Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sisters' November Reading Challenge


Another fun reading month. 

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Read a book published in the 1800s.

Charity - Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray

Murray focuses each chapter on a different verse of the Bible and talks about Christ as our Redemption, Sanctification, etc. I have read and enjoyed a few of his other books, but this on has been a slow read. I find myself needing to completely focus and so this challenge will spill over into the next month!

Gina - Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

If you had asked me, I would have said that I loved Jane Austen, but maybe it would be more accurate to say that I loved Pride and Prejudice, which I've read numerous times. I wasn't as excited about Austen's other books and had never read Mansfield Park. But this month I not only read Mansfield Park, but I listened to the conversation about the book on The Literary Life podcast. I'm now of the opinion that Mansfield Park may have been one of Austen's greatest books. There was so much symbolism and depth to the book that I probably would have never recognized on my own, without the help of teachers. Fanny Price is not a dashing Miss Bennet, but I love her ability to perceive others' character.

2. Read a book about a disability. 

Charity - Remembering by Wendel Berry

I picked this book off my TBR pile and was never so delighted to see that it was about a man with only one hand! Berry's novels are works of art. The way he writes is beautiful, contemplative, and a strange mixture of grief and joy. This story is about one man working through the grief of a changing farm community and a lost hand. He finds himself walking the streets of San Francisco remembering the past and deciding if the future has any hope. This book is part of Wendel Berry's Port William series.

Gina - A Smile as Big as the Moon by Mike Kersjes

Mike was a special needs teacher who wanted to encourage and challenge his troubled students. He battled the opinions of the school leadership with a bold plan to take his students to NASA's Space Camp - an opportunity that was reserved for only the best and most gifted students. This book challenged me to see the gifts that others, even those with a severe disability, can give to the world. Note: Contains some profanity.

3. Read a book about clothes.

Charity - The Beauty of Modesty by David and Diane Vaughn

The Vaughns dig into history and the Bible to explore modesty. I appreciate their focus on the root issues of the heart that end up flowing out into our clothing. This was a reread from a few years ago and somehow this time I didn't like it as much. I haven't been able to decide exactly why, but I only partially recommend it.

Gina - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzelmach Lemmon

The author traveled to Afghanistan in search of stories of women who supported their families during the takeover of the Taliban in the 90s. We are introduced to Kamila and her five sisters who were left alone in Kabul with no way to support themselves since they weren't allowed to leave their home without a male family member. Kamila began a sewing business in her home for her sisters and other needy women. It is hard to read stories from war-torn cities, especially knowing that the women in Kabul are currently facing very hard times, but this book was inspiring.

4. Check a book out of the library for one of these challenges.

Charity -I was on library duty at church one morning in November and was struck with the realization that we didn’t specify a public library! There are scads of books in our church library that I want to read and one of them was Andrew Murray’s Abiding in Christ. I was delighted to start another book on my TBR list and all without a special trip to town!

Gina - For years I reserved books to pick up at the library or bookmobile, but somehow I've lost my routine (not sure if I can blame Ed's illness or Covid or both). But this month I made an attempt at beginning again. I love choosing books from the comfort of my home and picking up a book stack of new reading material.

5. Chat with a librarian about their favorite book or ask her for a book recommendation.

Charity - That same morning at church, on of my fellow church librarians and I were chatting. She recommended The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Now I'm eagerly anticipating this historical fiction!

Gina - On my visit to the bookmobile this month, I chatted with the world's best librarian (the one who did home delivery after my babies were born and Ed was sick), but I forgot to ask her about her favorite book. Instead we talked of her grandbabies, which is a worthwhile distraction!

What did you read in November?

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

5 New Books By Friends

One of the things I've most enjoyed about having friends who write, is the chance to read first drafts. I count it an honor to get to enjoy a book before it is published and give opinions on additions or changes that can be made to make the book even better.

But the downside is that I can be excited about a book that is not yet available to the public. So now I can talk about several books, written by friends, which I read months or, in some cases, years ago.

Disclaimer: While I count these authors as friends and they all asked me to read and comment on their books before publishing, I didn't promise any of them a blog review. Some of them gave me a copy of their book, some paid me for my time and editing advice, but in other cases I purchased my own copy. I'm including ordering information and some affiliate links, but the opinions shared on this review are my own.

