Reading, Thinking, and Writing Effects

Over the summer, I read Stein on Writing, which was helpful from a professional development perspective since I write for my paying job, but, as with so many books, I found it spurred my thinking along several different lines, and caused me to ponder how I read, think, and communicate.

What counts is not what is said, but the effect of what is meant.

stein-on-writingI’m often frustrated by how relentlessly visual our culture is. People are so used to consuming primarily visual media that even print materials often read like a description of a TV drama. In the quote above, Stein contends that good dialogue is not about the exact words used, but the effect the words have on the story. I think the same holds true for action. This is why bedroom scenes invariably fail in novels (although, unfortunately, authors more often take this fact as a thrown gauntlet rather than a cautionary tale)–the play-by-play is not important, rather it’s the effect on the story of what the action means.

In addition to informing our writing, the idea also carries weight with spoken communication. Rather than oversharing details, we might do better to focus on communicating the effect an action or instance had on us–making it more universal and easier to understand.

There is a time and place for details. But, in our current milieu–speaking for myself, at least–a dose of restraint might be a more necessary corrective.

A writer cannot be a Pollyanna. He is in the business of writing what other people think but don’t say…the single characteristic that most makes a difference in the success of an article or nonfiction book is the author’s courage in revealing normally unspoken things about himself or his society…tell the truth in an interesting way.

I often have moments, when I read really good books, of noting that an author has perfectly articulated something I’ve experienced but never mentioned. But telling the truth in an interesting way is more difficult that you’d think. Wendy pointed me to this fascinating article about how difficult it is for Christians to write redemption, because it seems to defy description. I wonder if the answer might be–as in the observation above–to leave off with attempts at play-by-play descriptions and focusing on “the effect of what is meant.”

In the end, you write what you read.

If this is not a clarion call to being judicious with my reading shelf (and my kids’), I’m not sure what is.

I read books about writing both as a writer and as a reader. I usually find tidbits to help me in my work, but invariably find food for thought that makes me more thoughtful and discerning in my literary life as well.

What do you think?

 

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. Thank you for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!

Preschool, Take Four

IMG_6697Someone asked me what I did differently with preschool the fourth time around.

Answer: not much. Really, my approach to preschool boils down to one thing. A lot of reading.

At our house, preschool for any age (2, 3, 4) consists of:

  • A story from a Bible story book (this is our new favorite)
  • A story from Aesop’s Fables
  • Several pages of one of our collection of Mother Goose anthologies (it turns out that nursery rhymes are key for pre-reading skills, but I also think they are a good introduction to poetry and they turn up in literature all the time) – a few of our favorites are this, this, this, this, this, and thisbut we have others. 🙂
  • Five (or more) picture books from our collection

Ideally, I kick off the day with Eliza’s one-on-one preschool time, because she’s always up and raring to go early and it fills her tank so she can listen and color or play quietly alongside the big kids when they are getting my focus the rest of the morning. Eliza turned 4 in May, so this year she adds in reading lessons (5 minutes) and some basic handwriting and numbers (5 minutes) to the usual preschool routine described above. She is fairly desperate to learn to read, and is diligently identifying words and sounds whenever she can. She sits for long stretches of time with books in her lap, attempting to read them, then announces to all and sundry that it’s VERY difficult to read when you can’t read WORDS. We’ll get there.

We use picture books from a variety of lists, from Ambleside Online, Sonlight, etc. I started with lists but didn’t stop there. , Over time I developed a sense of what kind of books I like to read and share with the kids–interesting illustrations, vivid language, no didactic lessons or tiresome data or cartoon characters–with good books I feel like I know it when I see it.

I’d love to read more picture books than our preschool time, and some days I do, but even when I don’t get to it, Eliza has a lot of reading in her life. In addition to her preschool reading, Eliza sits in on all Bible and school reading for the other kids, our family read-aloud time, and her older siblings read to her daily. Some days, if time allows, I do Margaret’s reading (five or more board books) right after Eliza’s preschool, and both girls listen to both types of books.

