Thursday, March 9, 2023

Sisters' Bright Winter Reading in February

 Charity and I enjoy the Brighter Winter reading challenge each year. We both read lots of great books, but here are a few of books we especially enjoyed in February. 

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Charity - Read a book from a tumultuous time in history

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

This novel is set during World War 2 in London. The main character moves to London and begins working in a small bookshop right before the Blitz begins and found that books can be a haven during hard days. I was inspired by the power of stories to bring hope even during hardship. 

Gina - Read a book by someone who shares your initials

Reaching America by Gary Miller

A few ladies from my church read and discussed Reaching America last month. Miller delves into the changes in religious understanding in the American popultion and why traditional witnessing may not bear as much fruit as in pass generations. His book shows practical ways to reach out to our neighbors and gave examples of how to interact with people who are searching for meaning in their lives. Our evening of conversation around this book was inspiring and challenging.

Charity - Do a blind book exchage with a friend

Placemaker by Christie Purifoy

Gina chose Placemaker for me, in which the author weaves together the stories of her homes, past and present. She challenged me to make our homes beautiful, welcoming, and life giving. I found myself lingering over the masterful way she writes and clinging to the beauty of the words.

Gina - Blind book exchange

Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

Charity gave me Gay Girl, Good God. I expected it to be a story of conversion to a life serving Jesus Christ - and it was. But I was pleasantly surprised that Perry emphasized the character of God. I love that God's mercy and redeeming power shined in this book.

What were the highlights of your winter reading?

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

With the Brighter Winter reading challenge over, Charity and I are beginning our seasonal reading challenge again. We are both looking forward to diving into some of the books that have been on our shelves. Want to join us?

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Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

1. Read a book that is longer than your average read. 

Here is a chance to tackle a book that is daunting because of its page count. Maybe you'd like to tackle a long classic like Les Miserables, Bleak House, or The Lord of the Rings. Maybe you are drawn to nonficiton like Truman by David McCullough or a modern novel such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr but haven't wanted to commit to a longer book.

If you start a book today and read a chapter or so a week, by the end of May, even if you haven't completed the book, you would have made headway. 

2. In honor of Charity's anticipated motherhood, read a book about motherhood or a book that has a mother as the main character.

Examples: Missional Motherhood, A Garden to Keep, Little Women, Stepping Heavenward, Anne of Ingleside, Mary Emma and Company. And now I have a problem because I'd love to reread all of these books.

3. Choose a bookshelf (in your house, the library, or your friend's house), count the fifth book from the right and read it. 

I have a whole shelf of books that I want to read, so hopefully this will help me decide which book to read next. 

Make this challenge fit you. If you don't care to read the first book you select, find another bookshelf!

4. Choose a word or phrase in the Bible and look up five or so verses that contain that word and read them in context. 

Example: peace, joy, tree of life, light, kingdom of heaven

Looking forward to a good spring of reading.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Traditions and Doughnut Day

I've been thinking a lot about family traditions. How are traditions different from routines and habits? I think of a traditions as a way that we celebrate holidays and special days. What happens when life shifts and traditions are forced to change? How much value should be put on traditions?

You probably expect that I'm thinking of this topic since losing Ed, and you are right. But I think that the loss of Ed upended routines and habits more than traditions. Actually, Ed and I didn't have many traditions. Someone asked what we did on Valentines' Day, and I had to dig deep in my memory. While I remember various ways we celebrated the holiday through the years, we didn't have a specific tradition. Same goes for birthdays and aniversaries.

Traditions are fun. It doesn't take young children long to build a tradition. Do something once or twice and I hear, "We always...." Even though I've struggled to build traditions like for the first day of school or on birthdays, we still have acquired a few traditions along the way.

This week, for the first time, my children and I are taking a trip without my two oldest children. (We plan to spend a week helping rebuild houses after a flood, but my two oldest children are going another week with friends.) This is the fifth winter we've done this, but it won't be the same. And I'm okay with change - most days. Some change show maturity and growth - in myself and my children. I need to let go some of my expectations and allow my children to grow and change.

This past year, my mother-in-law sold her house and moved to a nursing home. My parents moved out of their big farmhouse six years ago. And, of course, Ed's death brought a huge number of changes to our home. Aging and death bring change which carries a lot of grief.

If you are a long time reader here, you know that for years my family made doughnuts every winter. I don't know when this tradition started. My first memory of doughnut making was when I was a very small girl. As my brothers married, their wives joined the doughnut making tradition. Sometimes we'd make doughnuts on Fasnacht Day; sometimes we'd choose another day.

In 2016, my family made doughnuts at my mom's house, not realizing it would be the last time. (We even had a photographer from the local newspaper record the event. The next year, my parents would move out of the farm house. The day had gotten rather crazy anyway, with so many children, and maybe it was simply time to adjust this tradition. So Ed and I spend a Saturday making apple fritters at our house. I thought maybe that would be the start of a new tradition. But months later, Ed was diagnosed with brain cancer, and we never again made doughnuts. 

