Saturday, June 8, 2024

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge Report

 Our spring reading was so fun! I loved how the duet challenges pushed me to look at books in a new way. 

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Duet Challenge: Read two books that are by the same author but in a different genre. 

Charity - Andrew Peterson - The God of the Garden and On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

In The God of the Garden, Peterson explores beauty, home, trees, and poetry in this well-written collection of thoughts. It filled me with the longing to dig deep into the earth around my home and create. The second book is a totally different genre and target audience. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a middle-grade fantasy novel, the first in a series of four. I loved the theme of the battle between good and evil and the way he threw humor in to make the reader chuckle. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.

 A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Luci Shaw's poetry. I love how her words drew me to God and the beauty of His creation. But I didn't know until recently that Luci also wrote nonfiction. God in the Dark is compiled from her journals over her husband's cancer journey and her first year as a widow. I related so much to her words. Life Path shares the value that Luci found in journal keeping. The Green Earth is a compilation of poetry, organized by season. All three of these books were much different from the others, but each celebrated the beauty of words and the presence of God.

2. Duet Challenge: Read two books connected to the same author.

Charity - Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Truth and Beauty by Andrew Klavan, and The Chid from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge

Reading the well-known and often-referenced Paradise Lost (I’ve only read part of it so far…) has made me so excited. I find it mentioned by so many authors and speakers. Klavan’s book about the Sermon on the Mount and England’s poets, mentioned Milton and I was so pleased to understand the references more fully. The Child from the Sea is an historical novel about the secret wife of Charles ll and spends much time talking about the English civil war. Milton also was living at this time and supported Oliver Cromwell. Reading several books that connected in some way was fascinating.

Gina - Jane and Dorothy by Marian Veevers and Darcy's Story by Janet Alymer

This winter I finished reading through all of Jane Austen's novels and I wanted to learn more about Austen. Jane and Dorothy compares and contrasts the lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth and their contribution to literature. I knew almost nothing about Georgian England in which these two ladies lived. The author delves deeply into the social context of single women of that time which sheds light onto Austen's beloved book characters. Then, just for fun, I read Darcy's Story, a retelling of Pride and Predjudice from the perspective of Darcy. The author stayed very true to the original, even quoting passages.

3. Read a book that celebrates beauty.

Charity - Garden Maker by Christie Purifoy

A beautifully bound book filled with words and photos from Purifoy’s own garden has left me with the longing to plant roses and host a garden tea. This book is for the garden lover, wanna-be gardener, or just a lover of the Creator who has given so much beauty for us to enjoy.

Gina- Calling Your Name by Janice Etter

I wanted to read a poetry book as my book that celebrates beauty and chose Janice Etter's Calling Your Name. The book is divided into sections with poems celebrating nature, children, and grief. The latter section was probably the most meaningful to me. 

4. Take some notes every day about your Bible reading. 

Charity - Journaling along with my devotions is a habit I plan to continue. Often I only write a sentence or two or sometimes just a verse that I want to think about, but the practice of slowing down and thinking has enriched my quiet time.

Gina- I enjoyed jotting down a few notes with my Bible reading in March and April, but then the busyness of May dropped the habit. But I began again in June and hope to continue. Reading with a pen helps me read with more intention. 

5. Place a book in a free library box. 

Charity -The excuse to slip a book into one of the many Little Free Libraries I pass was so fun. Maybe I’ll do it again soon! 

Gina- This spring, I've been going through some of my shelves and clearing out some books to make room for new ones. I got rid of several boxes of books at a homeschool book swap/sale. But when I dropped off a few books at the free library box, I brought home several books, so I'm not sure that worked very well!

I'd love to hear what books brought beauty to your life this spring.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Sisters' Summer Reading Challenge

Spring was crazy busy, but I managed to read some excellent books. Now I'm looking forward to summer reading! We are trying to keep it a bit lighter, but still looking forward to traveling to new places and meeting new people through books. 

This post contains affiliate links.

For summer, we have two new duet challenges, one solo challenge, a Bible challenge, and an activity. 

A duet challenge is two books that connect in some way. 

1. Choose a topic and read two books about it. 

This could be two nonfiction, fiction and nonfiction, or whatever. I think the best way to do this is to choose a book that you want to read, then pick another book also about that topic. You could choose grief, gardening, Civil War, or whatever topic has your interest right now.