My focused preschool time with Eliza takes 30-45 minutes per day, depending on the length of books we read. This is not to say that she doesn’t do other preschool-y things throughout the day, such as cutting up bits of paper with scissors, playing with playdough, coloring, doing puzzles, lacing cards, etc. We have a box of those things that she can use during school time, and she does. But I’ve found that kids actually do better and enjoy those things more when Mama isn’t hovering. Fortunately, with five children in the posse, helicopter parenting is right out!

And that’s preschool at our house this year (you can read more about our school day here). If you have preschoolers, what does your day look like?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Hodge Podge: Middle Ages for Kids

The Middle Ages makes for a terrific literary setting. Here are some read-alouds and read-alongs we’ve enjoyed recently:

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – Pyle’s version of the familiar Robin Hood tales is really excellent. Do yourself and your kids a favor and don’t bother with abridged versions of this one! You don’t need Classic Starts or Great Illustrated Classics EVER, in my opinion, but in this case especially you will lose almost all of the literary quality and sparkle of the language.

Black Horses for the King – This imaginative story follows King Arthur’s need for larger horses to carry armored knights. Along with a high adventure storyline, the book is a fascinating account of how different horse breeds were needed for different conditions, and how they could have been procured in the Middle Ages.

Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight – I had never previously read this story in the full verse, and it’s not an easy read. It might have been better read aloud. If you’re not QUITE used to reading poetry, this would be a tough sell. We like poetry, and read it daily, but it was still a challenge, both for me and for Hannah! We had a conversation about how and whether chivalry = morality, and where Gawaine stumbled and why it was a problem. Most of the detail had gone over Hannah’s head, but in case you’re turning this book over to a kid, be aware that you’ll want to preview and discuss the moral issues. One more note: we went with the Raffel translation, but I wonder if we would have enjoyed Tolkein’s more. If you’ve read both, tell me your thoughts!

The Knight’s Fee – I love Rosemary Sutcliff novels, and this one was particularly good. The story captures the conflict between Saxon and Norman cultures one generation after the Battle of Hastings, and gives a good picture of the process of integration there, as well as the question of old Britons and Brittany. And it’s also a great adventure story that will appeal to boys and girls (and, importantly if you’re reading aloud or listening, also to parents).

Rolf and the Viking Bow – This book does an excellent job describing Iceland in the Middle Ages, but has one of those plots that leaves you saying “oh, not ONE MORE BAD THING happening to the main character!” I got a little annoyed with that, but of course it ultimately turns out all right in the end.

The Door in the Wall – I  read this book multiple times as a child, and we’ve read it aloud at least twice. This summer we listened to it on audio during a car trip and really enjoyed the production. We got the unabridged audio, which had nice music and sound effects–not too many and very well done. We particularly enjoyed the medieval style music and felt it set the scene nicely.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!

Hodge Podge: Devotional Books

This week’s literary mix is made up of a variety of books about faith, theology, and Biblestudy.

Praying With Paul – In this excellent study of how Paul prays in his epistles, D. A. Carson both illuminates scripture passages and draws out excellent teaching and applications about prayer. Highly recommended.

The Good News We Almost Forgot – Kevin DeYoung’s well-written teaching on the Heidelberg Catechism would make for interesting family Biblestudy. DeYoung structures the book on a weekly framework, because he writes that the Heidelberg Catechism was originally designed to be preached through week by week. Because we’re still working through the Westminster as a family, I wound up using this on my own, but I could see handing it off to an older kid for their devotional reading. I especially appreciated the sections on communion.

Worship by the Book – Our church is looking for a new director of worship, so Josh and I have been talking more about it than usual (since he’s very involved in that ministry, we tend to talk about it a lot anyway) and it was interesting timing to read this book on worship. Presenting different viewpoints–Anglican, Free Church, and Presbyterian–the book highlights different ways that people approach biblical worship. Tim Keller’s section was remarkable, as was editor D. A. Carson’s opening essay. This book offers lots to think about and discuss.