This winter, we were discussing doughnuts, and I realized that my two youngest girls didn't remember doughnut making at all. I shouldn't have been surprised. At that last doughnut making at my mom's house, my youngest daughter had only been a few weeks old. 

So I asked my mom if she would bring her fryer to my house to make doughnuts. I invited two of my sisters, and we had a fun doughnut day, seven years after our last one. 

Will this begin a new tradition with my daughters? I don't know. Maybe this will be a one-time event that my girls will look back to and say, "Remember that time we made doughnuts?" Maybe some day they will bring their children and say, "Every winter we go to mom's house and make doughnuts." 

What traditions have you had to change? Have you replaced it with new ones?

To read more on past doughnut days...
Mom's doughnut recipe - we have used the same recipe for over 30 years.
Apple fritter recipe - the new favorite
What happens when your memory fries on doughnut day

Friday, February 3, 2023

Sisters' Bright Winter reading in January

I have more to life than just reading, though you might not know it from this blog. January was a full month, including our family butcher day, a trip to North Carolina for a wedding, a delightful writing day with three friends, and lots of the daily activites of homeschooling, laundry, and food prep. All these things might be worthy of writing about, and maybe I will, but somehow my time this winter is consumed by projects besides blogging. 

But some of you keep saying you enjoy our book reviews, and book reviews are some of the easiest things to write about, so here are a few more.

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Charity and I are both taking part in the Brighter Winter reading program. This has been a favorite part of our winter for the last several years and always helps to stretch our reading into new genres. 

Both of us completed all twenty grids in January, and here are a few of our favorite reads this month. 

Charity -

Read a green book.

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse is the author of comical British novels. In this book Bertie is once again tangled up in his friends’ affairs, trying to help and getting into trouble. The cast of characters is hilarious, and I loved Bertie’s valet, the calm, measured, and always-coming-to-the-rescue Jeeves. I listened to an audio version and the British accents make the story even better! 

Read the last book published by a author.
Read a classic you think you "should" have read before.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens 

At Dickens’ death, he left one book incomplete. Now I will always want to know the ending to this mysterious story, such as did Drood actually die, is John Jasper hiding something, will Rosa every feel safe again, and who is the stranger that watches Jasper? It is a beautifully written story with intricately drawn characters. If Dickens had completed this book, it would have been a masterpiece.

Gina - 

Read a medical memoir. 

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I have heard of this book for years, but this challenge finally pushed me to read it. Gawande explores the topic of aging, the elderly, and ultimately, death. This isn't a fun subjects to read about, but by the time I finished reading this book I thought that anyone who loves an older person or will one day become an older person, should read this book. In other words, everyone. Gawande looks at nursing home options, end-of-life decisions, the role of communication, and much more. Probably what makes this book so valuable is that Gawande isn't looking at it as a researcher. He tells the story of his own patients, and then his own dad, showing that he has wrestled deeply with these questions himself. 

Read a nonfiction book by a female Christian writer.
Read a green book. 

Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson

This book seems simple, just a book sharing garden analogies on humility. With Jefferson's grapevines and her own herb garden plus more as examples, Anderson shows that humility is the fruit of belonging to Jesus. I'm finding myself thinking about the book a few weeks later, which is a sign of a book that I read at the right time.

Do a buddy read. 

One of the reading challenges was to read a book with a friend so you can discuss it together. Charity and I chose The Great Good Thing. In this memior Klavan shares how God slowly drew Klaven to Himself from a life totally devoid of God. I don't think I've ever read a conversion story like it and though I might not agree with all of Klavan's beliefs, his story made me love our Savior even more.

Do you read more in the winter? What was your favorite book in January?

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Sisters' December Reading Challenge


Our December reading was so much fun! I was surprised at how many quiet evenings I had at home this month to enjoy a crackling fire and a good book.

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1. Read a Christmas classic.

Charity - The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It can barely be Christmas if I haven’t dipped into this classic once again! This year I delved into the historical context, author’s life, and the writing style of the book, which made me understand how influential this book was and still is today.

Gina -  The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Charity and I purchased a webinar on The Christmas Carol and spent several afternoons listening to an explanation of the background of Victorian literature and English Christmas traditions. It was such a fun way to learn more about a favorite book.

2. Read an Advent book.

Charity - Hallelujah by Cindy Rollins

I enjoyed this study of Handel's Messiah so much last year that I decided to repeat the experience. The beauty of Scripture put to music and the powerful story of Christ's birth and resurrection, awed me once again.

