Wednesday (with Words)

I’m still limping along with my reading this new year.  The good news is, I found a nice, thick novel to sink my teeth into.  The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman is about love + loss + just how difficult it is to do the right thing.


The memory of a conversation with Frank floated into her awareness. ‘But how?  How can you just get over those things, darling?’ she had asked him.  “You’ve had so much strife in your life but you’re always happy.  How do you do it?’

‘I choose to,’ he said. ‘I can leave myself to rot in the past…or I can forgive and forget.’

‘It’s not that easy.’

He smiled that Frank smile.  ‘Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting.  You only have to forgive once.  To resent, you have to do it all day, everyday.  You have to keep on remembering all the bad things.’

This story is full of hard, dark things.  Yet it’s a story full of light.  It might be just the thing for these last dark days of winter.


The Year in Books: 2014

This was an amazing reading year.  I couldn’t choose just one favorite book, so here are my favorites in a few different categories.  Maybe you’ll find the perfect book to get the New Year started right!

FictionPride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  How is it that I made it into my 40th year without reading P&P?  What I mean of course is how did I miss the Colin Firth movie version?!  But really, I loved this book.  I listened to a Librivox recording every night for a few weeks as I made dinner.  Then I would re-tell the story to the children, finding the best scenes to read out loud.  Excellent!

HomeschoolingThe Living Page by Laurie Bestvater.  I got this book for my birthday, and read it during the summer.  I had no idea how much I would like it.  Bestvater’s prose is evocative and lush.  And she’s writing about a topic close to my heart; I went to the cafe today with 5 different notebooks!

The Urban Bestiary by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.  If you are looking for a way to incorporate more (or better informed!) nature study into your homeschool, then you should definitely check out this book.  Thought not a homeschooling book per se, Lyanda’s easy, conversational manner is as engaging as it is informative.  As with the Jane Austen, I read the book, and then told it back to my children.  We started seeing patterns and animal sign immediately!

Drawing–This has been an expansive year for my drawing and journaling.  First, two best of the year resources that aren’t books at all: Lisa Congdon’s drawing class at Creativebug and Lori Pickart’s Journaling class.  These two classes were game changers for me.  I am excited to read Congdon’s 40 Ways to Draw a Tulip in 2015.  For some strange reason, our library doesn’t own it, so I have to wait to request an interlibrary loan.

In December I finally got the chance to read Syllabus by Lynda Barry.  It’s a book about drawing, but really it’s about teaching and learning.  So engaging + inspiring.  I have pages and pages in my notebooks filled with quotes from this one.  We also spent quite a long time The Sketchnote Workbook by Mike Rodes. Again, not a homeschooling book at all, but with plenty of applications especially in relation to keeping notebooks and The Living Page.

Spiritual–But if I had to choose just one book to be my favorite from this last year, I’d choose The Monk’s Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll. He is a poet and Benedictine monk from Mt. Angel, the monastery we visited in October.  This book is a miscellany, short reflections on a variety of topics organized alphabetically.  The strange way that topics flow into each other is one of the pleasures of the book.   I have read it completely at random, just opening the book and starting to read for a few pages.  But I don’t get far before I find an arresting idea or image.  The poet and the monk are perfectly entwined in Driscoll’s writing.  This small book is not to be missed.

I keep track of my reading all year long at Goodreads.  Here’s a look at all the books from this year!

What books made all the difference in your year?  I’d love to hear + add them to my 2015 list!

On Reading Wendell Berry

I started reading Wendell Berry 22 years ago.  Sort of amazing really.  I was an 18 year old city girl going to college in a new town.  What affinity could I have for books written by a farmer who was older than my parents?  But along with Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez–because the three of them always go together in my mind–Wendell Berry gave me characters that reveled in the created world that was steeped in a religious sensibility.  Their works were not something that would be found on the shelves of the local Bible bookstore, but they were nourishing, they were formative in deep ways.

I’ve read all of Wendell Berry many times over but find it very difficult to recommend a place to start.  His fiction is interconnected; characters you meet in one story are often bit players in another.  But in the essays too, the same themes come up again and again.  And for me the more I read, the more affection I had for the man, and the more my understanding grew.

I think I would begin with the poems (but not the Sabbath poems).  Even long poems are short.  There’s not much commitment.  If you don’t like one, you can always turn the page and start another.  But if you do find something you like, the lines will keep singing to you all day long.  I’d start with The Country of Marriage or The Wheel.  These are the poems you’ll hear me quoting from, these are the lines that have informed the last 22 years.

Then I’d read his biography of Harlan Hubbard.  The Hubbards lived down the river from Wendell and were a major influence on his life.  They lived very simply and made art and loved each other.  This book will fill up your commonplace book with delicious quotes!

Then I’d listen to Wendell himself read selections from the essays in What Are People For?  You’ll have to find these used and dig out your cassette player, but it is oh so worth it to hear the humor and complexity in his voice.  Words that sound strident and harsh on the page, dance off his tongue.  It’s not that Wendell isn’t strident and harsh–that’s exactly why some people like him.  But that’s not all he is.  And his voice helps me find that other stream.