Matthew for Everyone (Part 1 and Part 2), Mark for Everyone – I’ve enjoyed reading through N.T. Wright’s commentaries on the Gospels. He has a way of making the books come alive in a fresh way while sticking close to the text that I really appreciate. The books are written in an accessible voice (hence the “for everyone” moniker) but are a great way to facilitate slow, careful reading of familiar passages.

Gospel Identity – Our small group did this study over the last semester and it was fine. I wanted to love the book, but honestly, it wasn’t my favorite. Fortunately, we like our group and we’ll start something new this fall!

Have you read any good books of theology or Biblestudy lately?

readmore

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. When you click through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind and make any purchase, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you. It helps to defray the costs of URLs and hosting. I appreciate it!

Hodge Podge: Eating (Or Not)

I promised I wasn’t going to read more books about health and fitness. So I only read five more. In last weekend’s newsletter, I wrote about needing to give up some genres for a while so that I can focus my reading more productively. This is another genre that is going to the back of the line for the time being. For real, this time. So, if you’re in need of some diet/nutrition reading, consider this 2017’s last gasp on that topic!

Bright Line Eating – I had heard Susan Peirce Thompson’s video series and was familiar with her premise: as a scientist, she is interested in how people’s brains respond to food. Her hypothesis is that many people are susceptible to food addition and most of us are negatively impacted by the addictive nature of sugar and flour whether we tend towards extremes or not. Her plan draws on the legal concept of bright lines—hard and fast rules you must not cross under any circumstances—and will resonate particularly well with abstainers.

I have some disagreements with SPT on nutritional grounds. She’s about breaking the addiction and her research is not primarily concerned with trendy food topics like low-carb/paleo/keto/whatever. This means that her diet is strictly no sugar, no flour, but otherwise low-fat and low-calorie—but she does allow for differences in opinion or preference as long as you define your rules up front. I do like the idea of bright lines because I’m the sort of person who needs things like that, and yet I find adhering to SPT’s plan as written leaves me hangry (hungry + angry). A nursing mama of five who is working and homeschooling does not have time for that. So I’m experimenting with an amended version of the diet that allows more vegetables (the diet already calls for about two pounds of produce a day), cuts the grain and fruit, and adds a little more fat. I do value what I learned from the book, and have put several of the suggestions in place in my life, apart from the diet.

Perfect Health Diet – While this book had some good information about circadian rhythms and how to get your minerals and whatnot into balance, I have to admit it sort of threw me that the authors allow starch when eating high fat. Pretty much, for me anyway, when I’m eating high fat I can’t eat starch without dire consequences. But I really like sweet potatoes… And I love rice. Love, love, love it. So I took their advice and added rice back into my diet and promptly regained the 10 pounds I had lost this year plus five extra. Egads. As with most nutrition information, you sort of have to take what works for you and be prepared to personalize if it doesn’t. Read at your own risk.

Bulletproof Diet – This book is by the guy who invented Bulletproof Coffee. And he is selling something. Always. I do think the intermittent fasting idea is interesting, so I tried Bulletproof coffee for a couple of months and used the ideas in the book to skew my diet more ketogenic. After the first week, when I spent a lot of time having blood sugar crashes and nearly passing out (not kidding), I managed to get through the morning with only the coffee. Except I was always starving. The entire time. Even while eating lots of fat. I did not ever get past it. Then I read that sometimes women can’t hack intermittent fasting. At that point, the whole thing was overwhelming me and the intense salesiness of the Bulletproof Media Machine also got to me, so I stopped. But I do like the switch to only grass-fed Kerrygold butter, so we stuck with that.

