Everyday Life, Nonfiction, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Quest for Sustainability – Summer Reading 2018

A snapshot of my current reading pile on this mid-summer day made me realize that I have a pretty clear theme going on in this season:

Apparently I’m not gravitating towards titles with words like “revolutionize” or “begin” or even “new.” No za-za-zing or va-va-vroom hear, please! No, I’m checking books out that are about “ordinary” and “everyday” and “the middle.” Somewhat unconsciously, the theme of this summer has become the pursuit of sustainability. What good things can I do and keep doing? How can I keep doing the things I must and do them well while also keeping the joy and fun in life? This quest for sustainability is really uncool, very boring-sounding, but I’m drawn to it like a tired person is drawn to a plain white duvet and a familiar pillow. I’m weary of the fads, I’m figuring out some things about what doesn’t work, and I want to be faithful in the seemingly monotonous places in life. I don’t want to struggle along anymore in the everyday, ordinary parts of life. When the summer ends, I want to be ready for doing the school year well. I’m not itching for new– not a new house or a new career or even a new baby (and I treasure my babies) – I’m longing to get the house I currently have fit for a productive and full life, I’m settling into this homeschooling/homemaking/writing/so-much-more career, and I’m trying to squeeze every last snuggle and game of Uno out these four babies that are already here. So on that note, here’s what I’ve been reading this summer:

Everyday Holy is a collection of short devotionals, good for gently waking my brain up a bit in the morning. This is the third devotional I’ve read this year, which is…surprising. I used to dislike the idea of devotionals, but there are times when self-directed study gets hard…when you’re super busy or groggy from lack of sleep or simply a bit apathetic and you need a starting point to get you thinking in the right direction. I always appreciate Melanie Shankle’s blend of humor and honesty, and her constant grappling with the mundane, circumstantial elements of life that can numb us to the life believers are called to and graced with in Christ. My current morning reading practice is half a chapter of Proverbs (I spent the first six months of this year in Psalms and now I’m moving on!), a day or two from Everyday Holy, and a chapter of The Liturgy of the Ordinary or Give Them Grace. (Yes, I read a lot of books at once. No, I do not have ADD).

The Liturgy of the Ordinary is mostly about worship during the mundane chores and tasks we do each day. We fight in this culture against constant entertainment and a fear of the ordinary. Tish Harrison Warren explains in her book how she’s reconciling the ordinary with the sacred and coming to view them as not so separate after all. I liked parts of the book, though I don’t agree with all the author’s viewpoints. On finishing it, I’d give it 2.75 stars. I think I’m going to need to dig into The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris next, because this book quotes it often! My biggest yet most unimportant beef with  The Liturgy of the Ordinary Day is that the text is constantly interrupted with bold main points. Listen. I know this is a common practice in non-fiction publishing right now, but I hate it. I already read that sentence, and you’re interrupting my train of thought to read it again??? No. Put it off to the side in the margin if you must, but here’s a thought: maybe you should trust your readers to read the page of text and gather the main points on their own, intelligent selves? This may come as a shock, publishing world, but we are capable of drawing conclusions and recognizing the heart of the message. Thank you, rant over. (But don’t get me started on back and forth, present to future viewpoints in historical novels…gah! Hate it. (See, told you I don’t have ADD. What’s the opposite? Complete focus at the expense of all else? Tunnel vision? I have that)).

Now, onto the cookbooks! I may have mentioned three or three hundred times that meal planning and prep is the bane of my daily existence. This summer, I’m out to conquer my struggles by keeping simple meals on repeat. Usually what happens is I swing from an uber-healthy eating phase to an “I’m sick of all this food prep give me pizza” phase. I stay in the second phase for quite a while before swinging back, but I feel nagging guilt about it all the time, so I end up avoiding buying “unhealthy” foods because I know they’re poison but then I don’t have the energy or forethought to provide my family with healthy foods and my grocery shopping is all a muddle…and then the week is suddenly a disaster. No, I’m not being dramatic. That’s why I was drawn to Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook. Sustainability? Balance? Yes, please. I have yet to cook anything from it, but the Breakfast Egg Salad and Greek Yogurt Pancakes are on this week’s menu! I haven’t made it out of the breakfast section yet…the photos are beautiful. I have tried two recipes from Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites and they were winners, especially the Chicken and Rice Street Cart Style. Have I ever gotten chicken and rice from a street cart? No. But I will be making this recipe again and again.  One of the best parts of these two cookbooks is the authors are not just good cooks but excellent writers; I actually want to read all the text and introductions to each recipe. Not sure how I became a person who reads cookbooks (or a Goodreads friend whose shelves are cluttered with cookbooks…) but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the pursuit of sustainability, haha.