Gina - Waiting on the Word by Malcolm Guite

For the last couple years, I've been attempting to gain a greater appreciation for poetry. I have enjoyed Malcolm Guite's poetry so purchased his Advent complilation. Guite organizes a poem for each day from December 1 to January 6 and includes a short discussion on the poem. The poems come from a wide variety of authors from the past centuries, including some of Guite's own work. Reading this book was the perfect beginning of each day. I may have formed a new poetry-reading habit.

3. Read a cozy book.

Charity - A New Song by Jan Karon

The Mitford series is the definition of cozy. I enjoyed rereading several of Karon’s delightful books in her series about a small town and a faithful priest. The comical characters always have me chuckling and the descriptions of food and cups of tea make me hungry every time. 

Gina - Welcome Home by Myquillyn Smith

A dabbled in a number of books that could fit this category, including reading a Mitford book and Emily Steiner's newest book. But when a friend gave me Welcome Home by Myquillyn Smith, I knew this was my cozy book. Smith (known as The Nester online) has written several books on home decorating, but this may be my favorite yet. She shows how you can use the five senses to decorate your home for the four seasons in a cozy minimalist style. The book is lovely, warm, and inspiring and I expect to refer to it as the seasons change in the coming year.

For the next two months, Charity and I plan to join the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge. This is the fourth year and is always a winter highlight. It isn't too late to join in.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

Merry Christmas from a very cold Pennsylvania Christmas Eve. 

Hands down, my favorite part of Christmas is the music. I start listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day, and our family has memories surrounding numerous Christmas songs. 

Earlier this week our church went caroling. We divided into five groups. My group walked the street singing to some of my brother's neighbors. It was a cold clear evening (thankfully not nearly as cold as this morning) and perfect caroling weather. Several people said they hadn't heard carolers for twenty or more years. Some joined us in singing. Some videoed us on their phones and sent it to friends. One man asked if we'd come down to the park because he wanted the children to hear us sing. The evening reminded me why caroling is my favorite Christmas tradition.

I remember the first time I read through the words of all the verses to the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I was a young teen, and the message moved me to tears. 

At that time I didn't know the story behind the words. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a widower, His wife had died from injuries from a house fire two years before. His son had left to fight in the Civil War against his father's wishes and was seriously injured. When I think of a grieving husband and father, facing a Christmas season during a turbulent time in the nation's history, these words feel even more poignant. 

Here are the words to Longfellow's poem that are usually sung, omitting two of stanzas that refer more specifically to the Civil War.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
Th' unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

This song reminds me that Jesus came to a groaning earth, not a perfect paradise. He came to hurting grieving people, not those who are merry and bright. He came to restore our peace with God and give us love for our fellow humans - all things we need just as much today.

In recent years, Casting Crowns has recorded a beautiful new tune that has become popular, but here is a recording with the traditional Calkin tune.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge

I had so much fun reading this fall. Somehow the right books found me at the right time in the right mood. I loved that the fall challenges pushed me to read some books that I would otherwise probably not found.

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 1. Read a book that intimidates you.

Charity - Hard Times by Charles Dickens
I love Dickens and read his books over and over. I have read Hard Times more than once.  That is precisely why it feels daunting. Something about the sadness of the book coupled with the lack of lovable characters made me never want to read it again. But when my favorite podcast was going to be reading it, I just had to read it with them. It still isn’t my favorite Dickens novel, but, with the help of those who are knowledgeble about the Victorian era and literature, I learned vast amounts about education, theVictorian home and reading a book well. 

Gina - Hard Times by Charles Dickens
I read the same book as Charity, but for a different reason. I've only read a few of Dicken's books and it has been years since I tackled one. I wasn't sure I had the patience for a Dicken's novel. But Dark Times is one of his shorter books, and it was such fun to read and discuss it with Charity. I didn't expect to gain insight into the education of children and the need to encourage the imagination.

2. Read a book about a founder of a ministry or nonprofit organization. 

Charity - He Gave Us a Valley by Helen Roseveare
For twenty years, Roseveare lived in the Congo. A few of her years overlapped a terrifying time of rebellion and civil war. This particular book gives an overview of all twenty years but mostly focuses on her last few years as the founder  of a medical school. It is a story of intense work to build a school out of nothing, working with a confusing government, and eventually facing rejection from those she had given her life to serve. Roseveare taught me a lot about surrender and giving our lives because Christ gave everything for us. I’m looking forward to reading a few more of her books. 

Gina - Chasing My Cure by David Fajgenbaum
The author was a young medical student when he became very sick and was hospitalized as his organs began failing. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Castleman's Disease. A few months later, his health crashed again and again he nearly died. This book tells the story of beginning an organization to help find a cure for himself and others as well as improve the health care for those with rare diseases.