Head Strong – I read Head Strong because if you pre-ordered it on Kindle you got $25 in free Bulletproof credit, which I used to buy the MCT oil they sell, and that wound up being a good deal. Plus their customer service department was OUTSTANDING when I had an ordering issue. So I don’t regret the purchase, although the book has a major bro science feel. I decided that I really can’t stand Asprey’s writing style, plus I was reading the book on my phone. So…maybe it was me. Anyway, the book is all about mitochondria. Lots of people are into mitochondria these days, and it’s all been said on many podcasts and in lots of blog posts. If you follow many health and fitness people, you probably already know this stuff. Or could get it from other sources.

Fat For Fuel – Not one to be left out of the party, Dr. Mercola wrote a book on the whole ketogenic thing, too. And he also included everything there is to know about…wait for it…MITOCHONDRIA. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I skimmed the first part of the book. However, the second part would be helpful if you want to go all-in with the ketogenic diet. Mercola recommends WICKED low carbs and also low protein. Like, as low as five grams per day, but possibly up to 45 grams of protein IF you are breast-feeding. Honestly, after 12 years of being pregnant and/or nursing, I am not used to eating that little protein. It’s actually really hard to keep protein that low if you’re eating a whole food diet and don’t eat legumes. But it was interesting to consider.

After all this, I really keep coming back to Jonathan Baylor’s simplicity about eating lots of vegetables, moderate protein, and whole food fats. And I think the key for me might be bright lines (although a lower-carb, slightly higher fat version). Because, as Susan points out, when I spend my life thinking about food and diet and when/if I’m going to taste/eat/try/read about some food/diet/hack or not, I’m living enslaved to food. And it’s better to be free.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Hodge Podge: Parenting

This week’s literary trail mix features books on parenting:

Our Mothers, Ourselves – Although ostensibly more about being a daughter than being a mother, I couldn’t help reading it with an eye toward what kind of mother I am to my girls. The book has helpful insight for both relationships. I appreciated the author’s balance between honestly addressing how dysfunction in relationships can impact us and our families, while presenting a hopeful perspective that it is possible and healthy to identify generational patterns and work through them to benefit yourself and future generations. This book was different, and thought-provoking.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings – “Peaceful” is not a word often applied to my family. We just tend to run toward intensity. But I do aspire to peace and calm, and thus I appreciated the tips in this book toward that end. Most of the advice is actually directed toward the parent—and I was challenged to think about ways that I might be communicating a sense of emergency or hurry to my kids, and how to combat that. As I am reviewed my notes to write this, I was reminded how much work I still need to do in this regard. So I printed the notes and added them to my Think File. Which is now really overflowing the banks!

The Danish Way of Parenting – Or, how to hygge for family unity. Riding the whole Danish fad, this book was fine, but not ground-breaking. I appreciated the reminders to reframe situations rather than feeling bowled over by them, and we can all use more cosying around, right?

Body-confident Daughters – I like the premise of this book—having deliberate conversations with your tween daughters about life changes and how to navigate growing up in a godly way. The delivery, though, left something to be desired. It could just be me, but the whole set-up of “dates” felt forced and fake, I bristled at the implication in one section that godly girls don’t wear makeup, and the already short book felt padded by unnecessary fluff (Like a smoothie recipe—really? Who doesn’t know how to make a smoothie and/or have access to the internet?). I think the whole thing would have been stronger as a series of five blog posts. Again, good ideas, but problematic presentation. I did make some notes but will be talking to my girls in my own way and without woo-woo smoothies.

Have you read any good books on parenting lately?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Starting “in media res”

Start in media res – in the middle of things.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of in media res lately. Specifically, about the way being in the middle of things raises the temptation to plow through rather than savor life. So often, I find myself realizing after many weeks that I have a problem. The problem was there all along, but I was so busy dealing with it in the moment that I never stepped back to call it out as an issue.