The Baker's SecretOn the fiction side of things, I haven’t been hitting the novels very hard. I love being outside in the summer, running around with the kids, doing house projects, swimming, so the cold winter months are really when I do the bulk of my reading. I did read The Baker’s Secret,  and really enjoyed it, though there were definitely depressing parts (war novel). If you like WWII historical fiction like The Plum Tree or The Nightingale, you’ll like this book. I also finally got Ronia, the Robber’s  Daughter off my to-read list, and mostly enjoyed it, though it was much darker than I was expecting. I won’t be reading it to my kids…it’s more of a YA book, in my opinion.

Now homeschool planning for the coming year is heavy on the brain, so my reading habits probably won’t pick up til September or October, but I’d love to hear what your summer reading is looking like! Happy summer! And head on over the Modernmrsdarcy.com to see more of what readers have been reading this summer on the QuickLit feature!

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

How The Small Things Become The Big Things

Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of living out a theme? Like all the messages you run into or the conversations you have come back to this one idea, even if you’re not trying to bring it up?

There’s an obstinate theme in my life right now, and the theme is this: the big things and the small things in life are not that different.

Or, more poetically speaking, the small and unseen minutes we live add up to the grand, sweeping, epic whole. Tiny thoughts, words, and actions are the grains of sand that make up the whole.

Image result for the painted desert

It’s a big thing to exercise. It’s a small thing to take a walk. It’s a big thing to be a friend. It’s a small thing to have a conversation. It’s a big thing to feed your kids for an entire childhood. It’s a small thing to make a comforting recipe on a weeknight. It’s a big thing to love someone with your whole heart. It’s a small thing to look straight into the eyes of your child when he’s telling you about the Transformer he’s pretending to be while you’re trying to cook dinner. The small and the big get blurry when we stare at them together.

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a LifeI didn’t know this big vs. small idea was the ground rock of Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up A Life, the newest release from NY Times Bestseller (and the writer of the first blog I ever followed) Melanie Shankle. I signed up to be on her book launch team almost blindly, because all her books are delightful and her blog in its early days spoke straight into my middle-of-the-night pacing with my firstborn and gave me the gift of humor with a shot of perspective. (Being on the book launch team just means I get to read the book early and review it, not that I’m paid or have any incentives for getting others to buy it or anything like that). Now, I can honestly say this is her best book yet, a perfect combination of funny and wise musings about the way a life lived in the small moments is a life worth living wholeheartedly. Better still, it fully forms the thoughts surfacing in my own life about purpose and faithfulness.

Shankle “had me at hello” when her introduction began with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch because she basically asks, “what about the boy’s mother who probably packed the lunch?” I love how she muses about what the mother could’ve been thinking that morning and how the last thing she would have expected was a miracle to come from that packed lunch. You probably know that feeling of doing something so minute as packing a lunch, you’re not even really thinking about it, or if you are, you’re wishing you had something better to give your kid and what is a Bento box anyway? Shankle’s position is that all those little moments of faithfulness are shaping you and shaping the people around you. How true. More often than not, it’s the ordinary faithfulness, the staying instead of going and the hidden jobs that have no platform, that make a person’s character.

