Everyday Life, Reading

A Woman Named Fairlight

When I first read the book Christy, by Catherine Marshall, I was about twelve. I loved it for the adventure, bravery, and romance. I re-read it after I had been married for a few years, and got something entirely different out of it. This passage is one I think of every day when the sun is shining warm and bright and the dishes are crusty in the sink. It features Christy’s best friend in the mountains, Fairlight Spencer. Her very name is poetry.

“[Fairlight] taught me something important about the use of time and how to enjoy life. With a husband and five children to cook, clean, wash, even make clothes for, and with no modern conveniences at all not even piped-in water, Fairlight might have felt burdened and sorry for herself–but she did not. Often, she found time to pause in her dishwashing to let her eyes and her spirit drink in the beauty of a sunset. She would interrupt her work to call the children and revel with them in the grandeur of thunderheads piling up over the mountain peaks, heat lightning flashing behind the clouds like fireworks. “It lifts the heart,” she would say, and that was explanation enough for any interruption.

There was always time for a story in front of the fire with the children snuggled against her; always leisure for the family to gather on the porch “to sing the moon up.”

Fairlight told me how on the first fine spring day, she considered it only right and proper to drop her housework: “The house, it’s already been a-settin’ here for a hundred years. It’ll be right here tomorrow. It’s today I must be livin'” and make her way to one particular spot she knew. There she would kneel and with her long slender fingers brush aside the dead, sodden leaves and gaze wonderingly on the first blossoms of the trailing arbutus.” (Chapter 17, Christy). 

Trailing Arbutus

Yesterday was a day when I remembered Fairlight and threw the daily routine to the wind. One o’clock is when my two-year-old Isaac is supposed to go down for his afternoon nap. But the sun was warm, the day was bright, and the cold rain that had plagued us for a week-and-a-half was finally gone. We spent an hour outside, pretending to spin the pine straw all over our yard into gold (Ella’s favorite outdoor make believe game). You’ll be relieved to know that we spun enough gold so that the king decided not to throw us into the dungeon. Believe it or not, it was Isaac asking “Can I take a nap now?” that finally sent us inside. Poor kid. I maintain fresh air is just as good as a nap, but maybe not for a two-year-old. Fortunately for him, he got both. Now that the gray day is back, we hold the memory of sun rays on our warm faces until it breaks through the clouds again. And, yes, I did get around to washing those crusty dishes.

What feeds your soul is different than what feeds mine. Bright sunshine may be nice, but what you may really love is baking scrumptious chocolate delicacies, or creating beauty out of nothing but fabric and thread or a few blocks of wood. Maybe getting your car really clean or organizing your kitchen pantry makes your heart sing. Maybe it’s just sitting by the fire with hot coffee and your loved ones. Whatever it is, remember Fairlight and leave the laundry unfolded. Grab a book, grab your family, grab your favorite baking ingredients, grab on to what makes you feel alive, and tell everyone, “it’s today we must be living.” And have a truly amazing weekend.

 

Children's Books, Reading, Reviews, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult

A Book for Your Winter TBR List: The Secret of the Ruby Ring

The Secret of the Ruby RingHoliday break is soon to begin for kids, and hopefully that means you’re thinking of some great books that will encourage you and your kids to have fun reading while taking a break from the required reading of school and every day life. Today I’m sharing about a book that I absolutely loved as a young girl–I think kids ages 8-92 should put this on their Winter To Be Read list. This book, The Secret of the Ruby Ring, by Yvonne MacGrory,  is one I picked up on a weekly library trip at age ten, when our local library’s children section had a castle dungeon feel and every book I picked up was a treasure. Man, I miss those days. I haven’t thought about the book in ages, though I loved it so much, but a few days ago when my daughter asked for a bed time story, the plot of this book popped into my head and I thought, “Gasp- perfect!” Here’s the summary from Goodreads.com:

Lucy, a rather spoiled almost-eleven-year-old, gets a very special birthday present from her grandmother. This gift, a star ruby ring, has been passed down for generations through Lucy’s family. The evening before her birthday, Lucy accidentally discovers the magical secret of the ring: The secret of this Ruby Ring is that two wishes it can bring.

Twisting the ring and making her first wish, Lucy finds herself transported to a far away time, that of Ireland in 1885, a time of unrest, evictions, and boycotting. At first, Lucy is intrigued by Langley Castle and its inhabitants, but soon she misses her family and friends. When she decides to use her second wish to go home, Lucy discovers that the ring has disappeared.

Can Lucy convince young Robert that she is from another age? Will he help her to retrieve the ruby ring, or will Lucy be trapped forever in a bygone age?

