Soaking up Words for Christmas

The other night, I was in a gathering of women and the topic of favorite Christmas traditions came up. I wanted to pass on to you what I shared that night: in recent years, my family began a tradition with our favorite stories. We have raised our children with read-alouds, so this was a natural way to pay homage to that family culture — even though with mostly teenagers, we don’t get nearly the amount of read-aloud time that we once had!

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, each member of our family selects a Christmas-themed piece to read aloud. We are each responsible to spend some time with the piece — the reader should be familiar with the selection, enough to do a good reading. If there are voices, we’re encouraged to do voices!

Then, in the most informal way possible, we read our pieces to one another. There is no pre-selected order; we simply find little gaps of time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in which to pause and listen to something. We commence with the Christmas account from Luke 2, and then progress to the others.

It sounds ridiculously simple, but it has been so nice to revisit these characters and settings each year. Like I told the ladies the other night, my seventeen-year-old son isn’t necessarily going to reread The Wind in the Willows every year, but he loves going back and watching the mouse choir appear on the doorstep.

Here are the selections we’ve enjoyed as a family — in the comments, please share more ideas!

In no particular order:

The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry (mom or dad fight over who gets to read this one)
“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. …They are the magi.”

John Hendrix’ excellent book Shooting at the Stars. A recounting of the Christmas Eve truce of WWI. Since they were little, our boys have been captured by this true story of men who were shooting at one another one day and playing football together the next.

The arrival of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “‘I’ve come at last,’ said he. ‘She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.’ And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.”

In the Dark Streets Shineth by David McCullough. A retelling of Winston Churchill’s visit with FDR for Christmas 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. From Churchill: “…these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”

The conclusion of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. If you haven’t read this hilarious little book about the Herdman family and how they upset a little town’s Christmas pageant in all the best ways, please put it on your list. “But as far as I’m concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman — sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby. And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham.”

Harry opens his gifts/the Hogwarts Christmas feast from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Who needs any prodding to get back to Hogwarts?! We love going back. “On Christmas Eve, Harry went to bed looking forward to the next day for the food and all the fun, but not expecting any presents at all. When he woke early the next morning, however, the first thing he saw was a small pile of packages at the foot of his bed.”

The visit of the field mouse choir in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This actually contains one of my favorite passages in the entire book: “He [Mole] did not at all want to abandon the new life, to turn his back on sun and air; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.”

The opening of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, in which the sisters rally to have a Merry Christmas in spite of hard times. “’Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
‘It’s so dreadful to be poor!’ sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
‘I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,’ added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
‘We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,’ said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

Last but not least, the conclusion of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. “‘I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. “‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!'”

A NOTE: also, this is the time to drag out all the pretty illustrated versions of books you’ve been protecting. Just like the fine china, the pretty books are meant to be enjoyed.

AN ADDITIONAL NOTE: there are several anthologies in existence like this already. I recently bought The British Library’s A Children’s Literary Christmas, and we also own A Newbery Christmas.

The Life-Giving Home: January

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

January: Creating a Framework for Home

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

This month’s chapter is largely and about rhythms and routines. Routines shield us from chaos. They help us make our intended priorities our actual priorities. But routines take planning and careful execution. Once established, routines can become a welcome friend — little rituals that ingrain order, peace, and joy in our hearts.

This chapter helped me ask good questions as I looked down the corridor of 2017. I was able to steal away for a few hours to a coffee shop and do some hard work in this area. (A special word of thanks to my husband for making time for this amidst his busy work schedule!) I began with what Sally calls “decluttering your heart” — a careful evaluation of the need for confession, spiritual weakness, or guilt.

Then, after a time of prayer, I moved on to working through goals for the year, in different areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This portion included answering questions like:

  • What exercise/health goals do I have for this year? What measurable steps can I take to achieve them?
  • Are there improvements I can make to any relationships? Family? Friends?
  • What spiritual disciplines do I want to work on this year? How will I go about it? What books do I want to read for spiritual improvement and accountability this year? What Bible verses would be helpful for me to memorize and meditate on in this season of my life?

Now, real talk for a second — my number one weakness in this exercise is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! The key to these questions is understanding the season you’re in, being patient with yourself, and setting realistic goals.

For me, this looked like the following (not a complete list):

  • I have some lofty running goals this year. I need to put my running schedule on my google calendar, because when that’s done, I plan better around it and actually do it.
  • I would like to schedule a one-on-one with each of my kids each month. These dates also need to go on the calendar.
  • I made a list of the books I’d like to read this year. I am never at a shortage for things I’d like to read, but I tried to be intentional about which ones would serve my season of parenting, my discipling relationships and my current struggles.
  • I ordered a Bible study book to use in my current morning quiet time, since I did Bible-in-a-Year last year and I try to alternate overview with in-depth study.

