out well.  As usual, different stages means differences in our schooling, which I’ll post about eventually.

…Creating

One thing I really love is to have fresh flowers around.  Recently we were in North Carolina for my cousin’s wedding, and she had chosen to use wildflowers for the table arrangements.  My aunt did the flowers and sent me home with some she had left over.  I had so much fun arranging them for our school room table, the kitchen counter, the mantel, and my desk.  Another fun thing is rearranging every few days as things die or children bring new sprigs of Queen Anne’s Lace or weeds found ’round the neighborhood!

This week in a post-bedtime mad dash to the grocery store I happened to find FIVE packets of various flowers marked down to $1 each! So now our table, mantel, and my desk have a whole different look.  This particular grocery store has a fabulous tendency to mark flowers down when they are yet full of life–I don’t know why they do it, but I love them for it.

…Memorizing

Y’all I can NOT get the last section of Colossians 1 nailed down. I’m thinking I need to go back to the idea from the book I read and really focus on one verse per day.  I was trying to do larger sections and now I can’t keep the end straight.  At this rate it’s going to take me all year to get through the book, but I figure there is value to going over the text again and again!

…Seeking balance

I am keeping mornings for school, and moved my work time and our babysitter time to afternoons.  We have our fabulous babysitter for two long afternoons per week, and a dear family friend has been coming over to sit with the baby after nap times an additional afternoon a week as I’m trying to get through a lot of work.  It’s working out so much better to stick to a morning routine with school, and I’m trying to stay focused during work time so I can cram a full workload into a part-time schedule.  So far this still means I’m working at night after bedtime a lot and for much of the weekend, but I feel like we’re settling in and finding space.

…Building the habit

I promised to write more about the four habits I’m focusing on this Fall (order, focus, grace, duty).  The words I chose are broad.  It’s hard to write them on a checklist and confidently draw a line through it at the end of the day!  But they do remind me of tasks.  For example, order.  I like Gretchen Rubin’s line that “outer order contributes to inner calm” and find that to be true for me.  I tend to be more orderly in some areas than others–I don’t have trouble keeping my bedroom picked up, I keep my work files very organized, and I abhor and shun clutter in our main living spaces.  However, in other areas I have not been so orderly.  Some concrete ways I’m building a habit of order are:

  • Making a meal rotation for dinners and printing out recipes (many unusual ones for crockpots like crock pot chicken tikka masala and crockpot bulgogi, since our tastes don’t run to the cream-of-soup-type standbys, but I need the time savings in the kitchen right now) to keep together and ready rather than last minute rushing about with my laptop open on the counter.
  • Forcing myself to stick to an order of events with school work.  I am prone to spontaneity in the school day, but the kids like to know what’s coming when, so I’m sticking to the plan even though it pains me when it’s less efficient.  
  • Keeping all of my notes in one place. I have a love/hate relationship with sticky notes.  They can be super helpful, but I tend to write notes on them and then have them scattered all over the desk on every available surface, where they look messy and make me feel pulled in too many directions.  My new order habit is to keep all of my notes on one legal pad.  I divide it into three columns, and use it to collect all of my notes for the week. Usually I have to redo it halfway through the week so it isn’t messy, but that too helps me gather my thoughts.  

…Listening to

Podcasts.  I told my husband that I downloaded an app for podcasts and he looked at me like “where have you been for the past decade?”  That’s ok.  If you like podcasts, I recommend Read Aloud Revival – I’ve listened to all of the episodes while driving here and there and found them interesting and inspiring.

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Sabbath as Resistance

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now is an interesting take on Sabbath as a halt to acquisitiveness and anxious productivity.  The author uses the Exodus account of Israelites being freed from Pharaoh’s coercion and brought into a new model of living that sanctified a day of rest.  The parallels with modern life were thought-provoking–our tendency to get caught up in churning over the “bricks” we need to make or made incorrectly or failed to make reveals our lack of trust in God as our provider.

The book is not really comprehensive in its treatment of the topic of Sabbath, but I do think it has a lot of good points to consider.  It’s more concerned with the attitudes of our hearts than with questions like what exactly we should or shouldn’t do on a given day.