A few examples: 

Alzheimer's-  Still Alice by Lisa Genova and APromise Kept by Robertson McQuilkin

Jewish history - Miriam’sKitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich and  The Chosen by Chaim Potok

2. Choose a location and read two books that are set in that location. 

This could include a travel memoir, a biography, nonfiction, novel, historical fiction, a middle-grade novel, or a foodie book. You can find a bio of a famous leader or a missionary for about every area of the world.

Again, the easiest way to do this challenge may be to find a book that you want to read then find another book set in the same location. Ideally they wouldn't be the same genre. I could easily binge read on several books by one of my favorite English authors like Elizabeth Goudge or D. E. Stevenson. But I'd probably benefit more from adding a nonfiction also based on England. 

There are many historical fiction books set in Europe, especially World War 2 stories. These could be paired with travel memiors such as Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr,  A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (France), and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (Italy).

You could also choose an area of the United States. There are great books set in California, New York City, and the South. Pick your home area, or somewhere you'd love to visit, or maybe some place you hope to never visit. Some well-written examples are Virgil Wander by Leif Enger (Minnesota), My Antonoia by Willa Cather (Nebraska), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Alabama), and A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry (Kentucky).

A few examples of location book duets:

China: Peony by Pearl S. Buck, Safely Home by Randy Alcorn, Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan, or a bio of a Chinese missionary

Haiti: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder and Kidnapped in HaitiKidnapped in Haiti by Katrina Hoover Lee

Afghanistan: In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord, Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy, or The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon

Africa: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Yorkshire, England: Miss Bunckle's Book by D.E.Stevenson and All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

3. Read a book about animals or a book that animals play a large role.

This could be nonfiction, fiction, fantasy, or middle-grade.

Ex. Wind in the Willows, JamesHerriot, Summer of the Monkeys, Where the Red Fern Grows, Watership Down, The Yearling.

4. Read a book of the Bible and for each chapter, write down three words that describe the chapter.

Don't stress about finding the perfect three words. Just three words that sum up the chapter to you or share something about your impression of the chapter.

5. Write a note to someone and include a quote or verse. 

Ideally handwrite it and mail it, but if you must, share it by text.

Happy Summer Reading!

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

April Wealth

Spring seemed to arrive early this year. The bluebells bloomed weeks before their expected date. The weather bounced between unseasonably warm to frigid, not good for blossoming strawberries. 

I've so enjoyed the last weeks. My children are almost finished school, but I don't feel pressured to be outside. I've read some amazing books. I've enjoyed delightful times with friends. I've completed some projects and dreamed up a few new ones. Spring makes me feel alive, growing, eager, new. There is always too much to do, but I'm learning to relax more and push things off to another day instead of stressing as much. 

And, of course, there is always sorrows, because joy and sorrow walk together. Spring brings heavy memories from past springs. I watch friends go through hard times and wish I could help carry their burden. I'm more aware of my own failings and realize anew that habits and thought patterns are hard to change.


The newest edition of Motherhood Magazine, which I help edit, is now available! Its theme is Hope, and as I worked with these articles and stories, I was so blessed by the honesty of these writers to share the hope they found in Jesus Christ on their hardest days. 

You can get your own copy at or if you live close to me, stop at my house. You can also ask if your local bookstore carries them.


Last year I wrote about reading poetry with the goal of slowing down. I shared my issues about reading poetry and what I discovered. On a whim for April, Poetry Month, I shared a poem every day on Whatsapp. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to share a poem every day in April again. I think it was even more fun than last year. 

Some of the poems were long-time favorites, and others were new. Some were favorite hymns, and others rather silly. Some made me laugh, and more than one made me cry. Each day I picked a poem at random, and there was no theme, though most connected in some way to spring, parenting, loss, or slowing down.

In case you are curious, here are the thirty poems. If I could find them online, I included a link.