Then I moved on to working on goals for fun. We are a family that likes to go places! Here are some of the ideas I came up with for cultivating fun and rhythms of rest and enjoyment in our family:

  • My two youngest have begged for a return to teatime once a week. I put it on the calendar. (You should notice by now that my google calendar runs my life!)
  • I tweaked our approach to evening reading time with Dad so that it’s more restful and less squeezed.
  • I put a date on the calendar each month for us to do “city schooling.” The kids love to do school in other places, and I do too. A change in atmosphere is so refreshing! Plus I find that we get more done out of the house.
  • I wrote down all the trips we want to/need to take this year, when they were scheduled, and any approximate costs we would incur for them. (there were a lot of them this year!)

I also took some time considering and praying through where each of my kids is. Are there bad habits we need to address? Lessons they’d like to take this year? Milestones approaching? I made a little list for each child with a few action items on each.

Since I’m trying to blog more regularly, I also made a list of topics I’ve been mulling over but haven’t gotten to yet.

All of this sounds dreadfully boring and not very “homey” at all, doesn’t it? But it nails down some structure for human flourishing. It sets goals for soul-feeding. Our kitchen chalkboard currently bears one of my favorite quotes for this time of year, from Annie Dillard:

20170114_161146

That’s what we want — to catch these days and bend them to our wills. We want to redeem the time and use it well (Eph. 5:16).

I want to emphasize that your structure will look different from mine. Life stages, employment, ages of children, and priorities dictate how we spend our time and honor the Lord with it. Sally even says at one point that there were many times that the schedule flew out the window due to sickness, adding a baby, moving, job changes, etc. But an underlying structure gave their family a rhythm to return to.

Next month’s chapter, February is on “A Culture of Love: Growing Lifelong Relationships.”

 

Eustace Scrubb

I’m reading Jonathan Rogers’ The World According to Narnia right now, and this section on Eustace Scrubb from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader rang true:

Eustace lacks the one critical skill that makes it possible for a critic to be of some actual use. He lacks the ability to see anybody’s perspective but his own. He stands aside from the goings-on around him, and so he believes he enjoys an objective view of things. In fact, his refusal to engage leaves him with no outside point of reference. It leads to the grossest sort of subjectivity. Because he is seasick, he is convinced that the ship must be sailing through a storm. Nothing can convince him of the truth that the weather is perfect for sailing. Nothing, in fact, can induce him to be interested in the truth, regardless of what he might say about facts and the dangers of wishful thinking. He clings to an almost psychotic version of events that corresponds only to his inner states and has nothing to do with the facts of the outer world.

Doing Nothing

We’ve recently been reunited with our friend Pooh.

 

z3397.indd

We had these CDs (you can find them here:Winnie-the-Pooh: A.A. Milne’s Pooh Classics, Volume 1*
) from the time the boys were little, but they were so loved that they were scratched out of use a few years back. Now we have the audio again. It’s been so much fun to see Cameron, Ben, and Andrew recognize the old friends, and see the younger ones enjoy it for the first time.

This morning we heard the ending of The House at Pooh Corner:

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hand, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m–when–Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

I was overcome again with how counter-cultural it can be to make space for kids and not hyper-schedule them. I want my children to, among other things, have time to do Nothing. What is Nothing? Allow Christopher Robin to enlighten you:

 

 “How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing right now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

*contains affiliate link

Behold the King of Glory

beholdkingBack in December I reminded you of the devotional book I read throughout Advent, entitled Behold the Lamb of God. The author, Russ Ramsey, has just released a book for Lent along the same lines. Russ’ writing is rooted in Scripture, helped by historical insights, and meditative. I look forward to making my way through it this spring.

In the interview with Barnabas Piper at The Blazing Center, Russ says, “With Behold the King of Glory, I tried to take the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and put them into a single story in such a way that the reader would come away with a clearer sense of the arc of Jesus’s earthly ministry.”

(And for those of you still fuzzy on the church calendar, Lent begins February 18.)

Get Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ at Amazon, or the Rabbit Room store.
(contains affiliate link)

Linkage

Lazy Cultural Engagement: “…we tend to treat actual cultural artifacts in the way we sometimes treat the Bible: as “proof texts” from which we can draw principles or truths for application. Though we love the Bible, we evangelicals in particular have often treated verses as if they stand alone, forgetting that the story in which they appear speaks just as much as the verses themselves. Form speaks, as well as content.”