I didn’t agree with everything the author concluded, but found the book good to think over.  I’m figuring out how to balance a heavier work load this fall–which is good and I am grateful–and it’s very, very tempting to consider Sunday one more work day.  And even when I do forgo the work, it’s also tough to refrain from being distracted by my list of “bricks” for next week when I’m supposed to be focusing on a sermon.  So this book was a timely read for me, and if you’re interested in the topic I’d recommend it if you’re reading other books as well.

 

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Read Alouds from August

We did a lot of reading aloud in August, but didn’t complete many longer books so this makes for a short post.  However, we are currently in the midst of four books that we’ll finish soon and have several more on deck, so next month’s read aloud review will be a smorgasbord!

We all enjoyed The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.  I liked the emphasis on kids making their own adventures, negotiating sibling relationships in an on-the-same-team sense, and the kids liked the characters and story.  My only complaints are that some of the adult characters seemed two-dimensional (nobody is really all oozy evil all the time–even in kid lit) and there were some scenes where the 12 year old girl thinks quite a lot about kissy stuff.  I elected to skip those parts, because it’s not the stage we’re in and I see no point in encouraging the idea that it’s cute to gush over or try to kiss boys as a preteen.  You may differ with me there, and it’s not that I don’t want to discuss those issues with my kids, just that I see no reason to bring them up prematurely or indicate that I think they ought to be thinking or acting that way.  It’s a complicated question, and one on which parents differ, I’ve found.  Anyway, there are other Penderwick books and we will probably read them to catch back up with the sisters and interesting boy.

In our poetry reading, we finished The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems.  To be honest, I didn’t love this one and probably won’t circle back to it.  Many of the poems were great, but several were ones I didn’t think were particularly important for children to know, more like the kind of thing that adults would want to study in the sense of not being particularly suited for children topically or appealing for reading aloud.  Also, I didn’t love the illustrations.  They seem like the sort of drawings young teenagers do before they realize that they need to learn some more technique.  They felt sort of off to me, and not excellent or unusual in style or composition.

I feel bad writing a harsh review of a book of poetry, especially when many of the selections were great, but it wasn’t exactly our cup of tea.

I saw Betsy and the Emperor recommended somewhere and so when we started studying Napoleon I checked it out for Hannah to read.  After she had read it a couple of times (she likes to re-read things) I read it.  Well.  At first the book does seem like the story of a spunky 14-year-old determined to befriend the 49-year-old exiled emperor (the story is historical fiction–there really was a Betsy on St. Helena).  However, in the course of the book Betsy makes out with a soldier, she observes through a window the wife of one of Napoleon’s friends get into bed with Napoleon, Napoleon reads aloud a newspaper speculation that he’s involved with Betsy romantically, Betsy is shut into a wine cellar and drinks an entire bottle of wine and is hungover the next day, and Betsy discovers her soldier amorously entangled with another girl.  Good grief!  Hannah is only eight!  I talked to her about the book and think most of this went over her head, although she opined that things must have been very different for 14-year-olds back then, because Betsy seems to have thought she was old enough to get married, and Hannah also thought the soldier was not very trustworthy.  Mostly Hannah wanted to talk about Napoleon’s exile and how it was different from his exile on Elba.  So that was good.

I read a lot of inappropriate stuff as a kid, and I guess it’s just one of those things when you have a kid who reads ahead of grade level and voraciously.  But still, she’s eight!  Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t recommend this book for elementary age kids.  Pretty interesting insight into Napoleon’s last exile though.

What did you read aloud this month?

 

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If you have 32 minutes

It was 7:44 and I had left my books-in-progress in the room where the baby had already gone to sleep. I looked at my books-not-yet-read shelf and spotted the book I hadn’t had time to read for a book club this week. By 8:16 I had finished the book, and had a whole host of things to think about.

Stitches: A Memoir is done in graphic style (that is, illustrated sort of like a comic book, but with a more serious story) and tells the story of David Small, a Caldecott-winning picture book illustrator.  Although the story is dark–Small had a terrible family life–the drawings are so full of feeling and communicate so clearly the thoughts, imagination, and perspective of a creative child caught in dreadful situations, that the book is somehow still quite hopeful.  I really wish I had been able to get to the book club meeting to hear what other people thought.