I always think I need a fresh beginning to make a change. You know, I’ll start the diet on Monday, I’ll make the resolution on January 1, I’ll really get my habits in line on the first day of school…but I like the idea of starting in media res.

When I turned 32, someone told me (only half-joking) that hopefully I had already accomplished everything I hoped to do in my life, because no one ever does anything big after the age of 32. Aside from the fact that the idea is patently false, it’s also a pretty sad conviction, don’t you think? Why not see any day or any year or any life stage as a place to start?

In Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach talks about how to get past the surface with your life stories, to “look for where you can crack things open” and expand and dig deeper. Apart from the obvious application to writing memoir Roorbach intended, I like the picture of cracking things open, of starting in media res. It’s not about blowing up your life, but about seeing brittle places as opportunities for growth.

What do you think?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

On Music

The object therefore of the instruction…should be to foster the natural good taste of the subject, and gradually to build up a fund of experience, which may serve as a standard of right and wrong, incidentally bringing him into contact with some of the great creative geniuses of the world and providing him with a treasure house of beautiful things, which will be a joy to him all his life.

infiniteA Touch of the Infinite is an excellent resource for adding music to education–in a homeschool, after kids get back from school, or for yourself. Megan Elizabeth Hoyt struck a wonderful balance between casting a vision for musical education and practical suggestions. I am so glad to own a copy of this book for frequent reference.

Hoyt includes invaluable insight into helping us understand composers and complicated music, while also explaining how simpler forms also serve a purpose. From musical instruments to singing to being an educated audience member at symphonies and other concerts, Hoyt covers so much ground in the book that there probably isn’t any way you could complete it all in a lifetime.

In that sense, I see this book as a great inspiration, a practical guide, and a lifelong handbook for growing in understanding, making, and appreciating music in many genres and forms.

Students need to know why it is important that they learn about music—what purpose it will serve for their lives. What do we expect to accomplish in providing them with a cultured existence full of art, music, architecture, and sculpture?…The benefit of learning about all aspects of the arts and sciences, mathematics and history, is that it encourages us to form relationships with people, things, and events of the past, present, and future—to understand our universe and to fully grasp our place within the broader scheme.

In compiling this resource, Hoyt drew on her own extensive background in music, as well as her review of British educator Charlotte Mason’s methods for music instruction. Even if you’re not a Charlotte Mason fan, you might be surprised to see how widely applicable the principles are in music, and Hoyt did a masterful job of discussing how CM schools handled music while also pulling in her own outside knowledge and experience.

We study a composer every school term, and often have music playing at home (classical, yes, but other genres, too). But until I read A Touch of the Infinite, I never realized how many opportunities there are for training our ears, increasing our understanding, and building our enjoyment of the music we surround ourselves with. I’m excited to put many of these tactics and suggestions into place for the new school year, and highly recommend this book.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

“There is always, always a trade off.”

Essentialism-book-coverI recently re-read Essentialism. (Here’s my review from 2014.) It’s an amazing, high impact book, full of helpful inspiration for untangling your confusing and stressful hyper-busyness and focusing down on what really matters.

And yet, last weekend my husband and I had (yet another) discussion about how he thinks I am trying to do too much and am burning out. I agree, but just don’t know what to do about it. “No one else is actually doing all the things you are doing,” he said, “and the trade off is your sleep, and down time, and your ability to enjoy your life.”

Preacher’s telling the truth and it hurts.

The problem is, I love the concept of essentialism, but I’m terrible at putting it into practice.

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything. – John Maxwell

I take a lot of notes when I read. Sometimes I take action on them right away. More often, I put my notes into the think file on my desk. It’s a literal, physical file of things I need to think about. I hardly ever set aside enough time to work through it. The think file is about three inches thick at the moment.

The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.