1. Before the Earthquake by Claudia Lehman from Leaf 2023

2. Wind on the Hill by A.A. Milne

3. Unraveled by Lori Hersberger

4. Faith by Luci Shaw

5. Fresh by Marlene Brubacher from Leaf 2023

6. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

7. Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

8. Knowledge Enough by Lydia Hess

9. Only You by Ruth Bell Graham

10. Breakfast Song by Philip Britts

11. Prayer for Our Children by Amy Carmichael

12. A Time to Talk by Robert Frost

13. John 10:28 by Elizabeth Riall from Silver Censers

14. Father, in Thy Mysterious Presence  by Samuel Johnson

15. Because We Hunkered Down by Malcolm Guite

16. The Vacation by Wendell Berry

17. Overlooked by Elaine Gingrich from Silver Censers

18. Love's as Warm as Tears by C.S. Lewis

19. Deluge by Bena Ruth King from Leaf 2023

20. Fame is a bee by Emily Dickinson

21. May the Mind of Christ, My Saviour by Katie B. Wilkinson

22. Isaiah 55 by Daniel Hess

23. The Traveling Onion by Naomi Shihab Nye

24. Island Moment by Sarah J. Martin

25. In Early April by Ted Kooser

26. In Two Arms by Jennifer Perfect

27. Calling Your Name by Janice Etter from Calling Your Name

28. When Spring Breaks Forth by Rebecca Weber

29. Cut Down in Spring by Karen Yoder

30. Ameisenverteilungsmaschine by Laura Theis

The stats are eleven men and 19 women. Seventeen are alive today. Thirteen are Anabaptists, all of which I've communicated at some point in time in some way - some with good old-fashioned letters. 

April is ending. But I feel rich. Rich in words, rich in relationships, rich in wonder of the beauty of God's world and His Word. 

And ready for May.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024


Photos from Unsplash

Grief is like rain.

    I can’t hold it back.

    It changes my plans for the day,

        for the week.

Grief, like thunder, is loud.

    I cringe from the noise,

        the thunderclaps,

        the lightening flash.

        I can’t think,

            can’t plan,

            can’t pray.

Grief turns the soil to mud

    splashing my legs.

    sucking my boots

    If I try to walk faster,

        to run,

        to escape

            it pulls me in deeper.

        I lose my boots,

            fall on my face,

            hope submerged.

        I must walk slowly,



            allowing grief to caress

                and trickle down my face.

Grief is a season

    that returns



        and again.

For as long as there is earth

    there will be rain.

    Where there is life,

        there will be death.

    Where there is love,

        there will be grief.

        Seed time and harvest,

            summer and winter,

            sun and rain.

Grief, like rain,

       is found wherever there is life,

        wherever there is love.

    For the cold do not cry,

    the hard do not break,

    the dead to not mourn.

So I lift my face to the rain

    let the drops roll down my face,

    watch the trees bow their branches,

    hear the roots soak in the strength.

For grief points to a Creator who made life,

    a Savior who gave His life,

    a Healer who gives life.

Grief is a companion,

    a fellow traveler.


    a friend.

Gina Martin – February 2024

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Rosemary Cheddar Bagels

First, some blog housekeeping. 

I know that many of you like to read this blog by email. I've switched email providers several times the last couple years, trying to find an inexpensive program that worked well. Some emails were sent two or three times, and some that never arrived at all. 

Several weeks ago, when I hinted at leaving blogging, maybe joining moving to another social media platform, many of you begged me to keep this blog up. 

So, for now, I plan to keep blogging, hopefully several times a month. But I moved the email to Substack, which hopefully will give more consistent email service. This should change nothing for those of you already signed up to recieve Home Joys by email before, just will come through a different email address.

Thanks for your patience as I continue to work out the kinks.

If you haven't received Home Joys by email and would like to, you can sign up on the form on the bottom of the Home Joys blog site. Just scroll all the way down. Or send me an email at walkingbymyside AT and I'll sign you up. 

And for those who like Instagram, I've been posting over there ocasionally. You can find me @homejoysmom. It is an easy way to share photos, but I don't want to get sucked into the IG time drain, so I doubt you'll see me there often.

Enough of that...

If you have been a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I used to write about bread baking. I've had numerous posts sharing bread baking tips, sourdough advice, and bread recipes. 

That feels like a long time ago. When Ed was diagnosted with cancer, he went on a strict keto diet, and I quit baking bread. Then when he died, I lost all joy in preparing meals, including bread baking. My children love homemade bread, so occasionally I'd make a batch, but it was a rare event. 

But last year my fourteen-year-old daughter began baking bread, and we are once again relishing the smells and flavors of homemade bread. I asked if she'd let me share a few of her recipes with you. 

The first is Rosemary Cheddar Bagels. We love these so much that she always doubles this recipe, so we can put some in the freezer. The recipe is simple to make, even if you have never made bagels. Don't skip the boiling step because that is what gives the bagels their chewy texture. 

 Rosemary Cheddar Bagels

(Makes 12 large bagels)

2 Tablespoons instant yeast

2 1/4 cup warm water

2 teaspoons salt

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary or 1 Tablespoon dried rosemary

1 1/2 Tablespoons of brown sugar

5 cups white all-purpose flour

shredded Cheddar cheese

2 quarts boiling water

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

In large mixing bowl, mix together yeast, water, salt, rosemary and brown sugar. Mix in four cups of flour. Mix in one more cup of flour as needed to make a soft dough. Knead with a kneading hook or by hand until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to raise for 1 hour.