Although its format is simple, the story, characters, and themes are complex and nuanced.  The book does an excellent job of illustrating how growing up can change your perspective on your family, as you come to understand the circumstances and choices that shape people and drive their choices.  The hopeful perspective of the book comes through in the author’s willingness to accept his relatives for who they are, forgive them, and choose a different path for his own life.  Even if you had a fairly normal childhood, as I did, the book may remind you of weird ways you saw things as a child or ways adults acted that you didn’t understand or misinterpreted, and the message of redemptive forgiveness and choosing a positive direction in spite of circumstances is universal.

I’m not usually one for this style of book, but I’m glad I read Stitches and can see why it was a finalist for the National Book Award.  I’d say it’s well worth your 32 minutes and the time you’ll spend thinking about the message of the book afterward.

 

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The Long Shadow

The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century is the latest in what has become an epic foray into reading about the history and impact of the 20th century.  Flu, Typhoid Mary, the Dust Bowl, Japanese internment camps, and now the long shadow cast by World War I.

First of all, this book is amazing because it combines rigorous scholarship with readability.  So often really detailed histories are dry and drag along, but this one never did.

The author, a Cambridge professor, walks the reader through the ways in which common conceptions of World War I have artificially colored the facts, and contrasts popular knowledge with contextual data.  While it didn’t turn my view of World War I entirely on its head, it did add tremendous depth and nuance to the skeleton knowledge I had.  Starting with the lead up to the war, covering the emergence of nationalism, socialism, fascism, communism, and many other attendant issues, and tying the threads of history together in an understandable way that doesn’t compromise their complexity, the book is really a wonderful resource.

If you’re interested in history, even if you’re pretty sure you completely understand World War I, I’d really recommend The Long Shadow.

 

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Children of the Jacaranda Tree (and a recommendation for another book)

Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a novel tracing several generations of characters impacted by the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath.  As Iran is an area of particular interest to me, I was eager to read this book, and to see how it compared to others I’ve read on similar topics.

The author’s style–zooming in on different characters in different voices and then not coming back to them until decades later if at all, picking up a thread with a connection to a previous section of the book for a brief vignette, and looking at events through the eyes of characters of different ages–served to reinforce the theme of dissonance.  That is, her narrative choices underscored the broken lines of connection, severed relationships, torn families, and jagged edges of the culture in the aftermath of the Revolution and then the long war with Iraq.  Some of the stories were fascinating and compelling–such as the opening chapter, based on the author’s life, where a baby is born to a woman held in the notorious Evin Prison.  Others seemed hopeful, for example in the way that the author captured the excitement the Green Movement stirred up even in exiles and expatriates.

However, I will also say that the book suffered for many of these same features.  The narrative threads didn’t hold together securely, so some of the stories seemed jumbled rather than woven together.  Characters were often not well differentiated, the setting was sparse, and many of the chapters and even the jacaranda tree motif felt contrived, stretched, tacked on.

My biggest issue with the book was the fact that I didn’t ever get a sense of being in Iran.  The lack of setting details and almost complete lack of descriptive voice and idiom were disappointing, especially because I’ve read other pieces set in Iran that made me almost see, hear, smell and taste the country as I read.  I do realize that this is a style and preference issue.  Some writers write evocatively of place and others don’t.  I’ve noticed this in novel after novel with distinct settings and I know it’s a matter of taste.  I just prefer more descriptive storytelling.

If you are interested in the themes and time period covered in Children of the Jacaranda Tree, I’d recommend A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea in addition or instead.  Teaspoon also considers the effects of the Revolution and war, but in a more focused way, looking at one family and its tragedies in detail, rather than skipping between dozens of loosely related points of view.  The setting and language in Teaspoon are incredible, and beautifully done.  I don’t think  Children of the Jacaranda Tree was a terrible novel, or a waste of time, but it does pale in comparison to to Teaspoon so if you only have time for one book to give you a feeling for Iran in the 1980s and following, I’d vote for A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.