Turtle Heart by Lucinda J. Kinsinger

Turtle Heart is a beautifully written true story of a shy sheltered Mennonite girl from Wisconsin who befriends a sharp elderly Native American woman.  Through the collision of cultures, Lucinda desires to show Jesus to Charlene, yet finds that Charlene had much to teach her.  Lucinda doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but her book made me consider how I relate to wounded people, which was good in a slightly uncomfortable way. (I wouldn't give this memoir to a young teen because of the gritty honesty about lesbianism.)

You can purchase your own copy of Turtle Heart from Amazon and read more of Lucinda's writing on her blog.

A Time to Lose by Emily Steiner

This sequel to A Time to Keep Silence continues the fictional story of Monica and Justin. I inhaled the book on a Sunday afternoon, becoming even more attached to the characters in this Kentucky community. This book hit me deeply since it describes sudden grief and the loss of a parent of young children. I thought Emily described grief realistically, as well as the challenges of singlehood and the surrender all of us face at some point in life. In so many Mennonite books, the characters are too perfect, but Emily has developed some flawed characters that we see growing in this book. I can't wait to see how they continue to mature in the third book.

Email Emily at jemstyle01@icloud.com to purchase you own copy of A Time to Lose for $12.50 plus $3.00 shipping. 

Trapped in the Tunnel and Facing the Fugitive by Katrina Hoover Lee

I'm always looking for good books for children, especially boys, and was thrilled that Katrina is starting a new adventure series for children. I describe these books as a cross between the Hardy Boys and the Sugar Creek Gang. They aren't as unrealistic as the Hardy Boys or as preachy as the Sugar Creek Gang. I'm currently reading the first book, Trapped in the Tunnel, aloud, and it is passing the "read one more chapter" test for my girls as well as boys. The three brothers live along the river and enjoy the normal boy things like bike ramps, hidden tunnels, rope knots, and boats. 

Each book in this new series reflects on one of the fruit of the Spirit so nine books are planned for the series. You can purchase the first two at Katrina's website or on Amazon. Also available on Kindle and Scribd.

Chance and Change by Galen Horst

In the summer of 2018, Galen and Patricia Horst stayed at our house when they were in the area for a wedding. I had known Patricia for years, but it was the first time we met in real life. We had just been given the news that Ed's tumor had regrown for the third time and we knew his life was fragile. But we didn't know that less than a year later, both our families would experience death. A few months later, the children and I were able to visit the Horst's lovely mountain farm in Ontario. My children still talk of that wonderful Sunday afternoon.

Chance and Change is Galen's story of how God moved in his life, reordering his priorities as a father and causing him to sell a prospering business and buy a run-down mountain farm. The family was enjoying the full life of homeschooling and homesteading, until the daughter's health crisis turned their world upside down. 

You can purchase Chance and Change from Amazon and can read more about the Horst family on their blog.

I can highly recommend all of these books, though the content varies widely. This list may have a book for about every taste in reading.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

How to Use My Time

I've been rather quiet here on the blog this year. I haven't quite known why. I'm busy, but I've blogged through other busy seasons. In fact, this blog started when I was pregnant with my fourth child and had a four-, three-, and one-year-old.  That was an intense season, yet I blogged several times a week. 

When I look back to the first years of this blog and wonder how I could have been so consistent in writing, I think there were several factors. 

1. My children were young. They didn't mind photos shared online of themselves. Now I'm much more careful to protect their privacy.

2. My children were young. I was home all day, nearly every day, and they took naps. 

3. My children were young. While we talked and read books and learned the alphabet, they didn't require the full mental concentration required by teenage conversations and Algebra. 

4. Blogging was my one and only hobby. I now have more writing, speaking, and editing opportunities than I can ever do.

5. I'm deliberately choosing to limit my online time. I used to read a lot of blogs and maybe that translated into writing on this blog frequently. I now read a lot more books and read online much less frequently. 

6. My blog subjects have changed a lot through the years. I used to write a lot about gardening and bread baking. When Ed got sick, I didn't garden and bake much. This blog became a cancer journal. Now I don't know what exactly to write about. I don't want it to be only a grief journal. I still rarely baking bread. Some of the big topics in my head don't feel like topics of general interest or I don't know how to express them in an edifying manner. 

I've thought a lot this past year on how I make decisions on how I use my time. Not just blogging, but all of life. I think the fact that I have the brain power to reflect and analyze means that I'm moving beyond simply survival mode.

This past week I taught the youth girls' Bible study on "how to know the will of God." It is a common question that youth ask and one I still don't think I have many answers. In preparing for the lesson, I thought back through my own years as a single and how I stressed about decisions. There seemed to be so many options - work, school, travel, missions. There were so many good ways to use my time, and I didn't want to mess up. I knew I couldn't do it all and had to choose. 