Now, before you roll your eyes and say, “time travel again, puhlease,” let me tell you that this book had a profound positive effect on me at age ten. I thought the story was magical (I think I read it twice before I returned it to the library), but I also thought the message applied to me: you’re not put on this earth to be a princess and have the world revolve around you. It’s pretty cool when a book delivers a message so clearly, a ten-year-old girl can take it to heart. And that message is one our Disney princess culture girls need to hear, often and over and over again. Actually, it’s one I need to hear pretty often, too, based on my Downton Abbey envy. One of the greatest things about this book  is that when I recently picked it up to read as an adult, I still loved it. The characters were so personable and the plot was perfectly paced between action and insight into Lucy’s character. Though it never hit the best seller list in the U.S., it won Children’s Book of the Year in Ireland in 1994 and really reads like a classic. This would be a great book for young girls all the way to  grown ladies to read over Christmas break. I wish I could read it for the first time with you.

This post is my contribution to the Top Ten Tuesday theme, Winter Reading List, over at the awesome blog, The Broke and the Bookish. Go on over to the B&B blog to see all the other winter reading lists that book lovers are putting together today. And thanks for stopping by Mia The Reader, too! Leave a comment on what your favorite Winter read is. I’m always looking for a great read to add to my TBR list. 

Everyday Life

What Christmas Looks Like Sometimes

So I have just been dying to show the blog-reading world my decorated mantel for Christmas. Because it is truly inspired. Prepare to ooh and ah.

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Yes, you have my permission to pin that.

Okay, so my mantel looks like that because my kitchen looks like this:

photo 1

 

Last week my husband was off from work and we decided it would be a good time to work on our kitchen cabinets. They were a honey oak finish, solid oak, but the wood was looking a little orangy and the grain was very…grainy. It wasn’t technically terrible, but it irked us. So we had this plan to re-glaze the cabinets. We read all about it on a DIY blog and thought, “yep, we got this.” Famous last thoughts. We started the reglazing with one cabinet door and decided it was absolutely not what we wanted and very expensive. Then, my husband did the entire kitchen cabinet frame (the part featured in the picture above) in a dark shade of Polyshade. Yes, in the picture it’s white. That’s because after about 3 hours of going into the kitchen, shaking our heads and walking back out, and muttering “arson,” we decided we hated the look of the darker cabinets. My husband dubbed the kitchen “The place where light goes to die.” That’s what brings us to this point–after swearing we would never paint kitchen cabinets again, we have applied three coats of primer to our kitchen cabinets in the last 36 hours. We are definitely past the point of no return. And I love it! I love having white cabinets. This is the third set of kitchen cabinets I’ve hand painted white in the last ten years. Hand. Painted. I am a bona fide artiste. And yeah, I really like white cabinets.

However, mixed with my joy at the prospect of my not-so-enjoyable kitchen becoming quite close to the kitchen I’ve wished for, there’s a large amount of guilt. My mantle is dismal. My porch garland is sitting in the box next to the front door. Our tree is up and decorated, but when is the last time I watered it? What about hanging some pretty ornaments with ribbon off of our (empty) curtain rods? What about making my house into a perfect winter wonderland for my tiny elves, ages 2 and 4?

Well…what about it? Why am I feeling this nagging shame at the half-baked state of my December home? The kids are playing with the manger scene. They’re listening to Christmas music. They’re watching Frosty The Snowman and and going to the Nutcracker Ballet and packing Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. Ella is talking about how it’s Christmas time so she needs to give away some of the toys she already has. I think we’re covering enough to say that Christmas is alive and well in our household, despite the pots and pans stashed in random places all over the house.

Some years, Christmas doesn’t look like we think it should in our homes. Sometimes, the Christmas season collides with sickness, a major move, hard financial times, or a very non-essential home improvement project. So what do we do at those times? We throw away the magazines, delete the Pinterest app, do all our shopping online, and do the non-Christmas stuff that’s most pressing at the time.  Even though my house isn’t perfect, I have plenty around me to be mindful of what I should really get out of Christmas. It’s just one thing, and it’s The Gift. The Gift is pure, selfless love. And love isn’t tinsel-covered. It doesn’t usually come wrapped in trendy burlap and twine, or decorated in velvet and satin. The Gift is a heart gift, and it has nothing to do with our surroundings. Love looks like a mom cleaning up throw up for the fourth time in the night. Love looks like a husband making his wife overjoyed with a little paint and a lot of work hours. Love looks like staying within a budget, no matter how small, because you know that’s the best gift you can give your husband. Love looks like a lot of things.

