Saturday, April 1, 2023

Why Read Slowly?

For years, I wished that I enjoyed poetry. I loved words and stories; I thought I'd should enjoy poems too. But when I read a book of poetry, I quickly became frustrated. Reading a book of poetry was so different than reading fiction or nonfiction. I decided that I must not like poetry. 

But I kept trying. I picked up poetry books at used book stores. I read poems to my children. The last couple years, in the month of April, several of my siblings and I exchanged poems on Whatsapp. I enjoyed some poems, but sometimes it felt like swallowing my vitamins.

I've also noticed a disturbing trend in my reading. Impatience. 

Maybe I can blame it on our instant gratification culture. Technology allows knowledge to be gained with little effort. I've become good at skimming websites for information, immediately skipping to the next relevant post in the Google search. I could feel my attention span decreasing. When listening to an audio book or podcast, I pushed up the speed, hyper-listening. More words, more chapters, more content in less time.

I found myself craving slowness. I wanted to linger, to savour, to treasure, not gulp, guzzle, and cram. I wanted to fight against a culture that said more and faster is always better.

In anticipation of the busy holiday season last year, I decided to take a stand against our frantic frenzied culture and purchased Malcolm Guite's Advent poetry collection, Waiting on the Word. (This post contains affiliate links.) Each day I read one poem selected or written by Guite and read his short commentary on the poem. I had to read each poem more than once to extract the meaning. I still didn't think I was great at reading poetry. I didn't know if I even liked poetry. But I did like what slowing down, reading carefully, and rereading was doing for me. 

I enjoyed it so much that I bought Guite's Lent and Easter poetry collection Word in the Wilderness. I don't observe Lent as a spiritual practice, but I'm enjoying this collection of poems on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. 

Was it just happanstance that this winter I purposely began to practice slow Bible reading?

Last year I read through the Bible in a year, which I enjoyed because it gave me the wide-angle view of the Bible in a big swath. But I felt like I was galloping through the prairie. I wanted to slow down and look for wildflowers. I didn't want to skim read. I wanted to camp out under one tree for a week and count the ants and acorns. 

I wondered if my habit of skim reading online, of listening to audio books in double speed, was ruining my ability to read God's Word deeply. How can I follow God's command to meditate on His Word when I'm rushing to complete my chapter for the day to fill my brain with the next bit of noise?

So my Bible reading this year as been slow and deliberate. I spent weeks in the book of Habakukk, reading and rereading the verses. I worked through the Kingdom of Priests Bible study published by Daughters of Promise. I have taken one passage and turned it over and studied each side. Then did it again the next day with the same passage. 

Is there a connection between my goal of reading poetry and my deliberate practice of slow Bible reading? Can I train my brain to focus, just as I once urged my brain to speed read? Speed reading may have value, but right now I'm relishing slow and steady, deliberate and thougthful.

April is National Poetry Month in the US and Canada. (Who comes up with these designated days? Well, a quick search found that this one was begun by the Academy of American Poets, a nonprofit who attempts to encourage the reading of poetry.)

Want to join me in some slow reading? Do you, like me, want to use poetry as a way to build a habit of reading more deliberately? I hope to talk more about poetry this month, but I'd love to hear from you. How do you fight against the instant culture? Have you chosen any specific practices to slow yourself down and think deeply? 

Housekeeping note: I recently had to switch to a new provider for my email blog service. I hope I have the bugs worked out, but if you signed up to receive blog posts by email and no longer are receiving them, check your spam or email me. If you'd like to sign up on the email list to have these blog posts emailed to you, go here.

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. 

This post contains affiliate links.

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.

This post contains affiliate links.

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.


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