Divide dough into twelve. Roll each piece into a ball, push a hole into the center of the ball, and carefully stretch into a bagel shape. Place on baking sheet, cover with a towel, and rest for 20 minutes. 

Bring water and sugar to boil in large skillet. Preheat the over to 425 degrees. Place four bagels into skillet and boil for two minutes, flip over, and boil for an additional minute. Place bagels on parchment paper on a baking sheet and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Serve with butter or cream cheese. Freeze any that last more than a day.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sisters Spring Reading Challenge - With Duet Books!

Charity and I have enjoyed discussing various reading challenges that we'd like to do in 2024. We are both looking forward to reading some of the unread books on our TBR and have the goal of stretching ourselves. 

(Charity gave me Milton's Paradise Lost for Christmas, and we are going to attempt to read it together. Are we crazy? Talk about out of my comfort zone!) 

If you are new here, every season (spring, summer, fall), my sister Charity and I come up with several reading challenges. These are just-for-fun challenges that we plan to do ourselves, and we welcome you to join us. No prizes. No sign-up forms. No pressure. Just the fun of reading together. We don't require any specific titles and keep the categories vague so you can read the books you want to read, while hopefully challenging you (and us) in our reading life.

This year we plan to have several duet reading challenges each season.

For a duet challenge, we will read two books that harmonize with each other. This doesn't mean two books in the same series or sequels, but two books that are different in some way, yet harmonize. 

I have often have the happy coincidence that two books I'm reading harmonize. Maybe one book references a book I just read or lends insight into a topic that I was reading about in another book. I say my books start "talking to each other," and my reading pleasure is enhanced.

So this year, we are going to attempt to increase our reading pleasure by purposely choosing books that harmonize. You can even turn these book duets into trios by reading three books that harmonize. 

For this spring, we have two book duets, one other book challenge, a Bible reading challenge, and a book related activity.

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

1. Duet Challenge: Read two books that are by the same author but in a different genre. 

Some  talented authors wrote in various forms, such as fiction and nonfiction or prose and poetry. Reading more than one type of their writing can give insight into their writing skill and process. 

Some author examples are Katrina Hoover Lee, Andrew Peterson, Mark Twain, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Wendell Berry, and E. B. White, but there are many more. Pick your favorite author and see if they have written books in more than one genre. You may find that your favorite novelist also wrote essays. Or that a poet you enjoy also wrote history. 

2. Duet Challenge: Read two books connected to the same author.

This could be done in various ways. You could choose a biography of the author, a book that was influenced by the author, or a book by an author that influenced him or her.

For example: Let's take Jane Austen. You could read a classic Austen novel and a biography of Austen.

Or you could read a book that was influenced by Jane Austen such as A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. (Not from a Christian perspective.)

Or read a book by one of the authors that influenced Jane Austen, such as Frances Burney or Samuel Johnson.

Writers often write about the authors who have influenced them, so there are many directions that this challenge could go. If you read a book and the author references another book that you haven't read, find that book. 

I recently read A Chance in the World by Steve Pemberton, a true story about a boy who edured an abusive foster home. He told how books, especially Watership Down by Richard Adams, gave him the courage to hold onto hope. Now I want to read Watership Down and find out why the book was so meaningful to Pemberton. This is just one example of how one book author could connect to another book.

I can't wait to hear what you all read for this challenge.

3. Read a book that celebrates beauty.

You can take this challenge many different directions. It could be a book with a beautiful cover, a book of poetry, a book that encourages beauty in homemaking, nature, creativty, art, or words, or even a book that promotes inner beauty.

Some examples: 

A Home in Bloom by Christie Purifoy,

Adorned by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

4. Take some notes every day (or most days, we aren’t legalistic here) about your Bible reading. 

This can be just sentence or two of your thoughts on the Bible passage or a verse that stood out. I know that I get much more out of my Bible reading when I read with a pen and journal, but I've fallen out of the habit. I'm excited to start again.

5. Place a book in a free library box. 

Many communities have little boxes in parks or other public places for books that you want to discard. I have a stack of books that I was going to take to the Goodwill, but instead, I'm looking forward to visiting some of the free library boxes several parks and stocking some good books.

 If your community doesn’t have one, then find another way to give away a book. Some libraries and coffee shops have free shelves.

I'm excited about these challenges, even if they are a bit stretching.

What are you looking forward to reading this spring?