If there is anything I can say about life as a homeschooling and self-employed mother of five, it’s that it’s noisy. Sometimes, I love the noise of everyone laughing and singing and being crazy. Sometimes, I feel like I will lose it if I don’t get a few quiet moments to think. I wonder if this is the root of my chronic insomnia. The middle of the night is when I can reliably have a quiet house to myself. Maybe I will start using those hours for my think file.

If we feel total and utter conviction, we say yes. Anything less gets a thumbs down.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not for me. And, I think, it’s probably not a once-and-done endeavor. It’s a constant challenge to be honest about my energy level, my callings, what I’m really able to accomplish in a given chunk of time, and where I’m out of sync with my priorities. Often, I feel “total and utter conviction” about too many things.

It’s the time of year when I start planning for the fall. I love a new school year. It’s so full of possibility! Surely this is the year when everyone will begin to love handwriting and will stop bickering over inconsequential nonsense and will not drag their feet about doing their chores. I think “Ooh! Shiny!” about all the things. With our new-found efficiency we will have time to play board games! We could do tae-kwon-do! The kids could act in plays! I could teach myself Greek in 30 minutes a day!

And yet…

What do you need to do to be able to go to sleep peacefully?

Not so many things. Essentialism. I’m working on it.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

In Keeping: None Like Him

none like himI almost skipped None Like Him, because it has roses on the cover. In case you are likewise reluctant, allow me to assure you that in spite of its floral cover art, this book is not the pink-and-purple-butterfly-ish theology lite so often marketed to women. It’s by Jen Wilkin, so I should have known better. In actual fact, None Like Him is an excellent book of depth and richness that any Christian could learn from.

I highly recommend Wilkin’s book for it’s thoughtfulness and perspective. I took reams of notes, and so rather than a standard review I decided to make this a post of a few of the quotes I’m keeping from my reading.

Sanctification is the process of learning increasing dependence, not autonomy.

In the back of my mind, I keep waiting to grow up. So often, I look around in a moment of crisis and think, “Um, shouldn’t an adult step in?” Of course, with five children and a mortgage one might argue that this is about as grown up as it gets. Maybe there’s not some mythical moment when you figure things out this side of heaven. If anything, as the years go by, I realize more and more where I fall short and how much growth I still need. So I liked Wilkin’s note that sanctification–growing more Christlike–is a process of learning dependence rather than autonomy. It’s counterintuitive, but admitting need may be more mature than attempting to power through alone.

Sometimes it takes more than one lifetime for the ugly to be made beautiful…but this does not mean that what God is doing is not perfectly timed.

Isn’t this profoundly hopeful? So many problems are too big for my one small life. What a glorious hope to know that my timeline is not The Timeline.

Over what do I have control? A few very important things. My thoughts, which I can take captive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And if I can control my thoughts, it follows that I can control my attitude—toward my body, my stuff, my relationships, and my circumstances. If my thoughts and attitude are in control, my words will be as well, and my actions.

While I’m always telling the children, “Change your thoughts!” I’m not always as good at changing my own. This really does tie in with a desire for control–which Wilkin points out is really a form of idolatry. So often, life feels as though it’s careening out of control. At those moments, this reminder is sound. What can I control? Only a few things. My thoughts, my attitudes…and out of those flow my words and my actions. That’s a fair circle of impact, and that’s where my focus should be, not on the circumstances I can’t control and am not responsible for.

Long after the beloved generations that debate tattoos around my table have gone to dust, long after your generation fades like grass, the God of all generations will endure. Thanks be to the God for whom a thousand years are but as yesterday, the God who is from everlasting to everlasting. Thanks be to God for the limit of time, by which we are bound and he is not. Eternal God, establish the work of our hands.

I love this. What peace in knowing that God has my days marked out, and every one is a gift–not a prize or a punishment. However long I have, there is work marked out for me to do. Whether it be high impact or negligible by worldly standards is immaterial. I can work for His glory and rest in that grace and peace.

None Like Him made an excellent personal study, but would be great for a group discussion as well. If you read it, come back and let me know your thoughts.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.