When I married, suddenly that stress was gone. I was committed to my husband. I knew every morning my goals were to care for my husband and our home, and, eventually, babies. There was a deep settled peace in knowing that Ed's goals were now my own. Any decisions were made together as a team, but the pressure of final decisions was on Ed. When I found a new opportunity, such as blogging,  Ed gave me direction. Usually he was my biggest supporter, the one who pushed me to do things I felt unqualified to do - such as teach a prison Bible study. But occasionally he sometimes he suggested that I already had enough to do and should decline. I found real rest in his counsel.

In the last year I've been inundated with opportunities to write, speak, edit, and serve in various ways. Since I no longer have babies and I'm not caring for a sick husband, I feel freer than I have in years. But time doesn't grow, I still have the same twenty-four hours. 

I greatly miss having Ed's input, his opinions on when to say "yes" or "no." I have people in my life who I can ask advice, but it is far different than asking someone who exactly knows your daily routines and responsibilities and knows whether adding another activity will be a blessing or a weight. 

As a widow, there are chunks of time that I used to dedicate to my husband that are now mine to use. I haven't known how to balance the added responsibilities of widowhood with the added freedom. Like many life decisions, there is no rule book. Yes, the Bible gives life direction, but I will had lots of questions. If I say  "no" was it out of selfishness or to not overwhelm an already full schedule? If I said "yes" was it out of a desire to serve or to gratify my feeling of achievement? 

I can drive myself crazy trying to discern my motives. Because of my personality, I tend to be very performance driven and find my identity in what I do. I worry that I'm making a decision based on my ego. 

After a few conversations with friends, I began reflecting on my past decision making and what I believe God has given me to do. I jotted down some principles to guide my use of time. For example: 

My first God-given responsibility is a mom. For me that means: 

  • I will place priority in activities that I can do with my children. This year that has meant several service-focused trips and a weekly children's ministry that we could do together as a family. While I may leave my children on occasion, I don't want overnight trips to become common.
  • I aim to limit my writing/editing/blogging to the early morning hours before my children are up. That means that I don't have time for all the projects I could do, or even want to do, if I had more hours at my computer. 

Second, I want to prioritize my local church community. For me that means investing in local relationships, helping with the youth girls' Bible study, and serving in my local church. I'll be honest, sometimes these projects aren't as exciting as other opportunities, but I think they should come first. 

Evaluating my present responsibilities can both eliminate and highlight areas of service. For example, since I homeschool, most of my mornings must be at home. I can't substitute teach at our church school, for example. But I can teach Sunday School since I'm already going to be at church on Sunday, and I can study in the early morning hours. 

Evaluating my responsibilities can also reveal areas that I can become more efficient. If I get to bed earlier and not waste time on my phone, I can then wake up early and have time for writing before breakfast. If I streamline housework during the day, then the children and I will be free to serve together in the evening.

I can't do it all, obviously, and sometimes I fail to do well what I try to do. But evaluating my time and priorities helps me consider how my choices affect my children and my other goals.

We are almost to Thanksgiving and a new year is around the corner. If you have never evaluated your responsibilities and priorities, I encourage you to sit down and make a list - if you are a list maker like me. You may find that it gives clarity to you as you start a new year.

I'd love to hear how you choose between several good activities. Do you have a mental checklist or priority list that helps you prioritize your time? Have you seen your use of time change with seasons of life as a single, or young mom, or older mom? What role do others (your husband, friends, mentors) play in helping you make decisions?

Monday, November 1, 2021

Sisters' November Reading Challenge

A new month means a new reading challenge! I'm excited about this November's reading.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' November Reading Challenge 

1. Read a book published in the 1800s.

There are so many great book in this category that I either want to read or reread.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

2. Read a book about a disability. 

Some examples: 

Joni by Joni Eareckson Tada (quadriplegic)

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (dyslexia) 

Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper (cerebral palsy)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (Alzheimer's) 

3. Read a book about clothes.

Maybe you are groaning and saying that you hate fashion, but think out of the box. What about a book on modesty? Or building a capsule wardrobe? Or a seamstress in a third-world country? 

4. Check a book out of the library for one of these challenges.

You may have lots of books on your shelves, like Charity and me, but we want to encourage support of your local library.

5. Chat with a librarian about their favorite book or ask her for a book recommendation.

Don't know which book to read for one of these challenges.? Your librarian would love to give you suggestions. Most librarians love books and love introducing people to new favorite books. 


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