And finally some fiction…generally speaking I think his writing has gotten better over time, so his more recent work is better than the older stuff.  But the interrelated stories inform each other, and what you know of a character in one instance helps you understand the implications of what happens in another story.  If you’re in the market for a good, thick novel maybe start with Jayber Crow.  Or my favorite, A Place on Earth.  The novels both take place during World War II, and were written 33 years apart.  In many ways the older work, A Place on Earth, is a darker, more pessimistic novel.  But it’s aging very well.

Or you might start by just searching for Wendell Berry on this blog!  I’ve shared quite a few of his poems here over the years.  What was the first Wendell Berry you read?  Or where do you recommend starting?

Freight Train, Freight Train Going So Fast

Last year for Christmas Joseph got a copy of Freight Train by Donald Crews…and he couldn’t have cared less.  He was way more interested in books full of people, especially babies.  But he rediscovered the book a few weeks ago and is reading it to shreds!

A few weeks ago we got the chance to go see the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad.  Jojo was in heaven.  At one point he let out a squeal, and one of the men operating the trains said, “That’s the sound that we live for!”

Here’s a little Elizabeth Mitchell singing “Freight Train.”  She even rides the train to visit her friend named Jojo!

Poetry Friday :: on Christina Rossetti’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of the English poetess Christina Rossetti.  Of all the poets we have met in our poetry-centered homeschool, her poems have caught the imaginations of my children. Listen here to her words set to music by Gustav Holst:

Besides the loveliness of the candlelit faces, listening to the poem as a carol underscores the music of the poem.  Often I dismiss poems in the ballad form, poems with end rhyme.  And yet, there is something magical about poems that lean toward song.


Today is also St Nicholas Eve.  Don’t forget to set out your shoes filled with carrots for the saint’s donkey!  Last night found me cutting + gluing the beautiful St Nicholas Coins that Jessica at Shower of Roses created.  More poetry goodness at the Poetry Friday link below…including haiku written by the saint himself!

poetry friday on a saturday

sabbath rest

What goes on in our prayer right now is only a small part of the prayer of our life…prayer is a shared life with God.

sabbath rest

We must be persistent and brave, willing to trust…God is always at work in us in ways we do not know.

Prayer is for life…it carries us into love.  Prayer and love remove the boundaries between the “spiritual” and the “everyday.”

–Roberta Bondi in To Pray & To Love

Krista Tippet interviews  Roberta for Speaking of Faith.

Sweet Boys

Our midwives said that worry is the work of pregnancy.  When I was pregnant with Nicolas, I worried that he would never get to be the first and only child.  His experience of life in our family would always be a competition for divided attention.  The midwives smiled and reminded me that the baby wouldn’t just have our love and attention, he would have Mabel’s too.  The love wasn’t dividing; it was multiplying.

Yesterday, Nicolas was sitting in a chair reading The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus by Aliki.  Joseph decided to try and climb up to join him even though there was only room for 1 in the chair.  I asked Nico if he would go sit on the couch so that Joseph could sit next to him and look at the book too.  He was happy to, and they spent the next little while looking at the book together.  Joseph listened as Nicolas told him the stories.

This boy has such a generous, patient heart.

100 Storybooks

Earlier this year, author Liz Garton Scanlon spoke at a writing conference.  She challenged the writers there to read 100 storybooks in the next 6 months.  But not just read them, really learn from them.  What makes this story shine?  How do the text and pictures work together?  What elements from this book might become a part of the stories you write?

Though I don’t think I’m going to be writing a storybook anytime soon, I love this idea.  I think talking through these sorts of things might be the first step in literary analysis.  Really puzzling out how a story works is a great skill at any age.

At our house, kindergarten is a Storybook Year.  We have been reading through the ABCs of Authors and Illustrators and the ABCs of Saints.  Even though we read a lot of chapter books together, storybooks have not been in short supply.  But we’ve gotten such great ideas from some of the other authors who are keeping pinboards of their reading!


Keeping Advent Book

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sabbath rest

Ár NAthair (Our Father)

by Brian Doyle, from his collection Epiphanies & Elegies: Very Short Stories

nov 13 033

It was my grandfather who taught me the prayer

One sunny morning sitting on the front brick steps

As cars and dogs and children went passing by.


Atá ar neamh, who is in heaven he said, though

Of course He is no He at all in the general sense

But is us and everywhere and that’s a stone fact


No matter what your gramma says, don’t tell her.

Go naofar d’ainm, hallowed be thy name,

Go dtaga do ríocht, thy kingdom come, which


It is already, as we see just by paying attention.

Go ndéantar do thoil, thy will be done, ar an

Talamh mar a dhéantar ar neamh, on earth as


It is in heaven.  Tabhair dúinn inniu, give to us

Ár n-arán laethúl, our daily bread, and agrus

Maith dúinn ár bhfiacha, forgive us our debts


Mar a mhaithimidne dár bhféichiúna féin, as we

Forgive our own debtors, which huh we have none.

Well, the prayer as usually promulgated then goes


On to say agus ná lig sinn i gcathú, and lead us not

Into temptation, but that’s a cruel and foolish line

And I will not teach it to you.  So, ach saor sin ó olc,


But deliver us from evil, and right there we really

Should say please, but we are Catholics, boy, and no

Polite at all one bit.  And then we finish with amen.


Which let us say it together as men do, so amen!

We said together sitting smiling watching the parade

Which forty years later I do with him still in my heart.