 

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The Bookmarked Life 3

The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I recently read about a podcast titled Whose Well Done Are You Working For?  I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but even the title is proving to be an excellent thought provocation. I find myself turning to the question as I plan my schedule, consider my conversations, think about my work, and feel nervous for saying yes or no to the different obligations that crop up this time of year.

…Furnishing my mind

As it happens I am reading Shakespeare’s King Lear for the first time in preparation for our fall semester.  I’m familiar with the plot since we’ve read the Lamb and Nesbit versions, but I don’t think I’ve ever read the original. I’m looking for suitable quotations for memorization.  When it comes to furnishing the mind, Shakespeare is almost always a good bet.

…Learning about

Pickles. You can pickle so many things with such good results.  My parents make an excellent squash pickle relish, which I’ve enjoyed this week as we’re visiting the lake again for one last summer hurrah.  And, new to me, I learned that you can also pickle okra.  Y’all.  It’s incredible and I’m glad I learned of its existence in time to savor the goodness of this amazing food for the rest of my natural life and probably on into the Heavenly Feast because it’s just that delicious.

…Living the Good Life

I tried something new for the State Fair this year. As usual, we earned our tickets through our library’s summer reading program, and we went on “$2 Day” when some food items and all rides are $2. But this year we went in the afternoon (after the babysitter was here in the morning for my work time) and I gave each of the big kids an envelope containing $5.  They added some allowance they had saved up (they don’t get much allowance so they didn’t have a lot to add) and each child could decide what he or she wanted to eat or ride.  It worked fabulously!  It only took one question of the sort that usually plagues us at the Fair:

“Mama, can I get that giant inflatable blue alien? Pleeeeease!”

“I don’t know, do you have $27 in your envelope to spend on a giant inflatable blue alien?”

And then there were no more questions about $9 face painting or $15 plastic swords or deep fried hamburgers with donuts for buns.  Win!

As it turned out, we saw the things we HAVE to see at the Fair, including the World’s Largest Hog (who actually stood up on his own actual-to-goodness legs–a feat we’ve never before witnessed in an over-1000-pound porcine wonder), the horses, the goats, the World’s Largest Cheese Sculpture, the building where you can try archery, the Pioneer Village, and the Little Kids on the Farm exhibit.  In addition, the kids each rode three rides and had one $2 frozen pineapple treat each.  At the very end I caved and bought them each a $2 corndog so that I wouldn’t have to make them supper, and we arrived home in time for showers, worship, and read-aloud chapter with lights out on time!  Boom.

…Teaching

School starts for us on Monday, so I’ve got notebooks and binders ready (color-coded by child, because why not?), plans in place, and no illusions about how often we will stick to the schedule, because let’s face it, we probably won’t ever have a perfect day.  When I was looking through our school supplies for a missing notebook, I found the binder of my records from the 2009-2010 school year, when Hannah was in PreK-3. So wow, this will be our sixth year of homeschooling!

…Creating

This week I did not paint, embroider, or redecorate anything.  My creative output consisted of a variety of marketing materials, a nine page outline for a huge work project, and gluing a loose ruffle back on one of Hannah’s dresses.  Yeah, I glued it.  The dress is knit and the thought of getting out the proper foot for my sewing machine just to reattach two inches of ruffle seemed daunting compared to the allure of fabric glue.  Here’s hoping.

…Memorizing

I have the whole first chapter of Colossians in my index card ring now, although I am still kind of shaky on the end.  Still, I’m making progress and continuing to enjoy steeping myself in the same verses over time.  The kids are starting to pick up more words in their new passage, although I did notice once I put our Bible memory notebook together that we need to get a lot better at review too!  Starting next week, we’ll add some Shakespeare and poetry memory back into the mix.

…Seeking balance

I have a bunch of work at the moment (for which I am thankful), and the thought of getting it all done plus adding 30 hours of homeschooling per week back in had me a little stressed this week.  I’ve planned as well as I can, we’re moving our babysitting time to two afternoons a week, I’m looking into possibly getting a mother’s helper for two more afternoons a week, and beyond that we will have to see how it goes.  I really like my work and am grateful for the provision, and I love that my flexible schedule allows me to make time for homeschooling, which is something I’m truly passionate about.  A lot of other things–even worthy things–have to drop aside to make space for our priorities, and that’s something I’m really having to accept this fall.  I’m choosing to define “doing it all” as “doing my top priorities well” rather than “doing all the things” and that’s a little freeing.

