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. 

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.


Children's Books, Reading

Two Beautiful Book Discoveries

I have two new gorgeous books sitting in our library book basket that I must share with you today. If you’ve been around this blog in the last month, you know we love picture books. We enjoy all kinds, but I like most the ones whose illustrations make me want to drink them in.

The first lovely book is The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale, written by Aaron Shepherd and illustrated by Wendy Edelson. I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach the Santa Claus issue with my children as the Christmas season approaches. We want them to know that when we tell them something is truth, it really is. Baby Jesus is not a myth. But Santa Claus is. And so we are the parents who tell their children the truth but also tell them if they want to pretend Santa is real, that’s fine. Pretending is fun and it doesn’t bring so much confusion later on! One of the ways we can help them understand the Santa Claus legend is to tell them about the real man, Saint Nicholas. So while I was scanning the shelves for the story of Saint Nicholas, I came upon The Baker’s Dozen. What a beautiful book about giving beyond what we think we should or can give. The illustrations are richly colorful and expressive. I am still looking for the story about how Saint Nicholas began his tradition, but this one is great for teaching children that giving is the important thing at Christmas and in life. And did I mention it’s beautiful?

All the Places to LoveSecondly, I finally checked out the highly recommended All The Places to Love written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Mike Wimmer. I don’t know if my children liked this book as much as I did; it’s one of those “for the parents” picture books that gives you a lump in your throat for the country home you didn’t actually grow up in but still long for. Or maybe that’s just me. The love laced through the words and drawings in this book  about a farming family is so tame yet so touching. I’m adding this book to the list of books whose pages I would like to live in.

These books are my latest editions to the Mia The Reader Pinterest boards. I’m adding new stuff all the time. Check it out here.

As always, chime in on your favorite beautifully illustrated books in the comments. Happy reading!




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