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.

This post containes affiliate links.

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?

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Sisters' December Reading Challenge

Charity and I plan to keep our reading simple for December. We chose three challenges that are low pressure but will hopefully enhance our enjoyment of the holiday season. 

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1. Read a Christmas classic.

Charity and I are both choosing The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but you may have another classic you'd like to read or reread. Some options include The Best Christmas Pagent Ever and Little Woman.

2. Read an Advent book.

There are many books with a short piece to read every day until Christmas. Preruse your library or a bookstore to find one that fits your wishes. I'm chose Malcolm Guite's Waiting on the Word, which is a poetry collection for each day of December. I don't read much poetry but I couldn't think of a more counter-culture and defiant stance against commercial craziness than reading poetry.

3. Read a cozy book. 

I haven't chosen my book yet for this category. I might reread a favorite book or pick up a just-for-fun fiction book. After a very busy fall, our December looks rather empty and I'm planning to prioritize a few quiet evenings at home. I'm looking forward to evenings on the couch, reading favorite Christmas picture books to my children, then enjoying my own book for an hour.

If you want some more suggestions of Christmas books, you can check out my book lists from other years.

What does reading look like for you in December?

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Fall Lament

 "The leaves are prettier this year than usual." 

It was a comment I heard over and over. 

"Did I just forget how pretty the leaves are in the fall?" my dentist asked.

"Someone said the leaf color is the best in ten years," said a friend.

Leaf color and brilliance is hard to measure, but week after week, the colors were astounding. I gushed and gaped - as I rushed to the next thing on my agenda. I kept saying that I needed to go for more walks to soak in the beauty. In February I would regret that I was too busy to truly enjoy the leaves.

Now it is nearly the end of November and I look back, wondering why I was so busy this fall. Flipping through my photos, gives me a glimpse.

A few days in Chincoteague, Virginia with two of my brothers and family.

Making applesauce.

Picking squash.

Of course, raking leaves.

Making apple cider with my family.

And potato chips.

Introducing some new Ukrainian friends to canoeing.

Lots of living - with meals, school, shopping, and questions big and small. There were kids' clubs, gatherings with church friends, weddings, crochet classes with Grandma, and playing games with Grandmother.

But maybe when I think back to the fall of 2022, it won't be any of these things that will stand out in my memory. 

Throughout the fall, my dear friend's mom was slipping away. I took night duty a couple nights to give her family a break. Though dementia is different than brain cancer, there were enough similiarities to give me flashbacks. So many people had helped with Ed, and it was an honor to sit by her bed and remember her gift of hospitatlity and all the hours I spent in that same living room.

I love life. I'm grateful that God has given me a rich life with oppurtunities, friendships, harvests, and growing children. 

But this fall, in the middle of a busy schedule with weddings and celebrations and exuberate leaves - I wanted to sit by a death bed. Remembering. Grieving. 

Ecclesiastes says "it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting" and "sorrow is better than laughter." (Ecc. 7:2-3) I'm not sure what those verses mean. Of course I wish there were never funerals to attend, but while weddings remind me of the dreams and future that I lost, funerals remind me of what I have - memories, a godly heritage, and the hope of the resurrection. 

The leaves have all fallen, and there is a new grave in a cemetery. It is a season to settle into winter, to become comfortable with lament, before turning to thankgiving and preparing for the Lord's return. 

"The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart;" Psalms 34:18

The old cemetery I pass on my walk.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Motherhood Magazine Issue 3


I was thrilled to open a box of the newest issue of Motherhood magazine this afternoon. Since spring, I've been working on this issue as part of the editorial team, and it is a delight to hold the final product in my hands.

Today is a gray rainy day, the last day of October, a day when darkness is celebrated. Though I love fall, and this year has included an oustsoundingly brilliant leaf display, this fall has held reminders of the hard things. Maybe I'll write more later about the last months, but for now, I want to share a resource that aims to bring the light of Christ to your home. 

Since we planned for Issue 3 of Motherhood to be released in the fall, we chose to focus on the theme of "Light" for this issue. 

Twenty ladies of all ages who live in various countries around the world, shared articles, stories, and poetry sharing their journey of walking in God's light. Some are hard stories, such as the mom who mourns the loss of her eyesight or the mother who buried a baby. Other moms share how God's light shone in their lives, bringing repentance and a desire to walk in truth. Women wrote about opening up their hearts and homes to let their light shine to others. Older moms share a vision for walking in light all the days of their life, even when their children are grown.

Some of the articles share on practical topics such as hospitality and ideas to bring physical light into our homes. A tutorial gives ideas on using Mason jars for organization, decoration, and a children's party.

This issue is a perfect gift for your mom friend of any age. The beautiful photos and artwork make the pages a delightful rest for the eyes and mind. My prayer is that each word and splash of color can be a blessing to other women as it blessed me.

To get you own copy, go to the Motherhood website. Or email Kerra at stan.kerra2012@ . The price per issue is $12. A one dollar discount per issue is available for sets of ten copies so combine your order with a friend or get extras for gifts.

If you live close to me and want a discount on shipping, I have copies of all three issues available for pick up at my house. 

If you want to be included on an email list to get updates on every issue of Motherhood magazine as well as get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some of the women who write and design the magazine, sign up for the Motherhood email list.


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