Friday, February 2, 2024

Worship in the Hungry Seasons: the Limits of Productivity

I began reading time management books as a teen. I was a voracious bookworm, reading nearly every book in the house, including my mom’s books on home organization. I checked books out of the library on topics such as decluttering. Before I turned twenty, I listed Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as one of my favorite books.

Most teens weren’t reading productivity guides, but I was the oldest of nine, a bossy type-A Big Sister. Add my personality to a culture that admired efficiency and getting-it-done and, well, maybe I put too much value on productivity.

I married someone with a similar personality. Ed dreamed of more projects than could be completed in a year of Saturdays. We both had trouble saying no, which meant that we did crazy things like serve as youth leaders when we had two children under the age of two. We loved goal lists and always wanted to do more—read more books, can more vegetables, invite more guests.

I loved my life and how I was spending my time. People regularly asked me how I got it all done. And I’ll admit it—I was proud of being capable and productive.

But then Ed was diagnosed with brain cancer and told he had only a year or so to live. He was only forty and life felt too short, but by faith Ed believed that God had given him enough time. He longed for more years with his family and grieved the suffering that his death would bring, but his soul was at peace. He chose “It Is Well with My Soul” to be sung at his funeral as his testimony. As the tumor consumed his brain, Ed became childlike, not looking ahead to tomorrow, not worrying about the future, not angry with his lack of productivity. In two years, cancer stole his intellect, his speech, his motor skills, and finally his life, but it never destroyed his peace.

Peace was harder for me to find. As Ed declined, I had to pick up tasks I had never carried before. I was anxious at the thought of parenting alone and accepting help felt like failure. The time management books and productivity mindset that served me well in times of plenty had limitations in the hard times.

1. A productivity mindset lives in summer, reveling in the abundance of growth and harvest. But humans all experience seasons of winter—seasons of death and doubt, desire and drought. Winter can’t be avoided, rushed, or despised because it isn’t productive. It must be accepted as a natural season.

2. A productivity mindset can’t change the reality of human fragility. Whether forty-two or ninety-two, our earth years are fleeting compared to God’s eternity. My efforts at time management appear pitiful when compared to God’s vast expanses of time in eternity.

3. A productivity mindset may fear the future. What if I get sick, or the economy slows down, or I’m caught in traffic? My careful plans could derail. I could run out of time. Jesus pointed out the birds as a model. They follow instinct to build nests, fly south, and find food, but they don’t stress about the future.

4. A productivity mindset always wants more—it is never content. In contrast, at the end of Creation week, God rested. He wasn’t weary; God never tires. He hadn’t run out of creativity, energy, or ability as we humans do. In His boundlessness, God could have created endless plants and animals, but He said it was enough. Could I choose contentment and rest?

5. A productivity mindset focuses on me and my accomplishments. Time management only has value when it brings God glory. If a meal chart helps me be a calmer mom, it is a good thing. But if organization feeds pride and becomes an idol, it is not of God. All personalities have their tenancies toward sin, including mine.

6. A productivity mindset values those that are successful, but in God’s upside-down kingdom, the greatest in the kingdom are the least—the helpless, homeless, and handicapped, the infants, infirmed, and imprisoned. Those who have nothing to give, who rely totally on God, have a special place in God’s heart.

7. A productivity mindset desires self-sufficiency, but God prioritizes humble dependence on Him. He gave stern words to the church in Laodicea who claimed they had no need of God. My productivity could hinder my relationship with God if I didn’t realize my desperate need for Him.

8. A productivity mindset sees negative experiences as something to fix. But only in acceptance do we find joy and the ability to rest in God. Cancer brought an end to Ed’s productive life on earth. My efforts couldn’t change that fact. For me, cancer brought a rearranged life, the shuffle of grief, the awareness of weakness—and the need for acceptance.

But as He has for the animals, God provided ways to survive the barren seasons. Though I am limited by time, daylight, weather, energy, and abilities, God is not. He stands above human limitations. When I worship God in the hard times, I’m praising His work, not mine. When I’m no longer trying to impress others by my productivity, I can allow them to see my barren shelves, my bruised heart, my blighted prayers. I can give others opportunity to care for me until spring comes again.

I’ll probably always love the bustle of summer, the excitement of harvest, the days filled with activity and productive projects. I may always enjoy reading about time management and be tempted to value time by what I accomplish. But I counter the longing to do more and be more with worship. I want to walk through the hungry season, the dependent years, the times of weakness, with hands lifted in worship. Because of Jesus. It is well with my soul.

(This article was first published in Commonplace: The Quiet of Winter by Daughters of Promise Ministry)


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