I guess it’s a movie day today in linkage. Here’s Thomas MacKenzie’s review of the new Left Behind movie, which starts off being hilarious and ends up being really encouraging.

I posted this a while back on facebook, but I wanted to keep it here, too. Maybe you need this encouragement for moms that It’s Their Day, Too.

Here’s a worthwhile kickstarter to support. Sam Smith is a good friend of ours and he’s putting out his first novel! My kids laughed and laughed over this video:

Some Mornings are Like That

Monday was one of those magical mornings in our homeschool. They seem to happen more often lately. There were years that I felt like I was constantly putting out fires; now the kids help keep our momentum going and the mornings go more smoothly.

 

Monday was…

the windows open to hear the rain and the birds

the oldest two boys reading more Robert Frost poetry

the middle one getting caught up in The Wind in the Willows and reading all morning

the youngest two beginning When We Were Very Young

connections to things we’ve talked about, places we’ve been

laughing over shared memories

Then there are the days when the pencils are all missing or broken, attitudes are terrible (including my own), papers are missing, the math software is malfunctioning, and the toilet gets clogged. When those mornings happen, I pull out from my heart a memory of peaceful rainy days with great books, and ponder it for a moment. It helps.

The Empty Shelf Challenge 2014

Back in December of last year, Jon Acuff issued a challenge to his readers to empty one bookshelf in their home for the purpose of tracking what they’ve read in 2014.tilt

Here we are in late September. What would your shelf look like? I listed what’s on mine in the sidebar. That list does not include those books I read with my literature classes, but I still wish the list were longer. Nevertheless, my goal was one book per month, and I’ve kept to it. I’m on the verge of finishing numbers ten and eleven.

I think I will continue to keep a shelf free for this purpose. It’s excellent accountability to keep on reading. You can see what everyone has read on the shared Pinterest board.

And Many More

Happy, happy first day of autumn, dear readers. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Also, Happy, happy birthday Bilbo Baggins.

The-pity-of-Bilbo-may-rule

Find more cool artwork from Dan at eucatastrophe.com.

Dear Pinterest, We Need to Have a Talk About Bookshelves

Hello Pinterest, you inspirer and ruiner of dreams.  

Last night I sat on my couch and stared at the bookshelves across the room. I thought, “Those could probably look better.” The shelves with the McCullough biographies were a little crowded, and the audiobooks looked cluttery. The kids’ shelves have been in heavy use, and it shows. There are volumes that we’ve loaned out and stuck back when they’re returned.

So, you see — general bookshelf-ish clutter. I needed to straighten and love them a bit. As with many of my projects, I decided to inspire myself by heading over to your site, Pinterest, and see some pretty pictures.

I typed in “styled bookshelves.”

But here’s what I saw.

18 books
(18 books)

source

 

(30 books)
(30 books)

source

(22 books)
(22 books)

source

WHERE ARE ALL THE BOOKS?!  (Look, I even counted them for you. Not many, right?)

Let’s review. These are *BOOK*shelves we’re talking about, right? Not museum shelves? Look at that one with JUST a vase on one whole shelf! This is not my reality. There are no empty shelves to be had here.

I came across one blogger who said she had “so many” books to fit into her styled bookshelf, so she really had to plan. I counted again. There were TWENTY-ONE BOOKS on her gigantic shelf. Twenty-one whole books!

backwardsbooks

source

Then there was the picture with the books TURNED AROUND BACKWARDS so the spines faced in and the pages faced out. WHAT?! Yes. So all the pretty white pages match.

I guess people are picking their books now because they’re pretty? And it doesn’t matter what is inside them? (Here I am inexplicably hearing Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast” in my head. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures!”)

booksbycolor

source

Here’s another trend I noticed that made me crazy. People organize their books BY COLOR?! What is this madness?! Who DOES that?! How can you find anything?!

Maybe you are spectacularly visually-minded and you can live that way. My chest gets tight just thinking about doing that. Plus I think we would have an overstock of blue books (like in the picture!) due to the amount of American history and theology in our library.

Deep breath. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of having a place for my eye to rest. A framed photograph here and there, a vase, a well-chosen tchotchke — these all make a bookshelf more pleasing to the eye.

That’s the help I went looking for. What I found made me want to stage an intervention whilst overdramatically declaring the end of civilization as we know it.

So. Pinterest. This topic is officially off-limits between you and me. We will not speak of it again.

Because to be honest, Pinterest, I can’t think of many things more beautiful than these…

makoto

 IMGP4233 IMGP4243 IMGP4247 IMGP4246

(When I’m not ranting at Pinterest, I am pinning happily here.)