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So whether your house looks like Santa’s elves themselves brought the Pottery Barn warehouse to your door, or whether your house is nowhere close to smelling like cinnamon and cloves (paint fume scented candle, anyone?), I hope we all can embrace the fact that Christmas doesn’t have a whole lot to do with what we see, but a lot to do with how we love, and Who loves all of us.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Reading, Reviews

Longbourn: A Review

LongbournOver the weekend, in a moment of what must have been insanity and desperation for reading material, I read some glowing reviews of Longbourn by Jo Baker and decided to download it from my library to read on my Nook. Reading novels based on Pride and Prejudice is a cardinal reading sin in my reading philosophy (i.e. I hates them), but like I said, moment of insanity.

At the beginning, I liked how Baker set the scene of Longbourn, the Bennet family’s country home. I could almost see the flocks of blackbirds flying up from the misty farm fields in the early summer morning when the servants rose. From what I could tell, the details of the life of a servant in that time period seemed accurate, and were very  interesting. I liked the characters Baker created to make the Upstairs, Downstairs version of of P&P. And then, it all went south. Suddenly, it felt like what is a classic, beautiful book was being cast in a crude light. The parts when the actual Bennet family was featured pulled them into much darker roles than Jane Austen wrote for them, save Mary, Mr. Collins (who actually may invoke some sympathy in this novel), and Jane.The account of the main character, Sarah, a housemaid/lady’s maid, became more carnal as the book went on. The third volume that follows the history of the Bennet’s manservant is gory and terrifying to me, a reader who likes Victorian novels best of all and did not expect a  war memoir wherein all the soldiers were absolute beasts.

I’m planning on shunning all memory of Longbourn in hopes that my original and much more deeply embedded thoughts on P&P will remain untainted, but I’m worried there may be remnants. It makes me angry that (a) I let myself read this book and (b) that writers feel the need to takes something original from long ago and “modernize” it. I realize this is a matter of reader opinion and everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to novels. Still, if you love Pride and Prejudice, spare yourself and keep your distance from Longbourn. 

And please note that I do not enjoy looking at an author’s work and judging it harshly. If it weren’t for the way Baker presents Pride and Prejudice, I would probably like her writing style (with fewer gory details). I applaud her for writing about what she loves and, at least to some degree, admire anyone who creates a novel worthy of being published. I’m sorry I can’t give her work a more favorable review this time. Fortunately, I doubt she really minds what I say anyway. =)

Reading, Reviews

November Reading

Happy-week-after-Thanksgiving! Yes, I am still here and still reading.  Things have been very busy on the home front so the blogging has suffered, but here’s an overview of what I’ve read in the last month.

Brideshead Revisited (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)I finally conquered my start-again, stop-again attempts at reading Brideshead Revisited and finished the darn thing. It was an interesting look at a time period that is long gone and is never coming back –when upper class men lived in completely separate worlds than women in England. They went to their own private schools and colleges, and they tended to love other men as friends before they fell in love with women. It doesn’t really appear to have worked out well for anyone in the book.  Another major theme was Catholicism during the roaring 20s. It was interesting insight into that issue, because I think it’s very similar to religious tensions today. I wouldn’t say it was an enjoyable read, but one that will at least look nice on my “oh yeah, I’ve read that” list. Which doesn’t actually exist. If you love the time period of Downton Abbey or other early 1900s literature, and would like a look at what life was like for upper class young men (since Downton Abbey only features daughters), this may be an interesting read for you. I was wouldn’t recommend it as a great read, though.

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian SpiritualityThen I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. This book has been on my to-read list for too long, and knowing so many people enjoy his work, I made myself read it. I’m not great at reading non-fiction, but I enjoyed Miller’s ability to insert humor into serious discussions on being a Christian without going in for just being religious. His descriptive writing style is aggressively precise. I enjoyed the book, but I got the uneasy feeling that I would be on pins and needles talking to Mr. Miller in real life. He is not a heretic, but he is irreligious, which is kind of his point.  I have no problem with bucking unreasonable conformity that has nothing to do with following who Jesus is. Still, I’m pretty sure in real life Miller would make me uncomfortable. I’m too boring and too traditional to jump into his kind of thinking.

On the very light reading side, I read Princess of the Silver Woods, the 3rd book in Jessica Day George’s Princess series (yes, it pains me to write that). This was definitely the worst of the series. The first two had some interesting plot twists on old fairy tales. This one had something to do with Little Red Riding Hood, but not much. I would give it a thumbs up for your young teenage girls because, like the rest of George’s books, it’s good clean fantasy fun. The plot and the characters were not up to George’s usual standards, though.

All in all, November was a dry month for discovering really good, sink your teeth in, ponder and enjoy reads. Please, tell me you have some suggestions for what I should read in December. A definite on my list is Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift. Otherwise, I am in need of some ideas.

 

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