It’s easy to resent the never ending meal prep, the staff meeting you are wishing yourself out of, the paperwork you just did, or whatever seemingly unimportant and repetitive task you wake up to day after day. We all feel that way. Here’s my favorite quote about this from the book:

Nothing is wasted when we view it through the lens of what God has for us in whatever life brings our way. It’s all part of who we are and who he is making us to be. For some, that may be a public role on a big stage, but for the vast majority of us, it’s about being faithful in the small stuff: going to the grocery store, volunteering in our kids’ classroom, befriending the new girl, coaching a Little League team, showing up for work every day, being kind to our neighbors.

We need to look for God in the ordinary, everyday things, to pursue our lives and live our dreams and be faithful in the small things, because those are the moments that prepare us for the next thing.

-Melanie Shankle, Church of the Small Things

Maybe we should stop questioning whether what we’re doing at this minute or this stage of our lives is important or worthy and simply, finally believe this: it is all important. To me, that’s so encouraging.

It’s all kind of like that story about the boy with the spool of thread. You know the one? The wise old woman gives Peter a spool of thread that represents the time of his life, and when he gets uncomfortable and wants to skip some part, he does, simply by un-spooling some of the thread. When he gets to the end of his life, and he’s only lived the parts he thought were enjoyable or momentous, who is he? He’s like a shell of a person with an empty life. He didn’t stick around for the crying baby, he couldn’t handle all the school lessons, he wasn’t into working so he skipped the work…yikes. I’m actually glad we can’t do that. But sometimes, we do it as best as we can without a spool of time-thread. I know I do. Distraction, ungratefulness, wishing for other circumstances, it all keeps us from being faithful in the little things.

I’m grateful for Church of the Small Things for finally nailing down the clarity I was seeking in this theme I keep coming back to: the small things become the big things and faithfulness is in every moment.

That is the serious side of the book. What might be even better, though, is that this book will make you laugh. It’s got some deep thoughts in it and that’s what stood out to me after I finished it, but oh, how good it was to laugh out loud while reading about Shankle’s experiences throughout her life. She focuses on stories about seemingly monotonous life experiences that became important, or stories about the people around her whose everyday faithfulness to loving those around them changed the lives around them, one everyday-day at a time, with a huge dose of humor injected in everything.

Church of the Small Things has encouraged me a great deal lately, even more than I anticipated it would. I’m thinking it could encourage many of us, (note: it is mostly geared toward women, though I do force my husband to let me read him particularly funny parts). If you’re thinking about grabbing up a copy, now is the time! There are some pretty cool pre-order bonuses you can get if you order before October 3rd.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope you are encouraged to look at your small moments as more valuable than you realize. As Melanie says, “Nothing is wasted.”

{Plug for future blog post – I’m working up the nerve to post some parenting related thoughts in the coming weeks. It’s been a long season of quiet on that front here at Miathereader.com. If you’re into that, could you comment here if any of these popular posts have resonated with you in the past or do now? Thank you so much, friends!

Put Down the Scissors

Loving the Littles Who Persecute Us

Surface Farming}

Reading, Reviews

Antelopes. Antelopes Are Good.

Here’s a recommendation for you married ladies who need a fun read this weekend. I actually kind of wish I had saved this book for a beach read, because it would have been perfect.

antelope-book-coverThere’s still not a whole lot going on on the reading front here, but I did pick up and finish in two days The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle this week. Shankle writes the Big Mama blog and has been cracking me up for four years. I’ll admit, I sometimes feel uneasy with the consumerism aspects of Shankle’s blog and book writing, the amount of fast food she talks about and the cute clothes she features each week on her blog. But I’m convinced that I’m just not being honest with myself about (a) the amount of fast food eat (Moe’s and Chickfila count as fast food, don’t they?); (b) the fact that I am not a fashion lover or food lover and, therefore, simply do not get revelries on food, especially ones involving Oreos or cheez-whiz;  or (c) the outreach and generosity Shankle and her family involve themselves in that I don’t. There’s way more to Melanie Shankle’s story than meets the eye and there is not an iota of self-righteousness in her work. Basically, Shankle’s writing won’t put you into a mood of deep contemplation, but it will make you laugh and appreciate the beauty in life. And the joy that is nacho cheese.

Shankle’s first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, is also stellar and is featured on the blog here.

 

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