3. Read a book published in your birth year. 

Charity - Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes

It was delightful to browse my  TBR pile and find a book published exactly in 1999! Bella Tuscany is a sequel to Mayes first book Under the Tuscan Sun, a story about buying a home in Italy. Both books had me drooling over the incredible descriptions of food, longing for a glimpse of the Italian scenery, and laughing at Americans living in a foreign country. Disclaimer: this is a secular book written by an author whose lifestyle is very different from what I would promote. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is frequent and the author is divorced and cohabitating. 

Gina - Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner

I was struggling to find a book published in 1976 until I searched the Pulitzer prize winners. Beautiful Swimmers follows the crabbers in the Chesapeake Bay through a whole year as they search for the bay's famous blue crab. I took this book on our vacation to Chincoteague where my sons brought back a catch of blue crab for us to enjoy. I loved learning about a bay that has always fascinated me and the people who make their living from its waters. 

4. Read a book that others have raved about.

Charity - The Lazy Genius Kitchen by Kendra Adachi
Gina passed this book to me with the words that I might enjoy it as I set up my own kitchen. It was such a fun read while also making me think through the way my kitchen is arranged and how to make this important part of my home efficient and enjoyable. She offers a variety of tips that inspired me to think about what matters in my kitchen, how to organize and make the everyday tasks a little easier. A beautiful, simple, and easy to read book. 

Gina - Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
Almost every book I read could fit this category, since most books I read have been recommended by a friend. I was at a baby shower this fall and the rave review I heard about this book sent me immediately to to place an order for it. I'd been wishing for a resource for goal setting. I thought this book would be geared just for business men and not be applicable for somone whose life has been upended and planning feels futile, but I found it very helpful in evaluating my current life and future goals. But reading the book is only the first step. I fear that I'll put this book on the shelf and not actually use the plan they lay out. This is when I need an accountability partner!

5. Read a book set in your state or province.

Charity - The Christopher Saurs by Stephen L. Longenecker 
We have all learned about Benjamin Franklin and the time period surrounding him, but I realized when I picked up this book that I had never read about the contemporary printers of Franklin, especially not Brethren printers. Christopher Saur Senior and Junior were an influential part of the German population before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. Living as Anabaptists and printing a German newspaper, they held spiritual and political influence over their people during an important time in American history. I enjoyed this glimpse into a well-known time period.

Gina - Placemaker by Christie Purifoy
Purifoy has written a lovely memior about the homes she has lived in, from Texas to Chicago to Florida to now an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania. It is hard to categorize this book. It is about trees, and restoring old houses, and the value of community. Maybe it is about hospitality. Maybe it is simply a celebration of home. Maybe it is a reminder that we have been placed on this earth to cultivate beauty. Whatever it is, I loved it. If you need a cozy read this winter, I suggest this one. 

6. Read a book that addresses an area you want to grow in. 

Charity- Flourish by Dorcas Showalter
This book addresses a number of topics related to being a wife, homemaker, mother, and Christian woman. Through telling her own story of failure and triumph, Showalter gave me much to contemplate and I plan to read it again in a few years as my life changes and her wisdom will find new things to teach me.

Gina - The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon
If one of Jesus' two commandments was "Love your neighbor," why don't I know my neighbors' names? This was the convicting question I asked after reading this book. I have lived in this house for twenty years, and I could only name three of my neighbors. I walk by their houses, and know their dogs, even wave and say "hello," but I don't know even their name. Since reading this book, I have stopped and talked to two neighbors, finding out their names, and hearing a bit of their story. I have a long way to go to truly loving my neighbors, but this book inspired me to start. It is easy to read but shoots down excuses for obeying the second commandment.

7. Look up the definition of a word that you read in a book.

Charity - I no longer remember what words I looked up, but I do know when I take the time to look up words I don’t fully understand, it always makes me wonder why I don’t do it more often. Maybe some day I’ll develop  a habit of  slowing down and finding out what words mean.

Gina- Several times as I was reading, this month, I'd think, I should look up that word. But I don't like to have my phone near me when I'm reading, so it as inconvienent to look up the word. If I'm reading online, I am much more likely to look up a word because it is only a few keystrokes away. I guess that shows how lazy I am. I did read, and love, Reading the OED by Ammon Shea, who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, a feat that required dedicated reading for ten hours a day for MONTHS! The book chronicles his experience and shares his favorite words and their meanings.

8. Carry a physical book with you.

Charity - My philosophy is you will never regret taking a book with you. More often I regret not having a book. So this fall I read about organizing my kitchen while in the doctor's waiting room and often have had a book on the passengers seat of my car. You know, just in case. 

Gina - I am usually good at grabbing a book when I leave the house, just in case. But this fall I sat in the Urgent Care and the Pet Emergency Room (neither life threatening situations) without a book. I couldn't believe that I was so frazzled that I walked out of the door without a book! Maybe I need to start keeping a spare book in the vehicle for emergencies.

What did you read this fall?


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