…Building the habit

I know you’re only really supposed to build one habit at a time, but the ones I’m working on this fall overlap a lot.  I started this list before my work load increased, but now I’m thankful that I had already been thinking these over.  This semester I’ll be working on the habits of Order, Focus, Grace, and Duty.  I may write more about those in upcoming posts.

…Listening to

As I write this, I’m listening to crickets.  My parents live on a lake, and the children and I are here for a few days before a family wedding.  The combination of water, sunshine, flowers, and Carolina mountains is hard to beat.

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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The Family Worship Book

If you’ve only got time to read one book on family worship, I really recommend A Neglected Grace over The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions.

That said, if you’re interested in the topic of how to set up family worship (or Bible time, or family devotions, or whatever you want to call it), The Family Worship Book may have some helpful ideas for you.  Personally, I found the tone a little less encouraging, and the suggestions seemed more black and white and less flexible.  But I did get some good ideas for components that could figure into our practice, and also a good list of hymns and Psalms that reminded me of favorites I still need to teach the kids.  I could have gotten that from a quick perusal of the hymnal and Psalter we own, but the list was a nice quick reminder.

At any rate, what we’ve settled on for a routine is to do our worship before we read the bedtime chapter of our current read-aloud.  We sing the Doxology, read a chapter of the Bible (from Acts, currently, we finished Joshua), sing a hymn or Psalm, say the Apostle’s Creed (because we’re working on memorizing so the kids can say it during our church services), work on our Bible memory, sometimes sing another hymn or Psalm, pray, and sing the Gloria Patri.  It doesn’t take very long, all told.  Some days it goes very smoothly.  Other days, the kids are wound up and it’s a tougher thing.  However, I’m keeping in mind the advice from A Neglected Grace that having the daily commitment is helpful over time, even if individual days here or there make you wonder if any of this is sinking in.  The commitment to having family worship and reading a chapter before bed has also made me more mindful of our family schedule, and what has to happen when in terms of eating dinner, doing evening chores, getting ready for bed etc, so that everything can fit between when Josh gets home from work and when the kids need to be in bed.

If you read any good books or resources on family worship, please send them my way–I’m interested in what other families do!

 

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Some books on creative work

The Accidental Creative is geared primarily to “creative workers”–that is, people who are paid not just to perform tasks for a certain number of hours, but who are paid by the value of what they create.  This perfectly describes my work, so I appreciated that the book spoke to particular issues of scheduling, managing energy, focus, and keeping creativity sharp when you’re working in a creative field.

In some sense, the book helped me by reinforcing some of the work habits I already have, and I wouldn’t say any one piece was really revolutionary or totally new to me.  However, the real value of the book, for me anyway, was in its suggestions for how to maximize creativity by tweaking normal time management advice to apply more specifically to creatives.  For example, normally time management advice assumes that to a certain extent all of your waking hours are on the table.  But with creative work, you have to factor in the fact that not every 15 minute increment is the same, and know yourself well enough to understand when you are doing your best work.  Another example is in stewarding your energy–you might be doing stuff for 15 hours a day, but you probably aren’t churning out top-notch creative work for each of those hours.  The author had good ideas for how to make sure that your best work actually happens.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is another book by the same author, this one purporting to have wider applicability beyond creative fields.  I guess that’s true, although I’d argue that both books would have useful tidbits for just about anyone.

This one includes a lot of the same concepts as the previous volume, including advice on how to curate the flow of media you’re subjected to, ideas for how to have weekly and quarterly self-assessments of all of your work and life activities, and how to maximize your focus.  It does contain a bit more information about goal setting and how to leverage your focus, time, and energy to be sure you’re really being effective in the roles you identify as your priorities.

I found both of these books useful because I’m always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective in my work and more focused on my priorities rather than being fragmented.  The books are general enough to be broadly applicable, but if you don’t really do anything in a creative/idea-generating field you might not get as much out of them (but still would probably like the focus and prioritizing parts).

 

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